Lorraine Zago Rosenthal was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
I'm sure you'll find Lorraine's answers very interesting and, if you haven't done it already, you should definitely go read Other Words for Love. I loved the book and I think you will too. :)
1 - Tell us a little bit about yourself?
LZR: My name is Lorraine and I’m originally from NYC—which is my favorite city. I enjoy reading, watching and reviewing films, listening to music, and exercising. I also have a bit of an addiction to reality TV! And I wrote a novel called Other Words for Love.
2 - Have you always wanted to be a writer or did you consider choosing a different career? (I know you have a B.A in Psychology, which is greatJ)
LZR: Thank you! I began writing at a young age and had initially planned to major in English in college, but instead chose to study psychology because it was also a subject that interested me. I really enjoyed studying psychology, and this knowledge assists in fiction writing. To create believable characters, you have to consider their background, experiences, and everything else that affects them emotionally. I never planned to work in the field of psychology, and I later went on to earn graduate degrees in education and English. Throughout my academic career, I was always writing and hoped to become an author.
3 - Other Words for Love is a very emotional, moving and heart-breaking story. What inspired you to write it?
LZR: I’m a character-driven writer, and the characters were what inspired me. Ari and her family were in my mind for quite a while before I fully understood Ari’s story and began to write it. When that story came to me, I just wanted to tell it and to share it with readers. I was also inspired by the concept of “limerence,” which is an important aspect of the story.
4 - Why did you choose New York during the eighties as the setting for your book?
LZR: That question has a long answer! I chose New York because I’m from there and I know firsthand what it’s like to be a teenager in that city. I also chose NYC because it’s an interesting and exciting place filled with history and opportunities, and because there’s such a sharp socioeconomic and cultural divide between those who live in the boroughs and those who live in Manhattan—a theme that is present throughout Other Words for Love and in Ari and Blake’s relationship.
There are a few reasons why I chose to set the story during the 1980s. It seemed to me that the 1980s were a neglected era in YA fiction. The only other YA novel I know of that is set during this decade is The Carrie Diaries. There is YA fiction set in the 1800s, 1920s, etc., so why not the 1980s? This decade is as valid historically as any other, and I believe that no time period should be restricted from the YA genre. There are stories to tell from the viewpoint of young people in every era.
I thought that if teens could identify with historical fiction—time periods with cultures and values so different from now—then they could easily relate to a time period that they didn’t live through but wasn’t all that long ago. The ideals of the 1980s weren’t exactly the same as today, but they weren’t completely different, either. I also thought that adults who read YA fiction and lived through the 1980s might connect with the story.
But the main reason I set Other Words for Love in the 1980s is that the story wouldn’t work in the present day. As I mentioned, culture and values weren’t radically different then, but they weren’t exactly the same as today. For example—in the novel, Ari’s sister has a baby when she is seventeen years old, and although teen pregnancy isn’t encouraged now, I think it has less of a social stigma than it had during the 80s. There was no “Teen Mom” on MTV back then! Ari is more embarrassed about her sister having been a teen mother than she might be today, and Evelyn’s choices are extremely disappointing to her parents.
Also, the issue of AIDS is prevalent throughout the novel. Although AIDS unfortunately still exists, it is better understood than it was during the 80s, when it was new and many people didn’t fully comprehend how it could be contracted. There was an undercurrent of hysteria when AIDS first appeared, and this is present in Other Words for Love.
Finally, although Ari is intelligent and mature, she’s also more innocent than most girls her age would be today—for various reasons. For example, the internet didn’t exist during the 1980s, so teens didn’t have as much access to information as they do now. The 1980s were more conservative than the present time—just take a look at how teens were represented in the media back then as opposed to now.
5 - Did you find it difficult to write some of the characters?
LZR: I wouldn’t say that it was difficult, but it was certainly challenging because my goal was to create characters with complex personalities and traits that aren’t all positive or all negative. Blake’s brother, Del, was a challenging character to develop because there are so many sides to him. He’s a slick womanizer and the black sheep of his family, but he’s also emotionally wounded from his mother’s death and because he knows that his father doesn’t approve of him. He’s envious of Blake and has a hard time hiding it, and yet he cares about Blake, too. He also sees Blake’s flaws when other people—especially Ari—overlook them. He does some things that Ari finds surprising.
The most challenging aspect of writing this novel was getting inside the mind of the main character. So much of what takes place in the story has to do with Ari’s feelings and perceptions, and it was therefore necessary to unearth the reasons why she feels and perceives things as she does. We are all the product of our experiences, and I wanted Ari’s actions and reactions to make sense based on her experiences. In order to depict this in a credible way, I had to create her life—her interactions with her family, her friends, and her peers—in a manner that would explain why she is so affected by her relationship with Blake. Another challenging aspect was portraying Blake as a sympathetic character even though he ends up damaging Ari. He also required a strong back-story to explain his actions.
6 - What is your favorite scene from Other Words for Love?
LZR: I honestly enjoyed writing every part of this book. I loved creating Ari’s character, her family, and her surroundings. It was fun to write the scenes when things are going well between Blake and Ari and she’s on top of the world, and it was challenging and interesting to write the scenes in which she goes through an emotional breakdown. I really liked writing the scenes between Ari and her mother, too. But if I had to pick a favorite scene, I’d say it’s the last scene with Ari and Blake. It’s filled with complex emotions and hope—it’s the type of scene that can make you smile, cry, or both.
7 - I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for your book. Were you surprised by how well it was received?
LZR: I was hoping for a good response but because fiction is so subjective, I knew that not all readers would give my novel five stars. I have therefore been pleasantly surprised and very grateful for the immensely positive response.
8 - What would you say is your favorite thing about the eighties?
LZR: I would say that my favorite thing about the 1980s is the music. There was a lot of great music back then, especially from English artists who had a very distinctive sound.
9 – Do you have a favorite author?
LZR: I admire so many authors. I recently read Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, and I was really impressed by her talent. One of my all-time favorite authors is Emily Bronte. I love Wuthering Heights because of its emotional intensity and Bronte’s ability to make me understand and sympathize with characters who aren’t necessarily likeable.
10 – Is there anything you want to say to your readers or that you would like them to know?
LZR: I would like to acknowledge the wonderful bloggers and readers who have been so supportive of Other Words for Love. I have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from those who have read the book, and it’s so rewarding to hear from readers who have connected with Ari and her story. Thank you, everyone! And please feel free to contact me anytime, because I love hearing from you.
Thank you, Lorraine for answering my questions! :)
I'll be hosting a new Author Weekend Giveaway later today so stay tuned! :)