In Her Own WordsA Conversation with Kristin about True Colors.
Last year, my novel Firefly Lane was published in trade paperback and book clubs around the country embraced it. Fortunately for me, many of those clubs contacted my website and I have spoken to literally hundreds of women in the past year. We have fun, informative, casual conversations about books, life, family, friends, and what it means to be a woman today. As always, with each new conversation, I am reminded of how connected we women are, how closely our lives align, regardless of where in the world we live. These are some of the questions I am asked most often about True Colors…
Q: What was the seed that started this story? What made you want to write it in the first place?
A: This story came from a most unexpected place: my love of the law. It’s been years since I was a practicing attorney, and to be honest, I was glad to leave that career in my rear view mirror when I began writing. In the twenty years that I’ve been writing novels, I touched on the justice system only rarely. I didn’t think I had anything of real importance to say about it. And then the DNA testing revolution began. Like so many people, I watched the news and was fascinated—and horrified—to learn about the innocent people who had been wrongly convicted, and I cheered when those convictions were overturned due to DNA testing. With a little more research into the topic, I began to realize how difficult the system makes it for convicts to have these tests run. Obviously, no one wants to set guilty people free, but the idea that innocent people are sitting behind bars, having lost all hope, is intolerable.
That was all it took and I was hooked. Instantly I was at the “what if” stage of writing. What if a man was convicted based on eyewitness testimony in a small town—a place where the witness was trusted and the man on trial was not? What if he was your husband? How long would you wait for him? How long could you? What would your life like look like while he was in prison? What if you couldn’t afford the very best defense team to help you navigate through the criminal justice system? And lastly, what would you say to your child about his father?
Once those pieces were in place—the backbone of the plot—I looked to populate my story, and I knew immediately that I wanted the book to be about much more than a fractured legal system. I wanted it to be about a family.
Sisters and the law. That’s how this story came together for me, became a novel about sisters and small town injustice and the price we all pay for prejudice.
Q: Your books all seem to be intensely personal. Where are “you” in True Colors?
A: My books are often personal. I tend to derive inspiration from my own life, as well as the lives of my friends and family. In True Colors the element that is most personal is the setting. First, there’s the physical landscape. This novel is set in a secret, practically unknown corner of Washington State. Honestly, a lot of the locals don’t even know about it. The warm waters of Hood Canal really form the backbone of the novel. It’s a majestic, astounding vista—the blue water, the gray sand banks, the snowcapped peaks on the opposite shore. It’s one of the very rare places in the state where you can swim in seawater. It really is commonplace to see a pod of Orca whales swimming past on their way back out to sea.
In my opinion, this is a story that is very firmly rooted in time and place. In addition to the physical location, there’s the “horsey” setting. As I talk about in another section of this reader guide, I was a horse girl as a kid. You know the kind—dressed in faded Levi jeans, with a pair of ragged braids, a dusty white cowboy hat. I spent most of my free time trail riding or training my horse or working to buy a new bridle. Now, there are “horse people” all over the world, and each of these locations has their own special culture. For the cowboys and cowgirls in Western Washington, it’s not about sprawling ranches or tricked-out barns or expensive horses. It’s about a sense of community and a love of rodeos. It’s about 4-H and Independence Day parades and barn dances. I hope this novel gives you a glimpse into this unique world.
Q: How would you describe True Colors? Is it a family drama first and a love story second? A legal thriller? All of the above?
A: That’s a really great question. There were times, in the writing of this novel, that I asked myself that question. Sometimes it felt as if it were all about the love story, but then I’d turn a corner and it would be a searing family drama, and then suddenly I’d be writing a courtroom drama/legal thriller. It would be easy to say that this novel is all of the above, but at its very heart, this is a story about the way in which families—especially sisters—can break apart and come back together. In the end, what mattered to me was the family and how it changed in the face of tragedy.
Q: What was your favorite moment in the book?
A: Hmmm….favorite moment in the book. That’s a tough one. Certainly one of my favorite scenes in the book is when Winona makes Noah use duct tape for a belt. Maybe that’s because I remember those years with my son. We were constantly fighting the “pull your pants up and wear a belt” duel. So that scene on the dock never fails to make me smile. My other favorite scene in the book is when Dallas gets out of prison and he rides Renegade in the moonlight. Something about that image—the broken down old horse who has been waiting ten years for his rider to return, and the broken hearted man who has dreamed of being free again—it always touched my heart. And then to have Vivi standing there, seeing her husband again after so many lost and lonely years. I really loved that. I guess I’m a romantic at heart.
Q: Which sister is most like you?
A: I am all of these women, to a greater or lesser extent. Like Winona, I am seriously analytical and tend to see the world in black and white. I am sometimes judgmental and often intense. Like Vivi, I am profoundly optimistic, deeply romantic, and I am intensely connected to my family. Like Aurora, I am constantly trying to bring peace into any setting. I think that’s the lawyer in me—or maybe the Libra. I like harmony.
One of the things that I loved best about this book was that each sister’s strengths and weaknesses were relevant to the outcome of the story. Winona was definitely hard edged and judgmental and obsessive. These “dark” traits led her to betray her sister. But it was exactly these character traits that set her on the trail of justice. Without that same pigheaded desire to be right, she never would have accomplished Dallas’s release from prison.
Q: In the Grey family, Vivi is considered “the beautiful one,” Aurora “the peacemaker,” and Winona the “smart one.” How do perceived roles contribute to the hostilities that lie beneath the surface of the family? Is this dynamic at work in most families?
A: Actually, that’s one of the things that most fascinates me about families. They’re like high school—reputations are made early and they have a tendency to stick. Clearly Winona was much more romantic and easily wounded than anyone thought, and Vivi Ann was more rebellious than anyone gave her credit for, and Aurora hid a world of hurt behind every smile. Perhaps if these girls—women—had taken the time to reassess their girlhood perceptions of each other, they might have had less trouble when hard times hit. But as it was, old jealousies came out at some very bad times. One of the aspects of the novel that I think is most true concerns the father-daughter relationships. I find it amazing that children who grow up under the same roof, in the same family, can have such opposing views of their parents. Oftentimes, our view of our parents is as really about how we see ourselves, how we imagine our family to be. Vivi Ann decided to love her father; therefore, she imagined a depth of emotion in him that couldn’t actually be seen. Winona pined for her father’s attention; therefore every slight was personal, given to her alone. She didn’t notice that he treated each of his daughters with the same disdain. Of the three daughters, Aurora demanded the least of her father and saw him the most clearly.
Q: Can you tell us about The Innocence Project?
A: With pleasure. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufield at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The organization is dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through the use of DNA testing. There are now Innocence Projects all across the country, including one at the University of Washington. All of the attorneys and law students in the Innocence Project are dedicated to freeing the staggering number of innocent prisoners in our prisons. Additionally, they are committed to reforming the criminal justice system. It is an absolute tragedy that so many convictions are based on eyewitness misidentification, poor forensic science, bias, and false confessions. As of the date of this writing, 242 prisoners have been proven to be innocent and freed—including 17 who served time on death row.
Q: Can you tell us about your next book?
A: I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone to discover that Winter Garden is another novel that explores female relationships. It’s about two estranged sisters who discover unexpectedly that their mother had a stunning, secret life. It asks a fundamental question: How can a woman know herself if she doesn’t know her mother?
Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina listen to a singular, harrowing story that shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.
For the first time in my career, I have written two parallel stories that make up a single novel. Much of Winter Garden takes place in a beautiful, faraway city during World War II and focuses on the shocking things people—especially women—sometimes have to do to survive. It is also a contemporary look at how one’s past must be reassessed in the light of new revelations, and how sisters sometimes have to fight to stay close. It’s about loss and love and tragedy and hope. Ultimately, I think it is a story for any woman who has ever wondered what she would do to hold her family together.