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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spotlight Saturday: Author Interview and Giveaway with Bee Ridgway, author of The River of No Return

Hi, everyone!

Welcome to another edition of Spotlight Saturday at Darlene's Book Nook, where we feature authors and their books!

We will be joined today by Bee Ridgway.

About Bee:

Bee Ridgway holds a PhD in Literature from Cornell University and is a professor of English literature at Bryn Mawr College. She lived in England for several years and now makes her home in Philadelphia. This is her first novel.


Welcome to Darlene's Book Nook, Bee! What inspired you to write The River of No Return?

This question has two answers. Some years ago I was living in Vermont, in a little house that had been built in the late 18th century. The floorboards and the windows were ancient. But the rest had been rehabbed, and the rehab had injected some psychedelic modernity into it – you could really feel the 1970s in almost every room. We called it the 1790s-1970s house. One winter night I was looking out the window, down toward the frozen beaver pond across the driveway. The ice was shining in the light of a full moon. Suddenly the distance between 1790 and 1970 seemed like nothing at all, compared with the millions of years that beavers have been farming the woodlands of North America. It was then that the image of my main character came into my head, fully developed. He is a reluctant time traveler named Nick. I imagined him living in that same house, trying to negotiate a blank of 200 years in the middle of his life. I wrote down a five-page character study of him, imagining him waking up from a nightmare recalling the Napoleonic War to just such a moonlit night in Vermont, and then going downstairs and receiving a letter from the mysterious organization that controls time travel. I had no idea what happened next, what was in the letter, anything… I put the character study away and forgot about it.

Then in the summer of 2011 – on July 23, to be exact – Nick burst back into my consciousness and demanded that I write his story. I’m a scholar, and I had just finished work on an essay about Abraham Lincoln and the Black Hawk War. I had six weeks of the summer left before starting the teaching year. I was exhausted, and my fortieth birthday was a week away. I needed to have some fun. I sat down at my computer, and I typed a name – Bee Ridgway. It is a combination of my family nickname and my grandmother’s maiden name. Then I started writing the first scene of the novel. I kept writing for twelve hours a day, seven days a week, until I had a first draft. Each scene followed the last – it was as if Nick had locked himself away in some forgotten corner of my mind, and had hunched himself over an electric typewriter and bashed out this novel. I can just see him picking at the keys and cursing when he makes a mistake. Then one day he finished it, walked out and starting handing it to me, page by page.

What was the biggest challenge in writing the novel?

The writing of the novel came very easily. But I kept it a secret from everyone except my brother, to whom the book is dedicated, and my partner. My mom and dad, my sisters, my closest friends – none of them knew anything about the book until the day my agent sold it to my publisher, almost nine months after I had begun writing. The secrecy was essential to me; I would never have finished the novel if anyone knew I was writing it. On one level keeping quiet about what I was doing was very easy; in fact, it was a delicious secret. But it was also difficult. For almost a year I was working on writing in every spare moment, which meant that I never went out, saw almost no one, and then when people asked what I was up to I said evasive things like “oh, I’m working hard.” When I finally did tell my friends some of them said they had been worried about me, and thought I might be battling depression. In fact I was happier than I had ever been in my life.

What kind of research did you do for the novel?

I am already a scholar of 19th century history and literature; much of the history I was engaging was already familiar to me. But I had to research the Corn Laws closely, for which I read quite a bit of contemporary scholarship, and I also went into the archives of debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, to get a sense of how the laws were being discussed. Luckily for me I was writing a work of fiction, so I could stage some conversations that happened in the Commons in the Lords, and I could put the murders directly in Berkeley Square – in fact they happened a few streets over. And speaking of streets, I spent a lot of time with old maps of London.

The trickier question for me was how to get a sense of time travel into the actual prose of the novel. In the novel, the time travelers use streams of human emotion to move up and down what they call the River of Time. Obviously this is not actually possible, nor does it have any relationship to Einstein and the speed of light and all of that! I wanted readers to feel something strange, something uncanny or untimely, as they read the novel. So I worked in dozens of citations to older literature. There are obvious ones – Nick is constantly citing poetry, and doing it self-consciously. But there are many, many more that are simply hidden like Easter eggs throughout the book, woven into the sentences and the plot. Some are mere sentence fragments, others are entire scenes lifted out of literature going back to the 16th century. I don’t want the reader to necessarily recognize these moments – after all, I mostly want THE RIVER OF NO RETURN to be a page-turner, a storming read, the kind of novel that hauls you through it just because it’s fun. But I would like readers to sense, as they are charging through the novel, places where another kind of voice from another time is calling to them through the prose itself. I had to do quite a lot of research to make this work, and then quite a lot of ironing out to make it as seamless as possible.

You have a PhD in Literature and currently teach at Bryn Mawr College. How does this background influence your writing? What impact have your students had on this novel?

A writer must be a reader, and lord knows I’ve read so many damn books in my life they would probably bring my little Philly row house down in a pile of rubble if I actually had them all stacked up together. But more than that, I’ve studied books, and more even than that, I’ve taught them. Teaching is the greatest teacher, and in order to do a good job I’ve had to understand how certain are built, how they work, from the ground up. On the most basic level teaching big, 19th century, plot and character driven novels taught me how to write The River of No Return.

On another level, teaching literature of the past involves tempting your students to be time-travelers, to give themselves over to the language, and the character, and the feelings of another era. The very bones of my time travel idea come from constantly having to lure my students into the past, training them that they like it there, helping them build not only the historical knowledge they need to make sense of older literatures, but understand that the very feelings and desires that drove these authors and readers are differently inflected than their own.

Finally, if I have taught my students to read literatures of the past, they have taught me to read contemporary popular fiction, specifically speculative fiction and young adult fiction. Bryn Mawr women are voracious readers, and when they get to their senior year in the English major they must write year-long research papers. Many of them choose the contemporary literatures that they read in their spare time, which means that I have had to follow them into that realm of fiction. It has been a huge eye opener for me, and frankly, if I hadn’t worked with such brilliant, questing students who have introduced me to such wonderful books, I would never have written THE RIVER OF NO RETURN.

What do you hope readers take away from The River of No Return?

Most of all I hope they get lost in the book and have a great time with it. So far someone has named their puppy after Arkady, the rapscallion Russian time-traveling count. Someone else wrote to tell me the ARC she had been reading was stolen from her at the DMV. And my editor had a copy of the ARC with her in a restaurant, and the waiter got so excited about the novel that he demanded she give it to him right then and there. I love that. I want the book to make people want to steal it, I want it to make them happy, I want it to make them name their pets after it. But if we’re going to talk about deep and meaningful things that a reader might take away from the novel, I suppose I’d like people to think about themselves as historical. Understand that you are made by your time, and that you also make your time. That you are a member of a generation, and that you have a responsibility to your generation-mates. We are all making the future together, out the past. But really – I just want to make people lose a night of sleep because they can’t put the book down.

  Thanks so much for joining us today, Bee! It was so much fun getting to know you better!

Courtesy of Dutton, Penguin Group USA, one lucky winner will win a hardcover copy of Bee's debut novel, The River of No Return.

TITLE: The River of No Return 
AUTHOR: Bee Ridgway
PUBLISHER: Dutton Adult
PUBLICATION DATE: April 23, 2013
FORMAT: Hardcover, 464 pages 
GENRE: Fantasy
ISBN: 9780525953869

In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future.

“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life's advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.

In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.

Buy Links:  
Amazon / Barnes & Noble

To enter the giveaway, you must complete the Rafflecopter entry form below.

This giveaway is open to Canada/US mailing addresses only and will close at 12:00 AM CST on May 4, 2013.


  1. I love how you came to meet the main character Nick, and how the house tied in to it cool

  2. I love this little kitten on your blog! I sat there and played with him till it was ridiculous.

    1. Awwww, I'm glad you had fun, Beckie! She looks just like my cat in real life, Trixie!


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