I had the pleasure of interviewing author Lygia Day Peñaflor, author of ‘All of This is True’, which will be released on May 15.
COURTNEY: What inspired you to write this book in the first place?
LYGIA: I was struggling to think of an idea for my next book. I got stressed about it and worried that I’d never write another novel. In my desperation, I wondered how far I would go to get my hands on a good story, and so I started to imagine befriending some teenagers, stealing their secrets, and writing about them. That’s how Fatima Ro was born.
COURTNEY: Your first novel, ‘Unscripted Joss Byrd’, is inspired by the children you taught on film/TV sets. What do you feel is the line between using the stories of people you know for inspiration to write a novel and doing what Fatima did, which was manipulating them to learn all of their secrets in order to put their private lives on display for any and everyone to read?
LYGIA: Ah! I don’t know! Wow, I feel a bit called out by this one. Let’s see…I’m not sure where the line is, but it’s one thing to use a person’s real experiences as inspiration for made-up characters and fictional circumstances and a completely different thing to write a friend’s secrets step by step and word for word behind her back and then publish them as fiction.
COURTNEY: All of the characters that appear in Fatima’s novel ‘The Absolution of Brady Stevenson’ have the same first initial to their names as the people that they were based on, except for two. Why do Fatima and Jonah’s character names start with different letters? (My guess is that their names are more different because out of all the characters, their actions and endings are changed from what they did/what happened in real life.)
LYGIA: Fatima wanted to protect Jonah. She needed to hide his identity because of his complicated past. Fatima changed her own name to relieve herself of some responsibility and ownership over her actions. Ultimately, Fatima and Jonah receive different endings in ‘The Absolution of Brady Stevenson’ than they had in real life, so it’s fitting that they were given completely different names.
COURTNEY: Throughout the novel, we see many different views and reactions to Fatima’s new book. Why is it so important that Jonah, who Fatima’s entire novel is based on, is in a coma and is unable to share his side in an interview like all of the girls?
LYGIA: Without Jonah’s side of the story, readers must piece together his life and his character based on the thoughts and opinions of others. Since Jonah is unable to tell his point of view, we never really know him. We never really know Fatima’s intentions, either. On top of this, Jonah’s friendship with Fatima might’ve been very different than the relationship between “Thora” and “Brady,” but we’ll never know. The uncertainty makes Jonah and Fatima more interesting. I want readers to have an active role in this novel; they need to analyze their own beliefs as the story unfolds.
COURTNEY: What message do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
LYGIA: With this novel, all I wanted to do was present a story: here’s what happened, or here’s what didn’t happen, or here’s what these characters say happened. Readers can and will take away whatever message they want.
COURTNEY: Who is on the other line of the final phone call/phone notification of the book, in the last interview that is being conducted with all three girls at once? What did the message say? (Related question: why did you leave it up to us to try to figure out who it was/what was happening?)
LYGIA: There are definitely enough predictions to determine the messenger and the news on the other side of the phone call. I left it up to readers to figure it out because I want them to make connections and enjoy seeing the events come together.
COURTNEY: WWJ? (As in, is he dead, alive, no longer brain dead….etc.)
LYGIA: As with #7, the girls’ interviews really do foreshadow Jonah’s fate.
COURTNEY: How would you feel if you were in Penny, Soleil, Jonah and Miri’s position? Would you react to that situation more like one of the girls than the other?
LYGIA: I’m sure I’d feel hurt and betrayed. But I’d also feel foolish and probably blame myself as much as Fatima.
COURTNEY: How did you make the decision to tell the story in interviews, journal entries and excerpts instead of writing the book as one cohesive story that started at the beginning, not the end?
LYGIA: I didn’t really make the decision. I started writing the book this way from the very first sentence and just kept going and going. I never considered writing it any other way.
COURTNEY: Due to how the interview portion of the book ends, is it possible that a sequel or continuation is in order? Or is it safe to assume that the book is a standalone?
LYGIA: It’s safe to say that this is it for Miri, Soleil, Penny, and Jonah. But in my imagination, Fatima will always be out there somewhere, charming her way into people’s lives and digging up her next story…
** spoiler **
COURTNEY: In ‘The Absolution of Brady Stevenson’, it appears that Brady was well aware of that fact that Thora was going to write her next book about him. Since there is no interview with Jonah, he is unable to confirm or deny that ideology. Did Jonah plan on ever telling Fatima the truth about what happened at his old school, or (assuming he wanted to be written about) was he planning on her writing him into the story as the victim all along?
LYGIA: Jonah trusted Fatima–he believed that whatever she wrote would free him from his pain. And since Jonah felt that Fatima could see his goodness, which he believed to be his true self, he didn’t feel the need to tell her anything more.
Lygia Day Peñaflor is the author of Unscripted Joss Byrd and All of This Is True. She is also a teacher of young Hollywood stars on television and film sets. Her students have included cast members of Gossip Girl and Boardwalk Empire, as well as I Am Legend. She lives on the North Shore of Long Island where she rides horses and watches reruns of everything.
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You can follow Lygia Day Peñaflor on Twitter at @lygiaday.