Amy Efaw has been kind enough to do an interview with me! Here is our conversation below:
You write about this on your website and in the author's note, but for those who haven't seen either, tell me a little about your inspiration for After.
I wanted to write a story that nobody had told before. And the “Dumpster baby” issue – Why is it happening? How could someone do it? – was something that I felt very passionate about. For an author to spend countless hours working on a story, you really have to feel passionate about the subject. If not, forget it!
But I was first exposed to the “Dumpster baby” phenomenon many years ago while living in Philadelphia with my growing family. At the time, my husband was in law school, and we had three little kids (now we have five!), and then our youngest was only about six months old. One winter morning, an off-duty police officer stumbled upon a live baby inside a trash bag that was left out with some garbage cans. Then about four years later, my husband had become an Army prosecutor, and he was given a “Dumpster baby” case to try! A female soldier had given birth inside her barracks room while her unit was out training. She stuffed her live newborn in a trash bag and then tossed it into a Dumpster behind the barracks. I realized then that this was a story I had to write.
It looks like you did a lot of research for this book! What was that experience like, and did you learn anything you didn't expect?
I think I was most surprised to learn who the typical “Dumpster baby” mom is. I had some preconceptions when I first started my research; I thought she would be some drug addict or a prostitute or someone with a mental illness. But I discovered that I was completely wrong. The type of young woman could’ve been one of my kids or my best friend. She could’ve been me.
Another interesting discovery that I learned was that almost every one of these girls claimed that they didn’t know they were pregnant. I found that hard to believe at first, but the more I studied the issue, the more it began to make sense.
A large part of After took place in a jail/juvenile detention facility. Did you visit any facilities as part of your research, and if so what was the experience like?
Yes, I spent a lot of time observing life at the Remann Hall Juvenile Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington (the same facility that’s portrayed in AFTER). I thought it would be irresponsible of me as an author to merely “guess” about what a juvenile detention center was like. So, I visited Remann Hall a couple of times every week, a few hours at a time, for about nine months.
At first, I felt intimidated going in there. I had to go through a metal detector and had to be escorted inside. One door had to close (and the bolt snap shut behind me) before the next would open. And surveillance cameras were everywhere.
The kids themselves were intimidating at first. I knew that they were in there for anything from prostitution to murder to drug distribution to shoplifting to running away. But once I got to know the girls, hanging around in the classroom mostly or in the common area during their free time, I realized they weren’t all that different from “ordinary” kids. They were often starved for attention and really loved it when I’d ask them questions about their lives – in and out of detention. They’d ask me constantly, “Am I going to be a character in your book?” OR “You can use my name! Are you going to use my name? Here, let me spell it for you!”
I’d just go home afterwards and hug my own kids because I knew that most of the kids in juvenile detention lacked a parent – or anyone caring – to hug them.
What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Of course I hope AFTER brings more awareness to the “Dumpster baby” issue and the Safe Haven laws that have passed in all fifty states. But even more than that, I hope AFTER encourages readers to get involved in other people’s lives. Don’t sit by when your friends withdraw into themselves or change. Take a risk, step up, and ask, “What’s going on with you?” OR “I’m really worried about you.” And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Life can be tough; we need to help each other get through it when we can.
Who would you pick to play
Devon: Camilla Belle
Dom: Scarlett Johansson
Dream on, huh?!
Five children! When do you find the time to write?
Well, I don’t find the time to write often enough, unfortunately! That’s why it took me over seven years to write AFTER! But I’m working on getting better about it – I’m trying very hard to prioritize my writing time, but it’s hard. I get distracted very easily with all the “mom” stuff I’m obligated to do!
The time of day that I find works best for me to write is between the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM. In fact, I just checked my watch, and it reads 11:17 PM (and I’ve only just hit my stride). But I can only do that for a couple of days at a stretch. I don’t have the luxury of sleeping in most of the time . . . gotta get those kids out the door and to their schools!
What impact, if any, did being a mother have on the writing of this book?
As I said before, I gave birth five times (!), so I know very well what that experience feels, looks, and smells like. This helped me get the details right when I wrote the brief birth scenes in AFTER. Also, I often discovered I was pregnant at very inopportune times in my life, so I know what it feels like to be unhappy (even temporarily until I got used to the idea) about being pregnant. And since I currently have three teenaged girls at home (at least I do at the time I’m doing this interview!), I think I have some insight into what teens deal with on a day-to-day basis.
What was different about writing After from your first book, Battle Dress?
My first novel for teens, BATTLE DRESS, was based on my own experiences as a cadet at West Point. I had spent four years living the life of a cadet; I could relate to everything my main character, And I, was going through.
My second book, AFTER, was based on many unfamiliar things. I was able to draw on some experiences from my own life – I have five kids, for instance, so I know a lot about what it feels like to be pregnant and give birth – but I knew nothing about life in juvenile detention or what could be going on in the head of a fifteen year old girl who was denying her own pregnancy and was capable of tossing her baby into the trash. So, I had to rely on tons of research and a lot of thinking about the character and what would possibly motivate her to do what she did.
Can you tell us a little about the book you're currently working on?
Well, um, I currently have two books in my head that I’m thinking about writing next. When I make a choice, I’ll let you know!
I read that you started off writing children's picture books. Do you have any plans to continue with any of those? How about adult fiction? (I guess that's what non-young adult is called?? lol)
LOL – definitely. But seriously, I may write a “non-young adult novel” some day. I’m not ruling it out. Right now, though, my interest is writing for teens.
And, anyway, I think in many ways, you have to be a better writer to hold a teen’s attention than an adult’s. We young adult authors have a lot of competition – video games and movies and MySpace and TV and iPods and text messaging, etc. If we don’t grab our audience right away, our book will be tossed under the bed, collecting dust with all the other discarded and forgotten things congregating there. Adults tend to be more patient when they read; they’ll give books more time to draw them in.
Also, I believe that teens tend to be more open to new ideas than adults. Not that I write with an agenda in mind, but as an author, I think it’s an awesome thing to possibly affect the way people look at a particular issue or expose readers to something they have never thought about before.
And as far as picture books go . . . well . . . I may get brave and send one picture book manuscript (my best) to my wonderful editor, Joy Peskin, at Viking to see what she thinks. I really trust her judgment.
What's your favorite book, and what are you reading right now?
I have so many books that I love, Jennifer! When I’m reading a well-written engaging book, that book becomes my new favorite. So, I really don’t think I can name just one.
But here are some of my recent favs off the top of my head (you can also check me out on GOODREADS for a more exhaustive list):
THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf
THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
LOOKS by Madeleine George
JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte
THE TROLLS by Polly Horvath
YOU DON’T KNOW ME by David Klass
ANGELA’S ASHES by Frank McCourt
THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx
BREATHING UNDERWATER by Alex Flinn
Right now? I’m reading Suzanne Collins sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE.
Is there anything you'd like to add that I haven't asked?
Nope! You did a great job, Jennifer!
Oh, edit that. I do have one thing I’d like to add: I’d love you guys to come visit me at my website (www.amyefaw.com) and/or AFTER’s website (www.after-book.com). Let me know who you all are and what you think about! You never know . . . your email may spark an idea for a book!
Thank you, Amy, very much for doing this interview!!