Today I'm featuring an interview with Terri Morgan, author of the novel Playing the Genetic Lottery. Welcome, Terri!
Q. Your novel is the story of a woman who grew up with two schizophrenic parents. How did you come to write this book?
A. The novel was sparked by a comment from a friend, who like me, is fascinated with people and what makes them behave the way they do. She mentioned something to me one day about a woman she had met who essentially raised her six younger siblings because both of her parents had schizophrenia. At the beginning of our conversation I had had not intentions of ever writing fiction. By the end, I just know I had to write this novel.
Q. Do you have any family members with schizophrenia?
A. My grandfather's cousin, Ina, who lived with my grandparents in Connecticut, was schizophrenic. She was a sweet, loving woman who was very much a treasured part of the family. Nobody really talked much about her condition, because that was just the way she was. They didn't try to hide it, but her illness wasn't what defined her. But no one in my immediate family has or had the disease, so this novel is in no way autobiographical.
Q. What's your background as a writer?
A. I've been a freelance journalist for over 30 years, writing for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, web pages, you name it. I've written literally thousands of different articles on hundreds of different topics. I've also written four non-fiction books for young adults, and co-authored four additional non-fiction books.
Q. This is your first novel. Did you envision yourself writing fiction?
A. A long long time ago I did. Like my protagonist, I've always loved reading. So it was natural for me to start writing creatively when I was in about the sixth grade. I wrote a lot of fiction off and on until my junior year of college. I knew I wanted a career as a writer, and I realized my chances of success were much greater if I switched to non-fiction. So I pursued a career as a freelance journalist, and never, ever thought I'd write any fiction again, let alone a novel.
Q. Many first novels are autobiographical. Is this the case in Playing the Genetic Lottery?
A. Definitely not. However, I did borrow tidbits from my life, my husband's life, and stories friends had told me over the years in minor ways. I took so many liberties with those tales, however, that they barely resemble the original events.
Q. Any examples?
A. My husband and I had a running joke about the president being Calvin Coolidge. Like the character Caitlin and Jason meet in the waiting room of the behavioral health unit, Gary was fascinated with history and politics, and had a fantastic memory historical figures, events, and dates.
Q. Your novel is set largely in Cumberland Oregon, but I can't find Cumberland on any map. Why is that?
A. That's because it doesn't exist, except in my head and in the book. That's the beauty of fiction, you can invent new worlds. Residents of my home town in Santa Cruz County, California, however, will recognize some of the names of local businesses and landmarks that I borrowed to use in Cumberland. Even though some of the places in my novel share the same name as some real sites in another state, they are all used fictionally and in no way resemble the originals.
Q. Did you borrow any other real names or places for the novel?
A. Most of the names I made up, although I did use the first and last names of several of my favorite elementary school teachers as some of the characters as a tribute to them. I also used some dates that are significant to family members. That's one of the fun things about being a novelist. You can honor the important people in your life privately in a very public manner.
Q. What did you like best about writing this novel?
A. I loved it all. I love learning new things, so researching schizophrenia was a labor of love. I read everything I could find on schizophrenia and the impact it has on patients and their families. I talked to people who had schizophrenic relatives, and read a lot of blogs and posts on-line to get a feel for what it's like to care for someone who is mentally ill. I loved creating the characters in this book, and inventing stories and situations for them. I enjoyed putting them onto paper. It was all fun.
Q. What message or messages would you like readers to come away with?
To be compassionate with people who may look or act differently. Don't be so quick to judge someone who appears odd because they could be suffering from a medical condition. And keep in mind that mentally ill people also have families and friends who love them. Nobody wants to be hit with a devastating mental illness, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
Q. Where can readers find your novel?
A. Right now, it's available as an e-book through www.smashwords.com/books/view/104186, and at www.amazon.com. I expect to release a paperback version of Playing the Genetic Lottery this spring. Readers can also find out more about the book at www.terrimorgan.net. Anyone who wants me to notify them when the paperback is available is welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.