By Leslie Lindsay
In a grippingly honest and electrifying debut, author Suzanne Redfearn has taken us on a horrific journey through the madness and terror of being a victim of domestic violence. The story is masterfully told, the pacing relentless, and the observations terribly realistic. In fact, you may find it a challenging read given the content at times. Still, it’s such an important book to open our eyes to the truth that lies behind some closed doors.
L.L.: Suzanne, thank you so much for being with us today. I was so taken with HUSH LITTLE BABY (Grand Central, Oct 2013), that I found it hard to read, while simultaneously hard to put down. Can you explain how you were able to craft a story that was both heart-wrenching and insightful?
Suzanne Redfearn: Thank you for hosting me and for your kind words.
I kept a box of tissues beside my computer. Just as reading a story that is heart-wrenching can be difficult, so is writing it. The characters become real, and you feel for them the way you do for real people. Part of the emotions come from knowing that, while you are writing fiction, the story is based on reality. This story was inspired by a friend who was going through a difficult divorce, and the characters and a lot of the storyline were based on hundreds of testimonials I read from women who were in abusive relationships. So the compassion I felt as I was writing and that I hope the readers feel when they are reading it is not only for my characters but for all the victims who suffer in similar situations.
L.L.: I was completely touched by the ‘author’s note’ at the end of the book in which you talk about a friend of yours going through a similar experience as the protagonist, Jillian. “My life is good…but what if…” seems to be a common thread throughout much of the book and fiction in general. Can you speak to that?
Suzanne Redfearn: This idea started with three lines written on a napkin during a dinner with the friend you mentioned: 1) Marital sabotage 2) Custody 3) Evil appears good; good appears evil. The idea of what one spouse could do to another was haunting. What if? What if my husband turned on me? What if he wanted to get custody of the kids? He knows my secrets, my failings, my vulnerabilities. What if he were able to convince everyone I was a bad parent, dangerous, unstable? These are universal fears every mother can relate to and which my friend was unfortunately experiencing. Once I had those three lines, I knew I had the germ of an idea for a story that would resonate universally.
L.L.: Domestic violence is such a sticky subject. In some cases, it seems the only logical answer is to run, just like Jillian in HUSH LITTLE BABY. But that’s harder said than done, no matter the resources a person may have. Why is that, in your opinion?
Suzanne Redfearn: The control tactics abusers uses to keep a woman from leaving are paralyzing. One of my goals in writing this story was to expose the truth about domestic violence and how difficult it is to escape. I purposely made Jillian a strong woman who is financially well off. I did not want her to be a stereotypical abuse victim because, the truth is, there is no “type”. The physical, emotional and psychological intimidation abusers use to control their victims are not dependent on wealth, race, or education. Everyone is susceptible regardless of their station in life. Abusers isolate and trap their victims, cut them off from resources that would allow them to flee, make them feel worthless, demoralize them, threaten what they care about most—family members and their children. Viewing the situation from the outside, it might seem cowardice when a victim stays, but in truth, it is often the opposite—the victim remains as a valiant act of martyrdom, heroically enduring the abuse in order to protect their children or others. I am a strong, professional woman…I am a mother…before I wrote this book, I believed, Never, not me. Now I know, I am not immune, merely lucky. Jillian could be any of us, she could be my daughter, my mother, my friend—she could be me.
L.L.: I have to say I got a little connected to the folks in Oregon, Paul and Goat. What do you think became of them in the end?
Suzanne Redfearn: It’s funny how I get asked that all the time. Paul and Goat are two of my favorite characters as well, especially Paul because he is the antithesis or Gordon, a guy who has been in trouble with the law and who appears dangerous but who is wholly good. I’m very glad the Flying Goat and all the Oregon characters came into my life and that I got to enjoy their company for the months I was working on the story. I imagine they continued as they were when Jillian found them, flowing through life in a way that makes me a little jealous, content and at peace with who they are.
L.L.: Switching gears a bit, I’m curious about some of the architectural references in Laguna Beach—and if they actually exist. You speak of Jillian’s parent’s home—“a Normandy Revival cottage with a wavy Cotswold roof” as being on the home tour in the northern part of Laguna Beach. Is there really such a house—and tour?
Suzanne Redfearn: There are several cottages in Laguna that fit the description. One of the founders of Laguna Beach was a man by the name of Joe Jahraus and he had served overseas in World War II. He brought the architecture home with him, establishing a design vernacular that can be seen throughout the town. The restaurant my husband and I own, Lumberyard Restaurant, was built by Joe and his son in 1916 and it uses Normandy Revival architecture and has a Cotswold roof. [image retrieved from Laguna Beach Best on 2.5.15]
L.L.: As a first time novelist—and former architect—what advice do you have for others looking to break into the publishing world? Did you take classes to hone your skills? How long did it take to write HUSH LITTLE BABY? And could you speak to the submission process?
Suzanne Redfearn: Write, write, write. HUSH LITTLE BABY was my fifth novel. The first one got me my agent, but he wasn’t able to sell it. The next two weren’t good debut novels. The one after that was a Christmas novel, which I found out after I wrote it, no one wants to buy because the shelf life is limited. HUSH LITTLE BABY was the one that made it through the gauntlet. I wrote it in a panic, afraid I would lose my agent if I didn’t give him something he could sell. It took me four months.
If you know how to tell stories and you have something to say and you are determined, you can learn the rest. I didn’t know how to “write” when I started, I only knew how to tell a story, so that’s what I did. I told a story, then I went to the bookstore and I bought every book I could find on the craft of writing, and I set about fixing what I wrote. I have no idea what advice to give regarding breaking into this crazy world. It feels like it’s a combination of perseverance, luck, and talent—talent being the least important of the three. My first novel is as good as my fifth, but that one didn’t sell. It was luck as much as anything that my query landed in the hands of the great Nick Ellison, an agent who embraces stories that are out of the box. He likes HUSH LITTLE BABY but didn’t fall in love with it the way he did my first novel, so if I hadn’t written that first one, he wouldn’t have offered to represent me, and there’s a very good chance I would never have written HUSH LITTLE BABY and I wouldn’t be answering this blog.
The more mud you throw on the wall, the better chance you have of making it. So I suppose that’s the best advice I can offer, don’t give up and keep writing.
L.L.: What can we expect from you next?
Suzanne Redfearn: I’m very excited about my new novel that is going to be released February 2, 2016. It is titled NO ORDINARY LIFE and it is the story of a young single mother whose four-year-old daughter is discovered from a YouTube video that goes viral and catapults the family to superstardom. The mother thinks her prayers have been answered until the dark trappings of their new life are revealed and she discovers the devastating price of fame. Their world begins to splinter apart, and the mom needs to figure out a way to save them before she loses everything.
“Last year I read an AHHHMAZING debut novel called Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn. I am STILL beating people about the head and face with this book. I think I’ve made all of my friends read it. Suzanne has a new book scheduled to hit bookstores in 2016 (i’m already excited to read it) and she needs our help!” [image retrieved from D.L. White’s blog, The Sweet Escape on 2.5.15. Contest on this blog is over. Cover and quote used to promote S. Redfearn’s next book]
L.L.: What question have I asked that I didn’t but should have?
Suzanne Redfearn: Who is going to win the World Series next year? The Angels of course!!!
L.L.: Thank you so much for being with us today, Suzanne! It was such a honor.
Thank you. I loved your questions and having the opportunity to talk about my “baby.”
Don’t miss out! Learn more about HUSH LITTLE BABY and Suzanne Redfearn here:
***PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY REVIEW: This snappily paced, cinematic novel about the dysfunctional modern American family from architect and first-time author Redfearn contains heavy doses of violence, danger, and fear. Events hurtle along with great
urgency to a rousing climax. A smart, suspenseful debut***
About Suzanne: Born and raised on the east coast, author Suzanne Redfearn, moved to California when she was fifteen and currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband and two kids, where they own a restaurant called Lumberyard. Her debut novel, Hush Little Baby, was released in 2013 and received rave reviews. RT Book Reviews chose it as a Top Pick and nominated it as Best Mainstream Fiction. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “smart, suspenseful debut.” Kirkus Reviews describes it as “A compelling tale of deceit, violation and anguish that ratchets up the tension page by page.” And Target chose it for its Emerging Author Program and as a Target Recommends selection. Suzanne’s second novel, No Ordinary Life, is scheduled for release in February 2016. Prior to becoming an author, Suzanne was an architect specializing in residential and commercial design.