A family legend inspired Taylor to shine a spotlight on her hometown of Scranton, Penn., in her debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night.
Your publisher informs us that the idea for this novel was inspired by a real-life incident that occurred in your family before you were born.
On the day she was baptized—July 4, 1918—my grandmother’s sister, Pearl, and her friends were playing with sparklers in the backyard. Something happened, and her dress went up in flames. According to the story, she survived for three days, and she sang hymns nonstop. When she passed away, everybody in Scranton came to view the body of the little girl who sang hymns. The story took on mythological proportions; it has always fascinated me. What also fascinated me was the effect witnessing [it] had on [my grandmother’s] life—although in real life, no one blamed her.
A key plot twist is a fateful snowstorm that has a major impact, not just upon Violet and her family but upon the entire community. Is the character Billy Sunday, who figures prominently, a historical figure?
The Billy Sunday Snowstorm is a real event that happened in Scranton in 1914. I grew up hearing all kinds of stories about it. Everybody seems to have known someone who was “saved” during the revival meeting that went on during the snowstorm. It seems kind of funny, because not everybody in Scranton was there that day, but they all wanted to have some claim to it. There’s something about that snowstorm I always thought would make for an interesting scene in a novel, so I purposely went back [to 1914] to include it.
Where does the title come from?
It comes from an old Welsh proverb that means, “Don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched.” The Owens are a Welsh family, so it seemed appropriate. Also, there are many times in the book, and I didn’t do this intentionally, where there’s literal singing, and then tragedy strikes soon afterward.
Why did you include the commentary by a chorus of church women?
I grew up around the church women and I loved them. I also loved how well intended, but also how flawed, they were. Something about a Greek chorus and using church women to advance the story appealed to me.