In Young’s debut, The Gates of Evangeline, disturbing dreams plunge a single mother (whose four-year-old son has recently died) into the Louisiana bayou—and the unsolved disappearance of another boy decades earlier.
What inspired you to write a novel about a woman who, after her young son’s death, has dark premonitory dreams about children?
The concept came very directly from my grandmother, who had recurring nightmares about her own four-year-old falling out of a window, and then one day, when he was in someone else’s care, he actually did. I’ve had several premonitory dreams myself, but they’re usually pretty mundane by comparison, like dreaming about places before I see them. I did have a dream once about a fatal stabbing in my neighborhood the same night that it happened. I always feel a little kooky talking about that, but I suspect everyone has these dreams. I think I just remember mine better than the average person.
When did you first hear about your grandmother’s experience, and how did you react?
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I heard the story of how she’d had the dream beforehand, and then she also told me about waking up in the night after her son had passed away and seeing him at the foot of her bed. I was amazed because my grandmother was always such a skeptical woman, she was very firmly atheist, and so for her to tell this story—a ghost story, basically—was very surprising. So I knew that it must have been a really profound experience for her to share it, when it went against so much of who she was.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I would say I’m a fairly skeptical person, but I’ve had enough personal experiences to keep an open mind.
How tough was it for you, as a mother, to write some of the scenes involving dead children?
It was definitely a hard head space to put myself in. My first pregnancy actually ended in a miscarriage in New Orleans while I was doing research for the book, so it was really devastating to lose even just the idea of a child at that point. And then when I went on to have children—and you see the tangible traces of them in all facets of your life—it’s terrifying to imagine what life would be like with them gone.
Why did you set the novel in Louisiana?
I’ve always been really fascinated by Louisiana. You have these haunting swamplands, these lavish plantation homes with very dark histories and you have New Orleans, which is probably my favorite U.S. city. I’ve always been drawn to places that have a specific regional culture, cuisine, dialect, and Louisiana has all of that.