My guest is Ava Morgyn, author of Resurrection Girl a debut magical realism novel about a sixteen-year-old girl’s struggle to come to terms with the death of her younger brother.
As a new voice in the Young Adult scene, Morgyn pens a novel that demands the questions of how we deal with the unimaginable and who we can turn to when we’re incapable of finding ways to cope with such loss.
Morgyn studied English Writing and Rhetoric at Saint Edward’s University in Texas and is the founder of the blog, For Love of Evelyn, focused on grief, trauma, and the journey of child-loss. Her story of grief and loss in her debut novel is a personal one. One that will resonate with readers of all ages.
Ava Morgyn, welcome to the Interview.
Sheaf & Ink
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approximately 350 children drown in the United States under the age of five each year. What was your experience like writing about such a grim and harrowing topic?
When I began this book, I chose to write about drowning because I knew that it was an unfortunately common way to lose a small child. After writing the novel, I spoke with a director at the Live Like Jake Foundation for a blog post, which you can access here: https://www.avamorgyn.com/post/preventing-a-tragedy-like-the-foster-s. I learned a lot about childhood drowning and how we can prevent it, and we talked at length about all the ways people outside of this horrible experience ignore and avoid it, leaving themselves open to greater risk of facing it.
There is a tendency among parents who have not lost a child to quietly assume that those who have did something wrong—they missed a crucial sign or took a reckless risk. It is a way of distancing themselves from the truth that bad things happen to good people all the time. But when we do that, we also dismiss the lessons those bereaved parents have to teach about the dangers we don’t realize might be lurking in our own lives. It’s important that we see loss and tragedy when it happens in our communities and don’t avert our gaze when it gets uncomfortable to look at something.
Writing about child loss was challenging. When I originally wrote the novel, I hadn’t experienced it firsthand. I had to go back into my own grief over losing my parents and translate that experience into what I thought a deeper, more traumatic loss, like child loss, would be like. That, in and of itself, was difficult. It drudged up a lot of old feelings and forced me to look at and feel my grief again after many years of packing it away.
Losing my daughter, Evelyn, after the writing of this novel taught me that no matter how hard we try or how gifted we are, we can never fully capture the horror of this experience for others … but we can come close. I think it’s so important that we try, that we talk about the ugly feelings and the difficult experiences that come along with trauma of any kind, but certainly with death, loss, and grief.
Grief is a universal experience after all. It is something everyone will likely go through at some point. As a culture, we need to improve our dialogue around death and grief so that we can improve our coping skills and our responses to our own experiences of loss and the experiences of those around us. When we talk about the hard things, we not only increase our ability for empathy and compassion, but we chip away at the isolation created by these traumas—isolation that only increases a person’s emotional pain.
When I edited RESURRECTION GIRLS, I did so from the other side of the fence, as a grieving parent. I was no longer just writing about the experience, but living it. In truth, there are no words that adequately tell my story. There never will be. It is a pain so instantaneously searing, crippling, and devastating that you are completely changed at every level by it in the space of a second. The rest of your life is lived in the aftermath of that loss and the long shadow of your grief.
I edited this novel with a heart full of compassion for the Fosters and an empathy for my characters I had never felt before. I wish every single day that losing Evelyn was just a story, just a book on a shelf and not my real life. I think it’s important when we read fiction to remember that our stories are often based in real experiences, and to let that work inform our compassion for others.
Sheaf & Ink
Kara Hallas is a character who stands out very vividly in your novel. She reminds me so much of Lisa Rowe in the 1999 movie Girl Interrupted played by Angelina Jolie. How did you come up with such a wild, yet vibrant character?
Kara was influenced by several different characters for me, two of which are Madonna in the eighties and Cordelia from the novel Cat’s Eye, one of my favorite Margaret Atwood novels. I think your comparison of her to Lisa Rowe is also on point. I knew that the Hallas women would embody the sacred feminine archetypes of Maiden, Mother, and Crone when I started writing the novel.
Typically, we picture the Maiden as young, virginal, pure, ultra-feminine, and soft. We feature her in all white or pastels. But that’s not what I wanted for my Maiden character, whose primary role in the novel was to move Olivia and her family out of the denial of their loss and trauma. I couldn’t imagine such an anemic version of the Maiden being able to do that. So I thought about what the Maiden represents, which is ultimately new life. And I kept returning to this idea of a girl who is so vibrantly alive that it’s almost violent.
She is a wilder, more feral version of the Maiden—a girl who so easily follows her own impulses, so completely embodies all the aspects of herself without apology, that her presence is both extremely magnetic and unnerving at once. That was the kind of character I could imagine being drawn to Olivia and being able to draw Olivia out of the isolated exoskeleton of her grief. She needed to have force. She needed to be almost primal.
Sheaf & Ink
What kind of research did you do for Resurrection Girls and how long did you spend researching before beginning to write your book?
I research as I write, so I typically dive into my story and characters and do my research as I go along. I don’t tend to gather information for a period of time before I start writing. Whenever I hit something that I need to research or fact-check in order to address, I stop where I’m at and start digging around online. Most of my work is not what I would consider research heavy. Every novel requires at least a little bit of research, but I have yet to write something that requires very deep research the way a historical fiction novel might, for example.
Generally, I can get all of my research done online without having to visit my local library. But whenever I research online, I do so with a wary eye, making sure I can verify that information between multiple sources or that I’m getting it from an authenticated source or authority on the matter. I also watch documentaries and YouTube videos that I think might be informative. And sometimes I read nonfiction books that I think could inform my writing.
For RESURRECTION GIRLS in particular, I had to do some research around drownings, child loss, grief, murderabilia, prescription drug use and abuse, and crime. All of my criminals in the novel are fictional, but I did research real criminals to base them loosely off of. It’s the kind of research that can get a bit grim, but I knew that going in. I knew this novel would be dark. So my expectations were on point.
Sheaf & Ink
Resurrection Girls is your YA debut. What drew you to wanting to write for the young adult audience?
I’ve always gravitated toward reading and writing young adult fiction. It’s just natural for me to picture and hear my characters at that crucial time in their life. I like the pacing of YA and the diversity within the genre. I like the immediacy of the writing. I’ve thought about writing adult fiction at some point but have yet to land on an inspiring project idea that isn’t YA. It’s something I still consider in the back of my mind.
I often joke that I’m still an adolescent at heart. My inner child is strong. It’s not hard for me to relate to people at that age. And I’ve had wonderful relationships with all my kids when they hit that age range because it’s not challenging for me to relate to them. It’s been eye-opening to me that after we lost Evelyn, some of the people who have been able to show up for us the most, to sit with us in the worst pain, and to talk openly about our experience and feelings are young adults—Evelyn’s friends and her siblings’ friends. I think there is something about adolescence that is wonderfully, magically pliable, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory or easily influenced way. I mean it in the sense of being able to flex and bend, able to learn and listen in a way many adults lose touch with. I think young adults can teach their parents a lot.
Sheaf & Ink
What was the most difficult scene in your book to write?
I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a scene towards the end where Olivia is coming to terms with her brother’s loss in a new way. That scene was particularly emotional for me, both before and after losing my daughter. It is really about the acceptance of the loss. And when a child dies, acceptance is truly the hardest part.
It just feels so wrong, so backwards, for someone young to die. And frankly, it is. It’s tragic. But it happens. And when it happens to you, it is extremely hard to accept. Not to accept as “okay” because it will never be okay. It will never be something, as a mother, that you decide is a good or even tolerable thing. But simply being able to accept that it’s real, that it really happened, that it is. Even now, two years later, I can’t always do it.
Sheaf & Ink
How long, on average, does it take you to write your book?
That depends. It depends on how many distractions I have going, how much time and space I have available for thinking and writing. It also depends on how the work is flowing. Typically, my novels take me anywhere from a few to several months, so anywhere from maybe three to six or nine months. I started a novel just before Evelyn died that I had to put down for a year and a half due to grief.
Once I picked it back up, it still took me many months beyond that to finish it. And of course, that’s just the first few drafts. Then my agent and I typically revise together more than once before it goes on submission. And when it gets picked up, there are several more rounds of revisions to do with an editor. So on average, a few years goes into making a book happen from start to finish. Unless, of course, you’re self-publishing and can move at a faster clip. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much time is committed to birthing a book. They deserve to be valued for the little works of art that they are, regardless of genre.
Sheaf & Ink
If you could, what advice would you have given your younger self as an author?
Settle in and thicken that skin!
I like things to happen fast, so it’s ironic that I write novels. But this process, at it’s speediest, is still slow by comparison to a lot of other things. Looking back, I would tell myself not to be so impatient. This is a long journey, not a short walk. You have to settle in for the duration or you’ll make yourself bonkers.
The other thing is to thicken your skin to a fine, crusty hide. Artists are notoriously touchy about their work. And for good reason because they pour so much of themselves into it. Any critique of the work feels like a personal slight. But it’s important to remember that it’s not. It’s not a reflection of your value as an individual or even as an artist or writer. It may, however, be a reflection of someone’s subjective opinion or what the industry is currently doing, valuing, or trending. It may also be valuable to helping you improve your craft and define your audience. It’s important to let that impulse to be defensive dissipate and then go back and reread the criticism or rejection so that you can glean any useful cues from it.
Sheaf & Ink
Ava Morgyn, thank you so much for talking with me.
My guest again, author, Ava Morgyn, her book, Resurrection Girls, will hit the shelves October 1st, 2019.
Featured Image: Three Generations illustration by Ericka Lugo ‖ erickalugo.com ‖