Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Wednesday, April 20, 2022: Maximum Shelf: Some of It Was Real

Berkley Books: Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer

Berkley Books: Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer

Berkley Books: Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer

Berkley Books: Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer

Some of It Was Real

by Nan Fischer

Sylvie Young has been making her living for years as a psychic-medium. But just as her star seems poised for a meteoric rise, she finds herself suddenly doubting her abilities. Enter Thomas Holmes, a journalist who's scrambling for professional redemption after a serious story error. He's determined to expose Sylvie as a fraud, especially because "grief vampires" have preyed on his widowed mother. In Some of It Was Real, Nan Fischer's (The Speed of Falling Objects) smart, thought-provoking debut for adults, Sylvie and Thomas must confront their clashing opinions on Sylvie's chosen career, as well as the buried trauma they each carry--not to mention their increasingly complex feelings for each other.

Fischer's alternating first-person narration begins with Sylvie, who has just received good news about a network TV show focused on her work. Recently, though, Sylvie's normal pre-show jitters have been ramping way up, exacerbated by her agent Lucas's insistence that she research a few audience members before every show. Lucas has been her longtime champion, but does he think she's losing her touch? Did he ever believe in her gift? Sylvie isn't sure, but Lucas's conflicting messages reflect her own increasing ambivalence about her vocation. She knows she often receives strong impressions--which are usually accurate--related to other people's relationships, dreams or troubled pasts. But behind a red barn door in her mind lurks Sylvie's own difficult childhood in Oregon, with a few dark memories she forcefully has tried to erase. When Thomas, who is avoiding some complicated memories of his own, comes to one of Sylvie's shows determined to unmask her, the two end up going on a road trip that takes them further into Sylvie's past and closer together than they'd ever imagined.

Both of Fischer's narrators draw readers in right away with their honesty: they each admit their jumbled feelings around psychics or a connection to "the beyond," not to mention their respective tangled emotions relating to family and loss. Sylvie comes off as troubled but compassionate, seeking to truly connect with her clients--ideally, to help them--rather than cheat or defraud them, as Thomas believes. For his part, Thomas has spent his life in pursuit of "the facts," following a dream that was originally his brother's rather than his own. His devotion to journalism is complicated by his mother's insistence that he step into his brother's shoes, and as he digs deeper into Sylvie's past (telling himself it's all in service to the story), he uncovers new insights about the long-ago accident that killed his brother and father.

Though both Fischer's protagonists grapple with the weight of grief and long-buried pain, their narratives contain plenty of lightness, much of it brought on by the presence of Sylvie's Great Dane, Moose, and Thomas's elderly cat, Christopher Robins. The animals give Sylvie and Thomas a neutral way to connect to each other, as well as a lighter topic of conversation than Sylvie's estranged parents or Thomas's career frustrations. The characters' banter, even under these strained circumstances, is also witty and engaging, letting readers see their growing attraction to one another. The slow-growing romance is a realistic mix of awkward and delightful, though some readers may wonder about the advisability of these two people jumping into a relationship. Sylvie and Thomas have to consciously open themselves up to a true connection; however, the heart of the book isn't the romantic will-they-won't-they plot, but the individual emotional work they both undertake.

As their search for answers propels them up the coast--to Sylvie's parents' orchard in Oregon, and toward her next show in Portland--both characters explore the gaps between their own origin stories (or the versions they were told as children) and what may have really happened. Sylvie's salt-of-the-earth orchardist parents, though reluctant (at best) to engage with their daughter, nevertheless provide some surprising insights about their adoption of Sylvie and their own personal struggles. Sylvie herself has avoided coming home for years, but gradually realizes it's not only Thomas's persistent questions that are pushing her to delve into her past. She needs to know the full truth--or the fullest version possible--before she can move on with her career and her life. Crucially, she also needs to determine which parts of her past are hers to take responsibility for, and which traumatic experiences are simply hers to accept, and to deal with however she can.

With a page-turning, breezy narrative style and layers of psychological insight, Some of It Was Real is part romance, part origin-story mystery. The novel ends up encompassing much more than psychics and journalism: readers learn about pear orchards, the foster care system and the myriad ways both trauma and joy can leave their marks on a person. The title ends up applying to the story on several levels: readers will enjoy pondering its different implications for Sylvie's work, Sylvie and Thomas's mutual attraction and the insights both of them will carry forward. --Katie Noah Gibson

Berkley Books, $17, trade paper, 352p., 9780593438695, July 26, 2022

Berkley Books: Some of It Was Real by Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer: Delving into Our Origin Stories

(credit: Kelly Dulcich Photography)

Nan Fischer has written two young adult novels, When Elephants Fly and The Speed of Falling Objects; a middle-grade Star Wars trilogy for LucasFilm; and has co-authored sports autobiographies for Monica Seles, Nadia Comǎneci and others. Her first novel for adults, Some of It Was Real, about an ill-advised romance between a psychic-medium and the journalist who sets out to reveal her as a fake, is due from Berkley on July 26, 2022. Fischer lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their Vizsla.

Some of It Was Real has such an unusual premise. What inspired you to write about a psychic who is unsure of her own abilities?

When I'm writing a book, I just take all the things I'm obsessed with and weave them together. I've always been kind of obsessed with psychics. I met a psychic once on a flight from Denver to Aspen. I have a weak stomach--I always look for the barf bag on flights. So I turned to the elegant, gray-haired woman next to me and apologized [for that], and she asked for my palm. It turned out she was a semi-famous psychic on her way to a fancy party in Aspen, and she spent the next hour reading my palm.

Finally, toward the end of the flight, I asked her one last question: "Am I ever going to get married?" She turned to me with this twinkle in her eye and said, "If you want it enough." This famous psychic basically told me I controlled my own destiny. It gave me the invitation to choose my own path. I wasn't sure what I was going to do next, and I kept hearing her voice all winter, telling me anything was possible if I wanted it enough. I moved to San Francisco and got my next writing gig, and I kept what she said in the back of my mind as I moved from experience to experience. Having a psychic as my main character was a nod to this woman and her kindness.

I'm also obsessed with imposter syndrome. I think we all have it at different times in our lives. But what better way to explore that than to have a character that's supposed to be super sure of who she is, but she's really so unsure? Sylvie is super honest with the reader about that. And she's so brave and courageous--she's willing to dig into her past to find out who she is.

I'm also obsessed with origin stories. We all have the backstory of our life that forms our identity. Those stories are created based on conversations, things people have told us, false memories–mostly seen through the eyes of a child. The idea of examining origin stories, seeing how they guide our lives--that was something I really wanted to weave in here.

Sylvie and Thomas believe they are very different from one another, yet they find that their journeys are more similar than they think.

I think if you don't know your real origin story, you're rudderless, a bit. Thomas knows his origin story, but it's seen through the eyes of a child, and through trauma. Both he and Sylvie are forced to examine their origin stories and look at whether they're living authentically.

Thomas is really living someone else's life. He's trying to garner his mother's admiration and love. Sylvie's parents have cut her off almost completely, but she's also searching for a way to find admiration and love and to fit into her own skin. Both of them, underlying everything, want to live an authentic life.

The coolest thing about writing a novel is that you can get to know your characters in a very three-dimensional way, and I felt like I was learning along with them. I was coming to my own conclusions based on how they interacted and what they learned, as I was going along.

Lucas, Sylvie's agent, has been a champion for her success, but also insists she research clients before her shows. What role does he play in the story and in her life?

When she meets him, he's the first person who looks at her and says, "I believe in you." That's such a powerful thing, and it's also an insidious thing, because everyone wants to be accepted, loved and admired. Here's this guy who says, "I'm with you. I'm going to make you a star." And as Sylvie becomes more and more famous, she gives away more and more of her gift, in a way. She's more willing to cut those corners and do the research, while still telling herself she's helping people. Lucas lets her go down the wrong path, and Thomas is the mechanism that forces her to face those choices.

Do you think the topic of memory, knowledge and trusting your own experiences is particularly timely, given we are in a national/global moment with so many unknowns?

I think the past two years have given us a lot of time to think about who we are personally and in the context of the world, and how we want to live. When you think about that, you examine why you do the things you do, and what has informed those choices. This story follows two people who are willing to ask those really difficult questions and be brave enough to face the answers.

I've had a lot of alone time the last two years. It gives you time to look at your own origin story and examine whether those things are actually true. We're all unreliable narrators. We all see the world through our own lens, and taking the time to examine that is pretty powerful. Everyone wants to live an authentic life.

I do hope that beyond the story being a page-turner, readers remember what that psychic told me: anything's possible if you want it enough. We all feel like imposters in our lives, and all of our origin stories have parts that aren't true. And you have a choice. You can go with that age-old narrative. Or you can look at it through the eyes of a discerning adult and see it differently, and make choices based on what you really want and how you want to live.

Do you believe in psychics--or are you a skeptic, like Thomas?

Any time there's a tarot card reader on the street, I'll sit down and get my cards read. I don't know what I believe, honestly, but I do know that I'm open to everything. I'm open to allowing the idea that it could be significant.

What are you working on now?

My next novel, also with Berkley, is a story about a woman who says yes to everything, including a proposal from a boyfriend she hasn't been dating for that long. She discovers that the long-dead man who originally created her engagement ring wrote letters home from World War I that have been collected in a library. She reads them in a special collection and writes a note to the long-dead author on a whim, and goes back to the library to find that the long-deceased author has written her back. We'll see what happens from there! --Katie Noah Gibson

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