Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Interview: Ava Dellaira, Author of 'Love Letters to the Dead'

(from usatoday.com
by Joyce Lamb)

(Photo: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Ava Dellaira, author of Love Letters to the Dead, joins us to talk about her new book (out today!), its music theme, binge-watching TV and favorite authors.

Joyce: Welcome to HEA, Ava! Your new release, Love Letters to the Dead, is about high school student Laurel, who writes ... well, letters to the dead, including Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger. How did you decide who Laurel would write to?

Ava: Great question! I began with a few celebrities who I myself loved, but the list changed and grew as I got to know Laurel over the course of writing the book. As I was learning to listen to Laurel, I was also discovering her connections to the people to whom she writes. She often writes to Amelia Earhart, for example, when she wants to feel brave, to Judy Garland about her absent mother, to River Phoenix about falling in love and struggling with her first relationship. And, most importantly, each of the people to whom Laurel writes evokes a memory of her sister, May, or brings up emotions about Laurel's relationship to her. One of my favorite things about writing the book was discovering how Laurel's relationship to the celebrities to whom she writes changes and deepens over the course of the story, as she begins to come to terms with her feelings surrounding her sister's death.

Joyce: Your author bio says: Ava "believes this book began when she bought her second album ever — Nirvana's In Utero — which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal." Is there a lot of you in the character of Laurel?

Ava: Yes. While the book is decidedly a work of fiction, I drew upon a lot of my own memories of growing up with my family and friends as I was creating Laurel's character. For example, the fairy games that my younger sister and I played as little girls inspired Laurel and May's. And my own Aunt Amy (who passed away when I was in middle school) inspired the character of Laurel's aunt. I also related to Laurel because as she was processing the loss of her sister, I was still processing the loss of my mother. My mom had died suddenly a few years before I started writing the book, and telling Laurel's story also helped me to heal.

Joyce: That's one of the wonderful things about writing, isn't it?

Laurel writes to a lot of musicians. Is there a music theme in the book?

Ava: Yes, definitely. A big theme in the book is the way that we turn to popular culture to help us understand ourselves and connect to the larger world. Music is a perfect example of this. A beloved song can feel so personal to oneself, and at the same time it's shared by so many others. I think that often the best works of art — music, movies, poems, novels — inspire a certain kind of ownership, but at the same time our love for them makes us feel part of something greater. This is certainly the case for Laurel, as she listens to people like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Janis Joplin. She feels like they are singing to her, but at the same time they bring up her connections to her sister, to her friends, and to the larger world of which she is a part.

Joyce: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Ava: There are so many! I'm one of those people who feels like I have a new favorite author nearly every time I finish a book. But to name a few: Jennifer Egan (I adore Welcome to the Goon Squad, but I also love her less-known first novel, The Invisible Circus), Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones is one of my biggest made-me-sob books), Junot Diaz, Marilynne Robinson, Sandra Cisneros, Cheryl Strayed, Joan Didion, Laurie Halse-Anderson (her new book, The Impossible Knife of Memory, is amazing), Gayle Forman, Rainbow Rowell, and of course Stephen Chbosky, who has been a sort of mentor to me. Geoff Ryman wrote a gorgeous novel called Was that I think is criminally under-known. It weaves together magical realism and historical fiction to tell three intersecting narratives surrounding The Wizard of Oz. I first read it in college, and the book awakened my interest in some of the themes that eventually inspired Love Letters. I also read a lot of poetry (which I studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop). In addition to Elizabeth Bishop, John Keats, and EE Cummings, who Laurel writes to in the book, I also love Emily Dickinson, John Berryman and James Merrill, among many others.

Joyce: What have you binge-watched on TV lately?

Ava: I just burned through True Detective in two evenings flat. Amazing. I was a latecomer to Breaking Bad, and recently finished watching that series with my boyfriend. (I grew up in Albuquerque, and it was a fun added bonus to see so many local landmarks.) I just started Rectify, which I'm loving so far, and I'm planning on bingeing on Veronica Mars before seeing the movie. (Side note: While I was writing Love Letters, I rewatched the one and only season of My So Called Life countless times. That show is a classic in my opinion, and gets the feeling of being a teenager so right.)

Joyce: What's the last movie you saw in the theater? And what did you snack on while you watched?

Ava: I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel last weekend. Loved it and ate popcorn while watching, which I always do when I go to the movies. (I am a salty snacks over sweet ones kind of gal.)

Joyce: What can readers expect to see from you next?

Ava: I tend to stay pretty quiet about things I am working on until I feel ready to let them out into the world, but as Love Letters is released, I am definitely starting to get excited about a second book.

Joyce: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Ava: Just that I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you! As the book gets ready to come out, it's wonderful to have the chance to look back and reflect on the process of writing Love Letters. It's been a long, often hard, and amazing journey from when I first had the idea, to now having a finished book. A real book! I got the hardcover copy the other day, and I am completely in awe of it.

Joyce: Thanks, Ava! Best of luck with the release!

To find out more about Ava, visit avadellaira.com.

HEA curator and contributor Joyce Lamb has 25 years of journalism experience and eight published romantic suspense novels, three of which have been RITA finalists. You can reach her at jlamb@usatoday.com and follow her on Twitter (@JoyceLamb). You can also follow HEA on Twitter (@HEAusatoday).