I’m honored to be able to interview Ann Jacobus, who wrote the stellar novel Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. You can read my review here. Enjoy the interview!
Our family lived in Paris for ten years. One evening, my young daughter and I were in the metro and someone ended up on the tracks in front of our train. We quickly left the station (that was overflowing with freaked-out people). Exactly what happened remains a mystery as I could find no mention of it in any media afterwards. I had to conclude that it was a suicide, as they are generally not reported. The incident haunted me and I finally started a story about it four years later.
Where did the characters of Summer, Kurt, and Moony come from?
Characters tend to spring pretty fully-developed into my mind. Sometimes I have to combine two, or make some sort of significant change to them. Believe it or not, Summer in earlier drafts was even angrier and less likable than she is now. Moony has remained just as he was when Summer met him in their first scene together. Kurt came from an idea for a character I had long before I started this story. Like an actor, I have to find the parts of me I share in common with my characters to try to express them better.
What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
Over the years, I’ve volunteered on several suicide crisis lines, and have received a fair amount of training. I was briefly suicidal at age fifteen, and have been interested in and concerned about this sobering subject most of my life. I did do research on the latest studies and data, notably the eye-opening Centers for Disease Control 2013 Risky Behavior Surveillance of almost 40,000 nation-wide high school kids. I also attended AA meetings, and consulted family members who are recovering addicts, as well as medical doctors, psychologists, French police, and friends from the Arabian Gulf (where we also lived for several years).
At the beginning of the story, I was not a fan of Summer, but I grew to like her over the course of the book. What inspired the character of Summer, and was her unlikeable personality intentional?
I’m glad you asked this question! Yes, it was intentional. People who are depressed, addicted, and in the kind of pain that makes taking their own life seem like a viable option are not necessarily pleasant or easy to be around. I also chafe at the perceived need for a “likeable” female main character, a standard I don’t feel we apply equally to male main characters. Summer is her own worst enemy and she’s taking us on a dark and difficult journey, Some people get along with her better than others! On the other hand, I understand I’m walking a thin line and may be demanding more from my readers, who do have to empathize with and understand Summer to keep reading. If you don’t care, you’ll put the book down. But that’s also fine. This story isn’t for everybody.
It was my intention to include what I call the irreal (forgive me for not saying more because of spoilers).
What attracted you to setting the book in Paris?
As I mentioned above, we lived in Paris for many years. I figured I’d be crazy not to set a story there. It’s indisputably a beautiful and fascinating place that is so often lauded in art, literature, film, etc. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the dark and creepy side of Paris, which of course every city has. I felt a little guilty doing this, but I figure Paris can handle it.
Summer’s relationship with her mom was one of the parts I struggled with the most because I saw how much she needed her mom’s guidance. When you were writing was it hard for you to let Summer fall apart and not involve her mother?
Yes! Totally. I had to pile so many bad experiences on Summer and push her toward so many bad choices. She’s in desperate need of an involved, caring parent! It truly was hard to make her mother so distant and clueless. Mom does at least believe that Summer is getting professional help. Don’t forget, if Mom came in and solved things, there wouldn’t be much of a story. Or I should say, it would be a different story. This is what writers have to do to our young characters–make life difficult (poor Summer’s is unusually so) and generally remove adults who would solve things, especially parents. Summer has to figure this out for herself. The fact remains, not every young person has enough adults in their life, parents or otherwise, they feel they can trust and turn to.
Kurt acts as a sort of suicide guide throughout the novel. Was that meant to be a parallel to something in society that you see?
Rather than something external in society, I would say that it could be a parallel to the self-destructive urges almost everyone encounters internally at some point in their life, as well as the ultimate self-destruction—suicidality itself (the term for feeling suicidal). I have to turn it over to the reader, though, to interpret.
Thanks so much Ann for answering my questions and St. Martin’s Press for approaching me about the book! Let me know your thoughts in comments.