Author Talk with Quinn Connor (spoiler, that’s actually two people!)

When it comes to summer reads, your mind might go to breezy beach reads where the protagonist is faced with the challenge of choosing between two equally suitable men. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with a book like that, what about a moody book that dives beneath the surface of a once-forgotten city?

When secrets of the past are pulled from a lake, the lives of three characters become intertwined during one whirlwind summer. Like reading from the pages of a shared diary, Cicadas Sing of Summer Graves explores how secrets revealed in a small town can change the future, even when those secrets are buried beneath a lake.

We were able to catch up with Robyn Barrow and Alexandra Cronin, the duo that writes under the name Quinn Connor—described as “one pen in two hands”—and talk to them about their brand new book.

You can also find the duo at the upcoming Six Bridges Book Festival!

CALS: How did the two of you meet?

AC: We met at Rhodes College, a liberal arts school in Memphis, Tennessee. Early in our freshman year, we both ended up at a frozen yogurt place with a lot of other students and sat next to each other. (We also both agreed to go with some people on a weekend trip, which Robyn ended up bailing on me for, but I decided to be her friend anyway!)

RB: Frozen yogurt place. Is that not the most 2011 setting you’ve ever heard? We really bonded over our mutual love of books and creative writing (and food!).

CALS: What is the process like working together on a book? We so often think of writing as a solitary project.

RB: That is so true! It can feel really lonely to write a novel alone—authors have to believe so fully in what they’re doing and commit hard to making it happen for themselves. The magic of cowriting, to me, is that it breathes this new life and energy into the project. When you’re writing with someone else, if you have that writing chemistry together, you have a built-in cheerleader and number-one fan. Since I know Alex is equally invested, it’s easier for me to keep going and not burn out on an idea. It is also vulnerable, though. You have to really trust each other and be open to input or criticism of the things you do.

AC: The secret is that almost any creative endeavor can be done collaboratively. I had always written alone, but I noticed that I felt so energized by having other writer friends who I could talk to. Writing collaboratively on one project is just the next step from there. We each take charge of certain characters. Whoever’s character is the perspective character in that scene is the “scene-captain” who takes the lead, and the other comes in and adds their character’s dialogue, contributes ideas, and helps fill the rest out. It’s like a conversation or a very, very long improv skit. One person throws out the idea, the other says “yes, and?,” and that’s how we approach every scene and every book.

CALS: How did you come up with the idea behind Cicadas Sing of Summer Graves?

RB: My first image in my mind for Cicadas was a Lord of the Flies at the Fourth of July fantasy. I had this idea of these teenagers-turned-killers chasing each other across boats as fireworks went off overhead. I grew up out at the lake, and I wanted to revisit some of that summer magic with a hint of coming-of-age trauma. I pitched the idea to Alex, and she had all these great ideas for an idyllic lakeside summer gone wrong.

AC: I was intrigued because I also grew up going out to Texas lakes, fishing and boating every summer. But I really got invested when we started developing characters. In particular, I loved the idea of a character who lived at the lake but was also traumatized by it in ways no one else understood or even believed. Lake Prosper contains both unconventional beauty and absolute horror, and it all depends on whose perspective it is—that was so exciting to me.

CALS: Where did your pen name come from?

RB: Originally, we had two pen names: Quinn McCann (me) and Dakota Connor (Alex). They were really just for fun when we were writing in college; we liked how they sounded. But when we got a little more serious, we strategized that an agent (and later, readers) might be more interested in a single name, so we combined the two! Quinn was born.

AC: We planned to publish our first book each under a pen name, which when you think about it, doesn’t make sense! The point of the pen name was to get just one memorable name on the cover! So why did we make two?! Needless to say, there have been a lot of lessons along the way…

CALS: What are you working on now?

BOTH: Our second novel will be published with Sourcebooks next year! So we’re incredibly excited to start revising that in the next few weeks. We really feel like book two is the best thing we’ve ever written and will be hard to top.

CALS: Your story follows Lark, Cassie, and June—which character is your favorite and why?

RB: It’s hard to pick a favorite character, because each one is very special to us in her own way. I think June is often my favorite, because I love her fire. June is full of life and spunk and curiosity. She falls down; she gets back up.

AC: I truly can’t pick. Cassie was the first we thought of and she has been so consistent, a true North since we started the book. But the character who has grown and changed the most over our writing is probably Lark. There’s something really subtle and yet real in her characterization that just speaks to me.

CALS: The Jermain Taylor reference is a 100% spot-on Arkansas Easter egg. What other small gems are sprinkled throughout that locals might enjoy?

BOTH: The book has some really delicious southern food woven in! Folks who grew up out at Lake Ouachita or Greers Ferry or any of the lakes in the Natural State will probably feel right at home in the setting. Plus, there’s some good Memphis Easter eggs for our Tennessee neighbors, since we went to college in Memphis.

CALS: What do you hope readers get out of this book?

RB: I hope that readers can really submerge themselves in the liquid southern summer of the novel. It was a very cathartic experience to write Cicadas, so I hope readers can also connect with the emotional journey of the characters. And I hope they get one or two haunting chills!

AC: I hope that readers come away loving the characters even a fraction as much as I do and feeling invested in their stories. I also hope certain parts of the book leave our readers with a little bit of a scare—that it’s a book some people have to read on bright, sunny summer days…and not in the dark of night.

CALS: What are you reading?

AC: I just started One Summer in Savannah, by Terah Harris, which is largely a story about the complicated nature of forgiveness and motherly love. I’m only a few pages in, and already it’s astonishing me. [CALS: Harris will also be at the Fest next month!]

RB: Right now I am reading C. E. McGill’s Our Hideous Progeny, a queer, feminist retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!

CALS: Describe your book in just three words!

RB: Oh no…we are not women of few words. Here I go: Cicadas Sing of Summer Graves is haunting, atmospheric, and enchanting.