Tragedy and Victor Powell have moved to the desirable but dark Grayson Glens enclave of dream homes just outside of Chicago. Stressed urbanites, they’ve got to live large in real life to stay large online. With only a few blacks in their elite gated community, they settle in but never quite feel at home. Then, a missing young black woman floats up in the Grayson River.
Is the spirit of the mysterious scarlet-lettered woman, Raven McCoy, haunting Grayson during the pandemic?
Tragedy, haunted by her own difficult checkered past versus Victor’s sterling history, thinks so. The pressure to manage his image for profit drives her to drink, even when his trying teen daughter visits. But Victor’s ex-wife, the Grayson gossip and a female detective all close in on Tragedy’s unraveling life. Then Tragedy spirals into addiction, past secrets and the local women’s fight for justice for a woman.
TheBigThrill caught up to award-winning author Kalisha Buckhanon for an in-depth conversation about her latest mystery, RUNNING TO FALL:
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
I absolutely loved the story of the main character, Tragedy Powell, and the chance to write about an affluent black couple who “made it”- but at high opportunity costs. And, I wanted to feature a missing black woman who had not “made it,” Raven McCoy. It was important for me to juxtapose those two realities in the spectrum of African-American life, and of course to play as a novelist in the middle of that spectrum to keep readers guessing what will happen next.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
I had been working for awhile on a book about a young woman from foster care who wound up being sex-trafficked, but I had no anchor for the character. Then, during the pandemic, I began to talk to more and more women friends about how we were isolating at home with increased drinking habits as a result. I realized it was nearly an epidemic that women I didn’t know to drink that much were at home with the bubbly. And we realized this was problematic. That realization and all those conversations sparked me to grow up the main character I’d been writing to a grown woman who’s an alcoholic.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
Kathy Bates’ heartbreaking and spine-tingling reading of The Silence of the Lambs audiobook pushed me through the final lonely hurdles.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
I definitely was very conscious to write a successful Black couple in an affluent environment, as I do not see that often in literary or thriller or crime fiction spaces. I also wanted to write about the Midwest, specifically Illinois where I am from, also not often depicted.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope the readers will love the women characters. In addition to the African-American protagonist, the story brought about a diverse cast of townspeople and even an Hispanic female detective. They are a diverse bunch of strong women, battling demons, keeping up appearances, and searching for community in the search for justice for the missing young black woman.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I am finishing a YA novel that’s loosely based on a huge racism controversy in my hometown during my high school years, and starting a new mystery about a woman’s past murder cover-up and its aftermath come back to haunt her new successful life.
Kalisha Buckhanon’s latest novel RUNNING TO FALL makes history as the first book published by AALBC.com, the nation’s oldest and largest website dedicated to black books. She is also author of the novels Upstate, Conception, Solemn and Speaking of Summer: a book pick of Essence, O Magazine, TIME, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmo, Buzzfeed, Lit Hub and more. She is also seen on ID, BET and TV-One true crime shows as an expert.
Kalisha’s debut novel Upstate introduced her in such media as People, Elle, Marie Claire, The Guardian/London Observer and Essence, as one of their “Three Writers to Watch.” Chadwick Boseman co-narrates the audiobook and it won a Literary Fiction Audie Award. Terry McMillan gave Kalisha the only Young Author Award in her name for the novel. It is published in the UK and France, an American Library Association ALEX Award winner, a Hurston/Wright Foundation Debut Fiction Finalist, a New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens and an inaugural “Literature for Justice” title for National Book Foundation.
Kalisha’s other honors include a Friends of American Writers Award for Conception, a Pushcart Prize nomination, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and Phi Beta Kappa induction. She has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English from University of Chicago, and a Creative Writing M.F.A. from The New School in New York City.
To learn more about Kalisha and her work, please visit her website.