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Interview: Lynda Simmons, Author of Island Girl

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Writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends, Lynda Simmons grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats as well as making up stories about bodies in the basement.  From a young age, family and friends predicted that Ms. Simmons would grow up to be a writer or an old lady with a house full of cats.  As it turns out, her husband suffers from severe allergies, so the future was set — writing.

Lynda Simmons and her husband raised two beautiful daughters and continue to reside in Burlington, a small city on the water, just outside Toronto.  And yes, they do have one spoiled rotten cat.

“When she’s not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she’s found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her – like a phone call or an e-mail or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!”

Readers can learn more about Lynda Simmons and her work by visiting her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Please tell us a bit about your book, Island Girl, and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s fifteen years ago, and it was in the lounge at the long term facility that we got to know other families dealing with the same challenges we were. What I found most interesting in talking to other caregivers was the difference in the ways the generations approached Alzheimer’s. My mother-in-law’s generation, having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, tend to be fatalistic about whatever life throws at them, taking a suck-it-up-and-soldier-on attitude toward the illness. People of my generation, however, are children of the revolution and not at all ready to accept the Long Goodbye as their fate.

Even as we watch our loved ones disappear and pray for a cure before Big Al comes looking for us, we are certain of one thing – we want a choice in our own future. Doctors admit that a good many Alzheimer’s patients feel this way, but our laws as they are currently written don’t permit assisted suicide, so what is a person to do?

This question, this dilemma, haunted me, especially when it came to those patients with early onset Alzheimer’s. Those people in their fifties and sometimes their forties, who had been at the height of a career, or discovering the joys of life as an empty nester, or about to hold a first grandchild in their arms, all brought low by this vicious illness.

I couldn’t help it. I had to explore this issue. I wanted to take a character who is strong and independent and accustomed to being in control, and thrust her into a situation that takes all of that strength and control away. A character who has not made good choices in her life, who has alienated family and friends and now finds herself needing forgiveness and compassion – something she was never good at herself – from the very people she pushed away.

These are the questions in Island Girl as I see them: Does Alzheimer’s grant you instant forgiveness? A moral get-out-of-jail free card? And should you have the right to decide your own fate? Or should society decide it for you?

Who are your favorite characters in the story?

Told in three first person viewpoints, Island Girl slowly uncovers the secrets of 55 year old Ruby, recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and her two adult daughters, Liz and Grace. Because it was important to me that each voice be distinct and clearly identifiable even without reading the chapter headings, writing this book became a little like being in a one-woman show inside my head, complete with costume changes, makeup and someone hollering “Five minutes to curtain. Five minutes,” every time I reached the end of a chapter.
Ruby isn’t always an easy character to like. She’s strong and stubborn and frequently dead wrong in her approach to love, life and raising children. She’s the kind of woman, the kind of mother, who will make you laugh even as she’s making you angry. The kind who always thinks she’s right and rarely apologizes because she just doesn’t see the point. But there is something about Ruby that I have always loved, and while I have deep respect for Liz and Grace and understand how difficult it was growing up in their mother’s house, I have to admit that as a mother, my heart was, and always will be, with Ruby.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

“So I was standing outside Fran’s, talking to Mark on my cell phone, when the question came to me – Do you have to forgive someone just because they’re sick?” (Liz)

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

Has to be Susan Sarandon as Ruby, Amanda Seyfried as Grace and Marisa Tomei as Liz.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

I’d have to say the research because it allows me to feed my over-active imagination and the natural curiosity that comes with it in a way that real life never does. When I’m researching a book, I have a reason to squeeze through the locked gate of an abandoned old house so I can peek in the windows, or ask my doctor about the feasibility of a murder I’m working on, or call up a perfect stranger who happens to work in the same field as my character, and talk my way into spending a couple of days with her so that I get the details of her workday right. How can you not love that?

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

Deadline Hell. Not a pretty place to live.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

Timothy Findley – Famous Last Words, Headhunter, and anything else he has written.
Ann Marie MacDonald – Fall on Your Knees
Cathleen Schine – The Love Letter, The Three Wisemans of Westport
Tawni O’Dell – Back Roads
Daniel Woodrell – Give Us A Kiss
Stephen King – The Stand (the original version, not the second), Gerald’s Game, and just about everything else.
There are more but it would take too long!

What are you reading right now?

New York – Edward Rutherford

Best Laid Plans – Terry Fallis

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors – dead or alive – who would they be and what would you serve them?

I would invite Stephen King, Timothy Findley, Cathleen Schine, Carol Shields and Anita Shreve.

It would be a bar-b-que at the cottage with ribs and corn on the cob because nothing breaks down barriers like eating with your hands!

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

Headhunter by Timothy Findley. His writing is flawless and the story is dark, compelling and memorable. Mr. Findley keeps me humble.

What is the greatest piece of advice (for writing and/or just living) that you have heard?

Do not wait upon the Muse.

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