Monday, May 7, 2018

Ya hoo! The fantastic Julie Clark talks about her fascinating debut THE ONES WE CHOOSE, science, DNA and how the traumas of our ancestors live within our very cells.

Oh yes, I loved this debut by Julie Clark so much, I blurbed it:

How could I not love a debut about science, secrets, DNA, and how the traumas of our ancestors still live within our very cells? With gorgeous prose, and a deep emotional resonance, The Ones We Choose is about a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son, the science of love, how our DNA shapes us, and a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son while confronting what really makes our identity ours, what and who we choose to let in, and what and who we don’t.  An absolutely dazzling, profound ruby of a novel.

And look who else is raving:
"A novel with a wonderfully smart and strong protagonist, Julie Clark's debut The Ones We Choose is an impressive and surprising combination of hard science and raw emotion. In this absorbing story of friendship, parenting, and the intensity of the sibling bond, Clark reveals how messy family life can be and how the mess itself might be of great value. An engaging read!"

Amy Poeppel

"An engaging, heart-felt alchemy of genetics and emotion, THE ONES WE CHOOSE is a unique story that will having you thinking about the true meaning of family and how our heritage silently weaves its way into every choice we make."

Amy Hatvany
"This chimera of heart and science skillfully produces an extraordinary breakthrough novel. I love smart fiction with a sharp heroine at the core. Julie Clark has perceptively given us that in The Ones We Choose. A story of mother and son and the ties that bind, right down to the marrow. Trust me, you're going to want to read this."

Sarah McCoy

What was haunting you when you wrote this book?
What a provocative question! In 2014, when the idea first occurred to me, I wanted to write about a single mother, but I felt that had been overdone. We had books about widows who raise their kids while overcoming their own grief. We have books about divorcees who battle ex-husbands and critical family members. But what about the single mothers who are emerging from our advancements in science? The women who choose motherhood out of joy and love, rather than grief or conflict?  

But then an interesting thing happened to me in the middle of revising this book. In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and everything stopped. I had no family history or risk factors, and so of course, I wondered how I got it. Why did my cells mutate? All of a sudden, those genetic subchapters became very personal for me as I explored this idea of genetic memory.

I’ve found that life always gives me what I need when I need it…and that was definitely true for my diagnosis. I was reaching a critical part of shifting this book from one lane into another, and pushing it more toward the science subplot. I had to stop teaching so I could focus on my treatment, and I did a lot of self-reflection (and writing) during that time. I’ve written about this period (here and here), and consider it to be one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Everybody should be so lucky as to have the opportunity to step out of their lives and take stock. All of those experiences -- the pain, the stress, the fear, and the joy -- went into the pages of the book.

What surprised you the most about your research?
I can say that the interstitial chapter on mtdna was really personal for me. I had lost my best friend, Sharon, to cancer in 2012, and she left behind two kids ages 8 and 9 when she passed away. It made me wonder, what parts of her might remain? I loved the idea that our mothers, all the way back through time, are imprinted on our cells, and get passed forward through our maternal line. Who are these women? What hardships did they endure? What has carried forward to me? I thought a lot about Sharon, and how her mtdna lives inside both of her children. Her daughter will even pass it forward to her children, and it will be essentially unchanged from Sharon’s. She’ll be there. In the very cells in their bodies. That concept also helped me in the early days of my own cancer diagnosis, before I knew exactly what I was dealing know that my mtdna would be in my kids too. No matter what happened, they would have a part of me that would be there for the entirety of their lives. That was a big a-ha, not just as a writer of the book I was working on, but as a person. As a mother. It changed the way I think about the impermanence of life. That surprised and delighted me.

I absolutely loved when you mentioned that the trauma of our ancestors gets into our own cells. It explains so much. Can you explain what we can do about that, how to live with it, or even change it—if possible?
I don’t know if it’s possible to change it. We live in a world where we’re so determined to fix things, and at some point we have to understand that certain things are broken and they might have to stay broken.

There are things we can do to protect ourselves from future problems. Avoiding stress has become a priority for me. I have a full time job, plus my writing obligations, parenting my two children – even with the huge amount of help I get from my family, I have to be very scheduled and mindful of boundaries. I think it’s important, no matter how busy you are, to give yourself time to handle your stress when it happens and not carry it all up inside, where it can manifest as something not-so-great.

But I think the most important thing, and the thing Paige would want you to know is that you can’t control everything. Life is messy and you can’t shy away from the mess, or keep the mess from happening. That’s just part of living. How you choose to respond to that mess is within your control, but to try and resist it, that’s the space where the stress is born. Paige was trying to hang on so tightly to her idea of what was good for her son – and what was good for her – that she was on the verge of losing everything. So I think the big takeaway is that yes, our experiences transform our cells and our DNA and everything is imprinted and carried forward and recorded, but that’s okay. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re going to be okay. My experiences are more important to the shaping of who I am than the fear of how they might be changing me. Smile and embrace it all. Even a cancer diagnosis.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals, do you outline, or do you simply let the story tell itself (ha ha ha.)
I get up at 3:45 in the morning to write. I like to think I’m on NY time, living on the west coast. (And yes, I go to bed very early too. My 9 y/o goes to bed at 7:30 and I go shortly after him.) My rituals are simple. I write in bed and I must have coffee. Those hours are consistent and quiet, which is why it’s worth it to me to wake up so early. I try to tackle my really difficult work during this time, and it’s reserved for new work only.

In the afternoons, try to handle promotion for The Ones We Choose, write or revise blog interviews or draft my weekly blog posts for The Debutante Ball. I also look over what I wrote that morning, and figure out what I need to work on the next morning, so that when I wake up I know exactly what I need to do and I don’t have to spend any time thinking about it, I can just get started.

As far as my process, unfortunately, I’m not much of an outliner, though I am always trying! I didn’t do any outlining for The Ones We Choose, but I did map out all of the subplots chapter-by-chapter. It’s a great visual in how to make sure I don’t drop any one of them for too long. But that’s more of a revision tool, not a drafting tool.  With the book I’m working on now, I am doing a lot more outlining and plotting, since I’m juggling dual POVs and timelines, and the book has more suspense elements than The Ones We Choose. But generally, my early drafts focus more on plot and forward motion. My later drafts are about layering in the emotion. The backstory. The subplots. The tension. Heightening the stakes for everyone. Taking away the scaffolds I always seem to put in no matter how hard I try not to.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Right now I’m obsessing about how someone might be able to obtain a fake ID. In my next book my character needs to disappear, so she needs a new identity. One of my childhood friends used to be an FBI agent as well as a police officer, so he’s my go-to for all of these types of questions. Apparently fake ID’s are now the purview of organized crime. You can’t hire some high school kid to make one for you anymore because of all the technology linked with them. So that presents a problem, because now I need to figure out how my main character (who is the wife of an influential senator) might get one. But then I had a big epiphany…because it’s so challenging, that just makes the stakes for my character so much bigger. And that’s always a good thing.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
By day I’m a fifth grade teacher. It might be tied with novelist for “Greatest Job in the World”. My students will tell you I’m obsessed with BBQ potato chips, but I never let myself eat them. They think that’s really sad.

No comments: