Q: How did you come up with the idea for Mary Underwater?
A: A combination of missing my students from the same region of the Bay as Mary and being a new stay-at-home parent instead of a teacher! I also had a friend who was always talking about swimming across the Bay. And primarily, when I heard John Mayer's song "Walt Grace Submarine Test January 1967," it all kind of came together. I thought, Why can't a girl do that?
Q: The novel takes place on a Chesapeake Bay island. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: I always think where we live influences *how* we live and our personalities. I like to think of setting as character. So the Bay is another character in this story to me. Mary Underwater is my love letter to the Chesapeake Bay. We move around a lot, and I like to leave a note to each place we live.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "Doleski draws an empathetic portrayal of an abuse victim; Mary is closed off and fearful, but her fervent determination to free herself from a toxic home situation has not yet been extinguished, placing her in stark contrast to her downtrodden and resigned mother." What do you think of that description?
A: I think that description is exactly what I aimed for, so I feel proud, despite the heavy nature. I wanted my portrayal of domestic violence to reflect real situations.
Mary's mother is like a lot of victims of domestic violence. She doesn't think life can be any different. Mary knows, because of her experiences with her aunt and friends, that life can be better. The happy ending is for Mary, not her mother. Sometimes endings are bittersweet.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope victims of violence feel worthy of good things and feel hope and see themselves as a hero in their own story. I hope I have provided resources for kids who might know people in Mary's situation.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I sold my second book, another upper MG, about a boy living in a postapocalyptic community in a Maine island, who has to choose between searching for other survivors or staying with the intriguing new girl. It's Station Eleven meets Gilbert Blythe and due out Spring 2022.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb