Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Jen’s Conversion Diary for 7QT Friday.
Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Erin McCole Cupp about her new book, Don’t You Forget About Me, now available on Kindle and in Paperback! Thank you, Erin, for stopping by on your blog tour!!
1. The lone piece of tomato pie on the front cover of your book is intriguing. Why the pie? (Besides the fact that tomato pie is delicious!)
Tomato pie: it’s pizza—only made by angels! Ah, yes, why the tomato pie? Forgive the cliché, but I think at the heart of every story is a quest for something deep: truth, meaning, love, what have you. We humans are searching for those things in real life as well. However, just as real humans do, characters often distract themselves from those abstract longings with a desire for something base. Does Mary Catherine Whelihan want to find truth, meaning, and love on her trip back to her dreadful hometown? Of course she does. She just thinks the only thing worth returning for is the one concrete, guaranteed pleasure the place can offer, and that is tomato pie. How often do we despair of finding higher ideals and instead go looking for Esau’s bowl of pottage? I guess the tomato pie was just a wink at how we all search for what we think we want, but God usually has something much better in mind.
Here’s a picture of my husband taking pictures of tomato pie for the book cover. There is no tomato pie in Full Quiver Publishing’s area, so in a pinch we had to enlist Scott’s photography skills. We had to buy a whole pie for the photo shoot. Then, oh darn, we had all that tomato pie to eat.
2. Are any of the characters in your book based on real people?
I was pondering this question recently, even before you asked it! This is going to sound absolutely insane, but the more I write, the less it seems like I’m basing characters on people from real life. Mostly that’s because novel characters must behave in a more believable fashion than real people do! These days, when it comes to the characters I write, it’s starting to feel like I get this window inside my head, and the characters are doing their thing and I’m just a fly on the wall. The only reason I can recognize these characters because I’ve had life experiences with similar types of people, and that allows me to recognize the characters when I meet them in my imagination. Still, I have been known to name characters I really adore after adorable people in real life. For instance, one of DYFAM’s “magical helpers,” the grade school secretary, I named after your dear friend and mine and fellow Guildie author Margaret Rose Realy.
3. Your novel includes some fascinating information on the intricate connection between chemicals, environment and fertility. What kind of research was necessary?
I’m a big nerd, so I actually enjoy research. I remember in my early 30s reading an article in a women’s magazine—I forget which, just something I picked up to read while doing cardio at the gym—that talked about a number of studies in which primates were fed dioxin-laced food and the overwhelming result among the subjects was endometriosis. I didn’t think of that article until years later, while I was recovering from endometriosis removal surgery, that my brother and I were sharing memories of, in the late 1970s, having to be evacuated from our home town for a couple of nights because the chemical plant down the road had had an accident. My brother mentioned that dioxins were involved, and that reminded me of that magazine article I had read in the gym a few years before (yeah, I remember nonsense like that, but ask me where I put my keys an hour ago…). Anyway, the link between endometriosis and dioxin sat stewing in my mind for a few months while the story for DYFAM burbled to the surface. Once I knew I was writing a novel, I spent a lot of time with Google to get an idea of where to look for the science behind the story. I also had to talk to a pharmacist friend of mine as well as three separate Catholic gynecological specialists. I specifically wanted to talk to the Catholic specialists, less so for the spirituality aspect and more because I know the Catholic approach to women’s health problems shies away from covering up symptoms with “The Pill” and seeks to correct the underlying causes. Without those underlying causes, DYFAM would not have been as credible, I don’t think.
4. Have you always felt called to be a novelist? And if so, elaborate (or if not, elaborate)…
Being called and feeling that call are two different things! I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t telling stories in my head. Whether it was about Star Wars, Little House or eventually The X Files, I was always taking what I read or watched and then after the book was closed or the show was over, my imagination wanted to take all the “what if”s a few steps further. I usually was too lazy to actually write any of it! For a very long time, I thought I wanted to be an actress or a theatrical director. I even majored in theatre in college. Then, while drafting a novel as part of my senior project, my theatre department advisor held up the journal in which I’d been writing and said with this rueful smile, “This is what you’re supposed to be doing.” It was heartbreaking and scary but at the same time validating and invigorating. I did complete my degree in theatre, but I have been pursuing little but writing ever since.
5. Today is All Saints Day and is also the official launch date of Don’t You Forget About Me. Were there any saints who inspired you or with whom you felt a particular devotion/connection during the writing of this novel?
DYFAM is very much under the patronage of my confirmation saint, St. Catherine of Alexandria. I even went so far as to name the main character after her. Whelihan/Wheeler came from St. Catherine’s symbol of the torture wheel that broke when Catherine touched it. St. Catherine has interceded on my behalf, asked and un-asked, for so many years that I wanted to give her a little thank you gift. I hope she likes it!
6. Are there any contemporary or classic authors who have influenced you as a novelist?
Oh, dear, here’s where you’ll get to see the secular direction in which my tastes lean! I acknowledge quite openly that Neal Stephenson has been a huge influence on me. I admit I haven’t read any of his recent work (in fact, if it came out after my kids were born, I haven’t read it), but I remember reading Snow Crash for the first time and thinking, “Is a writer allowed to have this much fun making stuff up? Seriously? Then I want IN!” I also love Douglass Adams, especially the Dirk Gently series. Adams could take a heap of seeming nonsense and turn it into this great piece of hilarious word-architecture. On the more girly side, I adore how Tracy Chevalier writes a beautiful reality—never arguing, just presenting people as they have been—and always will be—in their conflicts throughout the centuries. As for classics, I love me some Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. I try not to read Dickens while I’m working on my own writing, otherwise I start writing as if I’m getting paid by the word.
7. What one piece of advice would you give to the newbie novelist?
Psalm 131, “Humble Trust in God.” That one holds so much for the writer, especially for someone starting out on the endeavor to get to the “sublime” experience of being published. Here’s where I ask people to my book so I can afford a new Bible without the Little Einsteins stickers on it.
8. Okay. So I’ve already asked seven (for 7QT) but I’m not done!! The epilogue suggests this is not the last Cate novel. Can you tell us a bit about future Cate stories?
I’m hoping for at least two more books, if not three. I can’t say much more without spoiling Don’t You Forget About Me, but I can say that I think Cate and Gene have more than enough baggage to fill out a trilogy. What I can say is that I plan on continuing using song titles. The working title for the sequel is Never Let Me Down Again. Right now the first chapter is called “Just Like Heaven.”
9. What is one lesson or message you want your readers to take away from your novel?
This is a really difficult question for me to answer, because I tend not to write with a message in mind. I just want to rip out the reader’s heart, stomp on it, bury it, then give it back, healed and with wings. (Does that make me a bad person?) Messages have to be argued, defended, and honestly I know that I’m not aggressive or clever enough to argue or defend well. I love how St. Augustine says, “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.” So basically I just want to write the truth, to clear a spot in the wilderness of our lives and lay reality out there for people to see—or not.
10. Where can readers find out more about you and your book…please feel free to include Facebook pages, Pinterest, Twitter etc.
Let’s see… The best place to find out what I’m doing is my webpage, where I blog about the writing life. I also have two years of recipes on my meatless Friday blog. Once a month, one of those recipes is featured at CatholicMom.com. I’m erinctotheop on Pinterest. I’m also on Facebook, and Twitter. Click on any of those links, and you’ll find links to my other blog tour posts for November. Thank you, Ellen, for these wonderful questions! This interview was a lot of fun!
Want to win a free copy of Erin’s book? Head on over to Goodreads for a chance to win one of three print copies! And if you don’t like your chances there (currently 3 in 240), leave a comment (before Friday, November 8) below to be entered to win one free print copy of Don’t You Forget About Me!!