You may remember actress and author Meg Tilly from her 1985 film “Agnes of God,” 1983’s “Psycho II” or “The Big Chill.”
Tilly, who lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, has also written six novels, including Porcupine (2007), which was a finalist for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize.
Her newest novel is “Cliff’s Edge,” which indeed puts the reader (me, at least!) on the edge, a page-turner of a mystery about a young woman who’s being stalked and at the same time in love with a handsome movie star who just arrived on the island where she lives.
She’ll talk about her novel and her life at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at Village Books, 1200 11th St. She was kind enough to take time to respond to an email I sent her. I last spoke with her when she came to Village Books in 2007, after I wrote about her for another Bellingham publication. Here’s what she wrote back, edited a bit.
Margaret: Meg, way back in 2007 I had an email interview with you for “Porcupine,” and after going through your “old” blog, I see you were pretty thrilled with the overflow crowd at Village Books. I’m curious how you feel about book tours, compared to acting gigs. That is, for both of them, you are “onstage.” Do you have butterflies? Do you fret about how people are reacting? Are you self-confident?
Meg: I was thrilled with the warm, wonderful welcomes I received at Village Books. My first time at the bookstore was in 2004 for “Gemma” and the re-release of “Singing Songs.” “Ah…,” I thought, as I gazed over the crowd, “Bellingham is clearly full of devoted readers.” I was blown away with how many people took time out of their busy lives to come down to Village Books to support me and my books, which were about a difficult, personal subject matter. I read a little. We talked about life, challenging childhoods, movies, and writing. There was such warmth and love in that room, and I was full of gratitude.
After that visit, there was such affection in my heart for Village Books, for the residents of Bellingham and how they welcomed me, and my books. That is something I love about being an author. I visit places I might have missed out on. Before my visit, Bellingham was a town on the other side of the border, one that I usually zipped past in my car, tearing down Highway 5. Now I have a personal connection and have made it a resting stop on my numerous road trips. I like to wander the streets, do a little shopping, get lunch, some delicious donuts, and another book for the road.
I returned to Village Books in 2007 for my YA book, “Porcupine.” I figured it would be a smaller crowd then, but nope! How happy I was when everyone showed up again. Again I read, we talked, laughed a lot. It was great fun!
Now I return to Village Books again, and I am excited to meet the audience for my romantic suspense novel, “Cliff’s Edge.” It’s a different kind of book, more of a roller coaster ride, thrills and chills, a couple dead bodies, a hot hunky movie star, a bit of romance, and a happy ending. Basically, it’s a great beach read, and I have my fingers crossed that you guys will embrace it as you have my other offerings.
I do get butterflies with both acting and doing an author event, even after all these years of being in the public eye. It happens beforehand in the days and hours leading up to either shooting a film, going on stage, or stepping into a store for an author event. I think it’s the intense sense of responsibility that causes it. If I’m in a play or movie, people are handing over their hard-earned, after-tax money that they could spend on anything to watch a show. I want it to be the very best that it can, to show something of the human condition, the commonality that we all share.
The same goes for someone taking a chance and purchasing one of my books. It is such a kindness to an author to say, “Yes, I’m going to purchase your book, or check it out of the library. I am going to spend a day or two reading it, diving into a world and characters that you have created. I hope to walk away feeling it was time well used.” Whether it’s a biography, history, literary fiction, or a book like “Cliff’s Edge,” no matter what I am writing, you will always find a piece of me. That’s how writing is. I pour myself onto the pages.
I spend a lot of time on my books. I did four drafts of “Cliff’s Edge” before I sent it to my publisher. Then there were four more drafts before we had it ready for publication. I’ve put all that hard work and love and commitment into the book, and what if no one wants to read it? Oh, my, yes, there are nerves, every single time. But once I step onto the stage or film set or up to the podium in front of a bunch of readers, I take a deep breath, I swallow my fear, open my mouth, and start. And the most amazing thing happens. All the worry, all the fear, all the what-ifs melt away, and I have so much fun. And I find I am filled with gratitude that people were interested and took time out of their busy days to show up and spend an evening with me.
Margaret: Many of us in Bellingham have been to Salt Spring Island, and we know how absolutely gorgeous it is. How does living there, writing in your private space, going to the Saturday Market, living the “island life” influence your writing? I would think you incorporate some of your “movie knowledge” in the character of Rhys, but it’s pretty magical how you weave all the island feeling into this book.
Meg: Thank you so much, Margaret! I love living on Salt Spring Island and wanted to express the beauty of the place, how it feels to reside there. I’m so glad that came across for you. When I decided to write the first romantic suspense book, I was bouncing ideas off Dawna, my dear friend and walking companion for the last 21 years. I knew I wanted to write about sisters, sort of as a nod to my own sisters and the closeness and love that we share. But I couldn’t settle on a location.
So, Dawna and I were tromping along, and I was tossing various possible locales out, when she said, “Why not base it here on Salt Spring? We’ve got terrific scenery, the Saturday market, interesting residents.”
I stopped in my tracks. “Dawna, my dear, I could hug you.” The moment she suggested it, Salt Spring Island seemed exactly right. And then I did hug her, which made her slightly embarrassed but quietly pleased.
About 70 percent of the locations I used in “Cliff’s Edge” and my first romantic suspense novel, “Solace Island,” are based on real places on Salt Spring Island. There are a couple fictional places, as well as a few that I tweaked a bit to fit the story, but, hey, the place is called Solace Island, so that gives me license to do whatever I like!
As far as weaving Rhys’ movie actor life into the story, that was something I could draw on from my career as an actress. I knew what it was to be famous. I knew what it was like to be chased down the street, to long for privacy and a normal life.
With regard to the antagonist in the book, I know what it is like to be stalked, so I could draw on that as well in creating this character.
Margaret: Also food!! What an important element for you and for this novel! It seems food is not only a comfort for you, but (I won’t give spoilers, promise) food plays a significant (and surprising) role in this book. Your thoughts?
Meg: Delicious food is one of the wonderful things that I love about Salt Spring Island. The local, organic farmers, the abundance of fresh produce in the summer and early fall, the baked goods that crop up all over the island, the local cheese makers, vineyards, and breweries. Also, on a personal level, having a lovely stocked fridge and cupboard is such a luxury to me, having gone to bed hungry at times as a child. So since I was writing a book with a happy-ever-after ending, I wanted comfort sprinkled throughout the books to balance out the suspense and thrills and chills aspects.
Margaret: The women in all of your novels seem to overcome emotional traumas of various sorts. I know you’ve said that you’ve gone with the advice to “write what you read,” and I am curious how you build your characters, especially the women, in your books. Do they kind of “speak up,” or do you consciously develop them as your plot unfolds? Do you always know the twists and turns that are going to happen in your books? Do you make a storyboard or an outline?
Meg: Margaret, you have hit the nail on the head with this one. Yes. The women in all of my books, no matter the type of book I am writing, do overcome emotional traumas. I’ve come to realize over the years that that is probably the central or core theme that is woven throughout my books, the power of grit, perseverance, and determination in the face of adversity. How bad things happen, but that doesn’t have to define a person. Challenges are present in everyone’s life. It’s how you rise to meet them that defines you. Sometimes you will be successful, and sometimes you won’t. Doesn’t matter. It is the doing that counts.