Whisper Hollow: Interview and Giveaway


Chris Cander

Genre: Literary Fiction / Friendship
Publisher: Other Press
Date of Publication: March 17, 2016
Number of Pages: 400

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Set in a small coal-mining town, Whisper Hollow is full of secrets, love, and betrayal, where Catholicism casts a long shadow and three courageous women make choices that will challenge our own moral convictions.

One morning in Verra, a town nestled into the hillsides of West Virginia, the young Myrthen Bergmann is playing tug-of-war with her twin, when her sister is killed. Unable to accept her own guilt, Myrthen excludes herself from all forms of friendship and affection and begins a twisted, haunted life dedicated to God. Meanwhile, her neighbor Alta Krol longs to be an artist even as her days are taken up caring for her widowed father and siblings. Everything changes when Myrthen marries the man Alta loves. Fourteen years later, we meet Lidia, a teenage girl in the same town, and her precocious son, Gabriel. When Gabriel starts telling eerily prescient stories that hint at Verra’s long-buried secrets, it’s not long before the townspeople begin to suspect that the boy harbors evil spirits—an irresistible state of affairs for Myrthen and her obsession with salvation. Rendered in exquisite prose, Whisper Hollow is an extended reflection on guilt, redemption and the affirmation of life in this early 20th century Appalachian community.


~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)

“Cander divinely delves into multiple points of view, crafting a collage of vibrant, layered characters while charting six decades of poignant, precise moments. A distinctive novel that sublimely measures the distressed though determined heartbeat of a small mountain community.”

~Shelf Awareness (STARRED REVIEW)

“Cander weaves together the stories of these varied characters across nearly five decades with skill and grace, and in her hands, Whisper Hollow grows into much more than the sum of its many parts. The result is a memorable novel about the bonds of town and family, the strength of friendships in unlikely places and the power of secrets to shape a life–or many lives–often without anyone even recognizing it.”


“Cander superbly envisions the town, its residents’ dynamics, and the early twentieth-century immigrant experience…[and] rewards the reader with…well-developed, believable characters whose mental fortitude and capacity to love linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page.”

~Publishers Weekly

“[Whisper Hollow] is inextricably rooted in West Virginia coal country—the rough locale that determines and intertwines [Cander’s] characters’ fates…Cander closely tracks how Myrthen’s and Alta’s romantic decisions unknowingly complicate each other’s lives in the lead-up to a tragic incident that bisects the novel…[and] admirably captures the lack of choice that men and women have in rural West Virginia.”

~Library Journal 

“Spare, elegant writing by the author of 11 Stories evokes a bleak atmosphere and creates a smooth, compelling narrative… much of the prose is so outstanding, this writer is clearly gifted.  Give this literary, plot-driven novel to those who enjoy the West Virginia setting and who like a gentle handling of their tragedies.”



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How has being a Houstonian influenced your writing?

Houston is a relatively young city to be the fourth largest in this country, but it comes with a rich history. Against the backdrop of the Alamo, the Indian wars, and the cattle drives, early settlers along Buffalo Bayou in the 1830s were known for their profanity and prostitution, drunkenness and dueling. (We locals are still trying to tame one another.) The ship channel and railroads made Houston a successful cotton and lumber market, and the discovery of Texas Tea at Spindletop made the economy go boom in the 20th century. Since people tend to follow the money, Houston has always been a fascinating melting pot. If there’s a more vibrant place for a writer to observe a cross section of humanity—and to be influenced by those observations—I’d like to know where it is.

Which Texas writers do you read and which Texas writers have inspired you?

Of all the Texas writers I’ve read, I’ve probably been inspired most by Katherine Ann Porter’s stories, especially “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” I also love Donald Barthelme for his disciplined, unique, word-cloud prose. Mary Karr, who grew up in my dad’s hometown, for her vivid, tragicomic memoirs. Larry McMurtry for Lonesome Dove. The poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, who used to babysit my husband when he was a pre-teen in San Antonio in the late 1960s. I’m a fan of Justin Cronin’s early work, and recently picked up Friendswood by René Steinke, which I’m looking forward to reading.

How long have you been writing?

For almost forty years.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

My fiction isn’t about what happens to people, but the way that those people respond to what happens. It’s very character-driven, and can be, I’ve been told, dark.

What’s the most important part for you when creating characters? And have you ever created one you really didn’t like writing about?

I like to explore the dark truths about the human condition. To create authentic and interesting characters, first I plumb the shameful, private, aching depths of my own soul, then I start in on the people I know or have read about or simply imagine. The best literary figures are those who appear unique on the page, but who reveal something universal about humanity. I’ve created characters that are vehemently unlikeable, but I’ve never disliked writing about them.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Rewriting it. Three different publishers asked for total rewrites—and then didn’t accept the manuscript for publication. My agent finally said, “We’re not doing this again. You write the book you want to write, and we’ll go with that.” I put the book back into its original structure and added everything I learned about the characters in those three subsequent drafts. It was so much work. So many cut pages! So many lost words! I realized, though, that those losses weren’t waste. They were practice. After I returned the book to her, my agent sold it within two weeks.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?


What’s your funniest flaw?

I’m hyper-organized. I like things at 90-degree angles and if something’s the tiniest bit out of alignment, I can spot it instantly. Is that funny? Probably not. But certain people would definitely consider it a flaw.

What do you want your tombstone to say?

Writer, fighter, mother, lover.

about the author


Chris Cander is a novelist, children’s book author, screenplay writer, and writer-in-residence for Houston-based Writers in the Schools. Her novel Whisper Hollow was selected as an Indie Next pick and nominated for the 2015 Kirkus Prize in fiction and her award-winning novel 11 Stories was included in Kirkus’s best indie general fiction of 2013. Her children’s book The Word Burglar received the silver 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Reading Skills & Literacy. Her animated feature film Germs! is currently in pre-production with Cinsesite in partnership with Comic Animations. Chris well knows that the pen is mightier than the sword, but she’s willing to wield one of those, too. A former fitness competitor and model, she currently holds a 3rd dan in taekwondo and is a certified ICSU Women’s Defensive Tactics Instructor. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Author’s Guild, the Writers’ League of Texas, PEN, and MENSA.

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