Character-Driven Fiction Takes Readers Back to 1968 | Sharon Solwitz’s New Novel

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

ONCE, IN LOURDES author Sharon Solwitz has one previous novel, Bloody Mary, and a collection of short stories, Blood and Milk, which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from Friends of the Chicago Public Library and the prize for adult fiction from the Society of Midland Authors, and was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Several of her stories are featured in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Short Stories. Other honors for her individual stories, which have appeared in such magazines as TriQuarterly, Mademoiselle, and Ploughshares, include the Pushcart Prize, the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, the Nelson Algren Literary Award, and grants and fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council. Solwitz teaches fiction writing at Purdue University and lives in Chicago with her husband, the poet Barry Silesky. Read on for a conversation with Sharon about the richly drawn characters in ONCE, IN LOURDES, the differences between teenagers in 1968 and today, and her upcoming adventures in writing and beyond.

Sharon Solwitz
–photo by Bobby Dorn

Four Characters Loyal to their Friends

ONCE, IN LOURDES stars a group of four best friends: Kay, Saint, CJ, and Vera. Each of them is an outsider in their small Michigan town, but each sticks out in a different way. How did you develop these distinct characters?

This was the first piece of fiction I ever wrote that didn’t start with some disturbed aspect of myself. Eventually the characters took on ways of seeing that I recognized in myself or other people, but that took a while. The origin or germ was a single image that made me want to know more about it, of a small pretty blond girl with a deformed hand, standing on the edge of a cliff with three other