Bay Area author Barbara Graham was inspired to write her psychological thriller after doing research for a magazine article about past life regression therapy.
His debut novel, ‘What Jonah Knew’ explores ideas about memory and trauma, life and the afterlife, when a 7-year-old boy appears to reminisce about a missing 22-year-old musician. The book comes out July 5, and Graham will discuss the novel at a virtual event through the Mystery to Me bookstore later this month.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself — where do you live and what is your connection to Madison?
A: I live in the Bay Area, but one of my dearest friends is from Madison. She’s the one who got the ball rolling by hosting the Mystery to Me event. I’m really excited about it, and I’m especially excited to be in conversation with the wonderful writer from Madison, Dale Kushner.
Q: How would you describe “What Jonah Knew”?
People also read…
A: It’s a psychological thriller about the unbreakable bond between mothers and sons, even when it seems all is lost and the bond is severed beyond repair. The book is set in upstate New York.
Q: Do you have a connection with New York?
A: I’m from New York and have spent a lot of time upstate. The novel takes place in a mythical town in the Hudson Valley that looks a bit like Woodstock. It’s a hippie town that was once a thriving farming community.
Q: The main themes of the book seem to revolve around motherhood and loss. What inspired these ideas?
A: I’m a mother of a son, and even though the book isn’t my own story at all, the mother-son relationship is so powerful. I have written extensively about motherhood in other forms, in essays, memoirs, and plays. I think as soon as you become a mother you instantly realize that for the rest of your life your heart will be walking outside of your body. For me, the love of a child is the most exquisite and sometimes the most torturing love there is. I think motherhood is kind of a high-tension act between fiercely loving and protecting your children and gradually letting them go. As a writer, I always seem to come back to motherhood, because it’s such a primary relationship to work with.
Q: You’ve written a lot, but this is your first novel, isn’t it? What made you want to write a novel?
A: For years I made a living as a journalist, writing extensively on health, psychology, and spirituality. “What Jonah Knew” was actually inspired by a magazine article about past life regression therapy. I learned so many interesting things, and the novel came out of it. There was a learning curve in writing fiction. Still, I had more fun writing the novel than anything I’ve ever done. As a novelist, you can make up a whole world and populate it with whoever you want, but in memoirs and personal essays, you have to stick to the facts. You are confined to your own life experience. When writing fiction, the field is wide open.
Q: I’ve seen that the book is described as several different genres – psychological, magical, mystical – where do you think it fits best?
A: The Form is a psychological thriller, but might better be called a psycho-spiritual thriller. There are a lot of spiritual and metaphysical themes running through “What Jonah Knew” that aren’t typically explored in thrillers.
Q: Did writing this book change your perspective on the concept of afterlife?
A: I would say it deepened it. I learned a lot during my research which confirmed my feeling that there is more to our existence than the life of the body. As a writer, it was rich and fascinating territory to explore.
Q: Is there anything else about the book that stands out that people should know?
A: There’s a lot in “What Jonah Knew” about letting go of our ideas of how things should be versus how they really are, including our expectations of our children. This is the challenge of being human. We want things to be a certain way, but very often they are not, and we have to learn to live with that. There is a loss in the book, but ultimately the story tells how love is more powerful than loss, more powerful even than death.
“I think as soon as you become a mother you instantly realize that for the rest of your life your heart will be walking outside of your body.”