Patricia Abbott’s debut novel, Concrete Angel, is the involving tale of Eve Moran and the twisted, decades-old relationship she has with her daughter, Christine. The book is an engaging character-driven thriller about love and dependence gone awry. Patricia took some questions from us dealing with her book and relationship with her own daughter, acclaimed noir novelist, Megan Abbott, whose most recent crime novel, The Fever, is soon to hit the small screen in a television adaptation.
MysteryPeople: What about the idea of Concrete Angel appealed to you as a first book?
Patricia Abbott: I really liked the idea of flipping the plot of Mildred Pierce. But how exactly to do it? When I read about a mother and daughter being convicted of various incidents of fraud and other small crimes and that the daughter claimed her mother made her do it, that seemed like the right fit. How could a mother make her daughter (in her twenties, in this case) commit numerous crimes over many years? I needed more insight into their situation. And then I remembered a childhood friend whose mother had enormous power over her because of her dependence on her mother. It was just the two of them in a pretty scary world. That was also somewhat the setup in Mildred Pierce (after a younger daughter died). Except in that case, Mildred’s extreme love for Veda made her the victim of her monstrous daughter. In Concrete Angel, it’s Christine’s love and dependence on her monstrous mother that sets things into motion. And since that childhood friend lived in my native city of Philadelphia I could set it there. This made it work because I knew their house, the places they went, the bakery they shopped in even. Many of the incidents from the section of the book where Eve marries Micky DiSantis are based on their lives.
MP: Was there a particular reason to send a lot of the action in the seventies?
PA: I wanted to recapture the Philadelphia of my youth and early twenties. Although the book goes well into the seventies–up to 1982, in fact, it is mostly the sixties that I write about in detail: going downtown to glamorous movie theaters and stores, a slower time before towns like Doylestown and Hatboro became outer suburbs. In the mid-sixties they were country towns. I had access to how Philly was changing until my parents left in 2003 or so. But what I remember best were the Kennedy and Johnson years.
MP: Eve is one of those characters you feel compelled to read about, even though you probably wouldn’t want to deal with her in real life for ten minutes. What did you want to get across to the reader about her?
PA: Originally the entire book was set in the third person. But Eve took over every scene until I gave Christine her own voice by putting her sections in the first person. I wanted you to fear and dislike Eve, but she is the more memorable character. She is funny and seductive. Christine can’t hold your attention as a reader because she’s been stunted as a person through dealing with her mother for almost every minute of her life. Likewise Hank, who may escape her, but to what. I wanted you to feel sympathy for Eve from time to time though. She has a few good moments here and there. But on the whole, she is a parasite. She will never see beyond her own needs.
MP: As someone who was both a mother and daughter. was there anything you could apply to your own experience to such a twisted mother-daughter tale?
PA: I hope not. My mother and I had a difficult relationship in my childhood. She felt pressure (from her mother and sixties norms) for her kids to be perfect. I think she wasn’t that interested or adept in mothering–although not one could admit that in the fifties and sixties. But she was a great mother to an older daughter. We got along beautifully as adults when she no longer felt responsible for me. As for Megan, she was a very easy child to raise. I hope I encouraged her to set goals and pursue them, but mostly it was something inside her. Nobody works as hard as Megan–nobody demands more of the her self. I hope the pressure didn’t come from me, but I can’t say for sure. After a while with children like mine, the expectations may be too high whether you are aware of it or not.
MP: Your short work is well respected. Besides length, what is the major difference between writing a novel as opposed to short story?
PA: I wrote the average short story in about a month to six weeks. This was when I worked on a story every day for 3-4 hours. I began each day by editing the story from the beginning. Of course, I could not do this with a novel and that made me very nervous. I felt as if I lost control of it from time to time. And also, I had to expand the cast of characters considerably and give them all more to do. And, I was used to being rid of them and onto a new idea in a month or so. I wanted to be done with Eve Moran badly. That’s why I give her all the jokes-or what I hope are jokes. I was in danger of drowning in her evilness. I felt like Christine most days. The length of time you must spend with your characters was probably the hardest thing to adjust to.
MP: Concrete Angel had a long and arduous road before it found a home at Polis Books. How did it feel to see it on a bookstore shelf for the first time.
PA: It felt great although so far it has only been in pictures I’ve seen on the Internet. Book Beat, where I did my first reading, sold out of them so there were none on the shelf. I am realistic about the likelihood of seeing it on many shelves. Perhaps in stores specializing in crime fiction, perhaps in New York stores. But if it succeeds at all, it will be because people like Scott Montgomery hand sell it.
You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.