Interview with Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Pub
June 13th, 2017

THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER by Karen Dionne delves into what life is like for a child of a long-term kidnap victim. Anyone that has wondered about Amanda Berry or Jaycee Dugard should read this story. These women were kidnapped, raped, and bore a child while being interned in a prison of hell. But what happens to the child conceived under these conditions? This is the ultimate love/hate story between a child, Helena, and her parents. By beginning each chapter with a section of the fairy tale, THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER by Hans Christian Anderson, the author formulates a connection between Helena’s life and this tale. She had little use for her mother while growing up; yet, after reaching adolescence she realized that the violence and cruelty of her father was not normal, and that her mother attempted to insulate and protect her.

Elise Cooper: Where did you get the idea for the story?

Karen Dionne: I was actually looking for the backstory on a character in another novel where she was going all over the world in search of this quest. But my agent told me it would not work and I was thinking of my other options, when in the middle of the night the first couple of paragraphs came to me. I had the character and now needed the full story.

EC: How did the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale come into play?

KD: As Helena grew up she had little regard for her mother. Later on she reflects on her mother’s kidnapping and has memories of being helped by her, including telling the fairy tale story. I was looking at my bookshelf and found the Marsh Kings Daughter fairy tale. The focus in this is the daughter of an evil father so I now had the formulation of a plot as well as the characters.

EC: How did you do the research?

KD: I thought what it might be like for these children who grew up in a captive environment. I thought it weird, but since this is the only life they knew, they probably would not. Not having any normal to judge by, she accepts her experiences. After reading Jaycee Dugard’s book I decided this story should not be about the woman kidnapped, but solely about the child, Helena. People who overcame a terrible childhood have always fascinated me.

EC: It is interesting how Helena loved her childhood and her father?

KD: It did not seem to her that her childhood years were stolen. In the book she refers to it as the only time she was truly happy despite her circumstances. This shaped her worldview as well as how her parents acted. After being rescued her mom withdrew from the world, partly because her parents seemed to only care about making money from the ordeal.

EC: How did you get the idea for the rustic setting?

KD: I lived on the peninsula in Michigan a long time ago, although I never hunted and fished. I researched on You-Tube and Googled it. My husband and I homesteaded in the wilderness when my oldest daughter was six weeks old during the 1970s. We lived in a tent and carried water from the stream. The scene of Helena trudging across the frozen Marsh in winter is something I did many times. When I write about what it is like to wash diapers by hand in a bucket I have been there/done that. I knew exactly what it is like and it is not fun. Eventually we left the wilderness for practical considerations, our daughter going to school and my husband’s job.

EC: Interesting how even Helena was a bit rebellious?

KD: As she grew up her life started to feel small and narrow. She thought about what else is out there. She knew from reading fifty-year-old National Geographic pages and seeing airplanes fly overhead that something else was out there.

EC: How would you describe Helena’s relationship with her father?

KD: Her first twelve years she loves her father unconditionally. After she leaves the Marsh she hates him and blames him for her lacking in social norms and technology. She put herself in her own witness protection program to lose her identity and get away from her dad. Yet, when searching for him she realizes she still loves him. Helena does have a good heart but is a bit of a narcissist like her father. Her tough as nails attitude was influenced by him.

EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?

KD: I want to convey no one is all evil and all good. They should experience a range of emotions from sympathy to hate. I hope people will understand that once a decision is made in your life you need to take responsibility. Helena never told her husband of her past life and almost lost him. Her mother would have never been captured if she refused to go up to the kidnapper and ran home instead.