Saturday, January 4, 2014
#AuthorInterview KIM CANO talks about her prison novel On The Inside
I'm happy to introduce author Kim Cano, author of On The Inside: A Novel, a story inspired by her own family. I was hooked on the book by the very first paragraph and read the entire book in one sitting. Naturally I was very curious to find out more about the characters, so here is Kim to tell us more.
On The Inside is a very personal story for you. How much are you willing to share about it?
I wrote On The Inside because of a family tragedy. My brother's wife of 20 years was arrested and sentenced to 17 years in prison for stealing half a million dollars from her employer. We were all stunned, especially my brother since she handled all the bills at home. They had nice things but there was no evidence something like that was going on. The aftermath has sent my brother and his children into a tailspin. No one speaks to my sister-in-law or visits her because they're hurt and angry. Since I'm a writer I thought maybe I should keep in touch with her. I felt if I were in her shoes I'd want someone to tell me what's going on in the outside world and tell me about my family. So for the last four years that's what I've done and will continue to do until she gets out.
It must be an incredibly difficult time for your family. But I'm glad you reached out to her. What were some of the emotions you experienced while writing On The Inside?
Wow. So many emotions. I was afraid to tackle the subject matter but felt compelled to. I wrote another story - Dogschwitz - first to put off writing this one. Almost every scene was so emotionally exhausting to write I often had to take a nap afterward. And I cried a lot. It was hard to relive that part of our family's life. It's still hard when I get her letters.
I can understand how hard it is to read her letters. The story opens with Lakeisha reading letters and hooked me from the very first paragraph. It was very colorful and had many interweaving storylines, a good balance of people who worked at the jail as well as the lives of the inmates. Whose story did you enjoy writing? Whose story was the hardest to write?
I enjoyed writing about Lupe most. She was the most colorful and upbeat character. I based her on my brother in real life. All her funny stories actually happened to him. The hardest one to write was Abigail. I didn't want to reveal her crime right away. I wanted the reader to connect with her before judging her. Another challenge was dealing with the issue of gay sex in prison. I don't know any lesbians in real life, but knew I'd have to tackle the issue if the book were to be genuine. Instead of dancing around it in a superficial way, I delved in and created an epic love story. That surprised the heck out of me.
The character I struggled most with was Kristen. I wanted her to be likeable despite all she'd done. I knew my sister-in-law would read the book and I didn't want to hurt her feelings. Unfortunately, this Christmas I ordered her a copy from Amazon and the prison returned it. I guess she's not allowed to get books about prison, even though this one was written about and dedicated to her.
I can assure you as a reader that I liked and understood Kristen after all she went through. I also enjoyed the love story. Seeing Abigail through the eyes of her lover really helped. I will always remember Abigail in the vegetable garden as being the most transforming scene for her and it helped to endear her to me, despite her flaws. I love how you made both the inmates and the guards/workers into well-rounded characters. Were you surprised at how real the characters are? Did they feel like family at the end of the book?
Yeah. They did. And I based a few of them off the personalities of family members, which I know they got a kick out of. All these years I've been writing my sister-in-law and thinking about the person who reads our mail, thinking that's kind of a cool job. I thought of making her the main character, and the book originally had another title, but changed it when my editor said the story is really about Kristen.
Your editor was right, although I loved how you used Lakeisha as the framing device. What's next on your agenda? Anything else you'd like to share with your readers?
I'm working on another novel. It's about two sisters that made a pact when they were teens not to live past age 80. I got the idea for that one from my mom. I guess this was a real pact she and her sister made. Of course they think it's silly now, but in the book one of my characters wants to keep her end of the bargain at age 70.
Can't wait. I bet you specialize in powerful emotional reads. Your first book, A Widow Redefined, has met great success and much critical acclaim.
A girl can dream. . .
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