Readers, grab your popcorn. An epic summer reading “variety show,” featuring six best-selling novelists, is headed to a screen near you.
Christina Baker Kline — author of eight novels, including “Orphan Train” and “A Piece of the World” — will celebrate the paperback launch of “The Exiles” by gathering some best-selling buddies for a virtual mega-event. Big-name participants include John Searles (“Help for the Haunted” “Strange But True”), Kristin Hannah (“The Four Winds,” “The Great Alone”), Paula McLain (“The Paris Wife,” “Circling the Sun”), Elin Hilderbrand (”Winter in Paradise,” “28 Summers”), and Chris Bohjalian (“The Flight Attendant,” “Hour of the Witch”).
Meanwhile “The Exiles” is already optioned for film. Set in the 1840s, the sweeping drama follows three women — two English convicts, and an orphaned Aboriginal girl — in the early English settlement days of Australia.
Wednesday’s event will be hosted by more than 40 indie bookstores around the United States, including East Sandwich’s Titcomb’s Bookshop and Wellesley Books. Each business will handle the event in its own way, said Kline, winner of the New England Prize for Fiction and the Maine Literary Award. At Titcomb’s, for example, tickets are just $5 or free with purchase of “The Exiles.”
We caught up Kline — who splits her time between New York City and Southwest Harbor, Maine — via e-mail to ask about “Exiles,” her TV series, and how the event came together.
Q. This event looks epic. How did you line it up, and how will it work?
A. So instead of a dozen virtual events spread out over weeks, I’m doing one big one: an hour-long variety show co-sponsored by more than 40 independent bookstores around the country. The funny and brilliant John Searles will emcee, and I’ll be talking with author friends about different aspects of “The Exiles” and the writing life. Along the way, we’ll show a short video about the story behind the book. We want the hour to feel spontaneous and high-energy.
Q. What sparked your idea for “The Exiles”?
A. A few years ago, I read an article about British convict women and children shipped to Australia. But several strands of my own life story sparked that interest. In my 20s I read Robert Hughes’s history of the British colonization of Australia, “The Fatal Shore,” which inspired me to apply for a six-week Rotary Foundation fellowship to southeastern Australia. A few years later, my mother — a University of Maine Women’s Studies professor — and I wrote a book, “The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk about Living Feminism,” interviewing 60 women in the process. Over the years, I’ve taught memoir writing and art in women’s prisons. These experiences shaped my interest in Australia, in the power of women telling their stories, and in the criminal justice system — all foundational components of “The Exiles.”
Q. I love that you tell the story of Mathinna, an Aboriginal girl.
A. When I visited Tasmania and learned about the real-life Mathinna, I decided to include her story. I felt it would be irresponsible not to address what the British did to the Aboriginal people who’d lived on the island — then called Van Diemen’s Land — for thousands of years. Mathinna was the orphaned daughter of an Aboriginal chieftain. In 1840, she was taken in on a whim by Sir John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane. They wanted to see if they could “turn her into a lady.” They abandoned her when they went back to London.
Q. The book was optioned for TV even before it published.
A. I was lucky that the manuscript caught the eye of Bruna Papandrea, an Australian film and television producer and founder of the production company Made Up Stories. She produced “Wild,” “Gone, Girl,” “Big Little Lies,” among others. Her team has an explicit mission to hire women, adapt female-written novels, and create stories with complex female characters.
Q. You’re involved in the TV show, which doesn’t always happen with authors. Can you tell us anything about it yet?
A. I’m delighted to be working closely with the team as they create an eight-part series. They’ve hired an experienced writer to draft the pilot and an extensive outline; it’s close to being finished. They have strong relationships with all the major streaming companies and I think “The Exiles” will find a home in the next few months.
Q. Tell us about your Maine connections. Does New England inspire your writing?
A. My parents, native Southerners, took a years-long detour to England for grad school, where I was born, before settling in Bangor in 1970. My father was a University of Maine history professor for 30 years. My mother eventually taught there, too. My three sisters and I went to Bangor public schools. Eventually we all ended up buying houses within a two-mile radius in a small village on Mount Desert Island, where our parents retired. Six of my eight novels are set, at least in part, in Boston and Maine. I proudly identify as a New England writer.
A Virtual Night with Christina Baker Kline
July 7, 7 p.m. More information at christinabakerkline.com