Author Vijaya Bodach BOUND
Dreamwalkers, this month Vijaya Bodach is here to talk about her new YA novel, BOUND.
Welcome, Vijaya! Thank you for swinging by for the interview and your generous offer to gift a signed copy of your new book to some lucky Dreamwalker.
Vijaya: Janet, thank you for having me!
Janet: Where and when did you get the idea for this novel?
Vijaya: I’ve always been fascinated with the complex relationships that sisters have. I’m the youngest of four and growing up, my sister was both my ally and my enemy, so the seeds of the novel were there before I ever embarked on a writing career nearly two decades ago.
(me age 6, and my sister, Suman, age 9)
It was about ten years ago that the character, Rebecca, started talking in my head. She was grumbling and asking many philosophical questions I was asking myself when we were going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).
I was getting more and more debilitated by chronic migraines around this time so became interested in the nature of suffering as well as medical ethics. (I’ve always been interested in medicine—long story why I didn’t pursue it) and I didn’t have the answers to the questions swirling in my head, so I let Rebecca talk—and I began examining her questions from different angles.
Janet: The central character, Rebecca is a burn survivor. When did you come up with this? How did you handle the research?
Vijaya: I borrowed my cousin Aradhana’s situation (adopted as an infant and then suffering terrible burns as a small child in India) to explore suffering in a more concrete manner.
(Cousins Aradhana and Sangeeta at a wedding)
Why was she abandoned, why survive only to get burned, why so much suffering if there’s a God, why, why, why? I read some amazing books by Pope St. John Paul II, the Venerable Fulton Sheen, the lay theologian Frank Sheed, and C. S. Lewis (author of the beloved Narnia children’s books) to get a handle on philosophy. For the medical aspects, I first wrote to my cousins, Aradhana and her sister Sangeeta, and they corroborated my memories of the things my aunt had shared. However, the bulk of the research was done by reading textbooks on burns, treatments, and recoveries. The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon was a poignant memoir. The Internet also proved to be a good resource, especially for color photographs, survivor stories, and medical know-how. There isn’t much fiction featuring severely burned survivors. One book stands apart: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.
Janet: How did you develop the character of Rebecca’s older sister, Joy?
Vijaya: Joy is an amalgam of a couple of children I know (including my daughter) as well as several adults who are far younger than their chronological age. With any kind of intellectual disability, there is a spectrum, so Joy became a child in a woman’s body, with all the complicated feelings of both girls and women. She could be childish and motherly all at once; she could be clingy one minute, independent the next; sexy and innocent. I had so much fun writing Joy, developing her uniqueness, even if Rebecca is the narrator of the story.
(My son and daughther, Max and Dagny)
By the way, I didn’t set out to become an advocate for special needs children but in writing this story I became aware of how much they suffer at the hands of our so-called civilized society. Did you know that Iceland has declared that they’ve “eradicated” Down Syndrome? I was appalled at how congratulatory they were; as if snuffing out the lives of these children was comparable to wiping out smallpox. I know that 90% of babies with DS are aborted already and genetic testing means that even more babies who aren’t considered desirable are aborted, some because they are merely female or have a cleft lip. BOUND has given much hope to parents with special needs children.
Janet: This brings up my next question, Vijaya. Your novel wrestles with tough issues like adoption, intellectual disabilities, and abortion in a way that’s both personal and believable. BOUND is very much a family story. All of the issues were deftly handled through the characters’ viewpoints. Can you tell us something about how you worked to get these complex relationships so vividly on the page?
Vijaya: Thank you, Janet. I love family stories; it’s within a family where we learn the most important lessons in life, particularly how to love. I grew up in a fractured home with all its baggage, so it wasn’t that difficult to imagine how the Joshi family might cope with the mother dead. Rebecca is acutely aware of how her mother held their family together. She was the sun! And I realized how alive she still is, like my own mother, whom I lost at a young age.
(My mother, Malu in 1956)
I also drew upon the immigrant experience—children of immigrants are often caught in a bind. The parents sacrifice much to be in this country and have high expectations for their children. Mistakes aren’t tolerated. And heaven forbid if anyone should find out. Such hubris to think that there’s any such thing as a perfect family. So, it was very natural for me to explore the tensions between desire, dreams, and duty in an immigrant family setting. In its very specificity, it has universal appeal. I’m often reminded of Tolstoy’s first line of Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Since many people have argued that abortion should be permissible in cases of rape and incest, I played what if? What if the worst happens? Although the abortion issue threatened to take over this book, the central dramatic question wasn’t about Joy’s baby, but about Joy. Who is responsible for her? Rebecca and I kept circling back to “Are you your sister’s keeper?” And then, of course, the question becomes, “Who is my sister?” The fact that Rebecca is adopted made it all the more vexing. I enjoyed writing all her dilemmas so much. And in the process, I discovered the nature of love. Ah, love! The core (couer) of BOUND is a love story!
Janet: Yes, I felt that strong family love even in the most difficult scenes, Vijaya. Writing a novel takes grit and determination, and support. What kind of support have you had along the way?
Vijaya: Amen to that! I couldn’t have done this without my family. From the very beginning, my husband Michael supported my decision to stay home with the children. Once I began writing and found myself on deadlines, he made sure I had time to write. Even his parents helped me by taking care of the children when I won a couple of scholarships to writing workshops on the East Coast. I am indebted to the Institute of Children’s Literature for giving me the Book Course. I wrote BOUND for that course under the direction of Nancy Butts, who asked me all the right questions! My critique group in WA was amazing
(Lois Brandt, me, Allyson Schrier, Kevan Atteberry, Molly Blaisdell, Jen Heger. Not pictured, Eileen Anderson, Karen Dunn)
We all grew out of Peggy King Anderson’s Children’s Writing class.
Several of the members read the full novel and gave their feedback. I miss them so much. I’ve not had the same community here in SC but building it slowly. I just might have to offer classes as Peggy did to speed up the process. I’m new to marketing and publicizing my book, so am very thankful to YOU for hosting me here and celebrating with me. And last but not least, my furry friends.
Janet: It’s great to have you here, Vijaya. So, one more question before we do the book giveaway. What did writing this novel teach you?
Vijaya: So many things! Where to begin? I’ve already mentioned love. And perfect love casts out fear. I am primarily a short story writer so diving into a novel was more than intimidating. Many years ago, Peggy said that I was a novelist hiding behind the short story. It’s true. Some stories, no matter how hard you try, do not fit the short form. So, you have to muster the courage and do what the story demands. I jumped into it with the ICL Book Course and having Nancy’s guiding hand meant that even when I felt like I couldn’t trust myself, I could trust her. My confidence grew from her response. From the beginning, the story flowed. I knew the complete arc of all the main characters. This happens so rarely; I knew it was a gift. I learned to honor the gift. I learned that sometimes publishers are not willing to take a risk on a book that is counter-cultural. Instead of lamenting the state of publishing, I learned to take a risk. I self-published this book and it’s been so empowering to be in control of all the aspects, even though it can be overwhelming with the sheer number of moving parts one has to keep track of. I am growing beyond my expectations.
This little venture of Bodach Books (don’t you just love the logo?) might turn into Bodach Books, Brews, and Barbecue.
I encourage all you dreamwalkers to cast out fears and take the plunge that love demands. The net will appear. God bless one and all.
Vijaya Bodach is a scientist-turned-children’s writer, an atheist-turned-Catholic, and most recently, a writer-turned-publisher (Bodach Books). She is the author of over 60 books for children, including TEN EASTER EGGS, and just as many magazine articles, stories, and poems. BOUND is her first young-adult novel. To learn more, please visit: https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com/
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