Friday, August 11, 2017

Q&A with Bonnie Pipkin

Bonnie Pipkin, photo by Stephanie Levy
Bonnie Pipkin is the author of the new young adult novel Aftercare Instructions. She teaches literature courses at Kean University, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Aftercare Instructions, and for your main character, Genesis?

A: I started writing the novel while I was in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I knew I wanted to tackle the topic of abortion, but do it in a way that felt like one piece of the larger picture. Having an abortion doesn’t have to define your existence. It is something you must process and heal from, but it’s not the whole story.

The first scene of the book came to me as the starting point: that a girl would have an abortion and her boyfriend would leave her during the procedure. After that, I had to learn who she was and what motivated her beyond that choice.

Q: In an interview with School Library Journal, you said of your decision to place your character's abortion before the story starts, "It was really important to me that the choice never be questioned and to approach this topic without shame." What has been the response to how you handled the issue of abortion in the book?

A: Of course there are people who are maybe seeking out the journey-to-the-choice perspective in a novel, but this just isn’t that. The only way I felt authentic in writing the story was to leave it unquestioned. I feel it’s my part in normalizing the conversation around the topic.

The response has been great. I think people identify with the honesty and the absence of stigma. It was chosen as the July pick for Bustle’s American Woman Book Club specifically for this reason. You can see the interview here that we did at The Strand Book Store in Manhattan.

Q: The novel also includes sections set in the past in the form of stage scenes. How did you integrate those scenes into the rest of the story?

A: I first wrote the story from the moment of the procedure straight through to the end without flashing back, but then realized that I had to go back in time a little bit to humanize Peter. He does a horrible thing to Genesis by abandoning her during her procedure, but he hasn’t been a bad guy all along. I had to show that as well.

As for the reason of using a script, the first is that part of Genesis’s healing journey is to rediscover her love of theater. And the second is I started to think about how we distill our memories into moments and scenes, and how sometimes looking back on life feels like scenes from a movie or a play. It just flowed from there!

Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: Alas, I am a pantser, not a plotter. I never know exactly where it’s going. To me it’s about getting to know my characters and then throwing challenges their way.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new contemporary YA with another challenging subject, but it’s too raw right now to tell too much more about it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I would love to hear your thoughts about the book! Please visit my website for how to contact me! Talking to and engaging with people who have read the book has been my favorite part about being an author.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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