Monday, July 20, 2009

Interview: Amy Efaw

Awhile ago, I reviewed Amy Efaw's novel After (August 11th, 2009 - Viking) here, and for those of you who've seen the review, you may recall my marvelling over the tense/perspective choice. Being the awesome person that she is, Amy zapped over a message regarding that, and I was able to tack on a few more additional questions for an interview of sorts. She is also the author of the highly rated Battle Dress (Nov 4, 2003 - HarperTeen). So without further ado, Lucid Conspiracy presents Amy Efaw, ladies and gents!

To start off which, the query from my review: why third person, present tense?
You were pretty much on target in your review about why I chose the third person present perspective. I did feel that the reader definitely needed some distance (a “sense of removal”) from Devon. Being right inside her head would’ve been too intense, but also very unreliable and chaotic. At the beginning of the story especially, Devon was very unstable and basically “out of it.” Hearing every thought and seeing everything immediately through Devon’s confused perspective would’ve been too much, I think.

But I also chose the third person perspective for the character herself – it’s what made the most sense. Devon had been very dissociated from herself for so long – the whole issue of denying a pregnancy is about compartmentalizing things and disconnecting from reality. But – and you probably noticed this – as the story went on, I slowly zeroed in that third person, getting closer and closer to Devon, until it felt almost like it was written in a first person perspective. Actually, while I was writing the book, I kept thinking to myself that the narrator really was Devon, detached and disconnected from herself, telling her own story as it was happening, as if she were just sitting there watching it unfold before her and reporting about what she observed. I even toyed with the idea of switching the third person to first at some point in the story when Devon was finally starting to come out of her fog and seeing things more clearly. But in the end, I decided that approach would’ve been sort of device-y, and really hard to pull off. The timing would’ve had to been perfect, or it would’ve been too jarring.

And I chose present tense because I wanted the reader to learn the facts of Devon’s past right along with her (just as you said).

Wow, a lot of thought definitely went into deciding the tense/perspective! It's great that your intentions were conveyed so well. If you could meet any character from your book, who would you choose, and what would you guys do for a day?
That is a really tough question! I guess I’d like to meet Dom, who was Devon’s (the main character) attorney in the novel. I can imagine us going to lunch, in a professional sort of setting, and me picking her brain. One of the things I’d want to do is see if I could get Dom to tell me what she really thinks about Devon’s story (meaning, whether or not Dom buys the fact that Devon didn’t know she was pregnant).

I'd probably want to get to know more about Dom as well - she seems really intriguing! And brain-picking is always fun. Speaking of the realm of the fictional - If you could bring any fictional character (book, movie, TV, or any form of media really) to life, who would it be, and why?
Pretty much any book I’ve read or movie I’ve seen that I thought was exceptional, I always wish I could bring that main character to life. I especially like those characters who’ve done heroic things, but who are also complicated (meaning, flawed in some way). Examples that just popped into my head are Mr. Orange (of the movie, Reservoir Dogs) and Billy Costigan (of the movie, The Departed), but I have many others – I just can’t think of them right now. Both of the characters that I mentioned died in the end. I’d want them to continue living because they were so awesome!

Very worthy answers. What do you do when the muse has gone on vacation (i.e. the inspiration is lacking)?
I procrastinate, unfortunately. Actually, I think my procrastination tendencies encourage the muse to go on vacation (She probably thinks, “Why in the world am I hanging around for? I’m just sitting here doing nothing!”).

But, seriously, if I’m “stuck,” I sometimes go for a run or research some minute issue that may pop up in my book, just to be working on something semi-related. Mostly I find other ways to occupy my time so I don’t feel guilty that I’m not writing. Vacuuming or folding laundry or going on a long run often allows me the time and freedom to let my mind work through the problem that’s keeping me from moving forward. But when I have a deadline looming and the above hasn’t worked, I then am forced to push through and write anyway, inspired or not. And most of the time, that “forced” approach works out just fine. I definitely perform best with deadlines kicking me in the butt!

Deadlines, therefore pressure? Well, it's great that it all works out either way! Words of wisdom - share a quote of personal significance?
One afternoon many years ago while I was listening to public radio, Amy Goodman (a foreign news correspondent) said something random in an interview that has stuck with me since. She said, “Go to where the silence is and say something.” This may have been a random comment, but to me it was profound. I felt as if I had received a sort of mission statement. As a writer, “go[ing] to where the silence is” means to me that I should try to write about the things that haven’t yet been explored. I did this with my first book, BATTLE DRESS (which is about a girl going through basic training at West Point and surviving in a guy’s world), and I hope I did it again when I wrote AFTER!

Sometimes the littlest comments made in passing can have the biggest impacts. Now, about the unexpected. What are the best and worst unforeseen things that have come along with this whole process (e.g. the planning, outlining, writing, querying, submitting, publishing, etc.)?
The best unexpected thing that happened while writing AFTER was having the great luck of getting Viking as my publisher and especially Joy Peskin as an editor! She is so awesome! Such a lame adjective to use, I know. But she really “got” what I was trying to do with this book, and she knew just how to push me to make it better.

The worst unexpected thing that happened was that it took me over seven years to write the book! This definitely wasn’t my intention; I had a lot of good reasons, though (it wasn’t just due to procrastination!) First, my family moved from Tacoma to Denver – a major move to a new state really kills your writing time. Second, just when I was settled in Denver and had finally started to get into a writing routine, my husband Andy got deployed to Iraq for a year! Raising five kids all by myself wasn’t very conducive to writing a novel. Even after Andy came home, it took me a long time to get back to writing consistently again. And third, when I was only a chapter or two from completing the novel, my original publisher with whom I had already signed a contract (I won’t mention which it was; I don’t want to embarrass them!) decided to terminate my contract because it had taken me too long to write the book, and they didn’t feel that it fit into the types of books they were publishing anymore.

But, coming full circle, that’s when the “best unexpected thing” happened, and Joy Peskin accepted AFTER, instead. And I have to say, I’m so glad that it worked out the way it did. Unexpected things definitely happen for a reason.

So everything worked out for the best then! Thanks for the great interview, Amy.

And now we have below a brief Q&A with the awesome Amy Efaw, provided by her equally awesome publisher & publicist! A copy of this can also be found here.

1) What inspired you to write this book?
A: I first became interested in “dumpster babies” while living in Philadelphia. One winter day, the big news story was about an off-duty police officer and his pit bull who stumbled across a trash bag that was left with some garbage cans at the curb. The dog just wouldn’t stop barking, so the officer tore open the bag and found a newborn baby inside, still alive. Then a couple of years later, when I was living in Washington State and pregnant with my fifth child, my Army prosecutor husband got his own “dumpster baby” case to try. At that point, I knew that I had to write a novel involving the issue.

2) Is this story based on a real case? Is Devon a real person?
A: After is not based on any one particular person or case. But after spending many hours researching the issue and reading hundreds of newspaper accounts, I found that most “dumpster baby” stories shared some basic characteristics. Out of those characteristics, I was able to compile a profile of the type of teenage girl who might conceal her pregnancy and then throw her baby into the trash. That profiled character became the main character, Devon Sky Davenport.

3) How did your own experiences—personal, professional, or both—impact the writing of this book?
A: I’m very lucky to have worn many “hats” thus far in life—elite college athlete, West Point grad, Army officer, attorney’s wife, mother, freelance reporter, and novelist. While wearing those “hats,” I’ve picked up a lot of important tools that came together for After—soccer knowledge from hours spent on the sidelines as a soccer mom, details of pregnancy from my own five pregnancies, access to my own legal expert (my husband), the ability to track down details from my reporter days, a strong work ethic from my West Point and athletic training, and a pretty good imagination.

4) In After, Devon does a horrible thing—why did you want to tell her side of the story?
A: One afternoon many years ago while I was listening to public radio, Amy Goodman (a foreign news correspondent) said something that has stuck with me. She said, “Go to where the silence is and say something.” At that moment I felt as if I had received a sort of mission statement. As a writer, “going to where the silence is” means to me that I should try to write about the things that haven’t yet been explored. Telling the story of a young girl who had thrown her baby into a trash can definitely fit that category!

5) What would you like readers to take away from After?
A: I definitely would like to bring more awareness to the “dumpster baby” phenomenon. But even more than that, I would like readers to realize how important it is to get involved in other people’s lives. Take a risk and reach out to others even if a mere gut feeling tells you that something is wrong. And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. More often than not—whether you offered help or asked for it—you will be happy that you did.


Kristen said...

Amy sounds great! Her book looks amazing.

I have an award for you:

Alice said...

Thanks! :D Ooh, your site looks interesting; Imma gonna check it out. ^^

Limerick said...

Wow, 7 years is a long time to finish a book. But I'm glad that she didn't decide to give up on the story! The tale she has weaved together sounds amazing.
Great interview! And I see that you've gotten your question answered. There is some great reasoning behind it. :)


Shawna said...

Shawna Lewis

Holy Hanna 7 years to write this book wow. It sounds very intense and I am sure very hard & wonderful to write I can't wait to read it. Thanks for the interview ;o)

Leslie said...

wow i love the questions! and i like why she wrote the book in that tense! It just sounds beyond amazing! thanks for this interview!! i am really looking forward to reading this!

Paradox said...

7 years?! Okay, now I feel like the 2 1/2 years I've been working on a book I'm writing are nothing! But it sounds like it's worth it, especially to bring something like this to light.

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