As part of the blog tour of Waiting For Day Break, I am happy to have been able to interview my friend Amanda McNeil. I was getting bored of seeing the same questions on other interviews. Since I blog a lot about writing (be it thesis or fitction) I thought it would be fun to focus on more the writing process.
So, please to enjoy!
1- What was the germ idea for this story?
Well, as you know, I used to work in a medical library for a psychiatric hospital. I had to work over the Thanksgiving holiday when Boston tends to empty out, and I was walking home from the bus stop and thought, “This is what the city would look like after an apocalypse.” I had been reading at work that day about fMRI scans of people with Borderline Personality Disorder and how they demonstrated that their amygdalas are a different size. I wondered, what would happen if there was an awful virus and something about the brain differences left only the mentally ill alive? It all flowed from there.
2- As a friend, I found reading this felt like I was reading into your head. How much of Frieda was based on you?
There is one scene that was definitely taken straight out of my own life and adapted. I am sure as my friend you can guess which one it is; I don’t really want to name it. It was one of the first scenes written (not necessarily first in the book). But after that, I sat down and created the character of Frieda. I chose a mental illness to give her then looked it up in the DSMIV and carefully crafted her around those character traits. I also read a memoir by a woman with BPD (The Buddha and the Borderline) to help me get inside that mind-set.
Of course, you know that I had a deeply depressed phase a few years ago. I think struggling with that mind-numbing level of depression made me more empathetic with how it feels to have emotions that you don’t always feel like other people understand. I have also dated people with Major Depressive Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder so my interactions with them played into my knowledge, of course.
3- What else helped you develop her as a character?
For her height and body type, I thought about two different women that I’m friends with who are about that height and curvy. I asked them a couple of times for details like what things are difficult for them to reach or to do. I definitely drew inspiration for her physical abilities from those of my best friend who is short but a real athlete.
Similarly, when I chose her profession, I chose a job that is common in Boston and also that I know well from friends but that I myself have never held.
I honestly think once I chose her mental illness and her body type she became her own person, and I just listened.
4- Many people know you have a passion for reading books on mental health. How did your knowledge impact the novel?
Oh it impacted it tons. There’s no way I could have even begun to have written this book without my large background knowledge on the science of mental illness, the treatment methods, and just how people with a mental illness act and react. One example. The best treatment for BPD is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). I knew that I wanted Frieda’s arc to be one of improvement, not doom, but how could she improve when she’s not seeing a DBT therapist? I therefore tried to make her post-apocalyptic life be a force that makes her engage in DBT without realizing it. Her surroundings make her gradually change her thought patterns and stress relief methods, which is at the core of DBT. Things like that are throughout the novel.
5- Where do you get most of your writing done?
On my couch with a cup of something and my kitty within petting distance.
6- What is your process for writing?
I usually get the general germ of the idea. The setting/world, the issue being addressed in the novel, and the key problem. After that I figure out who will be the main characters, what their strengths and weaknesses are, then start writing. I never know the ending when I start. It comes to me at some point when I’m working on the rest of the book. I trust the characters and the world to lead me to the right ending.
7- What about your process for editing?
I read it out loud. It is painstaking, let me tell you. I also visually check to see if the chapters are too long or too short and try to make them similar lengths.
8- Why did you decide to self-publish?
Well, there are many reasons, of course. Given that I’ve always written, illustrated, and bound my own books (since the age of four), it seemed like a natural progression. I also like having control over my story. It’s my story and my world to tell the way I want to. I’m all for beta readers (and yes I did have them) and being told to fix this inconsistency or that error. We all need editors. But I’m sure you know as well as I do that the publishing industry doesn’t always tell you to change things for that reason. It’s often for marketing. And I just…don’t care that much about how many copies I sell? I just want my stories to get out there and be read and if there are a lot of people who relate, great! If there’s one or two, also great! Anytime anyone says, “What you wrote touched me,” I am ecstatically happy. Self-publishing lets that happen without any middleman.
9- Did you ever consider that you would kill the kitty cat? Why?
I did consider it, partly because many authors have advised to not be afraid to kill characters you love. I ultimately decided against it because: a) I hate books that kill the companion animal and b) I didn’t think Frieda would survive that. In fact, I’m pretty certain that if Snuggles had died at that point in time that Frieda would have killed herself.
10- Zombie as an analogy for rape? Discuss!
All women know that there is truly no place that is safe from rape, and similarly there is no place in Frieda’s world that is truly safe from zombies. But what about zombies as rapists?
Zombies don’t understand or respect boundaries, personal space, or consent. They want one thing, and they don’t care that you might not be willing to give it to them. Additionally, where and when these attacks on Frieda’s personal space occur are directly related to specific areas women are told to be careful: a) in Frieda’s own apartment and b) on the street when Frieda is commuting. The only time Frieda lets her guard down about the zombies is when a man she trusts is present with her within her own apartment. I think that’s how it often feels to be a woman. Constantly on-guard unless there is someone else around who you trust to be on-guard for you.
Amanda, thanks for letting me part of the tour! I had a blast. – Sara