Archive for the ‘Francesca Forrest’ Category
I recently read and reviewed Pen Pal, a most extraordinary novel by Francesca Forrest. Click here to read my review of Pen Pal, but the super quick summary is that this epistolary novel focuses around the relationship between a girl named Em who lives in a floating community off the Gulf Coast, and Kaya, a political prisoner. Through Em’s letters and descriptions of her life, Kaya realizes she may have more in common with this girl than she thought. This is a powerful and profound story of marginalization and empowerment.
Francesca was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the novel, living in Japan, indie publishing, and her passion for helping preserve native and minority languages.
Let’s get to the interview!
LRR: The novel is written in an epistolary fashion, with letters, diary entries, e-mails, even newspaper articles. Why did you decide to present the story that way?
FF: The novel grew out of a story that evolved on Livejournal. Em’s message in a bottle, was just as an idea that came to me one morning, and people wanted more. I had had the idea of Kaya in my head for years, and I thought, what if she were the one who answered? So a few days later I posted her response. And then, every few days, I’d post another letter. I really loved the format and thought it worked well for a serialization because the wait for the next post gave the readers the experience of waiting for the next letter, just like the characters.
When I decided to turn it into a novel, I decided to supplement the letters with diary entries and other “evidence” so I could tell a richer story. I think it’s interesting to think about what people choose to reveal where, and to whom, and I tried to play with that with the characters’ letters to different people, and with how what they write in their diaries differs from what they say in their letters.
LRR: Can you tell us a little about how this story came together, and what your inspirations were?
FF: Kaya’s story grew from two dreams I had: one in which a witch, or maybe a goddess, asked me to resurrect a defunct festival in her honor, and one in which a priestess was held prisoner in temple over a volcanic crater. I asked myself how those situations could be tied together, and that got me thinking about cultural suppression and why and how it happens—and then I could see how there’d be parallels to the situation of Em, whose community floats alongside, but keeps apart from, dry-land society. Other inspirations: I was enchanted, long ago, when I heard of jubilee, an event that happens fairly regularly in Mobile Bay, Alabama, and occasionally elsewhere: fish flood the shallow waters near shore so thickly that you can go out and just scoop them up by the armful. This became the dawn of seagifts in Pen Pal. And I was inspired, too, by the story of the pen pal correspondence I mention on the Pen Pal website, between Manuel Noriega, back when he ruled Panama, and Sarah York, a young American girl. That story raised so many questions about adult and child interactions, ulterior motives, and the intersection of the personal and the political.