The Walls Around Us came in two pieces, and at first was two different projects. I wanted to write a ghost story set in a prison, and I thought that was one novel. And I wanted to write about “bad” girls who do “bad” things, and I had this vision of these ballerinas on the run after a murder, and that was another novel. I couldn’t decide which book to write next. There was a moment when these two ideas converged, when a character from one story overlapped into the other, and I realized it was one single book. Now I can’t see The Walls Around Us any other way. These two ideas were always meant to be melded together.
Violet is in complete and total denial. She would never see herself as guilty of a thing—all blame is shoved onto everyone else around her. And Amber carries guilt quietly, burying it deep inside her where not even she can can find it most days. I connect so much with Amber, and she was easier to write because I saw so much of myself in her. I connected with the way she gravitated toward the book cart in the prison, how books saved her, because in my own life books have saved me. Books were her escape, and her way of not thinking about her past and her lack of a future. I went in deep with Amber, and sometimes it was hard to climb out.
What sort of research went into writing THE WALLS AROUND US? Did anything you learn surprise you?
The scenes from the ballet school were taken from my own memories of studying ballet (and jazz and modern and a little tap) from when I was six years old until I was sixteen, though I should assure everyone not to worry: No one got murdered. But the scenes inside the juvenile detention center came partly from research as well as from my imagination. I learned about the prison system from documentaries, letters from prison, and other research, but there came a time when I had to separate myself from fact and statistics and the reality of the prison industrial complex in this country. I had to imagine the walls of the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for myself, and what it would be like to be confined in them at the young age of thirteen or fourteen or fifteen. I was taken off-guard at how easily I could put myself there. I wasn’t as separate from this at all. That surprised me.
Thanks again, Nova. Be sure to tune in on Wednesday for part 2 of our Q&A.