The Memory Thief
Release Date: August 21st, 2012
Publisher: Ballantine Books
When Madeleine Kimble’s husband Aiden dies in a mountain climbing accident, Maddie can only think of his earnest promise to return to her and their young son. Aiden’s best friend J.C. feels great remorse over his inability to save him, but J.C.’s grief is also seasoned with the guilt of loving Maddie through the years. Meanwhile, across the country another young man wakes up in a hospital and finds that his memories have been wiped clean, and replaced with haunting dreams of a beautiful woman and a five year old boy whom he feels driven to find. What Nicholas Sullivan discovers upon his journey is utterly unexpected—and it will change all of their lives, especially Maddie’s
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer or have you always known? How was your journey into publication?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. This wasn’t something I thought about, considered or announced; it was just something I did. I filled one marble composition notebook after another with stories—some based on my life, some pure flights of fancy. My inaugural short story, penned when I was about seven, was entitled ‘Bloddy Monster—The Brave Monster Who Killed the World,’ complete with very bloddy illustrations. There was a lot of red.
When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a novel—by hand—that was over a thousand pages. I remember this, because it wouldn’t fit in my Trapper Keeper, and I kept misplacing crumpled sheets of looseleaf paper and finding them all over my room. The plot of this gem escapes me, but I do recall that there was a risqué scene on page 17. Feeling very daring, I showed this to a couple of my closest friends. The next thing I knew, my classmates were passing page 17 around the room like it was Judy Blume’s Forever—another hit amongst the pre-teen set, back in the late 1980s. Alas, the teacher confiscated my masterpiece, and so it’s lost to the world forever. (Poor woman. I can just imagine her sitting in the classroom after we’d all gone home, staring at page 17 and shaking her head in consternation. She never looked at me in quite the same way after that.)
Somewhere in college, though, I stopped writing. I was a psychology and literature major, with a media studies focus, and I didn’t take any creative writing classes until my junior year. Alas, I had a professor who wasn’t exactly encouraging, and worse, I had nothing with which to compare him. I took his words to heart, and after that class—which was a truly dreadful experience—I decided that creative writing wasn’t for me. But I still loved the written word, so I wound up taking the back road: writing and editing for variety of small presses and magazines, learning how the world of publishing worked. In the meantime, I pursued other interests—interning at a Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, organizing a tattoo and piercing show in Coney Island, and all kinds of other strange and random activities that seemed perfectly natural at the time.
By the time I wound up as the associate director of DREAMS of Wilmington, a nonprofit dedicated to serving youth in need through the arts, I hadn’t written a creative piece in a long, long time. Oh, I’d been writing all along—grants, newsletters, articles for local publications—but nothing creative, nothing that came from my heart. This was ironic, given the fact that I was surrounded by incredible teaching artists and young people who derived joy from acting, dancing, making films, and generally cultivating their own creative spirits. They inspired me, for sure—but not enough to muster the courage to write. By then, I had a son. I was in graduate school, and I was Very Busy. At least, that’s what I told myself.
Who knows how long this state of affairs would have persisted—maybe forever? One day, though, a teaching artist made an offhand comment to me—I can’t remember now what it was, but the gist of it was that this person thought of me purely as an administrator, a revelation that struck horror into my little writerly heart. I realized then that I’d made a mistake—that no matter how valid my excuses were, they were just that: excuses not to pursue what I loved, just because it was difficult and scary.
So I built up my freelance writing and editing career, which I’d been dabbling in on the side. I stepped away from DREAMS, and I gave myself a year. That was in January of 2009, and my December, I had the manuscript of The Memory Thief in hand, thanks in no small part to the advice of writing teacher and mentor Caroline Leavitt. I spent the next nine months searching for an agent, and in September of 2010 I finally found one—the inestimable Felicia Eth. She sold the book to Random House in early November, about six weeks later, and here we are.
When writing the novel, did anything surprise you or did you know everything in advance?
Oh, everything surprised me! I didn’t write the book with an outline, so I really had no idea what was going to happen. Nor did I write the manuscript in chronological order; I worked on the scenes that inspired me, as they sprang into my mind. This is probably not the most effective way to craft a novel—I wound up cutting a lot of scenes in the end, back story that had no place in the finished manuscript. But it was a lot of fun, and it kept me engaged and intrigued long enough to finish the book.
If you could change one thing about The Memory Thief, what would it be?
This is a hard one, because I genuinely think that the edits I made along the way—some of them quite extreme—made The Memory Thief a better book. But…when I wrote the first draft, the story was told from the points of view of five characters: Maddie, Nicholas, Gabe, J.C. and Grace. Aidan’s perspective was a later addition, at the recommendation of several early readers. I didn’t mind adding him, but I hated losing what J.C. and Gabe, in particular, had to say.
Cutting their voices was the right thing to do—the presence of so many perspectives confused and overwhelmed my early readers—but I felt sad, knowing that no one would to get to hear how J.C. felt about being second-best or what it was like for Gabe, as a four-year-old boy, to wake up and see his dead father sitting on the end of his bed. So I saved those scenes, and I’m glad I did. You can read one of them on my blog: http://www.emilycolin.com/outtakes-from-the-cutting-room-floor-part-one/
What is one thing you hope the reader takes with them from your novel?
A sense of hope. The belief that anything is possible. And the conviction that taking risks is more than worth it—in the name of following your dreams. Sound familiar? As I’ve said in earlier interviews, I set out to write a book about love, loss and high-altitude mountaineering—but as it turns out, I wound up weaving my own story into every page.
I do realize that that’s three things, not one. Hey, as anyone who’s known me for longer than five minutes will tell you, math is definitely not my strong suit!
What is on your TBR pile right now?
I generally have three TBR piles. The first is comprised of books that I’m rereading—sometimes because it’s been a while, and other times because there’s something specific, in terms of plot and characterization, that I’d like to revisit and learn from. In that pile right now, you’d find Robert Rummel-Hudson’s memoir, Schuyler’s Monster, about his daughter’s polymicrogyria—try saying that five times fast!—and Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John and the Hand of Devils.
Then there’s the young adult pile, because I have a son with dyslexia, and so we do a lot of reading together. Right now we’re about to start the third book in the Artemis Fowl series, The Eternity Code, and we’re listening to the audiobook of Susan Cooper’s wonderful novel, The Dark Is Rising.
And last but hardly least, I usually have a stack of library books next to my bed—some that I’ve eagerly awaited, and others that I just grabbed off the shelf because they looked interesting. In that category right now, you’ll find The Buddha in the Atttic, by Julie Otsuka; Rhiannon Frater’s Siege; and Kieran Shields’ The Truth of All Things.
The Memory Thief
Emily Colin is the Associate Director of the DREAMS Center For Arts Education, a nationally award-winning nonprofit dedicated to building creative, committed citizens through high-quality arts programming. Prior to DREAMS, she served as Editor-in-Chief of Coastal Carolina Press, and co-founder of Carolina Women’s Partnership. She also works closely with the North Carolina Arts Council. In Though Colin is not a mountain climber—she’s actually afraid of heights—she spent innumerable hours doing research for THE MEMORY THIEF: shadowing Outward Bound instructors as they scaled cliffs in Colorado’s Rifle Canyon, conducting reconnaissance missions in an indoor rock-climbing gym closer to home, and speaking with alpinists who took on Alaska’s Mt. McKinley—and lost. For more information, please visit the author’s website at www.emilycolin.com.