On your website, you mention that there are a lot of similarities between you and your main character in Aberrations. This must have been a very emotional book to write. Did you discover anything about yourself while writing Aberrations?
Yes, all of my writing tends to center around themes and topics that I’m questioning or struggling with internally. I’m a deep thinker so I’ll likely never run out of material. I’ve yet to decide if that’s a curse or a blessing. I began writing Aberrations as I was settling into adulthood, and questioning many of the choices I’d made both as a teenager and a young adult, and why. Writing Aberrations helped me sort out many of those issues, and to understand the motivation behind much of my own self-inflicted pain during the growing-up process we all go through. Writing Aberrations was quite emotional for me. Once I finished, I suspected that I’d hit on something meaningful because although I’m the author and had read it a thousand times, I still found myself in tears when reading certain passages. I think the more you understand yourself and why certain things happened, you have an easier time of forgiving yourself, as well as others, and moving forward.
Angel has narcolepsy and her condition plays a key part in the book. How much research did you need to do to portray a narcoleptic character?
I spent a significant amount of time trying to fully understand the symptoms and emotional issues related to narcolepsy prior to writing Aberrations. At the time, (nearly ten years ago) there wasn’t a lot of information available in terms of medical text. I read what I could find. Many textbooks contained the same basic information, which focused on the underlying science of the condition. To truly understand it from a personal perspective, I turned to the Internet, which was just blossoming in terms of information sharing. I found a few great forums for people with narcolepsy and spent hours reading their thoughts, feelings, issues, etc. I corresponded with several college students who had narcolepsy. One girl was particularly helpful. I wish I could find her now; her name was Paisley. She read passages from the book and gave me feedback. But it’s important to note that I pulled from what I feel are universal emotions related to feeling different, loneliness, and wanting to be something more than what we are to create Angel’s emotional make-up. These were emotions that I felt as a young adult due to my own aberrations.
One of my favorite parts of Aberrations is a passage where Angel explains that she tries to hide her condition from most people: "I never considered being open about it. I hadn't once stopped to think that other people might have afflictions or issues to hide that equaled mine." I thought this was a very astute observation about human nature. Why do you think so many people feel compelled to keep their own "aberrations" hidden from others?
While there are many truly compassionate people in the world, many people have a difficult time fully putting themselves in another’s shoes. Our own emotions and wounds are so intertwined into who we are that sometimes it’s difficult to believe that our neighbor’s issues could be just as important to them. We all have different perspectives and perceptions regarding what hurts and what’s important. We sometimes get so wrapped up in our own emotions that we can’t see other people struggling. And even when we do, it’s still difficult to accept, in some respects; we also have the desire to be unique. It’s one of the dichotomies of life, I think. On top of that, I think it’s also human nature to want to see the grass greener on the other side. If other people have perfect lives, does that means mine can one day be perfect, too ... and isn’t that what I really want? It gives us hope. Another dichotomy because while I absolutely believe we should all strive to be and have the best, we’ll never reach perfection.
As someone who has done a bit of freelance photography, I was very intrigued by the cloud photo series that Angel's mother produced. How did the idea for that come about?
I’ve always loved clouds. I think they are one of the most beautiful aspects of nature. When in college, I spent a lot of time lying out on the flat Louisiana land, studying and watching clouds. When I relocated to the Northeast in 1991, I missed the perspective of the sky that I had in Louisiana. My love and interest in clouds were one of the many seemingly unrelated topics I threw together to create Aberrations. My creative idea around the clouds seemed to take on a life of its own as I developed the storyline. In the end, they played a much larger role than I imagined they would at the onset. They essentially symbolize mother to Angel. Mother found everywhere, if you think about it, because each cloud was shaped like something ordinary or familiar. And they were soft, beautiful, and overshadowing. Lastly, they were always there.
Carla is one of my favorite characters in the book. In the first few chapters she and Angel have a very rocky relationship, but by the end of the book, their relationship has softened quite a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you developed Carla's character?
Carla was actually modeled after my husband, who is incredibly strong, wise, and solid. Carla brilliantly sees above the emotional aspects of the situation and understands the facts that need to be addressed. The facts dominate her thinking at the beginning but over time, she softens because love seeps in and tempers her approach. Sometimes we desperately need someone to help us see the facts, even when it’s tough to take. My intent was also to show who Carla was from Angel’s perspective because by showing Carla change through Angel’s eyes, I could illuminate the changes in Angel herself.
Aberrations is set in your hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Were any of the places in the novel inspired by places from your youth?
Yes, each place in the novel was inspired by the places of my youth. I actually worked at the LSU Agricultural Center one summer. It was just about the only time in my life that I had a killer tan. The three clubs were modeled after real places. Of all the clubs, I made up the most details, including the name, for The Blue Flower. Although it’s totally unrelated, the idea for the name popped into my head when I was reading a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald called, The Blue Flower. It was so perfect!
The cover of Aberrations is visually striking. Not only is it beautiful, it's also very symbolic of an important scene of the book. How much involvement did you have in the cover design?
Everyone loves the cover; I’ve been asked this question a few times now. I was able to brainstorm with the cover designer about initial ideas, images, and concepts. We were both focused on creating a unique and eye catching cover that would reflect the themes and tone of the novel. We both liked the idea of using some type of blue flower. It seemed unique and would reflect a specific scene in the novel as well as the aberrations of life we all must deal with in some form. As for the hair, we started out thinking about somehow incorporating a braid, which evolved into the hair on the cover. The designer suggested that a braid may influence folks to think of the book as a young adult novel, which was not the intent. The cover designer created numerous designs, which were circulated internally. I was able to see the top five covers, and provide my input. I was lucky because the cover I liked best was also their top choice. It was a fun process and I’m extremely pleased with the outcome. The designer loved Aberrations; she was dedicated to creating a beautiful cover that would inspire people to take a look.
Your book has been out for a little over a month now. What has your post-publication experience been like?
It’s been equally scary and thrilling to finally share the creative vision I labored over for so long. I’m so honored by all the positive reviews and hope they continue. We just kicked off a national print campaign based on the success of the Internet campaign and radio tour. I just signed with an excellent literary agent, Christi Cardenas. Initial sales are good, considering I’m an unknown with a debut novel. Word of mouth is critical in this situation. Everything is pointing in a positive direction so we’ll see what happens.
Do you have any quirky writing habits? A specific time of day that you like to write, a favorite place to write, etc.?
Over the years, I’ve had what I would call “write when the heck you can” writing habits. I’ve written late at night, early in the morning, over my lunch breaks, in waiting rooms, etc. Believe it or not, my husband was the only person who knew I was writing my first novel, which I started nearly seventeen years ago. I didn’t tell anyone about the novel for five years! It was so personal and important to me that I didn’t want anyone to think or say, “Oh sure, everybody thinks they can write a novel.” It still took me quite a few years to gain the confidence to tell people I was a writer, even though it was the most important long-term goal I had. Now, I’m blessed to have more time to write. I hope to develop a great schedule once I delve into my third novel this fall.
What's your next project? Do you have another novel in the works?
I’m hoping that my other completed novel, Boundaries, will be the next on the shelves. As we work to make that happen, I plan to start on a third novel. I’ve completed my research and planning, and am ready to dive in as soon as my 9-year-old goes back to school in September. Hopefully, I’ve got a decent pipeline and there will be more to come!
Many thanks to Penelope to sharing her time with me and providing such thoughtful answers. I had the opportunity to meet Penelope this afternoon at Borders in Warrington, PA. (I'll be posting more about that tomorrow.) Penelope was kind enough to give me a signed copy of Aberrations to give away here at Bookish Ruth.
The rules for this one are going to be a bit different as far as extra entries are concerned. I'm offering more of them than in any of my previous contests:
- Enter by leaving a comment on this post.
- If you blog about this contest, you'll receive four extra entries.
- If you post a comment on my review of Aberrations, you'll receive one extra entry.
- Sign up for Penelope's newsletter for two extra entries.
- Add Penelope's blog, Aberration Nation, to your blog roll for two extra entries.