Author Elizabeth Silver Explores Guilt and Forgiveness in Debut Novel – Part I

I almost didn’t attend Elizabeth Silver’s author event to promote her debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Although The Washington Post calls it a “fantastic first novel,” the title and jacket blurb screamed “Injustice!” Which is one of my least-favorite topics. (Don’t ask me whether I liked the movies Midnight Express, Atonement and Blue Valentine, because I will probably burst into tears.)

But a friend and fellow writer told me she planned to attend the May 5 event at the Hilton, part of the Authors Alive series, so I met her there and was pleased to hear what turned out to be an upbeat presentation by Silver, whose gigantic smile and passion for writing made for an invigorating and inspiring evening.

Silver wrote her first story in kindergarten, and her parents supported her artistic talents. She and her surgeon dad play violin, and her mom is a calligrapher and retired English teacher. Although Silver chose a “split career trajectory, split identity” by studying law, writing remained her passion.

She understood the power of story from an early age.

“It’s enlightening, what we can learn from Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky,” Silver said, calling literature a “tool for social change.”

It’s not surprising, then, that The Execution of Noa P. Singleton explores heavy themes: guilt, forgiveness, and the notion of victimhood. She also asks readers to consider whether the death penalty is the right punishment for Noa.

Silver drew on her experience as a rookie attorney drafting opinions for death penalty cases in Texas’ highest criminal court. Today, more than 3,000 people sit on death row in the U.S. “By time it gets to clemency, they’ve tried everything,” Silver said of the attorneys and families of those convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Noa P. Singleton is an intelligent, middle-class woman who doesn’t speak a word in her own defense during a trial that ends with a first-degree murder conviction. Ten years later, just six months away from the execution date, the victim’s mother visits and tells Noa she has changed her mind about the death penalty. She’ll do everything to convince the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison, if Noa will reveal why she committed the crime.

“A human story, a beg, a plea,” is how Silver described a petition for executive clemency. “This is told by facts, not the law, and it works by experts scouring the past to find some semblance of goodness, [to argue] ‘let this person live.’

“It’s storytelling.”

Silver’s original title was Guilt. “I’m fascinated how it defines us,” she said, pointing out that Noa is defined by guilt from the past. Due to childhood events, Noa feels unworthy of returning to college, or of being in a relationship, and essentially commits a slow suicide that culminates in being sentenced to the death penalty.

“Her entire life has been a prison up until she’s in prison, then she feels free,” the author said. “Guilt is her religion.”

Tomorrow, I focus on how Silver came to write her debut novel, and what skydiving has to do with it.

 Katherine Valdez wrote “Author John Searles Proves Nice Guys Finish First” (Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog/Writers Digest) and “The Monster in Her Bedroom” (Havok Magazine, Issue 1.1). Receive an email every time a new post is published by typing your address in the Follow/Subscribe box at, and follow on Instagram and Twitter @KatValdezWriter.

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