Monday, April 16, 2012

Hope Even In the Great Darkness: An interview with R.L. Prendergast

Today I'm talking with R.L. Prendergast about his Depression-era tale DINNER WITH LISA.


1) Tell us about your book.

DINNER WITH LISA is set during the Great Depression. Joseph Gaston, an unemployed widower with four young children, uproots his family and moves west because he’s been promised work. Once he arrives in the small town of Philibuster he finds that the job promised to him has been given to someone else. He has no money left to return him and his family back home so they’re forced to stay in Philibuster. While in Philibuster, Joseph is reunited with his prankster brother, known throughout town as the Great Henri. Thanks to the Great Henri, Joseph has some trouble with the law. So not only must Joseph find work and keep his family from starving, but he’s got to avoid the chief of police who is after him as well.

2) What is the fundamental theme of your book?

DINNER WITH LISA is primarily about hope.

Historical fiction is fascinating but requires a lot of research. We're taught broad history in schools but rarely the fine details needed to bring a good story to life. How did you go about doing your research?

I started by compiling family stories that took place during the Great Depression. These stories were the initial inspiration behind writing Dinner with Lisa, which I’ll explain more about later. Next, I spent months pouring over old newspapers from the 1930’s. The newspapers were great for giving me important details that helped fire my imagination. If you ever think your life is difficult, you should read a newspaper from the Great Depression. Stories about children eating on alternate days so their siblings would have a chance to eat too, or people deciding not to eat for weeks at a time so they could pay that month’s rent. I realize things like this are happening today in North America, however, during the Depression almost no one was spared these hardships and because of that there were also wonderful stories of communities coming together to help those with less. My own grandmother spoke of homeless men coming to the door for a meal nearly every night. “We never turned them away, no matter how little we had ourselves,” she said. Above all, there was humor. A great aunt once told me there were two options. Laugh or cry. Those who chose laughter faired much better. I guess things haven’t changed all that much in that regard.

3) What was the single most surprising thing you discovered in the course of your research?

Today we hear about how tough things were during the Great Depression, but as I just explained, I never knew how bad it really was.

4) Why did you choose to write a book about the Depression?

Have you ever wished you’d written down the stories told you by your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles? I know I do. For years I listened to my relatives recounting their childhoods, and talk of the unusual characters they’d known. People who did crazy things, and had nicknames like Hateful Dan, The Black Prince and Dumb Dora.

As a child, I enjoyed these anecdotes immensely, but didn’t think about them after they’d been told. However, as I got older, and the various relatives, including my grandparents, passed away, I wished someone had recorded their stories. Not long ago, I began asking my mother and father about some of the tales my grandparents used to tell. They remembered some details, but many of the stories had been forgotten – lost forever.

After completing my first novel, THE IMPACT OF A SINGLE EVENT, which became a national bestseller, I began to write down the recollections of my parents and their older siblings, all now in their seventies and eighties. As the cache of tales grew – a great uncle’s experience in WW1, my mother’s memories of the neighborhood corner store, my father’s memories of life on a dairy farm – I saw a connecting thread. Before long, I was researching the time periods in which the stories took place – and was inspired to write Dinner with Lisa.

5) What lessons do you think the Depression offers people in these troubling, though admittedly far less severe, times of economic turmoil?

Be prepared. You never know when the smelly stuff is really going to hit the fan.

6) Can you tell us briefly about any of your other works?

As I mentioned, I have another novel, THE IMPACT OF THE SINGE EVENT. Essentially the story is about a personal journal that gets handed down from one generation to another. The story begins with a terrible car accident, where Richard and Sonia, a couple with a crumbling marriage, stop to help the critically injured victims. In the process, Richard and Sonia find a 140-year-old journal by the side of the road. Six different people have written in the journal. Though the entries span three centuries, the writers share a quest: the search for meaning in their lives. The stories take Richard and Sonia on a personal and historic journey: across Canada to the jungles of India and back to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where a final mystery awaits.


Thanks for stopping by, R.L.

If you'd like to see more from R.L., you can check out his website,

DINNER WITH LISA is available in print form at a number of vendors in the US, Canada, and the UK:

B&N (U.S.)

Amazon (U.S.)

Chapters/Indigo (Canada)

Amazon (Canada)

W. H. Smith (U.K.)

DINNER WITH LISA is also available in an electronic version:

For the Kindle:

For the Nook: 
iTunes (U.S.)

iTunes (Canada)

iTunes (U.K.)

For the Sony eReader:

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