BY P. CURRY
A few years ago, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a fellow writer. Last year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a five-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.
The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.
So first things first, tell me a little bit about your upcoming novel, Heaven Isn’t Me?
A: I wrote the first draft in two months, from August to October 2018. Unlike with my two previous novels, I didn’t just rely on my laptop to write the draft – I wrote 85% of the first draft on my phone! Whenever I had a free moment, even if it was just five minutes, I’d whip out my phone and use the Google Docs app to write. Writing on my phone worked wonders in getting this book done quickly. I easily wrote 1,000 words a day using this method.
Heaven Isn’t Me follows fourteen-year-old Elysian Lecaro as she faces a diagnosis with anxiety disorder and tries to solve two mysteries: a) who shot her friends in a recent drive-by shooting and b) who kidnapped Gladys Richardson, her best friend’s older sister?
Were you in any way inspired by your own struggles with anxiety for this project?
A: Yes, yes, and yes. Elysian and I share some characteristics, though she is much bolder and braver than I am. When I was her age, I had anxious thoughts, but I didn’t realize they weren’t normal until I was older. For example, whenever a school dance came around, I was 100% convinced that if I didn’t find a date, I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life. It sounds ridiculous now (especially since I’ve been married for over a year and I’ve been with my husband for seven years!), but back then, I really believed it.
I had other thoughts like I would fail high school and never graduate, even though I was on honor roll and I ended up graduating a year early because I was so ahead in my studies. I remember my friends telling me, “Darlene, we love you, but sometimes you worry too much.” And they were right. So, in my first semester of college, I talked to a counselor and after several weeks of sessions, she told me I had anxiety, but not to fear since there were ways to address these irrational thoughts of the future, such as thinking of all the good outcomes of an issue first.
Because of my experience with anxiety as a teen, I knew I had to write a book with a character like Elysian to show teens of today that there is hope and healing for them. There is a lot of pressure on teens as they grow up. They’re trying to make good grades, they have crushes, they want to fit in, they’re getting ready for the next steps of their lives – so of course they’re going to worry about themselves and their future. They are not alone and they don’t have to feel ashamed of their anxious thoughts.
Mind sharing who and/or what some of your influences are?
A: Oscar Wilde, Sandra Cisneros, Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Brown, Lorrie Moore, Edgar Allan Poe, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, John Green, ZZ Packer, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth McCracken, RJ Palacio, Stuart Dybek, Jeannette Walls, and Carrie Fountain. There are others I’m likely forgetting. I went on vacation with my husband to Washington D.C. in June and we drove about an hour away to Baltimore where we visited Edgar Allan Poe’s house. His house is VERY small and the stairwells are so narrow, I’m surprised I was able to climb the steps. At the top of the house, there’s an even narrower stairwell that leads to Poe’s bedroom which includes his quill pen and his writing desk. I cried the second when I saw these items – I couldn’t believe I was looking at the exact spot where Poe wrote his legendary works. The moment felt like a pilgrimage. While Poe is known for his horror stories, I’m a huge fan of his poetry. Poe’s poem “For Annie” is one of my favorite poems ever.
Likewise, I went on a weekend trip to San Antonio a few years ago and stayed in the historical (and supposedly haunted) Menger Hotel. Oscar Wilde stayed there back in 1882. The Menger has a special plaque with his name on the door of the room where he slept during his stay. The room is available for booking, but last time I checked, it was $300 a night. Anyway, right before I checked out of my room, I found his room and took a selfie with the plaque. I didn’t experience anything paranormal at the Menger, but I seriously hoped Oscar Wilde’s ghost would visit me so I could ask him for writing advice. Unfortunately, he didn’t haunt me.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing extensive research on the Holocaust and Jewish history and culture. Are you applying this knowledge to a future work?
A: Yes, but since I’m currently sending this manuscript out to agents and publishing houses, I don’t want to say too much about it.
It’s based on true accounts from Holocaust survivors I interviewed plus accounts I learned from the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of other Holocaust survivors I couldn’t interview since they have passed away. I used the accounts along with my own fiction-thinking brain to create this novel.
That’s all I will say for now.
Any other ideas you have in mind for future works?
A: I’m revising my fifth novel right now, which I also wrote in two months (April to June of this year) by writing most of it on my phone. It’s about a fifteen-year-old boy named Matthew who wants to be a doctor, but since his mother doesn’t earn much money, he’s busting himself to get a good scholarship. He can sing well, and his friends tell him about a singing scholarship, which is great, except he has horrible stage fright AND he needs to write his own song for his audition, which isn’t his strength. Will Matthew finally get a scholarship for his medical school fund? Will he bomb his audition? Will he audition at all? Who knows?
The title right now is Matthew The Riot, but is subject to change. Fun fact: it’s also a semi-sequel of my fourth novel.
I find it admirable how you always do such extensive research on whatever it is you’re writing about, especially in regards to different cultures. What motivates you to always be so in-depth with your research?
A: Simple – I LOVE to dive right into my research. I can read a thousand books, watch a thousand videos, and interview a thousand people, but it is not the same as experiencing what I’m researching. When I was writing my second novel, Summer Camp is Cancelled, the protagonist, Lyndon, is Catholic and I knew close to nothing about Catholicism. So, I went to Mass several times, learned prayers, songs, and talked to priests. I read books and watched documentaries and other informative videos (shout out to Father Mike on the Ascension Presents YouTube channel!). I also interviewed over forty practicing Catholics, but the best part about learning was being present in Mass, because I experienced Catholicism firsthand. I even went to a two-hour long Christmas Midnight Mass because Lyndon attends a Christmas Midnight Mass in the novel.
Additionally, SCIC has a character named Melody and she is deaf, and Lyndon’s father is deaf in one ear (just like my father). I interviewed people who are deaf to shape these characters and I read books and watched videos, too, but I also spent days with earplugs on to experience the silence. For Lyndon’s father, I spent days with one earplug. By diving into my research, I feel that I can properly capture who my characters are without making them seem like stereotypes or unrealistic. I worry about improperly representing characters outside of my own realm, which is why I want to be as accurate as possible so I do not hurt anyone’s feelings with misrepresentation.
What are some of your long-term career goals?
A: My ultimate dream is to earn enough money to give to charity and those who need my help without having to think twice about it. Ever hear about those anonymous millionaires who donate tons of money to nonprofits? I want to be one of those millionaires. Need surgery? I’ll write you a check, so you won’t have medical debt. You need your car repaired? Here’s $25,000 for you to buy a new car. Homeless animals at the local shelter need food? Here’s $50,000, get them dessert, too.
Okay, I’m getting carried away by my dreams, but wouldn’t that life be the best?
Would you be open to a film or TV adaptation of one your books in the future?
A: Of course! But they have to let me write the screenplay. If not, the deal is off.
Let’s say, you were banned from writing! What path would you take from there?
A: If I didn’t write, I’m not sure what I would do with my time. The longest I can go without writing is a few weeks and then I feel the withdrawal and get back into it. So, if I were banned from writing, I would write anyway, even if it could get me arrested. Then I’d write in prison, too.
Photography is another passion of mine, but it’s nowhere to close to writing. I also love to box and swim for exercise. I would easily give up my camera, punching bag and boxing gloves, and all my swim gear rather than my pen and paper.
Since you aren’t actually banned from writing, is there anything else you’d like to do with your craft besides penning novels?
A: I wish I could do something different, but novels are my specialty. I have had poems published in various literary journals in the past, but I can tell you with full certainty that I am not a poet.
I also wish I could write songs. My great-grandfather, Alcides Martinez, was a musician, songwriter, and a poet. He wrote songs which are still covered by Ecuadorian artists today. However, I sadly did not inherit his abilities.
Novels are it for me!