About a hundred students from elementary schools in Swanton, Highgate and Sheldon packed into the children's room of the Swanton Public Library on a recent Friday the 13th — a fitting date to welcome author Marina Cohen to talk about her spooky novel The Inn Between.
Cohen came prepared to reveal seven secrets of The Inn Between, a nominee for this year's Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award.
In addition to being the title of her novel, The Inn Between is also the name of a hotel where most of the story takes place. It's along a lonely highway in the middle of the desert, on the state line separating California and Nevada.
Best friends Quinn and Kara check in to the hotel to spend a night there, along with Kara’s family. It’s an unscheduled stop on a long, strange road trip.
The first secret Cohen reveals to these Vermont students is one of the inspirations for the book:
Marina Cohen: "I like to listen to songs, and I especially like songs that tell me stories, where I can listen and I can imagine almost an entire novel. And there are some amazing artists out there and they write songs and, honestly, they tell you a full story in a little song.
"And one of the songs that I liked was a song by The Eagles called 'Hotel California.' And, it's an old, old song but if you know the song, or if you don’t, the song begins with the words 'On a dark desert highway.' So, that sort of stuck with me.
"But, more importantly, anybody who knows this song, the lines that stick with you forever – it's about a hotel in the desert — and the line that sticks with me is the line that says, 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.' That's right. Some of the people are echoing it with me."
Cohen said she was also inspired by her own lonely drive across the desert when she was younger:
Marina Cohen: "That feeling of isolation – of being all alone. And when I say 'all alone,' it doesn’t have to mean your character is completely by themselves. They can be with a group of friends, on their own. It's that feeling of isolation. That's what inspired me."
And that feeling of isolation intensifies for Quinn and Kara throughout the story. People disappear. Apparitions emerge. And things get downright scary as a mystery unfolds around them.
One Highgate sixth-grader asked the author about her choice of genre:
Callie Sibenaller: "Why did you decide this book was going to be a horror book?"
Marina Cohen: "I guess I decided the genre because I enjoy writing horror. I enjoy writing creepy things. And when the idea for the story came about – the 'Hotel California' or the hotel where you can check out but never leave — that, to me, is a creepy story. So it just kind of organically became horror."
A fifth-grader from Swanton wondered which part of this creepy story Cohen enjoyed writing the most.
Abbey Wilcox: "What was your favorite part to write about in The Inn Between?"
It should come as no surprise that Cohen’s favorite part to write was the scariest scene in the book.
Marina Cohen: " … My absolute favorite part — the part that I had the most fun with — is the basement. The basement was my favorite part."
To find out though what exactly transpires in that basement scene — well, you'll just have to take a read.
Students didn't just have questions about The Inn Between; a few wanted to hear about Cohen's writing career in general.
Another Swanton fifth-grader, Kadence Richard, asked the author how many books she has written. In her answer, Cohen shared a surprise:
Marina Cohen: "I have seven novels published, and I have an eighth book on the way and it is going to be published in 2019. And what I would like to share with you is that it’s called A Box of Bones and it is set in Burlington – on Lake Champlain in Colchester.
"So it is actually set right around here. So I’ve come a few times to visit and hopefully got some of the details and the feel of the area. And it’s of course fiction – completely made up. But I hope I did the area justice."
Fellow Swanton fifth-grader Elizabeth Bourdeau asked Cohen which of her books is her favorite. It turns out that it's a book the students can't read quite yet.
Marina Cohen: "OK, the favorite book that I have written is always — and I think every author will answer this the same way — it’s the book that I am currently writing. We have to feel that way because if you imagine that I say to you, 'Oh, my favorite book was the book I wrote three or four books ago,' then I would think that the book I’m writing is not as exciting or worthy to continue.
"So my favorite book is always the book that I’m currently writing. I have to be very invested in that story. I have to love it. I have to think it’s the best one that I've done yet in order to give me the strength and courage to continue it."
Gretchen Stiebris came with some classmates from Sheldon Elementary School to see Cohen speak in Swanton. She wondered when the author caught the writing bug.
Gretchen Stiebris: "Did you write when you were a little girl?"
Marina Cohen: "… I always loved to read horror stories, so I actually always liked to write horror stories. So I tried to write some ghost stories. Also, I’m a huge fan of fairy tales and I was saying to the people who were here earlier on that I’m a real fan of the old, original fairy tales. I love Disney.
"And I love, in some ways, what Disney’s done to a lot of the old stories — but not always because they’ve changed a lot of the endings, changed a lot of the original stories, and sort of taken out the true meanings behind them. So I love fairy tales, I love fantasy and ghost stories, and that’s what I wrote when I was your age."
And one Highgate sixth-grader wondered what it’s like to have a book published.
Isabell Kane: "When you first became an author, what ran through your mind?"
Marina Cohen: "… My path to publication was a long and winding road. And I was quite, quite sad at the beginning as I was writing by myself, sending things out, getting rejected time and time again. So the first offer that I had for publication by the very teeny-tiny press, I was over the moon.
"It’s funny because the book is called Shadow of the Moon, but I would like to say I was over the moon with the idea that my story would become a book and that kids would hold it, and read it, and hopefully like it."
Since then, many kids have held, read and loved Cohen’s books, including the hundred or so who came to hear her speak in Swanton on Friday the 13th.
But if you haven’t read The Inn Between, what better time to take a trip into its pages than Halloween?
Find more episodes of Dorothy's List here. Special thanks to the staff and trustees of Swanton Public Library.