Story’s End: Robin Cannon on ‘Fireflies at Nightfall’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m in conversation with Robin Cannon.

Robin is the author of Fireflies at Nightfall (Goose River Press)—available now from the publisher and coming to Amazon on February 15th. The book marks the conclusion of her beloved Tilly Fig trilogy, which is also comprised of the titles Tilly Fig and Rye Hill. She received her BA and MS degrees from Fordham University and her Sixth Year Degree in Education Administration from Southern CT State University. A schoolteacher for more than thirty years, Robin makes her home in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and three children.

Author Robin Cannon

Praise for Fireflies at Nightfall:

Fireflies at Nightfall is the much-anticipated conclusion to Robin Cannon’s beloved Tilly Fig trilogy. In it, she delivers a compelling story of family, friendship, and the undeniable links that exist between the two. Readers will delight in joining Tilly, Skeet, and company as they navigate life’s most profound pains and simplest pleasures, learning as much about themselves as they do about each other in the process. While history holds the power to haunt us, it can also provide the impetus for healing. There’s much humanity to be found within these pages-and, ultimately, an undying sense of hope.”—Hartford Books Examiner

From the publisher:

Tilly, now elderly, has had a stroke.  She flashes back to when she and her beloved Skeet plan to marry until they learn he is sick. His best chance for survival depends upon William, Skeet’s unwitting half-brother. William agrees to help while becoming the suspect in a phony disappearance. Skeet eventually gets well, marrying Tilly. The story comes out of flashback and Tilly recovers, able to return home to Skeet.


Now, Robin shares her thoughts on final chapters – and new beginnings …

John Valeri: Fireflies at Nightfall marks the end of your Tilly Fig trilogy. What are the unique considerations when concluding an overall series story arc – and how did you endeavor to balance reader expectations with your own vision?

Robin Cannon: I think the biggest consideration for me was how I would end the story for these characters. From the first book, the very beginning of Tilly and Skeet’s friendship that would blossom into something more, my readers connected instantly with these characters and cheered them on at every turn because they were highly relatable, lovable, and very human.  I felt that I wanted to give them an ending that would be acceptable to the audience, an ending that would be uplifting.  That is why Fireflies at Nightfall demonstrates that no matter how difficult one’s life can be, there is always love and hope to pull one through.  It was really difficult to say goodbye to these characters because they were so resilient, so loving, so hopeful, despite the awful times that they went through growing up.  But I think the message was pretty clear—there is always love and hope.  That might sound a bit trite, but I think the audience appreciated the final path that these two characters took.  I also stayed true to who these characters were from the beginning, so I think that the final vision that I had for them balanced nicely with reader expectations … I think the audience would have been gravely disappointed if I had ended it any other way.

JV: This book revisits Tilly and Skeet as adults (though we’ve previously come to know them mostly as children/adolescents). How did you approach writing these characters, given the change in circumstances – and in what ways do you feel that the story maintains the essence of the earlier works while also marking an evolution?

RC: Even though Tilly and Skeet were portrayed as adults in Fireflies at Nightfall, I still thought of them as children/adolescents as I was writing the book … not in the sense that they were still twelve years old, but in the sense that throughout the years, their friendship, love, and loyalty had never faded.  Deep down they were still the same characters who skipped rocks at the creek, played their harmonicas together, and shared licks on that all-day cherry sucker!  When I approached writing about them as adults while thinking about them as children, it was easy to do.  Because of that, the story definitely maintained the essence of the earlier works while injecting one or two other storylines that spiced it up a bit.  The characters certainly evolved, but they remained very familiar and comfortable for the reader.

JV: Much of the story concerns the medical field. Why is this a fitting backdrop, given the book’s themes – and what research was required, given the need for authenticity?

RC: I thought that the medical field offered a fitting backdrop because Tilly Fig was a doctor so why not use that? The other thing is that in the real world, none of us gets away with perfect health; if it’s not our own health that is at some point compromised it is the health of someone else who we know and maybe love—a family member, friend, co-worker.  So, again, this made the characters very relatable when I made one of them gravely ill.  I researched the blood disease of leukemia quite extensively given the need for authenticity while writing this book.  I paid attention to every little detail because I knew it would be an outrage to get any of it wrong and a disservice to all leukemia patients past and present, including my own grandmother for whom this book was written.  I spoke with a doctor and did a lot of research on the internet which I think helped to make the story realistic and true to life, especially for anyone who had the disease or knew someone who had the disease.  A lot of people have told me how much they related to the storyline.

JV: Each chapter begins with a quote from a well-known work of literature. What was the selection process like – and how do you feel that they enhance the overall narrative?

RC: Oh that was so much fun … finding just the right quote to fit each chapter!  I wrote down seventy-five quotes from well-known works of literature, including the Bible.  Then after each chapter was written, I went through my list and found the right quote to assign to the chapter.  I think the quotes gave the reader an idea, an inkling of what was to come.  It was my hope that each quote would serve as an enticement and to a large extent I think they did just that!  The quotes were one of my favorite things about writing this book.

JV: Now that one proverbial chapter has come to a close, what do you see as being your next literary adventures?

RC: I so want to write a royal biography on a specific Russian Grand Duke.  (I love Russian history!) I have started the research process which is daunting and involved, but I also have another storyline in my head that would make for an interesting work of fiction.  All I can say is stay tuned because I’ll be back!


With thanks to Robin Cannon for her generosity of time and thought.

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