I’m thrilled to have Travis Mulhauser as a guest on A Book and a Latte today! Check out my Q & A with him below, and be sure to pick up a copy of his novel, SWEETGIRL.

SWEET GIRL by Travis MulhauserSweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser | A Book and a Latte

Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Ecco (HarperCollins)

A blistering debut driven by the raw, whip-smart voice of Percy James, a fearless sixteen-year-old girl whose search for her missing mother leads to an unexpected discovery and a life-and-death struggle in the harsh frozen landscape of the upper Midwest

As a blizzard bears down, Percy James sets off to find her troubled mother, Carletta. For years, Percy has had to take care of herself and Mama—a woman who’s been unraveling for as long as her daughter can remember. Fearing Carletta is strung out on meth and won’t survive the storm, Percy heads for Shelton Potter’s cabin, deep in the woods of northern Michigan.

But when Percy arrives, there is no sign of Carletta. Searching the house, she finds Shelton and his girlfriend drugged into oblivion—and a crying baby girl left alone in a freezing room upstairs. From the moment the baby wraps a tiny hand around her finger, Percy knows she must save her—a split-second decision that commences a dangerous odyssey in which she must battle the elements and evade Shelton and a small band of desperate criminals hell-bent on getting that baby back.

As the storm breaks and violence erupts, Percy will be forced to confront the haunting nature of her mother’s affliction, and come to find her own fate tied more and more inextricably to that of the baby she is determined to save.

Filled with the sweeping sense of cultural and geographic isolation of its setting—the hills of fictional Cutler County in northern Michigan—Sweetgirl is an affecting exploration of courage, sacrifice, and the ties that bind, a taut and darkly humorous tour de force that is horrifying, tender, and hopeful.

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Q & A with Travis Mulhauser

What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has flagged you for?

This is a fantastic question. There’s been some weird ones. “Homemade explosive devises” strikes me as a particularly inflammatory search phrase though.

Are you working on something new? Can you tell us what’s coming next?

I am at work on another novel, also set in Cutler County.

What is the one book you think everyone should read?

Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle is a fantastic novel based on the Emmett Till murder for which I have an evangelical passion. I taught it to college students for over ten years with a pretty high rate of success—meaning a lot of them actually read it and enjoyed it and were able to say smart, interesting things about it in class. It is heartbreaking, laugh-out-loud funny, and so interesting on the level of each, electric sentence, that it ruined me as a writer for about five years. I kept trying to write like Lewis Nordan, which can’t be done.

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?

Because this is a fantastic YA book blog, let’s go with Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War—my favorite YA book of all time. I read it in the eighth grade, and before I really understood that I loved to read, I loved that book. The Chocolate War is so good that the ALA says it was the fourth most “challenged” book between the years 1990-2000. When the censors come after you, you’re usually doing something right. Robert Cormier appears right between Maya Angelou and Mark Twain on that list, which I think we can all agree is pretty high praise.

Do you have a hidden talent?

Yes. I am a gifted, prodigious folder of laundry. I have two small children, who produce large amounts of dirty clothing and linens, and while I wash and dry with some efficiency, I am only truly noteworthy as a folder. In my house everything is crisply folded, so clearly organized, that I left my dad, a former Marine, awestruck as he stood before the linen closet.

“Man,” he said. “I haven’t seen some shit like this since the Marine Corps.”

If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?

Despite Himself.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I work at home, upstairs in our mostly converted attic. I have been writing fiction since I was twenty, on a laptop, and deeply regret that I didn’t take pictures of all my various desks—not the coffee shops or other public spaces—but the physical spaces I’ve worked at, in the places I’ve lived. There’s been so many, and so much variety. In my mid-twenties I lived in a house with four friends. This was in an old house in a very undesirable, dangerous part of town. Rent was 110 bucks.   We drew straws for the first choice of bedroom and I won—and it was, in all honesty, one of my most fortuitous breaks as a writer.

Three of the bedrooms were small, sweltering, and dark. On the other hand, I got a spacious suite, with its own private entrance and an adjoining, wood-paneled study that featured built-in bookshelves and huge bay windows. It was amazing. The room soaked up light and I wrote a lot of my first book back there—I almost felt like I owed it to the room. I’ve also had some pretty terrible writing spaces, including an empty bathtub. One that thing really helps no matter where I write is a window through which I can see something that isn’t a commercial building.


Travis Mulhauser

Photo Credit: Viki Redding

About Travis Mulhauser

Travis Mulhauser was born and raised in Northern Michigan, the insular and remote setting of the fictional Cutler County of the novel. Currently, Mulhauser lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife and two children, where he teaches at North Carolina State University. He earned his MFA from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

 Many thanks to Travis for stopping by and answering my questions, and HarperCollins for the opportunity!

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