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Author Interview with George Ella Lyon

George Ella Lyon's newest novel, Holding On To Zoe, was just released in July.


Readers often want to know where writers’ ideas come from. Tell us about the genesis of your novel Holding On to Zoe. Is the story imagined, based in reality, or some of both?

Like so much of my writing, Zoe began in my journal. My practice, when I don’t have an ongoing project, is to come to the page and ask who wants to speak. Then I wait. Sometimes nobody shows up. Sometimes it’s somebody I don’t connect with. Maybe a guy who wants to tell me how the St. Lawrence Seaway was built. I try to be open to whoever comes, but if I really don’t connect with the voice, I don’t return to it the next day.

With Jules, I was captivated from the first page. Who was this narrator? Where did she come from? What was her story? Would she come back? Would I have the courage and stamina to go on her story?

If you compare this beginning with the final novel, you’ll see that Zoe started out as Lily and the factory was different, too, but Jules and her situation were the same. As for the story’s basis in reality, I do live fourteen miles from a big Toyota plant—and I drive a little Toyota—but that’s about it. Of course, Jules shares some characteristics and experiences of people I have known, but her story is her own.

What do you hope readers will take away from their reading of Holding On to Zoe?
First, I hope they are held by the story and that, at the end, they’re glad they made the journey. I hope they feel less alone. Then I hope they feel larger inside when it’s over, that they’ll have more understanding and compassion for themselves and others.

As a reader, I always hope for an ah ha! moment when something that mystified or alluded me in my own life comes into focus through someone else’s words. I search for something that will light up my inner world and then shine out in my life. I hope that for my readers, too.

Are there any new projects you can tell us about?

I’m revising a novel in poems called Something Happened. It’s about Emmy and Chloe, cousins who are also best friends. It’s set in the Sixties, in a family where love makes big mistakes and the wrong people are considered crazy.

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