HOMEFREE begins as the story of a girl with a less-than-stellar home life, then evolves into something supernatural. ( Read my entire book review. ) Likewise, the story was emotionally inspired, then launched forward by author Nina Wright's imagination.
Which came to you first, Easter's backstory or her ability to astral-project?
Homefree was born of the discontent that followed my move from the Midwest to Florida a few years ago. At the time I was in a miserable, doomed marriage, and - much like Easter - I felt as if I was being dragged from a bad situation into a worse one. Without going into more personal detail, I'll just say that I deeply missed the places where I had lived before and the friends I had left there. In time, I became very fond of Tampa Bay, and I still am, but during my transition, I channeled (no special abilities involved!) the loneliness and isolation I was feeling into this story about sixteen-year-old Easter Hutton. I didn't do it consciously. I just found myself writing about an alienated girl who involuntarily "revisited" her former homes. On some level, I must have wished that I could zap myself back to the places and people I used to know.
How much research did you do into paranormal abilities and extrasensory perception? How much do you feel is based in truth or possibilities?
Over the years, I've been fortunate to meet a number of people who have had amazing paranormal experiences and were willing to tell me about them. Like Easter, I sometimes wondered how I happened to cross paths with so many "gifted" individuals. I now believe that such encounters occur when I need to look at something from a new perspective. Also, apparently, I was meant to write these books!
In addition to talking with people who have had extrasensory experiences, I've done a fair amount of reading on the subject. I love to do research. It's dangerously seductive; I can have so much fun learning that it's easy to procrastinate putting words on the page. To answer your question, I've done my homework, and I continue doing homework. However, in the final analysis, I am a novelist—which means I'm in the business of making things up.
Easter's world is not the world I live in, but it is a consistently real and truthful place for her and her friends. I believe that everything that happens to Easter could happen in her world, and much of it does happen in some form to people in our world, too. To quote William Shakespeare, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Other than Easter, which of the teenaged characters is the most fun or easiest to write? The most difficult?
I love to write the character of Cal Wacker because I can so clearly hear him in my head. ("Warning, Will Robinson: This writer hears voices.”) During the four years I spent in West Virginia , I had a teen-aged neighbor who in some ways is my model for Cal , although as far as I know that guy does not have the gift of psycho-kinesis.
Cal isn't the brightest man Easter is ever going to meet or, most likely, fall in love with. But she has been through enough upheaval already to recognize that he possesses qualities her mom can never seem to find in a man—including kindness, patience, courage, and loyalty. Like Easter, Cal comes from a fractured family. In fact, he has no living parent and is forced to fend for himself. He manages to do that without becoming either bitter or devious. I have so much respect for people who can start over without rancor.
Writing the character of Cal gives me a chance to create foils for other characters who may have more intellect and sophistication but less integrity and life experience. Readers can anticipate a larger role for Cal in Sensitive, the Homefree sequel. He and Easter manage to get in way more trouble together than they would have dreamed possible in the first book.
I suppose Kayla is the most difficult of the teen characters I've written in these two books because she represents such strong contradictions. On the one hand, she's the popular, pretty blonde whom insiders envy and outsiders loathe; on the other hand, she's a single mom doing a very hard job to the best of her abilities. In fact, she's a much better mother than the one Easter has.
Kayla is a foil to Easter, who sums her up this way: "And yet I didn't quite hate her. Which I automatically would have if she'd been what she looked like: the classic cheerleader-slash-prom queen. But because she was here, at Fairless Grove Academy , she couldn't be my complete opposite. Underneath those glossy good looks was a paranormally gifted freak. Like me."
The sequel, SENSITIVE, is due out in October. Will SENSITIVE pick up right where HOMEFREE left off? Will there be more books in the series?
Yes, Sensitive begins immediately where Homefree leaves off. Easter, Cal, and Andrew have just arrived at Fairless Grove Academy in Old St. Augustine. Although classes won't start for three more months, Madame Papinchak gives them several assignments, one of which is to go on a Ghost Tour. Easter thinks it's just a tourist rip-off until she discovers that she's "sensitive"—able to communicate with the dead—and that the two-hundred-year-old spirit of a girl her own age is trying to contact her.
Meanwhile, Easter is still coming to grips with her ability to astral-project, as well as her sexual attraction to Cal . When her mother causes alarming new problems, Easter finds herself faced with the choice of whether or not to break Homefree's Absolute Rules. If she does, she could be expelled.
I believe that Sensitive is almost like the second half of Homefree. Together the two books position Easter and her friends, as well as the reader, for a whole series of adventures involving the teens' special abilities. As to whether I'll have the opportunity to write that series, I don't yet know. I have many ideas for books that I hope to write; I look forward to spinning stories the rest of my life!
In your comedic line of Whiskey Mattimoe Mysteries for adults, the protagonist has a klepto canine named Abra. Was she inspired by one of your own pets?
Yes, she was. However, Lucille (my very naughty dog) was not an Afghan hound; she was a mutt with fast legs and mysteriously high self-esteem. Like Abra, Lucille had a libido that wouldn't quit and a propensity for chasing anything that promised misadventure. I lived in rural Michigan at the time, and given the slightest opening, Lucille would take off running full-tilt toward the nearest tavern. She'd be missing for about 24 hours, and—I swear—she always came home stinking of whiskey and cigarettes. I never figured out what that bitch was up to. But it was probably just as well since my creativity kicked in. Years earlier, I had spent a lot of time around a friend's Afghan hound, so I mentally morphed the two dogs together and added a healthy dash of imagination. The result was Abra.
Tell us about your upcoming juvenile release The Fine Art of Following Cats. Inquiring felines want to know. (I am pointing to Hollywood, the beautiful black kitty curled up on my lap.)
Well, hello, Hollywood, from Fiona Whiffer and Ruby Tiger, the fictional kitties in The Fine Art of Following Cats. I'm revising that humorous middle-grade mystery and still hope to find a happy home for it. As you might guess from the title, I love cats (as well as dogs). And I would like nothing better than to launch this series about a couple young sleuths in Blissfield, Michigan, who share a white cat and her sidekick kitten. Fiona Whiffer sniffs out trouble even as Ruby Tiger creates more of it in a town that sounds almost perfect . . . but isn't . . .where grownups just don't pay attention.
As for cats in my fiction, those two characters are based on real felines I've lived with and loved. Likewise, I've managed to work two more of my cats into other novels: Rocco the Serial Killer Cat found his way into Homefree. I can't tell you his real name because he's now in the witness protection program. And my beloved Devon Rex girl, Flannery, was the inspiration for a male menace named Yoda in the forthcoming Whiskey and Tonic.
You have a background in professional theatre. Do you feel that those skills shape your approach to writing fiction?
Absolutely! I'm the writer I am today because of my skills as an actor/director/playwright. Theater taught me how to develop engaging characters and show rather than tell a story that fascinates the audience all the way to the end. I don't know how other novelists work, but when I write a scene for the page, it unfolds in my head as if I'm watching it on stage or screen. I am intensely aware of what needs to happen in order to keep the scene moving and engage all the "players." If you're going to bring a character into the world of the book, you'd better know why and find the best possible use for him or her in the service of your story.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Only ten? That's a fabulous question. However, you're talking to a book-eater, someone who lives to consume fiction, and whose tastes change with the cycles of the moon. That means my list of all-time faves is always in flux. Here's today's version (in no particular order):