I’m probably a shopping addict: I had great fun creating the character of Anna who uses shopping as a coping mechanism. In the process I discovered I’m truly a mall-rat! I love combing the racks for bargains (bought three summer purses the other day because they were $10 each reduced from $79!). I find the whole mall experience incredibly relaxing. Like Anna, it’s my happy place!
Kids are resilient: I drew on my experiences as an inner-city English teacher when I wrote this book. I have to say I learned so much from the kids I worked with. They succeeded against all odds to make something of their lives and I was humbled by their strength and determination. One of them contacted me earlier this year, after many years, and I was blown away to find out she’s now a librarian, sharing her love of books with other children.
Do your research: If you’re going to write something controversial, make sure you ground it in reality. This novel was inspired by the real-life case of a Canadian education guru who was eventually charged and imprisoned for a roster of dark deeds. It’s also based on a large government study on the effects of unresolved grief in kids from multiple foster homes as well as numerous real cases involving trafficking of young women.
I can create sympathetic male characters: When you’re writing books about women’s issues, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making all your male characters villainous. I’ve met plenty of great guys in my life. I’m mother to one, and married to one! So I loved creating the character of Guy who is handsome, sensitive, and kind… or is he just too good to be true!! You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Never flinch from the truth: The Secret Sister deals with problems in the foster system, and some of the unimaginable obstacles these young people face. As a writer, I made the choice not to sugar-coat situations to make them more palatable but to tell it like it is. For me, this is the only way to raise awareness of troubling social issues. I always remind myself of David Foster Wallace’s quote: Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
Never give up on your dream: I started The Secret Sister around five years ago. When my agent at the time felt it wasn’t ready to submit for publication, we parted ways. But I still kept going back to this story. I revised it thoroughly and shopped it around. No takers! I was about to shelve it when I decided to try PitMad, a Twitter pitchfest for writers. Enter the lovely Leodora Darlington, editor-extraordinaire at Canelo and the rest is history!
Always tune into your emotions when you write: When I’m drafting a novel, I write until I feel something that triggers my emotions. That’s when I know the story is working. Creating the character of Birdie often moved me to tears, but I felt it was important to continue because she represents the experiences of so many lost and vulnerable young women.