First of all, thank you so much Terri for taking the time to answer our questions :)
Thank you so much, Misty and Ninfa. It’s an honor to be here!
So, here we go:
- "In Leah's Wake" is written from different perspectives. How difficult was it to change your point of view from that of a teenager to, say, her mother or father?
When I write – this is probably true of most writers – all the characters I create are in some way a part of me. While I don’t consider myself to be entirely like any character, I’m a bit like all of them. In that sense, in that I’m very close to the characters, it’s not as hard as it may seem to get inside their heads. In a way, we’re like method actors; we channel our characters; while we’re writing, become them. That’s how it feels to me, anyway.
It is sometimes hard to transition. I find it easier to spend my full writing day with one character. I may write a scene from the point of view of a second character, but the result is usually an overview or a sketch. The next day I’ll go back and fill it in.
- The book deals with some very serious issues (drugs and underage drinking amongst others). Did you feel the need to research these themes or were you inspired by real life stories in any way?
I did do quite a bit of research. I read articles and researched various drugs on the Internet. If I had questions about the teen point of view or I wasn’t sure how a teenager would act in or react to a particular circumstance or event, I would ask my daughters or their friends to share their thoughts and insights.
When I was writing the book, my daughters were teenagers, so I was acutely aware of issues and problems involving teens. In one scene, Jerry Johnson, the police officer, thinks about an accident in which a car carrying teenage boys hits a tree, the car bursts into flames, and he’s unable to save them. Sadly, this really happened. I heard the story and couldn’t get it out of my head.
More than specific events, the book’s central themes came from observation. Parents want to do well by their children and often push themselves – and their kids - to be perfect. This creates an unhealthy, even damaging, competition among families. When kids get in trouble, they’re ostracized, leaving them isolated and alone, causing problems to escalate. Themes about connection, community and responsibility come from those observations.
- Were you ever a "Leah" or a "Justine" as a teenager?
I was neither and both. Like most artists, I’m a rebel. I don’t like being put in a box, told what to do or how to do it – I’d rather make my own mistakes (laughs) – so in this way I was a Leah. In high school, I was a dork – class officer, straight-A student – and I was an even bigger dork in middle school, so in that way, and also in that I’m non-confrontational, I was more a Justine.
There seems to be sort of a fairy tale bittersweet moral in the story, where the people who behave badly get their reckoning, and the good people get to carry on with their lives, was that something you did consciously? Was it important for you to give a message to your readers?
This is an interesting question. No, that was not conscious at all. If there’s a message it’s really that we need to be more invested in our community and take greater responsibility for each other.
We tend to believe only bad kids from bad families get in trouble, but that’s simply not true. This attitude allows us to distance ourselves – this could never happen to us. When families have problems we judge and ostracize them, adding to the difficulties they’re already facing.
The Tyler family is far from perfect, but they love one another. Had the community rallied around and supported them, Leah might not have gotten as lost. Like adults, most teens just want to feel accepted and loved – not for what they accomplish or contribute, but for who they are. The truth is, when problems arise, the fallout affects the entire community. I think we owe it to our teens, to our communities, and to ourselves to work harder to support and encourage all kids, not just those who conform.
- What would you like people to say about your book?
First, I hope people find the book worth their time. Readers often tell me the characters made them angry or that they wanted to scream at them. This makes me smile. It means the reader felt invested. Last week, at a reading in Ann Arbor, a seventy-year-old woman said that In Leah’s Wake should be required reading in every high school. I was and am deeply touched by this. If my book gives readers a sense of connection, I will be wildly happy.
- What was your favourite book growing up?
This feels silly now – The Exorcist. By today’s standards it’s tame; then The Exorcist was a shocking literary sensation. As I’ve said, I’m a bit of a rebel. Although I’ve always loved reading, I resented being forced to read the classics in school, particularly in they were almost always about boys or men. Being forbidden gave The Exorcist a deliciously sweet edge. I also loved Exodus, a glorious book by Leon Uris, about the birth of the nation of Israel. It was, to my mind, the first important book I ever read.
As a child, I loved – and still love - Peter Pan. Although the stories are often dark, I adored my book of fairytales by Hans Christian Andersen.
- Is there a book that touched you or inspired you in a special way?
I grew up in the sixties and seventies, while women were fighting for equal rights. As a child in a patriarchal Italian family, I felt those struggles intensely. The prejudices faced by the family in the play A Raisin in the Sun resonated with me. I felt the same way, later, when I read Native Son and Malcom X. My novel-in-progress, Nowhere to Run, deals with racism. While my struggles pale in comparison to those faced by many African Americans, I feel that prejudices and challenges are part of the human story; in stories about overcoming them, I find hope and inspiration.
-And last but not least, are you a Bookaholic?
Absolutely! A writer without books is like a baker without flour! Reading is such an integral part of who we are. Reading informs our writing, makes us better writers. For most writers, certainly for me, reading provides comfort, companionship, inspiration. In a strange way, we grow up thinking of books almost as friends. It’s my love of reading - that connection – that compels me to write.
Thank you again so very much, Ninfa and Mist. I’m grateful for this opportunity to chat with you and to meet and connect with your readers. Readers – thank you so much for the generous gift of your time!
About the author
Terri Giuliano Long is the bestselling author of the novel In Leah’s Wake. Her life outside of books is devoted to her family. In her free time, she enjoys walking, traveling, and listening to music. True to her Italian-American heritage, she’s an enthusiastic cook. In an alternate reality, she might have been an international food writer. She teaches writing at Boston College. In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel.
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