When I was sent a review copy of Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers, I was immediately captivated by the poetic writing. Not only that, the plot was beautiful–so many sad and joyful feels! It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year so far. You can read my review here.
I’m excited to have spoken with the author, getting the opportunity to ask about Truest, her writing process, and many prominent themes in the novel.
Laurel has a peculiar illness that warps her sense of reality. It’s intriguing and looked difficult to pull off. What does it take to get an illness like that “right?” Was she the most difficult character to handle?
In the novel, Laurel Hart struggles to draw a line between reality and dreaming. You would think that this would be the hardest part to write about, but in reality, it came quite naturally because solipsism syndrome is something that I have personal experience with. In that sense, Laurel is actually the character most like me (or most like past-me). Although my experience with it was a bit different than Laurel’s, there were real similarities between us that I could draw on as I wrote Truest. The most difficult character to handle was probably West, the narrator. Although we share a love of stories and history and are both staunchly loyal to our friends, there are far more ways that she and I are different from one another, so writing from her perspective didn’t always come naturally!
There is a heavy element of being “smothered” by tradition–for example, West’s relationship with her father is eclipsed by his duties as pastor, etc. What would you say to someone struggling to be themselves against the odds of their family and community?
This is a really good question—though a little difficult for me. I am someone who refuses to let her voice be silenced, and in that way, it can be hard for me to relate sometimes to that sort of struggle. I like the Bukowski line “Find what you love and let it kill you,” except that I think that when we find what we love, it also gives us life. That’s how I feel about writing—that it gives me life and that it kills me—and that’s a beautiful mystery. I think a lot of it comes back to the question of who are what are you letting define you? For me, the answer is more intrinsic than other people or even myself.
There are references to the legend of the swan song–that its most beautiful song is the one it sings before it dies. Tell me more about this legend…why did it intrigue you so much?
The “lamentation of swans” came out of nowhere for me. I’ve always found the group names for animals so fascinating, and as I was writing, the lamentation of swans really stood out to me. So I started to research swans, learn as much as I could about them, and thus discovered a handful of interesting things that I sprinkled into the story—some quite obviously (Laurel cast as Odette), some less so (St. Hugh of Lincoln). The idea that the most beautiful song a swan sings is the one before it dies was something that lent itself naturally to what I was writing. I love when that happens. I didn’t have to work to make it fit. It came to me gift-wrapped and ready to be part of the book.
Are there specific books or authors that helped shape this novel?
Yes! The Fault in Our Stars by John Green inspired me to try my hand at writing for teens. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak taught me more about imagery than the entirety of my education. And everything by Melina Marchetta—most specifically, Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca—feeds into all my writing.
Describe your work desk!
I do most of my writing not at my desk! More often, I am writing on the futon in my home library, with my wall of books watching over me.