Hello everyone – I recently read Keep Sweet by Michele Greene (review tomorrow) and after I finished the book I had questions about why she got interested in the topic and such and I invited her for a Q&A. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and at the end you’ll find out about the giveaway.
How did you come up with the idea for Keep Sweet? I got the idea for Keep Sweet after hearing about a young girl named Ruby Jessop, who tried to flee an FLDS community, unable to and was ultimately married off to a much older man. I didn’t know much about the FLDS, I just had an entry level understanding about Mormonism, you know… their prophet Joseph Smith who found the tablets from the angel, they can’t have caffeine….I briefly dated a Mormon boy in high school and I remember he couldn’t drink a Coke…and they go on missions to convert people in other countries, stuff like that. But I had no idea how extreme and bizarre these FLDS communities are..and how completely powerless women are within them. I wanted to do a book about a girl who is really caught in that world and starts out thinking it’s fine but comes to understand that it is totally warped. So her plan to escape, which has a kind of thriller aspect to it, is really counterbalanced by her emotional growth and journey to awareness about her world, her life and her future.
Did you find it challenging to take on such a hot topic as is religion for one of the central themes of your novel? It’s difficult to do research on the FLDS because it is a cult, really…..a closed community in which people are indoctrinated to secrecy and even after people leave, they still have family members inside and there is a lot of fear about speaking out. It’s hard to find out details of how things work in the temple or other ‘inside’ information, unless you find seriously lapsed Mormons or ones who have left the faith completely.
Aside from Alva Jane was there another character you felt great affinity for? I felt a great connection to Brenda Norton, the 20-something who follows her husband into the fundamentalist wing of the Mormon faith in an effort to save her marriage. To me, she was a woman whose confidence and sense of her own worth was so shaken by her infertility, that she was willing to accept that she somehow owed it to her husband to allow him to take multiple wives, even though it tore her apart. I wanted that character to give us a window and to give Alva one as well, into the mind of a modern, young, educated Mormon woman who couldn’t fit in with the restrictive rules of the FLDS but who was nonetheless trying to. I saw Brenda as so vulnerable to manipulation and being coerced into doing something that was totally against her principles.
What would you like for your readers to come away with after reading Keep Sweet? I would like readers to come away with a greater curiosity and interest in finding out about what we can all do to help the young women and children who are powerless in these FLDS communities. These abuses are happening right here, within our borders. We recently saw the senate pass a resolution on the prohibition of child marriage, as it pertains to foreign countries and I thought, “what about the girls here who are American citizens and being married off to old men as fourth, fifth and sixth wives? Right here in Arizona and Utah and Texas? ” It’s great to be aware and helping girls in other cultures who are being married off as teens and children but we have that going on right here. It falls to regular citizens to educate themselves and see what they can do. I have an advocacy link on my site that has a list of actions that people can get involved in.
I like that the ending is a bit open do you plan on a sequel? There is a sequel of sorts, it is a cross media sequel! The book ends in a way that you don’t know what happens to Alva… but the book is in development with ABC Family as a series and it picks up where the book leaves off so it is kind of interesting to explore that in a different storytelling medium. There is also a cool clip on youtube that I shot with a young actress playing Alva, it’s called ‘get me out of the FLDS!’ so it should come up in a you tube search with that title. I want people to check it out and give feedback since that is really how you build a following for a book in this genre.
You have a very eclectic background having been in television shows, film, music, and now writing. How did writing come into your life? I’ve always been writing, I just wasn’t pursuing publication and really entering the commercial world of selling books but I’m glad I did. I started writing short stories and screenplays and stage plays, my background is in theatre and I went to college (USC) as part of a conservatory program which was terrific and gave me a very solid foundation in the performing arts. But I also took a lot of creative writing classes and was writing all the time….I started working a lot as an actress at an early age and it paid really well and I had a lot of financial responsibilities in my family so it became my career and kept me busy for a long time. But when I got older and the work slowed down a bit, I began to get more courageous about putting my writing out there and sent out my proposal on my first YA novel, Chasing the Jaguar, which sold right away to Harper Collins. In my temperament I am much more of a writer than an actor, I prefer solitude, I prefer working alone, I find actors kind of unsettling and ‘on’ a lot of the time which just makes me feel embarrassed and uneasy. I enjoy acting but it doesn’t empower me the way writing does. I just started a writing oriented blog called mightywithapen and I am going to start posting a lot of stuff I’ve written that isn’t in novel form since I write kind of compulsively about all kinds of things.
When you aren’t writing do you spend a lot of time reading? What are some of your favorite books/authors? I love reading, I admit I don’t have that much time to do it anymore. The amount of work that goes into pushing a book, writing, life maintenance, acting auditions/gigs and being a single mom to a toddler leaves me so worn out that I often can’t find the time to read anymore! I love the Brontes and Jane Austen, Flaubert, E.M. Forrester….I am a huge classics fan, I re-read them all the time. I love Salman Rushdie. I read a lot of non-fiction about history and science, I’m reading a bio of Colette right now. I like thrillers, I like everything. The only books I can’t stand are the ones that are too precious or self-conscious in their attempts to be ‘serious’ or highbrow’….they just ring hollow and false, and lack the kind of poignancy that a great book has naturally….and through the skill of the writer, of course.
What can readers expect from you next? Do you have a new book in progress? I have a movie and a new book in process right now. The book is about a young runaway who ends up in Hollywood, right in my neighborhood which is a mecca to lost kids from around the country, it seems. It’s YA, kind of gritty but also with some redemption and hope, since I think you always need that in art and in life.
Thank you Michele for sharing with with us about your book and your background. Thanks to Michele and her publisher I have one copy of Keep Sweet to giveaway. So just leave a comment and I’ll do a drawing and announce the winner on Friday, Jan. 21. Good luck!