Q: You write that The Complete Book of Aspen was based on your own experiences. At what point did you decide to write the novel, and how did you create your character Aspen?
A: I was crushed after taking a DNA test and learning that the man who raised me was not my biological father. The news rocked the foundation my life was built upon.
As I always do, I turned to poetry for therapy. By the time I had written 10 poems, I knew I had to write a novel-in-verse and include my original poetry. I usually write for young readers, so it was a natural choice for me to write from the point of view of a 16-year-old.
I wish I could have learned the truth when I was younger like Aspen did when she took her DNA test. How would my life have been different? Would I have enjoyed a relationship and life with my biological father, or would he have turned me away?
This story is Aspen's, but the rollercoaster of emotions, the heartache, betrayal, despair, and the marathon to forgiveness are my own.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Aspen and her mother?
A: Aspen and her mother were close. Her mother helped her through the storms of life with her calm, guiding light. When the man raising Aspen passed away, Aspen's mother struggles with depression, leaving Aspen and her brother, Cooper, to cope with their new normal.
Aspen cares for her mother, putting her life (and grief) on hold. With love and medication, Aspen's mom begins to heal. But when Aspen takes a DNA test with her best friend, her mother is the one to cause the storm Aspen suddenly finds herself in. The bond they had is broken, and the trust is gone.
Aspen, like her mother, is now the keeper of a dark family secret and she fears telling her family the news. Aspen's mom distances herself from the situation. So, Aspen turns to her friends and her boyfriend, Charlie, who help her through her devastating discovery and the search for her biological father. Aspen isn't sure she and her mother will ever be the same again.
Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book?
A: Writing the book gave me a much-needed outlet. I poured my heart into the book for three years, and when I came up for air, I was better for it. In writing the book, I was forced to look at all angles of the situation through Aspen's eyes, the eyes of other characters, and those of the reader.
Sometimes when one is grieving, one doesn't think rationally or can only see things from one perspective—theirs. I was the same person I was before learning the truth, but suddenly, I didn't know who I was.
Looking at the situation from other points of view made a big impact on my life and recovery. There is only so much you can discuss with friends and close family without the issue also consuming their lives. Writing Aspen's story kept me sane (and the people around me) through a dark, difficult journey.
Q: What do you think the novel says about DNA testing and definitions of family?
A: People take DNA tests for many reasons. In my case, the test kit was a gift. I thought it would be "fun" to learn more about my family tree.
The number of people affected similarly by DNA testing is staggering! Like me, millions of people have lived their entire lives in the dark. Some learn the truth after those involved have passed away. They can't ask questions and have no answers.
I have learned that finding out the truth isn't always the most significant issue. Instead, it's the people/family members involved and how they often react to the news that is the most heartbreaking.
Through my DNA journey, I've learned the definition of family firsthand. I was faced with the question, what makes a dad a dad? And does bloodline equal family, or is it something else? My sisters were suddenly "half-sisters," and I gained relatives I never knew existed.
I've tackled the definition of family throughout Aspen's journey. Her boyfriend, Charlie, is adopted. He doesn't share blood with any of his family members, yet he knows exactly who he is. With Charlie's help, Aspen examines what "family" means.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Besides promoting my new releases this year, I've been busy writing new board book and picture book proposals and full manuscripts for my agent to submit to editors. Hopefully, some of them will become future books! We writers learn very quickly to type with our fingers crossed. 😊
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Complete Book of Aspen is heartbreaking, but it is also hopeful (and humorous at times). It was important for me to allow Aspen a bit of light-heartedness through her difficult journey.
While I wrote the book in narrative verse, I have also sprinkled creative verse throughout. Backmatter includes a list of poetic forms used in the book and will be helpful for teachers, poetry classes, and poetry lovers. In addition, I will be featuring and discussing some of the poetry on my blog www.poetrypop.com after the book's release on May 30, 2022.
You'll also find an author's note at the back of the book where I touch upon my real-life DNA story and how the events that inspired the story played out.
Thank you, Deborah, for the opportunity to join you and your readers on your blog.
Live your truth!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb