A. J. Gnuse is the author of Girl in the Walls, his debut novel, published by Fourth Estate on 1 April 2021.
He kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Girl in the Walls.
Girl in the Walls is the story of eleven-year-old Elise, an orphan who has snuck back into her old family home, where she haunts the new family that lives there. She hides in the attic and walls, sneaking out for food and other needs, searching for small objects that still remain in the house that her parents left behind. Eventually, the new family’s two teenage boys begin to sense her presence, and they begin their search for her.
Ultimately, Girl in the Walls is a literary story about overcoming grief and coming to terms with the things we don’t know. But as the story progresses, the suspense certainly builds.
2. What inspired the book?
Girl in the Walls was largely inspired by all those strange noises our homes make over the course of a day: the floorboards creaking, the walls popping, the occasional unexplainable sound from a closet or an empty room. While the premise is undoubtably eerie, I do see Girl in the Walls as sort of a love song to our homes, even as these buildings, no matter how much we know them, will always remain a little mysterious to us.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’m absolutely a “plan” writer. Because of that, first drafts tend to be the hardest for me, as I will always know where I want to go, but getting there can seem like an impossible task at times. I love the revision stage the most, once all those questions and logistics have been taken care of.
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?
I think there’s a new surprise every day. I’m finding there’s so many different people involved in publishing, and so many different kinds of artistry involved in getting a book created and on your bookshop’s shelves. The more I learn, the more respect I have not only for the people in the industry but for books themselves.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
The past pandemic year has certainly made it hard to feel like we can get away, hasn’t it? Lately, I’ve been making treks out to the Sam Houston National Forest in south-eastern Texas, where I’m living at the moment. Some of the pine trees there are so old and large, they look like live oaks!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
It would have to be a big one! It’s good then that I’ve always been a fan of the Russian classics. I love those epic emotional journeys characters undergo in Tolstoy’s novels. I wouldn’t mind living with all the various stories in War and Peace for the rest of my life.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I’ve been really impressed by the questions I’ve been asked so far! I will say, I enjoy interviews, but there’s nothing like having a conversation about books with another reader at a coffeeshop, bookshop, or bar. This isn’t really answering the question so much, but like everyone, I can’t wait until we’re all able to get out and enjoy each other’s company again. I’m a writer, but I’m a reader first. And while reading is obviously something we do in the quiet on our own, it’s also such a pleasure when our thoughts on a book can be shared.
About the Book
’Those who live in the walls must adjust, must twist themselves around in their home,
stretching themselves until they’re as thin as air. Not everyone can do what they can.
But soon enough, they can’t help themselves. Signs of their presence remain in a house.
Eventually, every hidden thing is found.’
Elise knows every inch of the house. She knows which boards will creak. She knows where the gaps are in the walls. She knows which parts can take her in, hide her away. It’s home, after all. The home her parents made for her. And home is where you stay, no matter what.
Eddie calls the same house his home. Eddie is almost a teenager now. He must no longer believe in the girl he sometimes sees from the corner of his eye. He needs her to disappear. But when his older brother senses her, too, they are faced with a question: how do they get rid of someone they aren’t sure even exists?
And, if they cast her out, what other threats might they invite in?