Friday, March 9, 2012

Interview with author Kim Purcell

Today Kim Purcell, debut novelist of Trafficked joins me on MPB with an interview that has set the bar here on MPB.

GC: Why write about human trafficking? 

KP: Many people don’t realize that we have more slavery in the world today than we did during the slave trade, and I wanted to bring awareness to the issue, but this isn’t the main reason I wrote about it. 

I was teaching English as a Second Language to poor illegal immigrants in LA when I learned about the issue. I’d look at my students and think, man, this could happen to any of you. These wonderful Mexican women would bring these fabulous crispy tortillas and macaroni salad and salsa and Mexican pastries to class every day. They’d fill the classroom with such amazing, joyful laughter. Sometimes they’d cry. I imagined them being trafficked and becoming slaves, and this is what made me want to know more. Women like them were the ones being trafficked. I was in the middle of writing a different novel, but I wanted to understand how someone could do that to another person and how anyone could get caught in this terrible situation. As I read more stories of people who’d been trafficked, I learned that in almost every case, these people had chances to escape. Many times there were no physical restraints. They’d been threatened and filled with such fear that they couldn’t move. And I realized that modern-day slaves weren’t any different from many of us, really.  We are all stopped at times from doing things we want to do or things we should do because we’re afraid. We all form boxes around ourselves to keep ourselves safe. I wanted to see what it would be like to live within a character’s own box of fear and then help her move past it.

GC: What was the response when you queried for agents, and sent the manuscript to editors? Were they as receptive to the idea of this sort of YA novel as you and I are?
KP: I only queried one agent, Kate Lee at ICM, and I was lucky because she loved the book and wanted to sign me right away. I’d queried several agents for an earlier novel, so I know how soul-crushing that can be. After a couple revisions, we sent it out to one round of six editors. A couple of them didn’t like the main character, Hannah. Kate said we could send the book out to more editors, or I could work on Hannah. That was really a hard moment. Changing a character, the main character, means a full rewrite, and I’d worked on the book already for about five years. But you know, I could see what they were talking about. I didn’t like Hannah that much either at that point – I realized I’d made her into a miserable, joyless person, who wasn’t anything like the girls I’d met when I traveled to Moldova. So I reimagined her, rewrote the book, and fell in love with her. A year later, just as we were about to send it out again, I had another serendipitous moment. I was on the subway, talking to some friends about my book and an editor happened to be listening. She also happened to get off at my stop. She said that she was sorry for eavesdropping, but my book sounded like the kind of book she’d been wanting to work on. She asked if I had an editor. I said I didn’t. So, she gave me her card. I looked down – Penguin. They bought it a week later.

GC: I can only assume that writing this book was a deeply emotional roller coaster. Can you share any particular moment of writing with us that stands out to you?

KP: That’s a great question. It was a very emotional roller coaster, especially writing the scenes in which Hannah gets hurt. After I worked on one of those scenes, I had a hard time coming out of the experience. I really get into the writing emotionally. My back gets all curled up, my head comes close to the computer, my adrenalin is rushing – I’m like this mad scientist. It’s not great for my back, and it’s also hard to snap out of it, and be a mom or a wife or just a regular person. I have very little transition time between writing and being a mom. I write while my youngest daughter is at preschool. And so I would go to pick-up and people would be asking me these regular person questions and I’d stare at them, like what are you talking about? 

GC: Do you hope to continue to write in the same vein as Trafficked in the future?

KP: I think this is the only way I can write, from a deeply emotional place. I like writing about fear. I imagine my books will always have some element of fear and suspense within them. I like writing about how the human spirit has the ability to overcome trauma. So, yeah, I might not write just contemporary fiction - I  love fantasy and paranormal fiction too -  but I’ll always have some kind of thriller element to my writing.

GC: What do you hope your readers will come away from the book with?

KP: I hope they come away with a feeling that Hannah is a survivor and that people do recover from this kind of experience. I believe that if we create more awareness about the issue and more protection for people who come forward and report their traffickers to the police, we can decrease slavery in this country and around the world. I hope too that after people read this book, they’ll will be kinder to people they meet who don’t speak English perfectly, people who might be illegal or legal, who work very hard to make a living in this country and have so many beautiful qualities if only people would give them a few minutes of their time.

1 comment:

QueendSheena said...

I actually saw this book before and forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me and I'm happy you're promoting this author. Trafficking needs to be stopped.