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Interview: Terri Giuliano Long, Author of In Leah’s Wake

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Terri Giuliano Long has always had a deep love for books and loves how they make the good times better as well as the ability to bring comfort when things are not going so well.  As a novelist and writing teacher at Boston College, Ms. Long is able to share this love of literature and the written word.  

Outside of the world of books, Terri Long is devoted to her family and enjoys talking walks, meeting new and interesting people and traveling.  Thanks to her Italian-American heritage, Ms. Long is an enthusiastic cook and loves fine wine and great food. 

In Leah’s Wake is Terri Giuliano Long’s first novel.  Readers can learn more about her and her work by visiting her website, Facebook and Twitter

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

In Leah’s Wake tells the story of a family in collapse. Sixteen-year-old Leah, a straight-A student and star soccer player, has led a perfect life. When she meets and dates a sexy older guy, attracted to his independence, she begins to spread her wings. Drinking, ignoring curfew, dabbling in drugs — all this feels like freedom to her. Her terrified parents, afraid they’re losing their daughter, pull the reins tighter. Unfortunately, her parents get it all wrong, pushing when they ought to be pulling, and communication breaks down. Soon there’s no turning back. Twelve-year-old Justine, caught between the parents she loves and the big sister she adores, soon finds herself in the fight of her life, trying desperately to pull her family together.

Parents, wanting the best for their children, often push their kids to be perfect – and push themselves to be perfect parents. It’s tempting to believe that only bad kids from bad families get in trouble. This attitude allows us to distance ourselves – this could never happen to us – and creates unhealthy competition. When families have problems, we judge and ostracize them, only adding to the difficulties they’re already facing. The truth is, when problems arise, the fallout affects the entire community. The epigraph from The Grand Inquisitor says it best: “everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” As Hillary Clinton famously said, it takes a village to raise a child. For the sake of our children, we must all do our part to be supportive members of the village.

Although the Tyler family is far from perfect, they love one another. Had the community rallied around and supported them, perhaps Leah would 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. I’d be thrilled if my novel inspired readers to suspend judgment, to look less harshly at troubled teens and their families. 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.

Who are your favorite characters in the story?  

My characters are all imperfect – they behave badly and they’re sometimes, perhaps often, enormously irritating – but I love them all, for their strengths as well as their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Justine is sweet and caring and kind, so she’s easy to love, but I also love Leah. Although Leah drives the parent in me crazy, her heart is in the right place. The same goes for Zoe and Will – they often make terrible choices; despite their failures, they act out of love.

In the novel, Jerry Johnson, the police officer, is the only non-family member with a voice. Though flawed like all the characters, he takes his responsibility for others to heart. I’ve always admired Gail Mullen Beaudoin, a police officer in Chelmsford, MA. Gail brings strength, dignity and grace to a very difficult job. I see police officers as the connecting force in communities. Every day they put their lives on the line. To me, they’re our real life heroes. As the connecting force in this novel and for this family, Jerry is my favorite.

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

In a chapter called “Sisters Redux,” Justine, the geeky, goody-two-shoes little sister, asks Leah for a cigarette. It’s almost painful to see her trying so hard to win her big sister’s acceptance and affection. At first, Leah scoffs; then it dawns on her that Justine is actually serious and her conscience takes over. Leah has made difficult choices and been ostracized for them; for Justine, that path would be wrong. In certain arenas, dorks have the advantage, she thinks.

As she’s about to say no, it occurs to Leah that Justine has a right to make her own choices. With this insight, for the first time since they were young kids, Leah sees Justine as her equal. Despite her reservations, she gives her sister the cigarette. In a sweet moment, later in the chapter, Leah teaches Justine to dance. This love between the sisters is, to me, heartbreaking and special.

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

Will Tyler – Matt Damon. Mr. Damon exudes fatherly love and protectiveness and he’s also very intense. If his daughter were in trouble, I can picture him going into overdrive, like Will, and doing whatever it takes to pull her back.

Zoe Tyler – Sandra Bullock. I see her as loving, driven and ditzy, a less strident version of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the mom she played in The Blind Side.

Leah Tyler – For the role of Leah, I’d search for new talent. Caroline Wakefield, as played by Erika Christensen, in the film Traffic, reminded me of Leah, in her all-American beauty and stunning transformation from preppy to drug-addicted prostitute. Ms. Christensen is too old for this role, but she’d be the prototype.

Justine Tyler – Abigail Breslin. Like Justine, she’s sweet and dorky and cute. She’s also precocious and strong.

Jerry Johnson – Vince Vaughn. He’s not the guy who walks into a room and gets the girl, but he’s centered and responsible, the rock for the others to lean on.

Todd Corbett (Leah’s boyfriend) – Jordan Masek. Jordan plays the role of Todd in my trailer. Jordan is actually a sweet guy, in real life. But he knows how to channel his inner bad boy. I can’t imagine a more appropriately cast Todd.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

I’m passionate about writing. I enjoy every aspect of the process, from the initial burst of inspiration through the painstaking, sometimes frustrating, months or years of revision. Most exciting – that aha moment, when the work suddenly comes together, you understand what you’re writing about, and the relationships among the various scenes and chapters suddenly make sense.

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

My least favorite is marketing. To succeed today, whether indie or traditionally published, authors must take responsibility for marketing their work. While I enjoy reaching out and connecting with people, I’m uncomfortable with calling attention to myself. The solipsism that can attend self-marketing turns me off.

For six months after publishing In Leah’s Wake, I did no marketing at all. Not even my parents knew that I had published the book. Naturally, I sold very few copies. Realizing that I could either market or watch my book die, I held my nose and jumped in. My publicist, Emlyn Chand, and I enjoy developing fun, creative activities – games and contests, for instance – that market while giving back to participants. I’ve also given away over 500 eBooks. This builds name recognition without me tweeting or posting about my book 24/7. I think people appreciate this. I also try to support other authors. Reaching out to people — building connections and enhancing relationships — makes marketing enjoyable.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

Tough question – it’s hard to narrow the list.

I admire the short story writer Andre Dubus. Dubus wrote haunting, insightful stories about real people. I memorized the end of “A Father’s Story” for a graduate class; years later, I still hear the rhythm and cadence of his language. Jessica Treadway, recipient of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for her latest collection, Please Come Back To Me, writes gorgeously evocative stories. Both authors are, in my view, grossly under-appreciated. It feels terribly wrong that such luminous work reaches the hands of so few readers.

I love Elizabeth Strout’s novels Abide With Me and Olive Kitteridge. Susan Straight’s elegant novel A Million Nightingales also makes my short list.

Many emerging novelists are also writing wonderful books. A few I’ve enjoyed: Farsighted, Emlyn Chand; Black Beast, Rob Guthrie; Forbidden Mind, Kimberly Kinrade; The Trust, Sean Keefer; Exeter, Jennie Coughlin; Well With My Soul, Gregory G. Allen; Treasure Me, Christine Nolfi; and Riversong,Tess Hardwick.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Farsighted, a riveting paranormal YA, whose brilliantly written blind protagonist has the gift of second sight. Next on the docket is Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson, another of my favorite novelists.

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’ve never been celebrity-struck. If we build any human being to epic proportions, when we meet in person we’re often disappointed. I prefer to admire important people – and authors – from afar, reading their books, listening to their stories. Distance provides objectivity and perspective, which allows for greater insight.

Assuming the invitation would be no inconvenience to these people, I’d invite: Flannery O’Connor, Andre Dubus, James Joyce, Cormac McCarthy, Robbie Robertson. These authors – and songwriter, in the case of Robbie Robertson – are fearless and tough. They write about real people, surviving in an imperfect world. Their work is infused with a deep sense of spirituality and humanity.

As they put their heart and soul into creating the beautiful gift of their work, I’d want to honor them by preparing my best meal. The atmosphere would be relaxed, conducive to conversation. We’d start in the living room, by the fire, and then move to a candle-lit dining room. On the stereo, playing softly in the background, would be: Koln Concert, Keith Jarrett; Beyond the Missouri Sky, Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny; Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Bill Evans

Menu
Vermont artisan cheeses, fig jam, seedless red grapes, crusty French bread
Schramsberg 2007 Blanc de Noirs, Vintage California
Appetizer – Wild Mushroom Tart
Ridge 2007 Zinfandel, Paso Robles
Main Course – Boeuf Bourguignon with fresh pappardelle and roasted asparagus
Jaffurs Cellars 2008 Syrah, Upslope
Dessert – apple tarte tatin with crème fraîche
Pacific Rim 2006 Vin de Glaciere Washington Late Harvest Riesling

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

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. This powerful novel transports us to a gray, post-apocalyptic world, where humans have been reduced to animal instinct — for inhabitants of this new world order, murder and cannibalism are a means of survival.

In this harsh, unforgiving environment, McCarthy gives us a tender, elegantly rendered father and son. In their travels, near starvation, they meet terrible challenges and hardships, yet they face every one with dignity and grace. Near death, the man says to his son: “You have my whole heart. You always did.” That line has stayed with me – as have so many other stark, tender moments.

This stunning work ends unexpectedly, with a promise of rebirth and renewal.

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

Be grateful and appreciate others. At the end of the day, the people in our life are all we have. No one ever dies wishing she’d worked longer hours or made more money or sold more books. It’s tough, because our culture values things over people and rewards monetary success. It’s important to remember that, in fact, we’ve got it backward. People – our friends, our family, our community – are our most valuable and precious assets. It’s far easier to recognize this and appreciate others if we’re grateful for what we have and all we’ve been given.

Thank you again for inviting me to interview. I love that your questions invited me to think and reflect. I’m grateful for the opportunity to connect with you and your readers. Readers, you have a million other things you might have been doing. Thank you so very much for giving this time to me.

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