Author Interview with Deborah Epperson1. What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
Breaking TWIG is set in Georgia in the mid 60’s to early 70’s. At this time in the Deep South, traditions like segregation were colliding with Civil Rights, integration, and Vietnam. I grew up in Texas during this time-period and remember well how much resistance there was to these changes. Families like Becky’s (Twig) wanted things to remain the same and strove to keep the same social norms that had guided southern society for decades.
Some readers have asked me why Becky just didn’t leave her abusive home life. Again, this goes back to the societal customs of this period. Young women in the South didn’t enjoy the independence and legal rights women enjoy today. When a young woman left her parents home, it was to get married or go to college. In many states, married women had limited rights also. For example, in the mid-seventies, I was teaching high school biology, but still could not charge a sofa (considered a major purchase in Louisiana) on a joint account without my husband’s signature. He could buy it without my signature, but as a married woman, I was told I could not make an “enforceable” contract for a major purchase without a man co-signing it. Thank goodness things have changed for the better.
These remembrances helped me develop the character of Helen. Having few legal rights in this setting and time, she learns early on how to use her beauty and position in the Sugardale society to become a master manipulator in order to have control over men and thus, get what she wanted.
2. What inspired your novel? A personal experience? An issue you’re passionate about?
In college, I majored in biology and English and have always been interested in the issue of heredity verses environment in child development. Which one has the most influence on a child? At times, Becky (Twig) worries that she has inherited her mother’s “picker” ways and her gene for chicanery, but she also thinks having one person who loves and believes in you is all a person needs to keep hope alive. Growing up, both Becky and Henry had one parent who berated and abused them, and one parent who gave them unconditional love and support. Helen had no such love or support system when she was a child. I wanted readers to think about how important the roles of love and a supportive environment—or the lack of these two influences—are in helping to shape a child’s development into an adult.
Also, I wanted to contrast how even though Becky and Henry suffered emotional and/or physical abuse, they both had well-to-do families, lived in warm houses, had plenty to eat, and the respect of their communities. Helen grew up in a shack where she had to fight for every scrap of food, every nugget of heating coal, and her neighbors were as poor and destitute as her family. I wanted the reader to think about the various ways her childhood influenced her actions as an adult.
3. In what ways do the events in the book reveal evidence of your own world view?
To the outside world, Becky and her family were well-to-do, wonderful, church-going pillars of the community. Others couldn’t see the abuse and turmoil that went on behind closed doors. I think people/society often make snap judgments based on someone’s or something’s appearance. More often than not, we’re wrong.
No matter how many times Helen or life knocked Becky down, she got back up, even though she was afraid and so emotional drained that she wanted to give up on herself, on others, and on life.
My goal in writing is to tell a good story, one that shows my truth –nobody is perfect, life is messy, and we all fail more often than we’d care to admit. But with faith, love, and perseverance, we can find the strength to continue toward our own truth with a bit more forgiveness and empathy for others and for ourselves.
4. Considering the delicate nature of the plot, did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable?
First thing, I am often asked about my own mother and childhood. Was she like Helen? Was I abused as a child? No and no. My mother was the polar opposite of Helen. She was loving, kind, and supportive of both me and my brother. I had a wonderful extended family also.
The prickliest difficulty I faced was in regards to the changing relationship between Frank and Becky. It shocked some readers. I hadn’t planned that relationship, but as many writers have said — characters in a novel seem to take on a life of their own. I felt this was the natural (albeit not socially accepted) progression of their friendship as two lonely adults. Also, there are racially-charged words that are not politically correct in today’s society and frankly, made my sensibilities roil as I wrote them. But, these derogatory terms were typical of the language used in the Deep South in this time-frame when traditions like segregation were being so loudly challenged. It was a tumultuous time in the south, even for families like Becky’s who did their best to ignore it.
5. As the author, what kind of reader would you recommend your novel, Breaking TWIG, to?
Readers who like underdog and redemption stories. Also, I’d recommend it to readers who aren’t’ afraid to pull back Oz’s curtain to glimpse the truth that life behind closed doors can be disquieting, and even cruel.
6. What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
As a scientist, you learn to lay out your experiments, and learn to make sure each step builds on the last step. This process helps me in laying out my storyline. I usually make a timeline first, especially if the story will cover several years, such as Breaking TWIG does. I do a loose outline. I know where I want to start the story, where it should end, and have several major scenes already percolating in my head.
These are not set in stone. I want to give the characters time and space to develop as I get to know them better. Breaking TWIG took two years to write and by the time I finished, I felt like Becky was my invisible child. I laughed with her, cried with her, and rooted for her to get up off the mat and face the next challenge without losing her humanity. The major job I have as the writer is to stay true to the characters, and like in my lab experiments, I strive to build each step of the story on the previous step.
7. What is your favorite book from childhood?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
8. Do you have any new projects you are working on?
I am working on a romance-suspense called Caddo Girl. It is set in Louisiana in early 1970’s. After it is completed, I’m writing a sequel to Breaking TWIG because so many readers have asked me to continue Becky’s story. They have actually called me to ask if Johnny and Becky got together in Paris.
9. What have you found to be the most successful approach to marketing your book as an Indie Author?
Don’t expect others to do all the marketing for you. Learn how to use social marketing sites like Facebook and Twitter (ask a teenager for advice). I belong to a great local writers’ group. We share our resources, pool our knowledge, and celebrate each other’s success. I urge every writer I meet to join a supportive authors’ group, but beware of toxic groups that view everyone as their competitor rather than their colleague. And when you don’t know something—ASK! And keep asking