By Leslie Lindsay
Dark, chilling, disturbing psych thriller that might be best suited to the horror genre, BABY TEETH will shake you to the core and keep you flipping the pages.
Join me in conversation with Zoje Stage about scary child movies, the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, how much fun she had writing Hanna, and so much more.
If you want to read something this summer with varying reception, BABY TEETH (St. Martin’s Press, 7/17/18) is for you. It’s completely unsettling and will most definitely burrow under your skin and having you looking over your shoulder. And it’s deliciously compelling.
Hanna is a mute seven year old who adores her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands—accepts—her, and Hanna wants to live happily-ever-after with him. But Mommy stands in her way. Its’s one of those Electra complexes that will have you questioning everything. Is Hanna really that bad? Is her mother, Suzette, partially to blame? Is there something more at hand?
Suzette has tried with her daughter. Oh, how’s she’s tried. There have been medical tests, home-schooling (because Hanna does horrific things and gets kicked out of every school she’s ever attended), she reads to her, she takes her speech-pathologists, the park, but there is something so disturbingly defiant about her daughter. Suzette is out of options. She’s losing her mind and possibly, her marriage.
But maybe Suzette isn’t so innocent? She seems a bit ambivalent about being a mother and then there’s her Crohn’s disease, her checkered history with her own mother. Could something more be going on?
Yes. But what? BABY TEETH ends on an ambiguous note, but I promise, it will linger long after you turned that last page.
Please join me in welcoming Zoje Stage to the author interview series.
Leslie Lindsay: Zoje, I was utterly absorbed in BABY TEETH. I have to know—what was haunting you when you set out to write?
Zoje Stage: Many years ago I developed a screenplay that was a precursor to BABY TEETH, and one of the things I was interested in exploring was the taboo idea of a mother who regretted having a child. The story changed quite a bit once I decided to resurrect the concept and reimagine it as a novel, primarily because the mother and child took on equal roles in the novel. The new focus became what would a mother do if she seriously believed her child was dangerous—which let me explore the evolution of Suzette’s feelings, as well as Hanna’s misaligned thinking.
L.L.: You have a background in film. So much of BABY TEETH reminds me of horror movie—or that it could easily be adapted—did you draw any of your inspiration to classic horror stories like POLTERGEIST or CHUCKY or ANNABELLE? Or maybe not at all?! And then I just saw HEREDITARY!
Zoje Stage: While I’ve always very much liked “scary child” movies like The Bad Seed, Joshua, and Goodnight Mommy, I didn’t specifically draw my inspiration from that; rather, I wanted to depict a “scary child” with as much realism as possible by exploring relationships and certain dynamics—within a family, between a couple, and between mother and daughter. Though, because of my background, I still see in “scenes” so it played like a movie in my head as I wrote it.
“Stage fuses horror with domestic suspense to paint an unflinching portrait of childhood psychopathy and maternal regret.”
L.L.: Your descriptions of Suzette’s Crohn’s disease were so authentic, I started wondering if maybe you have it, too? Can you talk about that and how it appeared in the novel?
Zoje Stage: I do have Crohn’s disease, and while it served the story well for me to base Suzette’s medical experiences on my own, it made some sections very difficult to write. I didn’t want to shy away from those difficulties though, because there are so many people who live with invisible illnesses and it was important to me to give readers a glimpse into what a person who appears “normal” may actually be experiencing. And of course, little Hanna sees her mother’s illness as a weakness that she can exploit, which makes Suzette even more vulnerable.
L.L.: Likewise, I am curious about Alex’s Swedish background. I found it melded into the storyline quite organically with his being an architect and some of the family traditions presented throughout BABY TEETH. Was that a cognizant decision on your part?
Zoje Stage: To some degree, this is where the magical process happens in writing. I made certain decisions about Alex and his background, but at the moment I made them I didn’t know how all of them would play out. So, for instance, though I knew Alex was Swedish, I didn’t know until the middle of the first draft that the Walpurgis holiday would be a significant event.
L.L.: Did you have a favorite character? Was someone more fun to write or more relatable? Do you see BABY TEETH as a tale of family dysfunction?
Zoje Stage: Writing Hanna was about the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to think like a child, and working within her limitations: because of her young age, there are inherent limits on what Hanna could do physically, and also what she would know of the world. And yes, it’s certainly a tale of family dysfunction. The thing about living in a dysfunctional household is it becomes very hard to be objective about what’s happening—and even harder to conjure a solution— which is part of why it takes Suzette and Alex so long to recognize the true depth of their situation.
L.L.: I have to say, I really liked Beatrix, the psychologist. I felt she was sympathetic, bright, and quite authentic. Did you have to conduct much research to get the psychological pieces ‘just right?’
Zoje Stage: I drew on some of my own experiences with different therapists as a basis for what Beatrix’s demeanor might be, and her approach to questions. Though in terms of her knowledge, I read about the perceived differences between sociopathy and psychopathy, as well as blogs by parents of dangerously mentally ill children, and watched several documentaries on related subjects. (Marshes, the treatment facility that’s featured in my book, was inspired by a British documentary about a facility for severely troubled children.) And of course I used my imagination, as I had specific ideas for Beatrix as a character.
L.L.: Can you tell us what’s next for you? Maybe a sequel to BABY TEETH?!
Zoje Stage: I love that so many people want a sequel to BABY TEETH! But… no, my next book is another stand-alone novel, tentatively called WONDERLAND. It will be published in late 2019, and it’s a horror novel about an artsy New York City family who moves to the Adirondacks and promptly find themselves trapped by the winter weather, and in the presence of something… scary. That’s all I’ll say. 😉
L.L.: Zoje, it’s been a pleasure. Maybe more like a ‘wicked delight.’ Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
Zoje Stage: Thank you, Leslie! I’d just like to add that I’m so grateful for the support my debut novel has gotten from the book-blogging community! You guys rock!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of BABY TEETH, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zoje Stage is a filmmaker and writer. She was a 2008 Fellow in Screenwriting from the New York Foundation of the Arts and a 2012 Emerging Storytellers Fellow from the Independent Filmmaker Project. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA. BABY TEETH is her first novel.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
LOVE IT? SHARE IT!
#psychthriller #horror #amreading #summerreading
[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Promotional book image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]