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Q&A: Gillian French

Author photo by Kevin Bennett

Author Gillian French weaves together themes of small town bullies, unsolved murders, and time travel in her gripping paranormal thriller, The Door to January.

Ever since sixteen-year-old Natalie Payson moved away from her hometown of Bernier, Maine, she’s had nightmares that call out to her, drawing her to a time, a place, a house, a door. This summer, Natalie’s returning to Bernier to face the reason she left town in the first place; the boy she’s trying hard not to trust; and the door in her dreams. But once she goes through the door, into a murky past, she’s entangled in someone else’s world. And only Natalie can help right the wrongs of past and present.

What inspired The Door to January?

My surroundings. I’ve lived in Maine my entire life, and my childhood home was a 1700s cape. The barn and outbuildings were gone by the time we moved in, but my parents encouraged an interest in the original residents and what the property looked like centuries before. In New England, the mystery of the past is everywhere, and I tried to tap into that while writing the book.

What kind of research did you do for your book?

Thomas Hubka’s, Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn, was essential — the photos and diagrams helped me understand the layout of a Georgian Colonial. 'The Great Steel Pier' by Peter Dow Batchelder was also vital in writing the 1948 flashback to the Old Orchard Beach Pier. Many of the smaller details of 1940s life, such as slang and dress, came from my own interest; I enjoy films and novels that highlight that era.

Bullying plays a part in the modern-day sequences of The Door to January. Is any of it based on your own experiences?

I was lucky to be a middle-of-the-road kid, not cool but not exactly a target, either. That said, I remember how brutal teen social politics can be; how you can find yourself following a crowd and later regret your actions; or wish you‘d spoken up against something you knew was wrong.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I want to believe. I’ve yet to see a ghost myself, though I did experience something strange in my parents’ house as a teenager. We heard the sound of the back door opening and closing, followed by a man’s footsteps. When my dad went to check out the noise, nobody was there. You can find the beginnings of The Door to January in that!

You have three books coming out in a year’s time—two with HarperTeen (Grit and The Summer Boys) — and The Door to January. After 17 years of dedication to your craft, what does this sudden recognition feel like for you?

The past year has been surreal; getting my acceptance from Islandport was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Now I can write full-time and be home with my sons. For me, it doesn't get any better.

Read an excerpt of The Door to January
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