At it’s heart, Signs of the South is a ghost story (who doesn’t love a good ghost story, right?). Ella Giancetti is a first time college professor and accepts a teaching position in Virginia. Moving from Connecticut to Virginia, Ella quickly learns of the many cultural differences separating the North from the South, from her first taste of sweet tea to the true meaning of ‘bless your heart’. Adjusting to all this while dealing with incessant phone calls from her abrasive sister Lisa and trying to figure out why someone is spray painting spiteful messages on her new house is a little overwhelming. At least there’s a handsome police officer hanging around.
When Ella wakes to find a ghost in her house she decides enough is enough. She’s going to need to find out how the ghost became a ghost if she ever wants to have a peaceful night in her new home. Unfortunately, finding out why is going to take more than a few Internet searches. Unearthing the mystery of this ghost means delving into a town’s long ago past where racial lines were sharply drawn and injustices were a way of life.
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
I’ve had the idea for this book, as well as two follow up books, since 2008, but didn’t start writing it until 2010.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
When I first moved to Virginia I got a job teaching at a local technical college. During my time with these particular students I had a chance to listen to some of their stories of life in a small Southern town. Hearing those stories helped me to create the character of Hattie, the ghost in Signs of the South.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
I think there may be lots of myself hidden in the character of Ella. When I wrote this book I was caring for my father, who was diagnosed and suffering with Lewy Body Dementia, and I was still recovering from the recent death of my mother. Ella’s feelings about her mother’s death reflect a lot of my own grief process.
Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?
The character of Hattie, my ghost, is definitely my favorite. It felt like she was someone I already knew, or maybe someone I would have liked to know. Hattie disappeared from Paterson, Virginia in 1960. She was young, vibrant and beautiful, but nobody ever bothered to look into her disappearance for several reasons: she had no real family, she disappeared when a major hurricane hit the area and she was black.
How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?
The entire thing. Once I have an idea for a story I let it sit in my head, or ‘cook’ for a little while. Then, I write a general outline of the story. After I write the outline I create a chapter by chapter outline. Even with all that planning, surprises happen. There are scenes in Signs of the South that never appear in any of my chapter outlines, but I think that’s the magical part of writing.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
This is essentially a book that deals with the racial prejudices of yesterday and today. It’s a complicated subject, and certainly not one that I feel I can address entirely in one book. But I do think that any time we hear a new story it gives us a fresh perspective on our world and helps us to see things just a little bit more clearly.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on my next novel, Past Unfinished, which continues some of the stories begun in Signs of the South. The second and third books deal with issues of alcoholism and child abuse. My goal is to have both Past Unfinished and the third novel, Children of the Tribe, available in 2012.
What was the first story you remember writing?
When I was nine years old I remember hauling my brother’s typewriter into my room and writing a tale about zombies that took over the neighborhood. The story is hidden away, but the typewriter is still available to me.
What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?
The writing. Seriously, making everything sound effortless is very difficult, and takes practice and patience.
Does writing come easy for you?
Ideas come easily to me, but the writing part is hard work. For me, though, there are stories that simply have to be told, and I’m driven to sit and write them.
How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?
There are a total of six stories occupying my head right now.
What do you like to read?
I love mysteries, thrillers and suspense books. And of course, if there’s a ghost and a haunted house in the story I’m a very happy reader!
What writer influenced you the most?
Definitely Barbara Michaels and Charles deLint. For me, reading their books was a chance to escape into another world.
What advice you would give to an aspiring author?
Keep going. You might think you don’t have the time, space or energy to keep writing, but you’ll find it. Talk to other writers, show your work to people you trust, and only follow advice that feels right for you.
Where can people learn more about your books?
I am published by Pulse Publishing, an independent, traditional publishing house. You can visit their website at http://www.pulsepub.net. I’m also on Facebook as Narielle Living
(http://www.facebook.com/pages/Narielle-Living/307597632586503) and Twitter (@NarielleLiving).