SCOTT SIMON, host:

Nora Lindell just disappeared one Halloween. Shes 16, pretty and smart. Some kids swear they saw her climb into a strangers Pontiac. Others say she was seen at the mall or at the airport. Another boy says that just a month ago he had been intimate with her, which makes all the other boys either skeptical or mad. Who knows whats true or where she is. Who knows what's true? Or where she is?

The persisting mystery of whatever happened to Nora Lindell, and the rumors, suspicions, regrets and shadows she leaves behind are at the center of a first novel by Hannah Pittard. It's called The Fates Will Find Their Way, and its been acclaimed by critics, and its been the object of a bidding war between foreign publishers. Hannah Pittard, who teaches fiction at DePaul University in Chicago, joins us from our studios in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Professor HANNAH PITTARD: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

SIMON: And I gather theres something that happened in your own life that kind of set this in motion.

Prof. PITTARD: Well, there are many things that set this in motion, probably the biggest thing, and I doubt the thing that you are talking about, but the thing that definitely set an emotion is just growing up and getting older and becoming an adult. I think what youre referring to is whether or not its based on a true story.

I did go to school with a girl in middle school, maybe lower school, whose older sister had been kidnapped or taken. I don't know all of the details but it had happened, you know, long before I knew this girl and she sort of came with - she came tainted to us. All we knew is that shed had an older sister who had gone missing and it was something that we made fun of behind her back. You know, it was sometimes it was what made her popular, other times it's what made her unpopular, but I have been thinking about that at around the time that I was starting this book and that certainly played a part in it.

SIMON: Well, something just occurs to me as we're sitting here talking about it. To grow up knowing someone with that in their life, does that mean growing up with a, I dont know, persisting piece of fiction in your life? I mean all the people that know about it are kind of filling in the blanks or playing a game of what if?

Prof. PITTARD: Well, I think what it does mean or what it meant for me is that I spent a lot of time myself trying to fill in those gaps and I was very aware of the stories that I made up and that my fellow classmates made up. And we somehow knew that we were all lying or exaggerating and yet the excitement of that exaggeration, we couldnt stop. Thats more than anything, what I was trying to capture.

SIMON: A lot of the art of this book is in the details.

Prof. PITTARD: Thank you.

SIMON: I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...I hadn't thought about phone trees for years, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...boy, it plays a role here.

Prof. PITTARD: You know, I wanted so badly to not incorporate technology. What youre seeing in part in this book is my own regret and sadness for a time when people still made plans. You know, they didnt say well, how about Ill call you at seven on Friday. They said I will be at this place on Friday at seven. Then the phone tree, that was just such a big part of my life. And I was recently at my boyfriends house in Annapolis and I saw on his parents bedroom wall, they had a land line still and the phone was mounted to, you know, mounted to the wall. And next to the phone there was a list of names and numbers scrawled in pencil on the wall and who to call first and then who to call next. It was something that you won't ever see again, and I miss that.

SIMON: In the course of the 30 years covered in the novel...

Prof. PITTARD: Yes.

SIMON: ...there are a couple of alternative visions, if you please...

Prof. PITTARD: Yes.

SIMON: ...of Nora in Arizona with the...

Prof. PITTARD: The Mexican.

SIMON: The Mexican, as hes identified.

Prof. PITTARD: Yes.

SIMON: Or in Mumbai...

Prof. PITTARD: Thats right.

SIMON: ...with a henna artist, who is a woman.

Prof. PITTARD: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: This doesn't give anything away. Are these figments of imagination or deliberate fiction?

Prof. PITTARD: They are deliberate fiction. Was that the second option?

SIMON: Yes, right.

Prof. PITTARD: I choose...

SIMON: Or fill in the blank.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PITTARD: I choose the second option. Fantasy is so much a part of my life and my imagination is so much a part of my life, I wanted these boys to have that same sort of thing in them. I wanted to explore a character's imagination. That sounded so interesting to me.

SIMON: What are the challenges of writing a book where the narrative takes place over I guess about 30 years and having so many characters?

Prof. PITTARD: That's, you know, thats funny. When I started it, these boys were just - they shared an amorphous boy brain. I never intended for them to become individuals. And then when I was writing it, I got to a point halfway through and I was just about to, you know, make up a new name out of thin air and I thought wait a second, I'm going too far. So I remember, you know, scrolling back through my Word document, finding a name, copy, cutting, pasting it. And then I started doing that, going back, just finding a name that I had used. And then the next thing I knew, I'm not kidding. It was these boys were so real and it was as though I had gone to school with them. Danny Hatchet, I knew exactly who Danny Hatchet was. You know, hes the kid who hit a dog. He's the kid with acne and who always wears a sweatshirt and who takes a bunch of pills. You know, I could see his mom. And the minute they became individuals it was as though they were never anything else.

SIMON: Who is the kid who swallows chocolate milk before he takes a pill?

Prof. PITTARD: Thats Danny Hatchet.

SIMON: Thats what I thought. Yes.

Prof. PITTARD: Thats right. You know where I got that? Thats how I still take my pills and my vitamins. So Danny, theres a lot of Danny Hatchet in me.

SIMON: I dont think I give away anything because imparting this, because the reviews, which have been just splendid, have said to readers: dont expect an answer to what happens here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PITTARD: Sure.

SIMON: And I wonder if at some point in the process your editor said to you, come on, youve got to have an answer here. I mean...

Prof. PITTARD: You know, thats...

SIMON: People want them, you know?

Prof. PITTARD: Thats funny. No, she didnt. I remember that my agent very early on said you might be asked to give them an answer or how do you feel about that? And I said no. Absolutely not. Theres not an answer and he said well, thats what I was hoping you were going to say. I dont know what happened. I can't I think the point is that it doesnt matter in the end. What matters is the boys and what becomes of their lives.

SIMON: And yet, she could show up at any minute.

Prof. PITTARD: She could. You know, thats the thing, obviously I think in a way I fell a little bit in love with Nora Lindell or otherwise I probably would've been successfully able to do away with her once and for all, but I think even in my own brain I just needed the possibility that youre, exactly as you just said, she might waltz through that door at any minute.

SIMON: Hannah Pittard, her new novel is The Fates Will Find Their Way.

Thanks so much.

Prof. PITTARD: This was fantastic. Thank you.

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