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Indelible is a remarkable first novel

Author grew up in Durango

The debut novel

As a young child, Magdalena saw people with black marks on their skin. When she grew up and learned to read, she realized that the marks were words and that no one else saw them. The words describe a person’s life, past and future and are written all over their skin like macabre tattoos. Because this was upsetting to Magdalena, she uses her glasses rarely. Magdalena sees no writing on her own skin, which is a puzzle to her.

After the sudden death of her best friend, Lina, Magdalena is lost. She suffers not only grief but a sense of guilt, because if she had understood the Latin words on her friend’s skin, she might have saved her life. These intense feelings cause Magdalena to make a rash decision that leads her to Paris with her friend’s ashes and then compels her to join a group of pilgrims heading south.

Richard Beart is a retired teacher who is consumed with a quest having to do with his mother, Inga Beart, a flamboyant author who left her family ranch in rural Colorado to make a splash in Hollywood and France. She had a short, colorful life and made her fame by writing novels featuring vivid, well-drawn characters. When Richard was born, father unknown, his mother rejected him without laying eyes on him. He was raised by his aunt and uncle on the very ranch his mother left. He has a vivid childhood memory of her famous red shoes when she came to visit him, but everyone denies that she ever made the journey from France to see him.

Neil is a college student studying medieval history abroad in England. His favorite professor invites a few students to go to France to do research over the summer to prepare for an exhibition on the repaired tower of the church of St. Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. Neil’s job is to do research in the national archives, where he discovers papers about a forbidden pilgrimage by a monk. This intriguing information and an unexpected letter sends Neil traveling to Spain.

Another character is Dijana, Magdalena’s mother. Dijana worked in America for Richard and helped clean up the place after the deaths of his aunt and uncle. It is Richard and Dijana’s innocent desire to exchange small Christmas presents that sets events in motion.

Indelible is a story driven by characters that resonate with unspoken feelings buried just below the surface, frustrated dreams and unfulfilled desires. The characters and their stories are carefully folded back and forth in time. Their emotions as written by Saunders are nuanced and layered.

Saunders’ settings for events in this novel are rich in detail and texture. As Neil searches through ancient parchments in the archives, one can almost see the dust in the air. The streets of Paris wandered by Richard are easily envisioned. Saunders has crafted a truly unique and intriguing story that draws the readers into a world of mysterious happenings. When the story ends, the characters will still resonate in the mind. Indelible is a remarkable first novel and should appeal to many readers.

Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.

Adelia Saunders

Q: Were you born here in Durango? I know you went to school here and graduated from DHS.

A: My dad grew up in Durango, but I was actually born in Minneapolis. We moved back to Durango when I was 3 so my dad could help my grandparents, who had a small farm south of town, and I grew up in the Sunnyside area. I went to Sunnyside elementary and Escalante Middle School and graduated from DHS in 2002.

Q: Where did you get the idea about a person who sees writing on people’s skin?

A: I helped my husband with some research in the Lithuanian national archives looking for information about his grandmother’s life in Lithuania before WWII. I got very interested in archives – and in particular in the type of information you’d see in a person’s file: names, dates, passport applications, marriage records, school forms, etc. It seemed like something of a curse that, long after a person and every memory of him is gone, it’s these banal (and occasionally tragic or profound) details of a life that are all that’s left. I started thinking about what it would mean for a character to have to know the entire contents of a each person’s “personnel file” – from birth to death – every time she encountered someone new.

Q: Did you visit all the locations in the novel?

A: All except Santiago de Compostela. My great dream is to do that pilgrimage some day. But, like the characters, I have lived in Paris, London and the Baltic region – though I was in Latvia, not Lithuania. The Colorado parts of the story are set in Walsenburg. As a kid, I had a friend whose family had a huge cattle ranch out there, with a house that had originally been built as a dude ranch.

Q: How long did all your research take you, especially the information about St. Jacques and the pilgrimage to Spain? The portions describing Neil’s research in Paris sound particularly realistic.

A: My husband and I lived in Paris for a year in 2008-2009, and while I was there I was getting ready to go to graduate school. One thing I did during that year was hang out in The French National Archives. At first I just went there because I wanted someplace quiet to work, but you kind of have to have documents in front of you while you’re there, otherwise they look at you funny, and so I started requesting files on the Tour Saint-Jacques, which is a gothic bell tower we could see from the window of a friend’s apartment in the fourth arrondissement. I loved doing this research, and the main reason I made the character Neil a student of medieval history is that I found myself wishing I could go back to college and study this, just like he does.

Q: Which character was the easiest to create?

A: Neil, because, like I said, I was sort of living vicariously through him.

Q: Which character was the hardest to bend to the will of the story?

A: Richard, because he’s set apart (by age and location) from the other characters, was the one who took the most revising. Someone in the book industry advised me early on to get rid of his character, but I couldn’t do that, because to me, his search for his mother is the heart of the story, even if it has the least overlap with the other characters.

Q: Which writers do you feel have influenced your writing? Or that you’ve read and admire?

A: Some of the books I read around the time I started writing this were The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, and Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Those books all have an element of the not-quite-real, blended with solid facts of history, that I admire.

Q: What is your writing routine since you have a young family?

A: Having young kids has made me much better, or at least much more fierce, about managing my time. It has also made me less picky about the conditions in which I work, and I wrote whole sections of this book typing with one finger while one or another baby slept on me. Mainly, though, I’m very lucky that my husband has a flexible schedule. I never would have been able to get this story into shape if it hadn’t been for him, working his days around our kids to carve out time for me to work

Q: How did you organize the novel, or did it evolve organically?

A: For a while it was just a project that grew and grew. I couldn’t really think of it as a book until it was almost finished. It was fun to let it evolve like that, but it made for a lot of revising. I believe very much that a writer owes it to her readers to know where where things are going, and so there were a number of times when I had to stop, go back,and start from the beginning, to make sure there weren’t threads sticking out.

Q: Do you plan a sequel to Indelible?

A: No! I have very definite ideas about what happens to these characters afterward, but I would never think to write them down – mostly because I imagine a happy, ordinary future for these people – and who wants to read about that?!

Q: Are you working on a new project/book?

A: Yes. I like having a secret project.

Leslie Doran

If you go

What: Adelia Saunders will be discussing her novel Indelible.

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.

More information: Call Maria’s at 247-1438.