Our interview today is with Laurie Boris the author of Drawing Breath which is rated 4.7 stars on 21 reviews. Before we get to the interview a quick book description: Students often fall in love with their teachers. Despite warnings from her mother, that’s exactly what 16-year-old Caitlin Kelly does. But Daniel Benedetto isn’t just any art teacher. Not only is he more than twice Caitlin’s age, he rents the Kellys’ upstairs apartment and suffers from cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease. Caitlin watches in torment as other people, especially women, treat Daniel like a freak because of his condition. To Caitlin, Daniel is not a disease, not someone to pity or take care of but someone to care for, a friend, her first love. He, however, seems oblivious to her adoration. In a well-meaning yet naive gesture, Caitlin crosses the line and interferes with his private life, sparking a chain of events with devastating consequences. Neither of them will ever be the same again.
Interview with Laurie Boris
What was unique about the setting of Drawing Breath and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
I purposefully kept the setting of the book at a minimum. The story takes place in New York’s Hudson River Valley, where I live, and I used the occasional landmark to touch into that. Yet so much of the story involves the inner workings of the characters and their relationships. I didn’t want to compete with it.
What specific themes did you emphasize throughout the story? What were you trying to get across to the reader?
I didn’t consciously set out to write a book with specific themes. But what came out strongly is the hope that readers will see that people with chronic diseases are still people, no better and no worse than others, with flaws and strengths and weakness. That we are all capable and deserving of love.
Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
To me the characters, especially co-protagonists Caitlin and Daniel, seem real, felt real, and have stayed with me long after I finished writing. I can relate to Caitlin’s unrequited crush. Heck, I was a teenage girl once, and remember those strong feelings quite well. As someone with a chronic disease (not as serious as Daniel’s cystic fibrosis), I can relate to how Daniel wants to live a normal, independent life.
How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the novel? What events trigger such changes?
I think the characters grow into better versions of themselves by making mistakes or taking great risks and learning from them. Caitlin, in an attempt to protect Daniel from what she feels is a poor choice on his part, steps over the line into his private life. She realizes her error and learns from it, but it has terrible consequences. Daniel, who at first resigns himself to a life without an appropriate adult partner because he doesn’t feel as if he has anything to offer, takes a big risk and opens his closed heart to an interesting woman.
Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Did this lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
Some of the pivotal scenes made me uncomfortable because they brought up strong emotions. With each editing pass, I still felt them. Which is good, because it means the reader is more likely to connect with them, too. However, during the writing, I was never uncomfortable with Caitlin’s strong feelings for a man twice her age. I worried a bit about the response I’d get. But nothing lewd or inappropriate goes on. And readers have been very supportive.
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
I started writing Drawing Breath after the death of a good friend, a man who’d survived into his thirties with cystic fibrosis at a time when medical science said he wouldn’t live past his teens. They way he lived his life inspired me. He just did what he loved—acting, working with children, painting—and didn’t let his circumstances get in the way. Learning that he never opened himself up to a romantic relationship broke my heart. I was determined to write him into a novel and give him a girlfriend. But fiction has a funny way of taking over. My friend became Daniel, very different from the original armature, and the love I wanted this character to have grew very inconvenient for him and the people in his life.
What research did you have to do for Drawing Breath? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
I already knew a bit about the daily protocols for treating cystic fibrosis from being around my friend. But I did the research, and learned about respiratory therapy, to make sure I got it all right. I also had to get the art techniques down. Since I’m not an artist, I had to interview one: my husband. Not as easy as it sounds! I bugged the heck out of him with my questions about perspective and light and shadow. I think he was ready to hand me a reference book and tell me to go away! And it did give me a new respect for how difficult it is to draw from life and have the product look realistic.
What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
Usually, a character or situation falls into my head. I follow the action. I’ll write out the full first draft, in whatever chronological order it presents itself, and then outline for the second draft. I try for a certain amount of novel-writing time every week, which I have to manage around my other writing projects and my part-time “day job.”
How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
I give myself deadlines or exercises to get over writing doldrums. The Internet can be a problem. I need to be on it for work, to connect with readers and other writers. But there’s so much on my plate now that I’m easily distracted. I try hard to do what I need to do and log off.
Favorite book from childhood.
SO many! I was, and still am, a voracious reader. I loved Where the Wild Things Are, Harriet the Spy, and all the Winnie the Pooh books. But Dr. Seuss burrowed deeply in my soul at a very young age.
What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
Uh…you can’t see much of my desk right now. It’s covered with papers, notebooks, toys, and coffee cups lined with mold. I collect stuffed “Opus” penguins and a few live on my desk along with Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, and David Ortiz bobbleheads. A couple of Barbies. And dust. Lots of dust. I write a lot. Much more than I clean.
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Find Drawing Breath on Amazon.