I have enjoyed all of Lisa Duffy’s books and My Kind of People (Atria) is no exception. With wonderful characters and real world issues, this book took me on an emotional journey set in a place I would love to be.

We follow the story of Sky, a young girl who lives in a tight knit community on a secluded island off the coast of Massachusetts. Her adoptive parents suffer a deadly accident and their old friend, Leo, returns to the island to become her caregiver. This unexpected change of life plans interferes with Leo’s relationship with his husband and causes him to rethink his priorities. Neighbor Maggie, married to the chief of police, is dealing with her own marital problems and pitches in to help with Sky while she figures out what her future holds. An observant neighbor with a secret, an estranged grandmother with questionable motives and an odd and elusive woman hiding out on the island cause intrigue and mystery while infusing more life into this wonderful little town.

Friends, relatives and neighbors living on secluded Ichabod Island with mostly good intentions and some secrets up their sleeves, work hard to pull together amidst a tragedy. Lisa Duffy doesn’t shy away from real issues including race, marriage, alcohol abuse and infidelity while making you wish you lived with these flawed, genuine people on this beautiful island. In My Kind of People, we see how a caring community can be resilient, come together in support of each other and feel like family. I loved this book — it is a perfect summer read.

Q&A WITH LISA DUFFY

Q: You write about Sky, a 10-year-old orphan who, considering she lost her parents in a tragic accident, appears to be fairly well adjusted.  Did you have to do any research on children and tragedy? Or communities and how they come together when bad things happen?

A: Sometimes you get lucky and research you’ve done for a previous book comes in handy, and that’s what happened here. The Salt House, my debut novel, involved the death of a young child, and so I was able to dip into what I’d learned when writing that book and apply it to this one. 

But also, for me, the research shouldn’t drive the narrative or even be present in my mind when I’m writing. Grief is universal — no one is immune to it — but also very personal. When I’m writing a particular character, I really try to imagine how this one character might deal with whatever is in front of them. And Sky was always very strong in my mind. Very resilient. Someone who was going to find her own way of dealing with her feelings.  

Q: I really love Leo. He is a good friend and tries to do the right thing. What made you decide to make Leo gay and one of the only black people on the island?  

A: This novel really showed itself to me in the opening chapters as a book about a small community on an isolated island. I wanted the community to function as its own unit, but also have some diversity in lifestyle and ethnicity and age and gender. I was curious as I was writing the book how this would play out in the novel. What sort of issues arise when people live on the same street, on the same island, yet they have different lifestyles and backgrounds? Leo appeared on the page in the first draft, and I knew immediately that I wanted him to be a point of view character. That he had his own story to tell in this book. 

Q: Which character did you enjoy writing about the most?

A: That’s a hard question because at certain points in the novel, depending on what’s happening, every character can be either enjoyable to write (meaning the words come easy), or difficult (as in, I struggle to figure out what they want or need). I really connected with some of Maggie’s chapters on a personal level. She’s coming into her own as an adult woman who no longer finds it necessary to act as though everything is fine, when it’s not. When I was younger, I played nice sometimes when I should’ve said what was on my mind. It was important to me to have Maggie reclaim her identity and her sense of self, so she was somewhat liberating to write. 

Q: Is Ichabod Island based on a real place?

A: I have such a deep love of the New England coastline and islands. Ichabod is fictional, but it’s somewhat of a mix of various places. I wanted to capture the beauty of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the Outer Cape, Mid-Coast Maine, as well as the seasonal nature of these places. My husband and I are big fans of off-season weekend trips — Ptown and Nantucket and Chatham and York, Maine when it’s chilly and the summer stores and restaurants are closed. Ichabod is all of these, and also just a place conjured from imagination. 

Q: You tell the story providing little clues, glimpses into each of the characters and foreshadowing that keeps the reader engaged and turning pages. Did you know the ending before you started writing?

A: I knew parts of the ending within the first thirty pages or so, but I wasn’t sure how they were going to fit together. A lot of the pieces began to fit in the revision process when I had a clearer sense of these characters. 

Q: How long did it take you to complete the book and what is your process? Do you write everyday?  

A: From the first inkling of a voice to a full first draft typically takes me anywhere from nine months to a year. But I tend to be a pretty clean first draft writer in that there aren’t huge, sweeping changes that need to happen. Revisions for me are about couple of months, and then it moves to the proof stage. 

I’m at my desk five days a week. Some days, I’ll write all day, and others, maybe an hour or two, depending on where I am with a book and what else is on my plate as far as edits or promotion, stuff like that. I typically don’t write on weekends unless I’m on a tight deadline. 

Q: The coronavirus has put a wrench in your book tour plans and appearances, I am sure. How are you planning on promoting My Kind of People?

A: There have been so many wonderful things happening in the literary world as everyone pivots to online events. I’ll be doing pub day events on May 12th with A Mighty Blaze, specifically a live interview with Reading with Robin. I’ll be on Facebook at 12:30 with Great Thoughts, Great Readers, and my launch event later that night is with Belmont Books at 7pm, where I’ll be in conversation with the wonderful Stacey Armand from IG’s Prose and Palate. 

We’re also planning podcasts and interviews and online bookstore events that I’ll be posting on my website and through social media, so hopefully readers will check in and say hello. 

Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?

A: I just finished Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes and really enjoyed it. I was struggling a bit with settling my mind to write with all that’s going on, so I’m going back and forth on my Kindle between some of my favorite books about the creative process. Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of A Happy Marriage and Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland. And I just finished a work in progress by fellow writer friend, Sandi Ward. It’s not out yet, but she has three other wonderful books for sale that I highly recommend. 

Buy this book!

Photo © Sharona Jacobs.

About Lisa Duffy:

Lisa Duffy is the author of The Salt House, named by Real Simple as a Best Book of the Month upon its June release, as well as Bustle’s 17 Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017, and her novel This is Homea Publishers Weekly starred review novel and 2019 favorite book club pick.

Lisa received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts. Her writing can be found in numerous publications, including Writer’s Digest. She is the founding editor of ROAR, a literary journal supporting women in the arts.

She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children.