Interview with the author
Q: How did you come up with the idea for “In Leah’s Wake?” What was it that stuck with you so much that you just had to grow this idea into a novel?
A: Years ago, I wrote a series of feature articles about families with drug and alcohol-addicted teens. Their heartbreaking stories stayed with me. When I began In Leah’s Wake, our daughters were teenagers. I knew, as a parent, the feeling of being frightened, concerned for your children’s future, I observed the kids around us, and I remembered the families I’d met years before. While Leah goes to an extreme that, thank goodness, we never experienced, all of this played on my conscious and subconscious mind, so her rebellion was easy to imagine.
Q: How have your own experiences as a mother of four factored into the plotting and characterization of the novel
A: Our daughters grew up in the same family, yet at times their perspectives are wildly divergent. Naturally, being older, my husband and I see and experience situations differently from any of our children. I tried to show this with the Tyler family by switching point of view, at times retelling and overlapping their stories.
Q: What type of reader do you think will be the most drawn to this story? Did you have a target audience in mind while writing?
A: Men and women who are raising or have raised teenagers tell me the story hits home—not that their kids rebelled to an extreme, but that they’ve experienced the turbulence that occurs in most families during the teenage years. I think the novel also appeals to teens and young adults, who identify with Justine and Leah. And Jodi Picoult fans often tell me In Leah’s Wake reminds them of her work.
Q: Is there any of you in “Leah’s Wake?” Which character did you identify with or admire the most?
A: Tough question! I love all the characters. And there is a part of me in all of them. It was Justine, though, who kept the book alive in my mind. I worked on this novel for years; whenever I’d think about letting go, moving on to something else, I’d see her image or hear her voice in my head, and feel compelled to keep going.
Q: The Tylers are a well-to-do and relatively happy family; their environment does not seem like a hotbed for teenage rebellion. Why did you choose this family as the setting for your story
A: I don’t see socioeconomics as a determining factor. Poor kids are more likely than the wealthy to be victimized by drug- or alcohol-related violence, so we hear their stories more often. That doesn’t mean kids in well-to-do towns don’t rebel. Kids drink, often in secret, and the current trend is to abuse prescription drugs.
It’s terrifying, I know, to watch kids get off track. Frankly, though, the young are supposed to rebel. The notion that kids ought to be perfect, clones—or worse—best friends of their parents is crippling to them. If kids are to become creative, independent adults, they have to set their own agenda, think for themselves, which often means breaking away from parental rules. I thought, and still think, zero tolerance polices are ridiculous. It’s wrong to ostracize kids who rebel, and cowardly to shame them. Instead, communities should pull together, support and encourage all kids—that’s one of the social issues I tried to address in my novel.
Q: It surprised me to discover that “In Leah’s Wake” is a self-published novel? What was your motive for pursuing this route to publication, when clearly your novel is good enough to be traditionally published?
A: The novel was under contract, several years ago, with a small publisher, now defunct. After the contract was dissolved, I briefly attempted to go the traditional route. A few agents made suggestions or requested revisions; while I appreciated their advice, I wasn’t able to produce. By then, I was in a different place in my life. My revisions changed the story and characters so much that the book was essentially unrecognizable—unfortunately, revising also made it worse. Finally, I let it go. I’m now in the process of finishing a new novel, and decided to self-publish as, I hope, a way of building a platform. Nowhere to Run, a psychological thriller with a historical twist, is, like In Leah’s Wake, a family story at heart.
Q: From start to finish, how long did it take you to complete this novel? Were there any bumps along the way?
A: From conception to self-publishing, it took twelve years, with breaks in between. Bumps? Absolutely. Before it went under contract with the indie publisher, two major houses expressed interest; in both cases, the timing was bad. While it’s frustrating to come so close, I’ve learned that it’s not uncommon in this business.
Q: What is the take-away message of “In Leah’s Wake?” How would you like the reader to feel upon exiting the world of the Tylers?
A: The epitaph, from The Grand Inquisitor, says it best: “everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” The Tyler family is far from perfect, but they love one another. Our flaws make us human and that humanity connects us. I hope readers feel that sense of connection—and hope.
Q: Looking at the bigger picture, what do you hope to bring to the literary world? How will your work have an impact?
A: While my stories differ—I’m currently working on a psychological thriller with a historical twist—they always tie back to the family, the ways we love, yet too often hurt one another, the grief, sorrow, revelation, the joy. I hope to entertain readers, while sharing a sense of lasting hope and deep emotional connection.