This week I am chatting with Jessica Klagmann about her new novel, THIS IMPOSSIBLE BRIGHTNESS. It’s a story of a woman who journeys to a remote island to deal with her grief. Klagmann gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how she created the main character and mysterious setting. She also discussed the themes of loss, connection, and memory that make this book meaningful. If the premise draws you in, check out the full interview below. And for Amazon Prime members, grab your early access! THIS IMPOSSIBLE BRIGHTNESS is a January First Reads pick.
Jennifer Vido: What sparked the idea for a novel centered around a woman coping with grief on a remote island?
Jessica Bryant Klagmann: The idea started with wanting to write about someone who was introverted and sensitive, but who also wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. I’ve been exploring grief for a long time in my writing, and specifically the idea that, when we lose people, they leave behind monuments of who they were, reminders that we can look to for comfort if we’re paying attention. I’d explored some less remote settings before deciding to set it on this fictional island, and the reason for that was I wanted Alma to really be alone, and to grow more isolated as the story progressed. I didn’t want to write - not directly anyway—a book in which humans disappear from the planet, so having her travel as far away as possible was a logistical aspect at first. I later realized how important the remoteness was to her development as a character. It also gave me more freedom to fictionalize the island, which strangely allowed the place became more real to me.
Jen: Tell us about Alma Hughes - what makes her tick and sets her apart as a character?
Jessica: This is such an interesting question because, in many ways, Alma begins her journey after losing her sense of what makes her tick. She feels unknown to herself, and while previously it was her relationship to nature that she relied on, she no longer has that. The book is about her rediscovering that spark. As an empath, being able to sense energy the way she does, Alma is in the unique position of being able to see and remember the echoes of the departed. What sets her apart is this ability, which she previously saw as a curse, but, throughout the book, learns to see as an advantage. What she does with that power is central to the story.
Jen: What events are unfolding on Violette, and what influenced Alma's decision to go there of all places?
Jessica: The island of Violette is being lost to rising seas. The people who live there have decided to stay, despite it being a dangerous place to live. In addition, there is a radio tower at the top of a mountain that broadcasts messages through their home appliances. They’re not willing to leave the island because these broadcasts and their history have become woven into the fabric of their lives. Alma chooses to go there, against the advice of almost everyone, because she is someone who feels deeply, her own emotions and the emotions of others. When she suffers the loss of her fiancé, it’s more than painful to be with people who want her to grieve in a way that makes sense to them but doesn’t feel right to her than it is to be alone. This plays a big role in why she travels to the island. Her journey to connection again - to herself, to other people, to nature - is the heart of the story. She’s unaware of the radio tower before she makes the decision to travel there, but it becomes maybe more important to her than to anyone.
Jen: What extraordinary abilities does the radio tower possess?
Jessica: I mentioned that the radio tower is known for transmitting broadcasts through people’s appliances, but the magic of the broadcasts goes deeper than that. People also hear them in their dreams, and many people in town have tattoos that were inspired by them. The tower is connected to their memories on a subconscious level. It has been happening for decades, but it isn’t until a local writer attempts to understand the radio tower’s mysteries that we realize there may be more to it, and that these broadcasts are not necessarily happening in real time, but are echoes of the past. This later plays into the story in surprising ways, as the extent to which souls might become part of this loop of broadcasts is revealed.
Jen: As the island succumbs to the encroaching sea, how does Alma's presence shape its future?
Jessica: Alma is determined to stay in this place no matter what, and she becomes its guardian. If she hadn’t been there when lightning hit the radio tower, those who were lost might have remained forgotten. But the land shapes Alma’s future as well. Although it’s arguable whether or not it’s healthy for her to remain there alone after everyone else leaves, she does begin to learn to trust the natural world (and herself) again because she becomes tied to this place so intimately.
Jen: Blending ghostly elements, adventure, and reflections on grief, what positive and meaningful takeaways do you hope readers will carry with them after experiencing the story?
Jessica: That telling stories is important, but listening is just as essential. That letting go is not the same thing as forgetting. That hope is a brave response to tragedy.
Jen: Which character holds the title of your favorite, and what makes them stand out in your eyes?
Jessica: When I conceived of Kricket, she instantly became my favorite. She’s one of those characters that emerged fully formed. She’s feisty and stubborn. She brings a spark of energy to the story that I really enjoyed writing. To me, she’s also the most intriguing because, despite not being able to speak to humans, her ability to communicate with animals becomes the catalyst for Alma finding peace.
Jen: How can readers keep tabs on your latest news and updates?
Jessica: Readers can find me on my website and on Instagram.
Jen: Which books have earned a spot on your winter reading list?
Jessica: I love reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and I’m especially drawn to nonfiction when I’m deep into writing something of my own. Environmental memoirs hold a special place in my heart, and I’m currently reading Soundings by Doreen Cunningham. Next up will probably be Cacophony of Bone by Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy or Nobody Gets Out Alive by Leigh Newman, depending on whether I’m ready for more nonfiction, a novel, or short stories.
Jen: What's currently brewing in your work-in-progress?
Jessica: I’m currently working on my second novel, which is scheduled to come out in the fall of 2025. It’s a story set in Alaska about resilience, adaptation, and following one’s intuition. It’s about living life as if it’s a work of art and doing all things with a sense of lightness. It’s a book in which men die and return as bears, women grow antlers like caribou, haunting visions come true, and the key to immortality may be found in the most ordinary of creatures.
Jen: Thanks for dropping by to discuss THIS IMPOSSIBLE BRIGHTNESS. I wish you all the best on your book tour!
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me! It’s been wonderful to discuss the book, its background, and my hopes for it once it gets into the hands of readers.
Taking refuge on a remote island, a grieving woman develops unlikely connections with the community and the wild in this haunting novel of hope and perseverance from debut author Jessica Bryant Klagmann.
After the mysterious disappearance of her fiancé, Alma Hughes moves to a remote island in the North Atlantic, where she hopes to weather her grief and nurture her ailing dog. But the strange town of Violette has mysteries as well.
Townsfolk say that the radio tower overlooking their town broadcasts messages through their home appliances, their dreams, even the sea itself. When lightning strikes the tower, illuminating the sky in a brilliant flash, Alma finds herself caught in the unexplainable aftermath of one of Violette’s deadliest storms.
As the sea consumes the island, threatening its very existence, the deaths and lost memories of the recently departed also devastate the community. Alma, with a unique link to the lost, may be the only one who can help them move on. But to do so, she must confront a tragic loss of her own.
On this doomed island haunted by echoes of the departed, Alma searches for meaning in her future—and dares to discover the power of hope among the living.
Women's Fiction [Lake Union Publishing, On Sale: February 1, 2024, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781662513114 / ]
Jessica Bryant Klagmann grew up in New England, studied writing in Fairbanks, Alaska, and now lives with her family in northern New Mexico. Her work has been published in environmental journals like Whitefish Review and Terrain.org. THIS IMPOSSIBLE BRIGHTNESS is her debut novel.
Jennifer Vido writes sweet romances set in the Lowcountry filled with southern charm and hospitality. In between chapters, she interviews authors for her bi-weekly Jen’s Jewels column on FreshFiction.com. Most mornings, she teaches an arthritis-friendly water exercise class for seniors before heading to the office to serve as the executive director of a legal non-profit. A New Jersey native, she currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescue dogs and is the proud parent of two sons who miss her home-cooked meals. To learn more, please visit her website.
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