In Waiting For You at Midnight, New Orleans author Vicki Salloum paints a portrait of a widowed woman grieving her husband while also searching for someone to take his place.
When you read a Vicki Salloum novel, you’d better be prepared to see the world around you and your friends and neighbors in a different way. She writes with an extra dose of humanity, whether it’s about a local bookstore in Faulkner & Friends, a young girl trying to do the right thing amid New Orleans drug culture in Candyland or Arabella Joseph looking for love in Waiting For You at Midnight.
She says that if people are willing to work together “we have the ability to accomplish amazing, glorious things for ourselves and those around us.” Salloum channels her own life experience and the recent death of her husband into this novel as a tribute to him. The book is a work of fiction, but the premise and some of the scenes are true. Salloum met her husband Logan at Alcoholics Anonymous just as Arabella did and, like in the book, New Year’s Eve is an important holiday for her.
Arabella and Logan’s first date was on New Year’s Eve 1988. They danced and then spent the night together, before taking a walk the next morning. Now alone, Arabella finds herself wondering what she will do for the holiday and missing him terribly. We can all relate to the magic and melancholy of the midnight hour. As readers prepare to go on this year-long journey with Arabella in Waiting For You at Midnight, be ready to laugh, shed a few tears and live life to the fullest.
We interviewed Vicki Salloum in advance of her panel at the Louisiana Book Festival on Saturday, Nov. 10. See her from 9-10 a.m. on a “Women’s Journeys of Self-Discovery in Fiction” panel.
Erin Z. Bass: You said in another interview that this book ‘is an examination of the soul in turmoil.’ This is also a very personal book for you because it’s based on your husband’s death and your own process of widowhood. How difficult was it to write or was it more of a catharsis?
Vicki Salloum: I felt compelled to write this book. Shortly after my husband died, a little over three years ago, my greatest wish was not to just let him go and our life together fade into memory, but to find some way of keeping a lasting record of the honest man he was and of the way we were together. Waiting for You at Midnight is a novel. Many of the scenes and characters are fictional. But the scenes in the book that are true—that actually happened—were written as a tribute to him, to reveal to anyone willing to read my book, how a truly humble man overcame tremendous hardship to live a decent, honorable life. And writing about him felt good.
EZB: Arabella is such a wonderful, well-developed character. From her reason for going to AA to her jealousy over not being invited to the New Year’s party, she is funny, sad and smart all at the same time. How did you go about developing her and not making her a victim of her grief?
VS: I think a writer needs to dig deep inside the soul of her fictional narrator and understand her and what she is going through to avoid creating a stereotype. I tried to do that with Arabella Joseph. Once I knew her and had a general idea of what the plot would be about, I let my unconscious mind take over and lead me into the deeper territory of my imaginary world. Once I did that, it did not become my story anymore, susceptible to all the ways I can mess it up with my ego’s manipulations. Rather, it became its own story with the major characters taking on their own complexities and human identities. For the purpose of the novel, I tried to go where I was led.
EZB: You take us into a world of AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, held in basements and seedy parts of town. Why was that a world you wanted to explore and what are you trying to say about people who are recovering from an addiction?
VS: It is a world I know. I met my husband at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. And when we began dating, he once took me to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The scene at the NA meeting on New Year’s Eve actually took place decades ago, and I was there to witness it. I simply wrote about what I remembered. In my novel, I’m not trying to say anything profound about people recovering from addiction. I was trying to portray recovering alcoholics accurately as I knew them so that I could make my story believable.
EZB: David Armand said you have a gritty and realistic sense of place. Why do you keep returning to New Orleans in your writing?
VS: I was not born in New Orleans. I was born and raised in Gulfport, Mississippi. But I’ve lived in New Orleans long enough to know its true character. Everything about it fascinates me, and I can truly say the city has been my best friend for a very long time. I never get tired of observing the happenings here and capturing in words the unique qualities of a neighborhood, park, bar or local character. When New Orleans and its people get boring to me and cease to make me feel alive every time I walk out in the street and breathe the air, I’ll travel to another city and write a novel set there.
EZB: Your title Waiting For You At Midnight refers to New Year’s Eve, when Arabella and Logan have their first date and also a holiday that Arabella has trouble getting through after his death. For many people, it’s a night that never lives up to expectations, but what does New Year’s Eve represent for you?
VS: When I was a little girl, New Year’s Eve was always a magical night for me. My seven cousins from Alabama would tumble out of their parents’ station wagon just in time to attend my Aunt Cracker’s New Year’s Eve party next door to my childhood home. My aunt’s parties attracted our Lebanese relatives from all over the Deep South, dressed in their finest. My young cousins and I would stay up all night and rush downstairs early in the morning in time for New Year’s Day Mass at the local Catholic church and then ride with our parents the seventy-five miles to New Orleans to attend the Sugar Bowl game. As a grownup, New Year’s Eve represented parties and dancing and staying out all night, misbehaving. But as the years passed and I became a married woman, New Year’s Eve represented lying in bed with my husband watching the celebrations in New York on TV and falling asleep before midnight.
This is New Year’s Eve. You are no longer with me. Everything I have of you is right here in this house. And maybe, by some miracle, you will appear to me at midnight.” Chapter V
EZB: All of your books go sort of underground to expose and celebrate groups of people who are lost, both literally and metaphorically, and often overlooked in society. What do you hope your books show readers in terms of humanity?
VS: I think some of the themes of my novels have turned out to be that, despite the differences in physical appearances and experiences and backgrounds, people have the same emotions and capacity to do good and that, if we are willing to work together, no matter who we are or where we come from, we have the ability to accomplish amazing, glorious things for ourselves and those around us.