Whitney Sullivan: RT Reviewer Donna M. Brown called Lost Letter a "stunning debut [that] is impossible to put down." Can you tell me about your writing process, did it seamlessly flow from your fingertips or was there lots of plotting and research involved in crafting this WWII saga?
Neil Mulligan: The novel took me five weeks to write averaging, 1 - 2 hours at a time, five days a week. I wrote in the pre-dawn hours and that seemed to aid my creative side when the mind is very tired. It was written free hand on 57 pages of unlined poster board. All the research took place after I had completed Lost Letter. I find getting bogged down in details stymies the creative process.
WS: Deceased soldier James, who wrote the title's lost letter, and now-dying Maggie, the letter's intended recipient, have loved each other since they were very young. What are some details you included to show the way that their love matured and grew with them?
NM: I took them from childhood, first grade boyfriend-girlfriend to their wedding night and Jimmy’s eventual call to service in WWII. I did it by Mary recalling memories of their fourteen year relationship in-between her bouts of dementia. She recalls Jimmy defending her against a bully nun, their daily long walks, restaurant meals and their genuine love for one another.
WS: Kirkus Discoveries says you have "sensitivity and skill" and "subtle realism that finely evokes the anguish and solace that families take from the experience of dying." - what did you do to help you connect with the family's hyper-emotional state?
NM: Caring for a terminally ill relative helped bring out emotions along that side. Thirteen of the chapters are based on real life occurrences. The chapter Acronyms is one that sticks out. You feel helpless at the overwhelming situation you have been thrust into. At times it all feels so surreal, you feel as though you are watching someone else’s life pan out and you finally realize that you are smack damn in the middle of it.
WS: In a story where the two main characters are women, did you have any trepidation about your ability to get inside of their heads?
NM: No. I have two stories playing out in my head now and one will be told from a girl/women’s viewpoint. When I have questions and need a women’s perspective, I ask my wife and/or daughter.
WS: Did you find that having a child of your own helped as you wrote Maggie and Mary's relationship?
WS: You traveled to do research for Lost Letter, what is something you saw (or learned) that haunted you?
NM: Some of the hopeless faces in a section of the South Bronx were disheartening. The street people lying in the gutter or in their cardboard, make shift home was extremely depressing.
WS: Critics loved the way that you crafted the settings for your stories, Irish Catholic New York and The Battle of the Bulge to name two, what is a technique you used to place yourself in those locations?
NM: I remembered stories from my grandparents who came through Ellis Island and I asked all my aunts and uncle who lived in the neighborhood in the story. The address on the letter pictured in the book was actually my grandparents' address.
WS: You have been writing since an early age, what is something you learned about the craft along the way which has always stuck with you?
NM: There will always be critics and people that love your book. Hopefully the latter outnumbers the former. I try not to take it personally. I listen to all comments good or bad. Thankfully, I have received phone calls, emails and letters with very positive feedback. Some of the letters are really from the heart. People who have taken care of a terminally ill relative or had a childhood sweetheart; it has all been so great an experience.
WS: Can you tell us something that you learned for Lost Letter that did not make it into the story?
NM: All of the sacrifices our young solders made during WWII were inspiring. I could spend years reading the material. Returning home, then never asking for anything. They fought for God and country. It was rightly named "The Greatest Generation."
WS: There has been some speculation that Lost Letter may be turned into a movie. Would you like to see your story head to Hollywood?
NM: I believe it would make a fabulous Lifetime or Hallmark film. I have been contacted by several screenwriters who are currently reviewing the material.
WS: What are you working on next?
NM: I am working on a novel with a working name of One Step Away. It’s about a forty-something man getting back on the dating scene with the assistance of his teenage daughter, after the premature death of his young bride.
*GIVEAWAY ALERT* Two readers will be chosen at random to receive a copy of Lost Letter. To enter please e-mail Whitney@RTBOOKREVIEWS.com. To be considered, the subject line of your email must be "Lost Letter Giveaway." Winners will be announced on May 19th!