1. What was your inspiration for the characters and storyline in this novel?
Have you ever noticed how when a relatively sane person lives with crazy people, they can get drawn into the dysfunction of someone else’s even crazier family drama without realizing how nuts it all actually is? It becomes almost absurd, and I love absurdity! I’m also fascinated with mental quirks if not full-blown mental illnesses, which is probably why I love movies like Lars and the Real Girl, Benny and Joon, and Harold and Maude (generally lighthearted presentations of mental illness—an otherwise dark and depressing subject). I wanted to write about an absurd manifestation of Delusional Disorder, and while I was at it, I threw in a few other disorders, such as Narcissistic, Dissociative, a mild case of Hording, and a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome. I have known a lot of people with ‘mental quirks’ and I find them interesting and often highly intelligent—great characters. From there, it’s a matter of coming up with plausible reasons for their mental anomalies and building a story around it. That said, having dealt with my own depression and anxiety over the years, and even having to admit a close friend to a facility for treatment of a severe mental illness, I do not mean to trivialize the subject.
2. The story takes place during the Glasnost era, at the time of the fall of the
Wall. Why did you choose to set the events of the novel during this historical
time period? Berlin
I took the circuitous route to that time period. When I determined that the delusional mother was a Russian expatriate—a former ballerina in the
since I rather like symbolism and metaphors in my writing, it just seemed like
a perfect time frame. I also like writing stories during times in which there
wasn’t a lot of technology, like cell phones and such. And I remember when the
Berlin Wall fell. It made me realize how little I knew of the Russian people
and how much of my knowledge had been tainted by Cold War propaganda and Hollywood—I mean,
Russians were always portrayed as spies! In fact, when I started researching
Russian history, it brought me to tears. Not that I shed new light on
Russians—and I might have employed a few stereotypes, but I’ve come away with a
greater appreciation for a truly noble people.
3. Juliet and
’s Aunt Anita is a
lively character. What was the inspiration for Anita’s hoarding and her chicken
The hording came about because I needed to put the lead female character, Juliet, in a socially unacceptable environment amidst an upper-class, conservative New
town. I know it’s gross, but I had the smell of the place in mind first, and it
was pungent like cat spray. But cat ladies are so cliché. And then I got
talking to a friend who grew up on a farm with chickens. He shared a few
hilariously disturbing stories with me, and I knew I needed to incorporate that
into the story. So, instead of a crazy cat lady, I went with crazy chicken
4. Nikolai’s blindness and his mother’s delusions about it create the psychological backdrop for the story. How does the concept of blindness tie in with the themes explored in the novel?
This is where the story veers away from absurd and strikes a chord of reality. I think we all tend to have blinders on when it comes to some relationships—where we may have difficulty “seeing” an individual for who they truly are. For various reasons, I think we sometimes hold on to the fantasy of who we wish someone was, or we can’t bring ourselves to admit that someone who claims to love us may not have our best interest at heart, or even that we may be alienated from someone due to the way another individual has twisted or manipulated our “view.” Blind Stitches deals with each of these scenarios. Fortunately for Nikolai, his “sight” improves by the end of the story, but some of us never fully come out of that “blindness.” And if we do, it can create tremendous upheaval, the kind of conflict we like to read about in novels but don’t want to experience firsthand.
5. Your other four novels also include themes of romance, delusion, and family secrets. Would you say that these are the trademarks of your work as an author?
I guess they are. For better or worse, I am fascinated with how badly the mind can go wrong, and how that manifests itself in a person’s life, especially within the family. I have always been interested in psychology, and interpersonal relationships. I’m especially intrigued by how some people manage to rise above their torments, while others struggle and even wallow in them. And yeah, it’s true, I like a good love story!
6. Do you have plans for a sixth novel and, if so, what can you tell us about it?
To be honest, I don’t have anything on the burner at this time, although, since I’ve had a few requests, I have been considering writing a third story in my Portrait series—but how much more can I put poor Leila through? (A dangerous question for a novelist!)
Talented young seamstress Juliet Glitch has been putting the finishing touches on a wedding dress for socialite, Nadia Solvay. When Nadia’s father dies unexpectedly two weeks before the wedding, mother of the bride, Olga Solvay, a former prima ballerina and Russian expatriate, asks Juliet to hem her son Nikolai’s trousers for the funeral. He has just returned to America from England, where he has been attending a “school for the blind.”
Juliet’s life in the small but elite community of Historia, New Hampshire, is complicated. Her nineteen-year-old brother, Rome, has Asperger’s, and their aunt, with whom they live, raises chickens and hoards junk. After meeting Nikolai, Juliet finds herself drawn to the intense and serious young man who is not what she expected. As Nikolai and Juliet spend time together, they embark on a psychological and emotional journey into family dysfunction and repressed memories surrounding his mother’s defection from the Soviet Union twenty years earlier. Set against the backdrop of autumn 1989, during the Glasnost era, Nikolai’s family secrets crash alongside the crumbling Berlin Wall.
Written in Chicoine’s trademark lyrical style, Blind Stitches provides a compelling study in family delusion and secrets, along with a touching love story that contains heartbreaking revelations of its own.