Hudson Catalina has given up. Having lost both breasts to cancer, she is emotionally and physically exhausted and no longer willing to endure the nausea and crushing weakness that chemotherapy causes, until the wrecked-by-life young Buddy Baker arrives, bent on murder. A touching story of despair, abuse, murder, and survival takes you on a journey through the darkest places of the human mind and spirit, and in the end leads you back out of “the belly of the whale” enriched by the experience.
This is the premise of a new book by Kunati Books author Linda Merlino which is the fictional account of twenty-four hours in the life of a young woman with breast cancer, the day she gives up hope of surviving and the day she is taken hostage in an all-night market by a killer more deadly than her disease.
We interviewed Ms. Merlino to find out more about her and her fantastic new book.
Thank you for this interview, Linda. Can you tell us why you wrote your book?
Why did I write Belly of the Whale? Because had to, that’s the only answer I can give. As a writer you are propelled by unseen hands that guide you and push you along when you are discouraged. The story is not autobiographical, not in the sense of my having cancer, but in other way that I have experienced life taking me into its dark places.
You chose Kunati Books to publish it. Can you tell us step-by-step how you made this happen?
In September of 2006 I began to query agents. The process of seeking an agent began in earnest and in October 2006 I sent a query to Kunati. The rule of thumb was not to query publishers, but Kunati expressed a willingness to consider unagented manuscripts. I liked their mission statement, and that Kunati was willing to take on new voices.
In November, Kunati asked for the entire manuscript. This happened about the same time that I met an agent networking through the Connecticut Press Club. This literary service was Connecticut based and was willing to read my manuscript. Kunati, Inc. came to me in December 2006 with an offer to publish Belly of the Whale. I immediately got back in touch with Talcott Notch Literary Services and they agreed to represent me.
Your main character, Hudson Catalina, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, but what is interesting is that you chose to have the story elapse over a twenty-four-hour period. Was it hard to come up with an entire storyline in that short amount of time?
My premise in using the twenty-four hour storyline was to emphasize the point that we never know what is going to happen from one minute to the next. Hudson Catalina had decided on this one day that she was going to die, she gave up hope. From that moment her story begins and as it unfolds hour after hour, the reader is pulled into Hudson’s day, page after page, until the nail-biting end.
Did you ever see yourself in Hudson?
No, I do not see myself in Hudson. She is her own person, as I am. Writing this character, creating her persona allowed me as the author to make her an individual.
What would you say Hudson learned at the end of the book without giving away the ending?
Hudson learned so much from the other two hostages in Whale Market. This wisdom came much earlier than the end of the book. The reader is unsure whether Hudson is narrating alive or dead. But despite that, it is still possible for her to recognize what she was blind to before. Ruby Desmond explains to Hudson Catalina that, “There’s all kinds of dying, honey.” And Hudson tells Ruby at the end of Chapter Thirteen that she thought she had no choices, but that now has a renewed sense of life. Hudson says she’s learned: “We don’t know what is going to happen next or how we are going to die.”
Could you explain to our readers what “belly of the whale” means for those who aren’t familiar with the expression?
The belly of the whale is in itself biblical, Jonah’s experience of being swallowed by the whale. The metaphor in the book encompasses, mind, body and soul. Symbolically it is the descent into darkness. Sometimes we are in the light and other times we are in the shadow. Living has its measure of pain and tragedy. When you come out of the whale’s belly you are not the same person. Life has had its way with you, and for good or for bad; you have survived.
Thank you for this interview, Linda. We wish you much success in the future and look forward to more of your books! You can visit Linda on the web at www.lindamerlino.com.