Jenna Brooks is one of the best writers around and if you haven’t read her acclaimed novel, October Snow, it’s a must read. She recently published the sequel, An Early Frost, and I asked her if she would talk about it for my blog. Here is the conversation she had with Melodie Ramone, also a superb writer. Her book, After Forever Ends, is another book not to be missed. Enjoy!
We all know that authors have their own favorite authors.
Recently, Melodie Ramone sat down with one of her faves, critically acclaimed author Jenna Brooks, on a video chat to pick her brain and uncover the artist’s inspiration behind the brilliant novels October Snow and the just-released sequel, An Early Frost.
Melodie Ramone: Hey, congrats on the novel. You look beat, by the way.
Jenna Brooks: Oh. Thanks for that.
M: Finally ready for an interview?
J: Go for it.
M: I heard that An Early Frost got an entire rewrite.
J: It did. Twice, actually.
M: Twice? What was wrong with the first two versions?
J: I played it too safe with both of them. I think I wasn’t up for getting into the topics too deeply.
M: What topics?
J: Child abuse. Sexual assault. More than anything else, though, I felt like I just skimmed the Fathers Rights and Family Court industries in the first two tries. Writing about that stuff gives me headaches.
M: So you felt like you mailed it in.
J: Pretty much.
M: Why did you decide to take it all on again?
J: I kind of had to, after those two murders that happened last summer. The little boy who was shot by his father at a court-ordered visitation…
M: I remember that. It was on your blog.
J: Yup, along with all the mindless platitudes that followed.
J: It was. Then the murder of a young mother, right in front of her little girl. Just a few days later.
M: You should let people know who you’re talking about.
J: Joshua Savyon was the little boy. Jennifer Martel was the mother, stabbed to death by her daughter’s father. Reading the facts on the murders, it was clear to me that both of the killers had Fathers Rights attitudes. I got so angry, thinking about it, about the recklessness of the Family Court. And about the grief of their loved ones. People loved them. There are other victims, you know? It was like the only way to cope was to write about it.
M: Did writing about it help?
J: Not at all.
M: Your background – you’re a domestic violence advocate, a divorce coach, and an editor, among other things.
J: Like a Mothers Rights advocate.
M: “Full-on”, according to your Twitter profile.
J: Yup. It’s the issue I care about the most, and I’m pretty much devoted to it at this point.
M: Then you decided to become a novelist. Or did that life choose you?
J: Any author will tell you, the life chooses you. Then it gets addictive.
M: At what point in your life did you recognize that writing would be your life and a substantial part of your living?
J: Not sure. At some point, I got tired of how little compassion – even common sense – is in play when dealing with abused women and children, so I decided to start writing about it.
M: Explain that. The common sense thing, I mean.
J: It’s just… There aren’t many resources for women who have post-abuse issues, because this culture regards battered women like they bear some responsibility for the felonies committed against them. Like they have power over the guy who chooses to abuse them. And people seem to think that if these women would simply use their power differently…
M: They could change him?
J: Basically. Then, after the woman escapes – if she does – the batterer gets all kinds of help for his ‘problem’, while the woman is told to suck it up and make better choices next time. And the kids? They’re not tended to either. The courts reflect the culture, and the culture is sick.
M: But An Early Frost is a love story, and all these other issues are wrapped around it, right?
M: Many authors will say that the hardest part of writing a novel is either the beginning or the end. For your process, is it harder to get started, to keep going, or to conclude?
J: It’s all a challenge, but the worst is to keep going, definitely. The issues I write about are hard to put across sometimes, because I present them within a fictional setting – taking the facts and applying them to real-life situations.
M: Tell us some of the difficulties you had while writing An Early Frost.
J: Fatigue. A decent amount of self-doubt, and some negativity from others. Neglecting relationships, that was a big issue.
M: Too busy?
J: Sometimes, but I was in a kind of a fog, too…
M: That weird place that authors go to, inside their heads.
J: Yeah. You know what I mean. Where you get so stuck on a plot point or a character twist…
M: …that you wander into traffic.
J: You’ve done that, huh?
M: A few times. Why the self-doubt?
J: I guess… Because this culture has these set-in-stone ideas about how women think and how they should behave, and I reject those ideas. Especially when it comes to targets of DV. I don’t see a lot of understanding for women in abusive situations, and there’s certainly no effective aftercare for them. For the issues they have afterwards.
M: Such as?
J: They’ve been traumatized, sometimes for decades, and it’s even more devastating when they have children. Especially if the court doesn’t bother to accommodate reality, and assesses them only on their demeanor, because they can run the range from mildly disjointed to openly distraught. Since battered women are often accused of creating their own abuser – or at least, “pushing his buttons” – there isn’t much compassion for them.
M: But An Early Frost is about the aftereffects of child abuse.
J: In the character of Max, yes. Plus her mother was abused, so that factors into it, too. Millions of kids grow up in that situation, and they don’t recover well. I wanted to address it through the character of Maxine, who has a beautiful soul, but she can seem ugly.
M: And you doubted yourself because…?
J: I guess it isn’t self-doubt. It’s more like a cynicism, maybe?
M: Over what?
J: Because a lot of people have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Those people can get nasty if you challenge the excuses this culture makes for males who abuse women and children. Things like, he was abused as a child, or he has anger issues.
M: You think there’s a double standard?
J: Actually, I think the standards apply only to battered women. People are forever looking at the criminal and asking, “Why does he act that way?” Yet these same people look at the natural, normal reactions of the targets of his abuse, and they don’t ask that same question. If anything, after a batterer cuts his target, this culture blames her for bleeding.
M: An Early Frost is written with a male protagonist who asks that question about Max.
J: Yeah, that was interesting to me, because I started the novel with Maxine as the lead character, and found myself writing Will instead. It just kept coming out that way.
M: What’s the twist?
J: I don’t regard the resolution as a twist, not in this novel. It’s more a contrast, a ‘what if’ thing.
M: What if?
J: What if a traumatized woman is with someone who honestly loves her, someone who’s looking for the goodness inside her, instead of rejecting her for the ugliness that someone else infected her with?
M: Your first novel, October Snow, was a critical and commercial success. An Early Frost is the legacy to October Snow – the story of what happens to the characters who survive the first book. What was it like to take their hands again and walk them through the next phase of their lives?
J: Well, I think I love Will Remmond. He’s tough to get over, especially as he’s based on a real person.
M: You have ‘Hey Will Remmond, call me’ on your social media profiles. Too funny.
J: Yeah, I’m waiting by the phone.
M: What about the other characters?
J: Max gave me nightmares, for real. Dave drove me nuts at first. His character was weirding out, and I couldn’t figure out why for a while…
M: You don’t write with an outline?
J: No. I know the ending, and the social issues I want to explore, but that’s all.
M: What about Sammy?
J: Sammy had me in tears a couple of times. She was trying so hard to find some kind of redemption, when she’s really just a sweet, confused kid whose life is unraveling.
M: Did the truth about Jo ever come out?
J: That was one of the top two questions I got after October Snow.
M: In other words, no answer.
J: Sure there is. The answer is in An Early Frost.
M: What was the other question after October Snow?
J: Readers wanted to know what became of Max, and if she wound up with Will.
M: And you aren’t going to tell me if she did, right?
M: So what’s your philosophy on literature – on art in general? Do you feel that artists have any responsibility to the culture?
J: Yes. And no. I’m all for the expression of creativity, but art can be used to be demeaning. Destructive? I’m looking for the right word here… I mean, too often, the same people who insist that a crucifix soaked in urine is ‘art’ are also the ones who would go apoplectic if a crucifix was displayed in public without the urine. I don’t get that mindset, and I don’t see where it benefits a culture.
M: So you would draw a line?
J: I suppose, as far as referring to something as ‘art.’ If its sole purpose is to shock people, then it isn’t art.
M: Along those lines, do you feel that being a creative person with an experience that could help shed light on a topic requires that you give back, or tell a particular story?
J: Not unless you’re true to the story, which is why the first two manuscripts of An Early Frost hit the trash.
M: What’s next for you?
J: A novel that deals with Maternal Alienation. We’ll look at the issue of children who grow up with DV, and who then reject their mothers.
M: Is that a big issue? Really?
J: It’s huge. But it’s buried by the Fathers Rights movement.
M: Does it have a title?
J: The working title is Ventriloquist.
M: What would you like people to say about you and your work ten years from now?
J: I never think about that. It would cause me to chase the wrong things, you know?
M: Do you ever relax?
J: Is this the ‘what do you do in your spare time’ question?
M: Sure is. I was hoping to ask it in a more creative way, though.
M: No problem. I know you watch Judge Judy and Psych.
J: Yeah, I get a bag of Doritos, and my dog and I sit on the bed and watch dumb TV.
M: That’s your idea of a good evening?
J: Guess so. I need a life.
M: You need Will Remmond to call you.
J: No kidding, right?
M: And there you have it. You finally did an interview.
J: It wasn’t bad, actually. Are you going to return the favor when Burning Down Rome comes out?
M: Absolutely. Thanks for the time here.
October Snow and An Early Frost are available on Amazon.com. Find them here: amazon.com/author/jennabrooks
You can find Jenna Brooks online at http://jennabrooks.weebly.com/