Interview with Elizabeth Barone

I just finished Elizabeth Barone’s first novel, ABNA Quarterfinalist Sade on the Wall, a few days ago, and I’m still trying to put it in enough of a framework to write an intelligent review of it.

In short, it’s about a teen, Sade (sha-day), who has to find a way to deal with her best friend becoming a drug addict–navigating the Scylla and Charibdis of misplaced loyalties and teenage identity crises.  I’ve known Liz for a couple of years now–well, known, in the Internet sense of the word–and I’ve loved watching her put the pieces of her writing life together, though all kinds of challenges.

1) You started Sade on the Wall as a NaNoWriMo project in 2010, posting each chapter on your blog as you wrote it.  Which seems incredible right now.  I can’t believe how much time has passed since then.  How much did you know about your story before you started?  What was the most interesting thing you discovered as you wrote, in plot terms?  What was the most interesting thing you discovered, as a writer?

I knew some key things before I started—like the girls’ theme song for their friendship, that Sade has two moms rather than a mother and father, and a basic idea of how the story would end—and had a rough chapter-by-chapter outline ready before November 1st, but much of what I outlined changed as I wrote (which almost always happens to me). I also knew that I desperately needed to write this story.

Writing Sade on the Wall for all the world to see as the story unfolded was a really weird, unnerving experience. If it sucked, I had to deal with it. If I didn’t post a new chapter right away, I knew I had readers who would be disappointed. I literally had people tweeting and emailing me, asking when the next chapter would be up. Initially, I thought this would freak me out and send me into a dead end for the novel, but it actually kept me going.

I also learned that knowing your ending is more important than knowing your beginning before you start writing.

2) As a writer, I know that the inspriration for a story is rarely something that can be answered with a “Where do you get your ideas” kind of question.  However, watching you blossom as a writer over the last couple of years has been really fascinating.  Do you feel the theme of using creativity as a way to handle the difficult side of life in Sade on the Wall reflected more of your high-school self as a creative person, or does that story reflect more of what you were feeling in 2010-ish?

Sade’s poetry came from my own teenage self. Between the ages of thirteen and like sixteen, I wrote more poetry and songs than I’ve written novels and short stories. Most of them were terrible, angsty things, but I think I learned a lot about writing and how to figure out my own problems through it.

Strangely enough, I don’t really write poetry anymore (though my writers’ group mate and mentor likes to bust my chops and tell me I’m a closet poet).

[DeAnna–wow, that sounds familiar :)]

3) For those who haven’t read the book yet, Sade’s best friend, Jackie, has become a drug addict.  Liz, weird question for you.  I know you continually struggle with chronic illness situations, trying out different drugs, treatments, etc., and have been through all kinds of tests, diagnoses, and general harassment from people who don’t get what you have to deal with on a daily basis.  When you wrote Jackie, did you draw on your chronic illness experiences at all?  I felt more sympathy for Jackie than I would have expected, even though you don’t especially throw in a lot of sympathetic details about the character, and wondering where that came from.  You can tell me to bugger off if that’s too personal a question 🙂

I actually based Jackie on a few people I knew in high school. Writing from Sade’s point of view was somewhat easy, because throughout high school I watched several friends struggle with drug abuse—including someone I was really close to. I kept seeing the same pattern with these people: they spiraled deeper and deeper, and I kept feeling completely helpless to save them.

Even though I put Jackie through the ringer, I really sympathized with her, too. She had a hard life, and I’ve seen firsthand what can happen if you’re in those shoes.

4) I liked the subplot with Sade’s brother Corey exploring Islam–why did you include it?  I think I can guess, but I want to hear your take on it.

Corey’s exploration of Islam came from an interest I’ve always had in the religion. I’ve always been fascinated by the etymology of many religions, and there was a period in my life where I explored as many as I could. (For some reason, though, I still remained a devout atheist. I’m weird, I guess.) I think it’s a beautiful religion, and often misunderstood—as most religions are.

I was baptized and raised Protestant, but my parents never forced me to stay with it. I was pretty free to explore, so long as I didn’t do harm to anyone. Corey has a voracious appetite for information, and even though he’s pretty misinformed in the beginning, he continues to stick to his path—something Sade really admires, and kind of envies.

5) So years have gone by for Sade; she’s your age and looking back at her life.  She sits down in the morning with a notebook and writes something to Jackie.  What does she write?

(Slight spoilers!)

Jackie,

Some of my best and worst memories revolve around you, floating through my mind and wrapping around each other. It’s been nearly ten years and yet I can’t forgive you, still grieve for what you lost. I still find myself dialing your phone number sometimes, when I’ve had an especially good or bad day. I’ve even texted you once; that number isn’t yours anymore, so I got a really ghetto “Who dis?” instead of a “What’s up, girl?”

For years I wondered what I could have done differently to get you back on the path you were on before the raves. I blamed myself for not being stronger. I finally forgave myself, though, because at fifteen, no one is strong—we’re all sailors on a ship, headed toward the same land but once the ship is docked, we have different destinations. We gain our strength in our early adult years, as we fight through our transformations from childhood and discover ourselves. I’ve learned that in the last couple of years.

I hope, wherever you are, you’ve come to peace with yourself and have found your way again. If I close my eyes and reach out far enough, I can almost believe you have.

-Sade

Elizabeth Barone is the author of the weekly drama for busy women, Sandpaper Fidelity. She lives in Waterbury, CT with her family. Sade on the Wall is her first novel. Check out her website at http://elizabethbarone.net. You can find Sade on the Wall at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more.

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3 Comments

  1. Very cool interview! Sounds like a terrific book.

  2. Thank you so much for having me, De!

  3. De

    It was, and my pleasure 🙂

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