Barbara Claypole White is turning dark moments light with her second and newest novel, “The In-Between Hour.”
The novel follows a father and The New York Times Bestselling author named Will. Will’s son Freddie is killed in a drunk driving accident with his mother. And the darkness doesn’t stop there: Will’s father, Jacob, who lives in a nursing home and suffers from memory loss, can’t remember the death of his grandson. So, Will decides to do what he does best and makes up a story to tell his father; he tells him that Freddie and his mother have gone on an extended trip to Europe.
And the entire conundrum is set in Orange County, North Carolina.
“‘The In-Between Hour’ is really a story of these five damaged characters who come together to heal,” White said. “But there’s really a sixth character in the novel, which is the N.C. forest, the Orange County forest, and all the characters have their own relationship to the forest.”
Most of the story is set at the bottom of a mountain, inspired by Picket Mountain, near Hillsborough, where White now lives.
White said she loves the setting and chose it because of the way the light filters through the trees — a symbol that is common throughout the novel.
“The original name for the novel was ‘The Gloaming,’ which is my favorite time of day in the Orange County forest, and it’s when the sun hits the top of the trees, and they burn gold and you have these deep shadows because evening is coming.”
But White, a history buff who grew up in Turvey, an English village, where her family’s church was more than 1,000 years old, also wanted the story to be set in Orange County because of its Native American history. The grandfather in the novel, Jacob, is Occaneechi.
But the image of light through the trees is most important for White, who she said she loves the idea that things — or people — can be cracked or broken, but light can still get in. White’s son grew up battling obsessive-compulsive disorder, and while as a family they’ve been to dark places, they have recovered.
She said her first novel focused on a character with OCD for this very reason — to show people that OCD isn’t like it is on TV shows. For “The In-Between Hour,” she chose to use Will as a symbol for depression and its effects.
White’s editor at Harlequin Enterprises, Emily Ohanjanians, said White’s ability to capture the way these damaged people react and heal is what makes her stand out as an author.
“She has a lot of insight into human nature — I guess what drives us and what heals us and all of this really wonderful stuff that is really hard to find out there,” she said.
White’s husband and UNC communication studies professor Lawrence Grossberg said it’s her devotion to her research and compassion for the people who suffer from these invisible disabilities that contributes to her dedication.
“She’s very compulsive about her research and trying to get things right,” he said. “One of the main characters is Native American, and she actually went and spent hours and hours with the chief of a local Occaneechi tribe in Hillsborough. So, she gets it right.”
White said that people often find it strange when she refers to her characters as real people, but for her, their realness helps to better define and address issues surrounding mental illness.
“I’m someone who believes that if you can talk about this stuff in public, then you should because it only helps other people,” White said. “Even in darkness, there’s always hope, and people do heal.”
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