A Conversation with Julie Cantrell

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes Christy-Award winner and New York Times best-selling author, Julie Cantrell. Her novel, The Feathered Bone (Thomas Nelson) is on the 2017 shortlist in the General Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Julie.

Today, we read about The Feathered Bone and its inspiration, learn she’s a film buff and read what wins in her “faceoff” questions – plus more!

In the pre-Katrina glow of New Orleans, Amanda Salassi is anxious about chaperoning her daughter’s sixth grade field trip to the Big Easy during Halloween. And then her worst fears come true. Her daughter’s best friend, Sarah, disappears amid the magic and revelry—gone, without a trace.

Unable to cope with her guilt, Amanda’s daughter sinks in depression. And Amanda’s husband turns destructive as he watches his family succumb to grief. Before long, Amanda’s whole world has collapsed.

Amanda knows she has to save herself before it’s too late. As she continues to search for Sarah, she embarks on a personal journey, seeking hope and purpose in the wake of so much tragedy and loss.

Set amidst the murky parishes of rural Louisiana and told through the eyes of two women who confront the darkest corners of humanity with quiet and unbreakable faith, The Feathered Bone is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world. – Goodreads


Interview Questions

INSPYs: What was the inspiration behind the characters in The Feathered BoneI set this novel in my childhood hometown, Walker, Louisiana. During my youth, Walker was a small, rural community east of Baton Rouge, but it has experienced tremendous growth since Hurricane Katrina.

While the novel’s characters aren’t based on real people, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard helped me research. When it was time to name the sheriff’s character, Jason and his wife Erica agreed to the name Jay Ardoin in honor of their tremendous assistance and lifelong friendship. I’m excited to hear that readers adore Sheriff Jay Ardoin and see him as a “good guy.” The world needs more of those, in both fiction and reality.

Like the sheriff, other characters in The Feathered Bone are uniquely southern, and yet readers everywhere seem to relate them to people they know. Gator and Raylene are two fan favorites, while the journey of the two young girls has broken many a heart. Some people have a hard time relating to Amanda’s character, while other women write me to thank me for giving them a voice.

In all, I tried to examine how one split-second of time can impact an entire community, and how one trauma can continue to ripple across time and place because, even when we don’t always realize it, we are all connected. Every choice matters, and every choice will shape the lives of all those within its scope.

I hope readers enjoy entering this special Louisiana community and getting to know “my people.”

Since your novel centers addresses Katrina, what were some of the challenges in writing this story? I wrote The Feathered Bone ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I was already living in Oxford, Mississippi at the time of that storm, and I was unable able to reach my Louisiana relatives for several days. Roads were closed. Cell towers were down. Power was out.  It was an anguishing wait, and I was very relieved when I finally learned most were safe.

The impact of the storm was far-reaching and long-lasting, not only for those communities hit by the winds, but also for the surrounding communities who offered safe refuge to evacuees. As I worked back through video footage, news reels, and written accounts of Katrina, I was surprised by how much it impacted me emotionally. It’s important for us as a nation to look back at what we’ve learned from traumatic experiences, especially those with such widespread impact.

Sadly, in August, 2016, the Flood of the Millennium hit Louisiana. Imagine waking up one morning to learn that 85 percent of your county was underwater. That’s what happened to Livingston Parish (the setting for The Feathered Bone). These are areas that had never been known to flood, so less than 15 percent of those impacted had flood insurance. (Trust me, FEMA is not an ideal solution. But that’s a book in itself.)

Our Lady of Blind River Pre-Flood (August 2016)

Our Lady of Blind River Post-Flood (August 2016)

Unlike a hurricane, there was little warning, so people did not have time to prepare their belongings or to evacuate before the waters rose. Nearly everyone I know from home lost nearly everything they owned and all the places they held dear—homes, vehicles, businesses, daycare facilities, schools, churches, and tons of irreplaceable personal belongings. Levees broke and some homes went completely under water in a matter of minutes in the middle of the night. Miraculously, no one was killed as a result of the flood in my home parish, and I credit that to the local leadership and community volunteers who risked their own lives to ensure the safety of others.

Unfortunately, my own parents lost their Baton Rouge homes, vehicles, and property in that flood. It’s been nearly nine months since the waters rose, and they are still rebuilding. The event has been far more traumatic than people can imagine, and the psychological impact has left its mark on the entire community. Yet the stories of heroism and service are inspirational. I have developed an even greater appreciation for Louisiana people as a result of their selfless and resilient response to this devastating flood.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?

Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours (Half-way through this one)

Kerry Egan’s On Living (Just finished this one)

Ann Hood’s The Book That Matters Most (Just started this one)

What are you currently watching?

 I’m a film buff, but I rarely have time to watch. I finally bought a TV, just last month, but I have only turned it on twice—to stream Zumba and Yoga.

I do splurge on Netflix or Amazon Prime sometimes. I think the last thing I watched was Hello, My Name Is Doris. It’s a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy-drama that hits that sweet spot of plot tension and character development. Written by Michael Showalter and Laura Terruso, the film stars Sally Field and has earned rave reviews.

Before that, I watched A Man Called Ove because I had enjoyed the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman. The film was just as sweet as the book, in its twisted sort of way.

Faceoff Questions:

1. Coffee or Tea? Tea, but mostly water.

2. Print or Ebook? Print during the day and e-book during those wee hours when insomnia gets the best of me.

3. Comedy or Action? An emotional, tear-jerking drama, of course. And then some comic relief.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free, the 2013 Christy Award winning Book of the Year and recipient of the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. Her second novel, When Mountains Move, won the 2014 Carol Award for Historical Fiction and, like her debut, was selected for several Top Reads lists. Visit her online at juliecantrell.wordpress.com, Facebook: juliecantrellauthor, and Twitter: @JulieCantrell.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs blog today, Julie. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight your latest novel, The Feathered Bone.

  • Karen Sargent

    Julie, what an interesting interview! All the flood devastation in your home parish and most without flood insurance…I cannot imagine how one rebuilds life after losing everything. The title of your book is intriguing, and so is the storyline. As a mom, your topic is one of my biggest fears. I enjoyed meeting you through your interview!

  • Staci

    The subject of this novel was a tough one. It was beautifully written.