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Interview with Terri Giuliano Long

Sunday, August 7, 2011

1) What inspired you to write In Leah's Wake?

Years ago, I wrote a series of feature articles about families with drug and alcohol-addicted teens. The moms talked candidly about their children, their heartbreaking struggles. Those stories stayed with me.

My husband and I have four daughters. Most families struggle during their children's teenage years. We’re no different - though, thank goodness, we experienced nothing remotely akin to the problems and challenges the Tylers face in the book. As a parent, I knew how it felt to be scared, concerned for your children’s welfare and future. These were the primary forces driving me to write this story.

My work with families, my personal experiences and core beliefs – all these things played on my conscious and subconscious mind, and ultimately emerged as this book.

2) Is there a specific character(s) that you feel you are the most similar to and why?

I don’t identify with or consider myself all that similar to any particular character, but part of me lives in all of them. I’m like a writer version of a method actor - when I write, I inhabit my characters. I reach down into myself and imagine – if I were this person, faced with this set of circumstances – how I might act or react.

This helps me achieve authenticity. It also helps me empathize. So while all my characters are flawed, no one is entirely good or bad. They all have good and bad traits; while they often make poor decisions, they’re motivated – I hope – by reasons readers can understand and relate to.

3) What did you enjoy most about writing this novel?

I wrote the first draft as my MFA thesis. I was under the gun. I finished the first draft in three months and the writing was dreadful, but it was a breathy process; when I finished, I knew the characters and the book had a general shape. I spent the next few years immersed in revisions. I spent all day in this fictional place, and the Tyler family took over my dreams. I almost believed they were alive, that Cortland, the imaginary town, was a real place. It was an adventure, and I loved every minute.

4) In Leah's Wake is a very honest novel, was it difficult to write so plainly about complicated issues (i.e troublesome teens, first love, the parents' role in guiding their children)?

The common thread in my body of work is that decent people, with the best intentions, sometimes do the wrong thing. This interests me. I want to know why, so I create circumstances and try to suspend judgment. I wrote the first draft of this novel when our daughters were teenagers. Parents place tremendous pressure on themselves – and each other – to raise perfect kids. These expectations and judgments affect everyone, parents and children. The issues you mention – teen rebellion, first love, parental roles – are natural. Add this layer of pressure and common situations become harder, edgier. So it was really a matter of skewing perspectives, imagining the commonplace through this lens, giving the characters strong motivations and allowing their interactions to play out.

5) You write through a teen's perspective, was this in any way difficult?

Actually, it was a lot of fun. Leah sees things in such an offbeat and immature way. Yet there’s this nugget of truth in almost everything she thinks and says; she’s just not able, hasn’t had the experience, to see situations clearly. She lives very much in the moment and she has no clue how things will play out or how her behavior will affect other people. Deep down she’s a good kid. She loves her family and she wants to get it right, but she wants to do it her way, without losing herself. I loved that about her. If you write from your heart and empathize with your characters, I think it’s a lot easier to get it right.

6) What do you think is the best take-away lesson from your novel?

The epigraph, from The Grand Inquisitor, sums it up: “everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” Hillary Clinton famously said, it takes a village to raise a child. I believe we must all do our part, be supportive members of the village. The Tyler family is far from perfect, but they love one another. Our flaws make us human and our humanity connects us. I very much hope readers feel this sense of connection—and hope.

7) Any advice for teens dealing with troublesome siblings like Leah? Advice for parents?

Siblings know – they’re often much more aware than the parents – what’s really going on with each other. When they see a sibling in trouble, they want to help, but without being a rat. That’s a tough position. They might begin by talking to the sibling. Try to convince him or her to get help. If they don’t get anywhere or they feel the sibling is in danger, they should talk to a trusted adult – an aunt or uncle, a school counselor, the family physician – and ask that person to step in. It’s not disloyal to reach out with an open heart and try to help someone you love.
Remember: you’re not alone. The adults in your life love you and want to help.

Believe me, I know how terrifying it is to watch your child make mistakes and fall. The truth is, teen challenges don’t last forever. Children grow up. While some certainly take longer than others to mature, most kids turn out well. I speak from experience, both as the mother of four grown daughters, all wonderful adults, and as a teacher who’s worked with many young people over the years. When they find their way, which may be sooner than you think, you’ll be close again.

Parenting is the toughest job in the world. Kids don’t come with instructions. We do the best we can. That’s really all we can do. Try to believe in yourself, trust your instincts - make decisions that feel right, for the right reasons, and then trust those decisions. Ultimately, the strong values and character you’ve instilled in your child will prevail. You love your child. Though at times it may be hard to believe, your child loves you. Try to remember this, and remind yourself often!

8) Can you give us a hint about your next novel?

I’m currently at work on a psychological thriller with a historical twist.

Nowhere to Run takes place in the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. A year after the brutal murder of her six-year-old daughter, Abby Minot, formerly an award-winning writer, accepts her first assignment—a profile of the philanthropic Chase family, kin of the popular New Hampshire senator and presidential hopeful, Matthias Chase.

In her initial research, Abby glimpses darkness under the Chase family’s shiny veneer. Digging deeper, she uncovers a shocking web of lies and betrayal, dating back to the nineteenth century. Abby soon finds herself trapped—between an editor obsessed with uncovering the truth and the town and family who will stop at nothing to ensure it stays hidden. I hope to finish the novel this fall.

9) Tell us something about yourself that isn't common knowledge.

I was 18 when I married Dave – we both graduated from college as adults - and he’s the love of my life. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we still enjoy each other’s company, we have fun, and we love being together. This often surprises people.

Thank you for stopping by my blog, Terri!