Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interview with Amy Efaw

Amy Efaw graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1989. She is a mother of five. She has written Battle Dress and After. She lives with her family in Colorado. You can find more about her at

1. Devon is in emotional turmoil. She did the unthinkable and denied that she was pregnant the whole way. She also doesn't want to be like her mother. How did you get to the emotions that she was feeling?
We all do things that we are ashamed of, things that we aren’t exactly proud of. Things we would never share with even our closest friends and family. We justify them away or simply refuse to think about them and pretend they didn’t happen. I think this is how we as readers can identify with or try to understand Devon’s denial. The average person doesn’t experience it to the devastating extent that Devon did, but enough so that we can start to relate to her on some level. Or at least empathize with her.
And, yes, Devon definitely didn’t want to end up like her mom. That’s an understandable and natural, sometimes even healthy, reaction. Most teens want to strike out own their own paths and not follow directly into their parents’ footsteps. I know that I did. So, I think that’s where I as a writer could tap into Devon’s emotions and make them real.

2. It took seven years to write After, and you did a lot of research. What was the most surprising thing that you discovered?
I guess the most surprising thing that I learned while researching the “Dumpster baby” phenomenon was the type of girl who would do it. My preconception was that the woman would be some kind of unsavory person – a drug addict or prostitute or even a sociopath. But I discovered I was completely wrong with that assessment. The typical young woman who makes this devastating choice could be my sister or my friend. It could have been me.

3. Dumpster baby stories caused a surprising media frenzy in the late 90's. What cases were you inspired most by?
I was first exposed to the “Dumpster baby” issue back in the mid-nineties. I had three little kids at the time (my youngest was only 6 months old), and one winter day the big news story in Philadelphia (where I was living at the time) was of an off-duty police officer who was out walking his pit-bull. They stumbled upon a live newborn baby stuffed into a trash bag and left at the curb.
Then nearly a year later, the Amy Grossberg/Brian Peterson story popped into the national spotlight. Two college students from privileged homes tossed their baby into the trash behind the Comfort Inn where Amy had given birth. And about six months after that was the infamous Melissa Drexler case. Melissa was dubbed the “Prom Mom” because she gave birth in the restroom at her high school prom. She suffocated the baby in a couple of trash bags before cramming it into the trash can. Then she returned to the dance floor.
But the story that finally pushed me to seriously consider writing a novel based on the issue was the case that my husband got to try. He was a prosecutor for the Army at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and the case was of a female soldier who had given birth in the barracks while her unit was out training. She collected all the bloody evidence – including the baby – into a trash bag and tossed it into the Dumpster behind her barracks. I was pregnant with my fifth child at the time, and my first young adult novel, BATTLE DRESS, had just come out. I was figuring out what my next book would be about. When my husband got that case, I just knew – I had to write a story about a girl who had thrown her baby in the trash. It was meant to be.

4. What made you decide to write a Young Adult Book?
I love writing for teens because I think they push me to be a better writer. Young adult authors have so much competition for teens’ attention – text messaging and music and video games and movies and MySpace (and book review blogs J). We have to write stories that pull teen readers in right away, or our books will end up tossed under the bed with the random dirty clothes and gum wrappers. And teens are a lot more open to new ideas; we as authors have the ability to affect the way teens look at the world and how they think about life.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
First, read a lot. And when you read, choose good books, the award winners. That way, “good” writing will be in your head. Second, write . . . a lot. If you don’t have the confidence to plunge into a novel, start a blog. Or sit in a coffee shop or on the bus and write down the conversations that you hear. But find some way to practice writing as much as you can. Third, find a group of writers with whom you can eventually share your work. You’ll need their inspiration, encouragement, and feedback to keep you going. Fourth, attend writer’s conferences where you can sign up for workshops and meet other authors, both published and hopeful. And fifth (and probably most important), believe in yourself.

6. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about writing?
My favorite thing about writing is revising. I find the creative part kind of stressful. There, I’m just pulling stuff pretty much out of “thin air.” But once the story is basically done, revising is fun because the “bones” are all there. All that’s left is polishing, making what’s already written better. This doesn’t mean revising is easy, however. Just easier.
My least favorite thing about writing is starting a new book. That very first sentence of the very first paragraph? Really, really hard.

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