I’m happy to welcome Loretta Ellsworth to the Shelf today, for a stop on her blog tour promoting her latest novel, In a Heartbeat.
It is a story told in alternating voices, about the connection between two girls through organ donation. Eagan, a sixteen-year-old skater, dies after a head injury on the ice. Her heart goes to Amelia, a fourteen-year-old with a critical heart condition. Ellsworth explores the possibility of cellular memory as Amelia begins to feel different after the transplant, her attitude and interests shifting in ways she can’t fully explain. In a Heartbeat is about grief and regret, guilt and second chances. Here’s the book trailer:
What first inspired this novel?
My nephew died in a motorcycle accident, sort of a freak accident when his front tire hit a hole and the bike flipped. He had designated himself as an organ donor on his license. For a long time I couldn’t write. When I did, I found myself drawn to a story of organ donation.
What are some of the challenges in writing a narrative in 2-voices? How was your approach to writing this type of novel different than your approach to writing a story with a single protagonist?
Some of the challenges of writing a narrative in two voices are: keeping each voice distinct, not only in dialogue, but in thought and word choice throughout the novel. Also, their stories had to flow together, but each girl had to have her own obstacles, goals, story arc, etc. I tried writing each story separately and putting them together, but it didn’t flow that way. So I had to go back and write alternate chapters. This was my first attempt at multiple narratives (and maybe my last), but I’m glad I tried it and I learned a great deal from writing this book.
I can imagine that you might hope that the young adults who read your novel will be inspired to consider becoming organ donors themselves. What is your opinion on organ donation and when/how do you think this topic should be introduced to kids and teens?
This topic should be introduced before teens apply for a driver’s license and they should discuss their decision with their parents. My nephew didn’t discuss his choice with his parents and it was a shock to find out that he was an organ donor, but they honored his wishes. I do hope it inspires young adults to consider becoming organ donors as there is such a great need and in our case, we found it comforting to know that something positive came out of our tragedy.
In a Heartbeat is a real story of self-discovery for both Amelia and Eagan. What epiphanies about life do you think they realize throughout the novel?
Both girls come to realize how precious life is and what a gift it is – Amelia knew this before because of her illness, but she didn’t really know how to live because she’d missed out on so much of life. Eagan took it all for granted because she had such a full life.
Tell us a bit about the research you while working on this novel. What did you learn that most surprised you?
I spoke to organ recipients and transplant coordinators and nurses, and I read a great deal about organ transplants. I was surprised to learn that some recipients do claim to experience changes in their personalities and have memories that weren’t there before and some have instinctively known the first name of their donor without being told. Others have had dreams where they’ve seen their donor. I don’t think we can discount those people or their experiences; this is something that requires more research.
If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?
Some of my inspirations are as follows:
I think Harper Lee is the best writer on the planet – her book and writing style are so unique and her childhood is woven into her story in such an honest way that we can’t help but admire Atticus the same way Scout did.
I loved this book when I was younger and I’ve always thought that Charlotte’s Web was a book that any child can identify with – we discover what real friendship is.
I’ve always been fascinated with history and reading about or seeing pictures of the past always inspires me to write.
My own personal history inspires me to write – I often explore my own feelings through my characters.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received and the best you can give?
Don’t be so hard on yourself. We all question our own worth as writers. It’s difficult to maintain faith in our writing and it’s so much easier to just quit. So give yourself a break and rejoice in a well-written sentence or a good line of dialogue and don’t give in to fear and self-rejection. You’ll get there eventually.
Thank you so much for making a stop here today Loretta! For Loretta’s full tour schedule, visit her website.
In a Heartbeat is published by Walker.