Anne D. LeClaire, a longtime resident of Chatham, is the author of nine novels, including “The Lavender Hour,” “Leaving Eden” and “Entering Normal.” Her latest, a murder-mystery called “The Halo Effect,” is her first novel in 10 years and her first book to reach No. 1 on the Amazon bestseller list. The story, set in Port Fortune, a small seaside town in Massachusetts, is about a couple whose lives are forever altered by the murder of their daughter. In the book, LeClaire explores the roles of faith and friendship and a community’s capacity to heal. Here, the author discusses the challenges of writing a heartbreaking yet hopeful novel, which took her more than five years to write.
Q: What was the inspiration behind your ninth novel, “The Halo Effect?”
A: I was inspired by the documentary, “Divining the Human: The Cathedral Tapestries of John Nava,” about the creation of the saint tapestries for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The film has been called a “stunning insight into the connections between art, faith and the human community.” In the centuries-old artistic tradition, the artist John Nava used local people as models and what haunted me was the idea of how Nava must have been changed by the experience of seeing the ordinary people of his community as saints.
Q: What were some of the challenges of writing this novel?
A: The scope of the themes, such as how violence affects a community, a family, an individual. How have we become a nation where thousands of children are murdered each year? Each year. I mean, how does that happen with so little outcry? And how do we forgive? How do we heal? It took more than five years to write, and the research was extensive, everything from small and specific details—which are so important—to larger understandings. I am not Catholic and the idea of writing from a priest’s point of view was daunting. Fortunately, I connected with several members of the Catholic clergy who were willing to have lengthy conversations, not only about the specific questions I had, but also about larger questions of philosophy and faith and theme.
Q: Although the book revolves around a tragedy, the story line is also about community and family and how people pull together during times of grief and crisis. What do you hope readers learn or take away from your book?
A: I think we forget how personal grief is and how each person’s timetable is unique and should not be judged because it doesn’t align with our own. Help can come from the most unexpected places. We need each other. We mustn’t forget that.
Q: Do you consider yourself a religious person?
A: I was raised in a religious tradition and it has a deep hold on me and forms the bedrock of my beliefs. But as I entered adulthood, I studied and learned about other traditions and I think my spiritual life is now informed not by dogma but by the universal teachings of many masters.
Q: You mentioned recently that it wasn’t your intention to make the priest one of the main characters, but he kept coming back in your head and wouldn’t go away. Does this happen often with your books?
A: All the time. The characters whisper—or yell—at me as I work and often disturb my dreams, especially when I don’t listen to them while awake.
Q: Compared to your other novels, would you say this one is closest to your heart?
A: Perhaps. I know for sure it is the most ambitious.
“The Halo Effect,” by Anne D. LeClaire, Lake Union Publishing, 348 pages, $14.95 for paperback and $4.99 for eBook