Please describe the inspiration for Jane in Bloom. Was there one moment where you just knew you had to write this story, or did it sneak up on you over time?
I was first inspired to write this story when I saw a segment on the news about forgotten siblings—these were people who had grown up in a family where everything revolved around one child who had a legitimate problem. The family was so concerned about the problem child that the forgotten one was rendered invisible. I wanted to give the forgotten ones a voice—I wanted to tell their story.
What was the biggest challenge, and the greatest surprise, in the process of writing your first novel?
The biggest challenge, I think, is the part I am going through right now, being at peace with the book being out in the public to be judged. And reading reviews. I never thought about this when I was writing and re-writing. I only ever imagined that one girl might read my book and find hope there. The greatest surprise, for me, was the editing process, which was a wonderful experience thanks to my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel. For years, I have heard stories about how difficult the editing process can be, but my journey of re-writes was a completely positive process that only enhanced the manuscript. I always felt supported and understood—and I think that is rare in this business. I think my experience is a testament to Julie and the way she communicates with a writer.
How has your past work as an actress / singer / attorney / photographer prepared you for writing, and influenced your writing?
I think my background has made me a better writer because I have so much experience to draw from when I write. I use my training as an actress when creating characters. I also see everything like a film, and I hear the dialogue as if I were performing. As a singer and actress, I am comfortable speaking to people, and that helps when you have to promote your work. And as a songwriter, I have learned to tell a story with a minimum of words. You only have a few lines in a song to convey a whole range of emotions. Being a photographer helps me to see the work visually—it has enhanced my skills with color and detail which I use liberally in my writing. And being a lawyer has given me confidence and professionalism. It’s a lot of experience packed into one background, but I think it serves me well. Most of all, it gives me the perspective to appreciate the journey.
Speaking of preparation, how did you prepare yourself, emotionally and in terms of research, for writing a novel that features a character with a fatal eating disorder?
I read a number of books on eating disorders, some were written from a clinical perspective and others were first-hand accounts. It was painful research, but the more I read, the more I was certain that I wanted to tell this story. I did research on the process of grief, and I drew from my own experiences of grief. Emotionally, the book was draining to write, but I could not figure out a way to write this story without embracing the experience along with Jane.
In Jane in Bloom, Jane discovers her talent for photography. For Jane, photography has healing and transformative power, as it helps her to move through her grief and discover her strength. Why did you choose photography as Jane’s creative outlet and why do you think it helped her to grow into herself?
I wanted Jane to have a creative outlet, and I am the world’s worst artist. Even my children know this. I needed to be able to experience Jane’s creativity with her, and I was afraid art would be beyond my abilities and this would ring untrue. I wanted something visual so that the reader could see it in their mind. And I love photography. I have been shooting photographs since I was eight, so I went out and shot the photographs that Jane shoots in the book. I had never photographed flowers before, and it’s not easy. I think photography is a medium that allows you to disappear behind the lens but also share your emotions through the work. That worked for Jane and her journey of self-discovery. By standing behind the camera, you can shape the photograph. You have control over a little piece of the world for that moment. I wanted Jane to see that she could shape her own destiny. By using the camera, she was learning to trust her own vision.
I think your novel would be a fantastic choice for a girls’ book club, because there are so many discussion-worthy themes in Jane in Bloom. If your novel was a featured title in a girls’ book club, what are some of the topics / themes you hope girls would talk about?
I have written some book club questions, and these are the things I hope girls would talk about when discussing the book.
1. Jane’s sister Lizzie is the most important person in the world to her. How does Lizzie make her feel? Do you have a sibling? What is your relationship like?
2. Jane’s sister dies in the book. Have you ever had to say goodbye to a person or a pet? How did that make you feel?
3. Colors are really important in the book. What are some colors you remember from the book and what did they describe? What do you think those colors meant? For instance, why do you think Ethel wears purple?
4. Jane finds her own special talent as a photographer. What is one of the things you do that makes you special and unique?
5. Jane shares her feelings with Ethel, and Ethel comforts her. She also shares her thoughts with Hunter. Do you have someone you can talk to when you are having a problem? Who is it?
6. How do you think the family would have been different if Lizzie had survived and recovered? How would Jane be different?
7. Floriography is the language of flowers. Let’s make up a language for something else, like fruit. What would it mean if I gave you an orange? An apple? A watermelon?
8. Jane chooses to reach out to Kirsten Mueller, the girl who has been bullying her. Why does she do that? Why do you think Kirsten stops being mean to her after that? Is there someone you could reach out to? What do you think would happen if you did?
The relationships between sisters can be complicated in the best of circumstances. Your story follows two sisters at a time in their lives that is incredibly challenging and traumatic for both of them. Describe Jane and Lizzie’s relationship and what it was like to try to understand and communicate their sisterly bond.
Jane and Lizzie have a complicated relationship because although they love each other dearly, Lizzie is the center of the family. And that leaves Jane on the outside. Jane feels invisible next to her sister and this colors her self-image. But at the same time, Jane also finds herself drawn to her sister—she can’t completely resent her because she loves Lizzie, and she admires her. I am the oldest in my family, and I have a sister and two brothers. We are all really close and have never gone though the difficulties that Jane’s family suffers, but I could draw on the love and bonding that we all feel. My sister and I understand each other like no one else. And I think that is the gift of sisterhood. To lose that, would be like losing half of yourself.
Best book you read in the last month: I loved The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Book you’re most eager to read next: I can’t wait to read Bull Rider, by Suzanne Morgan Williams.
Jane in Bloom is about the unexpected places life can take you, and learning how to accept change. Where you think you’re headed next Deborah?
I hope more books are in my future. I just finished a new manuscript which has been sent off to my agent, and have started working on a new story I have spinning around in my head. I am a busy mother with two elementary school girls so I know my future is taking me to Disneyland. And I hope to add a German Shepherd puppy to our family one day soon.
Thanks so much Deborah, for sharing your thoughts with us. Congratulations on the release of Jane in Bloom.