We’re celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8) early with special content throughout the week! To kick things off, we sat down with author Susan Marshall to talk about the inspiration behind her book NemeSIS (Blue Moon Publishers), her process for crafting strong female characters, and the important message she hopes to share about bullying.
1. Tell us a bit about the book and what inspired you to write it?The basic premise of NemeSIS is sharing a bathroom with the “mean girl.” At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Nadine is friendless at school and she suffers abuse at the hands of her older sister at home. Realizing that her life is at ‘rock bottom,’ Nadine gives herself a series of A.A.-inspired steps, to try to turn things around.As Nadine’s star begins to rise, however, Rachel plots to bring her back down, and the tension ratchets up when the two sisters crush on very different twin brothers. When Rachel’s relationship starts to fade, she goes into overdrive, forcing Nadine to decide if she’s willing to tackle the one big obstacle that remains in her life: her sister-bully.I was inspired to write NemeSIS as I know that many teens have trouble transitioning to high school. I wanted to show that by slowly putting yourself out there, one small step can lead to another, and ultimately to a better high school experience.Another inspiration for NemeSIS was a dynamic with a childhood friend, who became increasingly erratic during her teen years. Our relationship mirrored her moods, which were definitely rollercoaster in shape. When she was up, you always wanted to be with her, but when she was down, she vacillated between being quiet and being nasty. It was exhausting and after high school, we quickly lost touch. When I look back, I wonder if she was suffering from a mental illness and I wish I had been more patient with her moods.While NemeSIS doesn’t directly deal with mental illness, it is certainly suggested. I personally know that it can be difficult to navigate teenage girl’s emotions, to discern what is “normal,” what is hormonal and what might suggest mental illness. Even for health professionals, the lines can be blurred.2. With International Women’s Day just around the corner, can you offer some insight into your process for crafting a strong female character like Nadine that readers can look up to? The use of a first person narrator was important in crafting Nadine’s character, as the reader is able to get right inside her head. At the start of the novel, Nadine is a ‘good girl,’ who is plagued by shyness at school and a bully at home, unhealthily; she keeps all her negative emotions bottled up. Nadine eventually hits ‘rock bottom’ and decides to actively try to fix her life. Through our narrator, Nadine, I tried to show how her small, slow victories fostered self-confidence and led her to make other changes.I was also careful to make Nadine a very real, relatable character; one who is sarcastic, prone to dark thoughts, makes lots of mistakes and can be a ‘doormat.’ But also someone who has a sense of humour, shows empathy and kindness. I think readers will look up to Nadine because they know first hand just how low she was at the start of the novel, and how hard is was for her to pull herself up. While NemeSIS covers just a short time period, the few months are pivotal for Nadine.I personally adore coming of age stories that feature strong female protagonists, and I definitely see Nadine as a role model for girls in the tricky tween and early teen years, who are starting fresh at schools and need to figure out how to make new connections. 3. Are there any parallels between the main character Nadine’s life and your own experiences growing up that helped you create this character?I grew up with three sisters and we had our ups and downs, and I know first-hand what it’s like to live with formidable older ones. At times, like Nadine, I also tried to stay under the radar and out of the line of fire. I’ve always been on the shy side, too and have often had to push myself out of hiding places and my comfort zone.Although I have never played field hockey, I’ve always enjoyed sports and I know from personal experience that playing on a team in high school is a great way to gain confidence, a sense of belonging and friends. I am a firm believer in the importance of trying new things and staying physically active. 4. Bullying remains a major issue today, in both the digital and physical spaces of our society. Who is this book aimed at and what is the message you are hoping to share through it?People will always be climbing over others to get higher up in the food chain. The transition to high school can be particularly tricky, as kids jockey for social status. Just like in life, bullies are everywhere in novel; at school, in the house, on the field and in the digital world. It was only after writing NemeSIS that I discovered that sibling bullying is one of the most prevalent and damaging types of bullying, with potential lifelong negative effects.While there is no ‘one stop’ solution for bullying, measures can be taken to make things better. As Nadine eventually figures out, your voice is a powerful weapon, whether you use it to problem solve with others, confide in a trusted adult, or if appropriate, confront the bully directly. Silence only perpetuates the problem. 5. What book(s) are you currently reading?I am in two book clubs and am often busy with their selections, but right now I’m reading my own pick, The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. It was written in 1950 as an English period romance, a la Jane Austen with similarly wonderful settings, manners and head-strung heroines. It’s great fun so far, and it’s always a bonus to find an author who is so prolific. It’s incredible to me that Heyer managed to write 50 novels in her lifetime without a computer. Perhaps she never slept?6. What, outside of other books/writers, inspires your writing? It’s hard to know where stories originate, but I can attest to the creative power of the subconscious brain. I find my best ideas have a basis in personal experience, but somehow morph into a fictional idea and often not intentionally.I will also admit that to have stolen directly from reality. A friend’s daughter told me this wild but true field hockey story a few years back that took my breath away. I included that shocking incident in NemeSIS, but was advised by the editor to modify that passage, as it was too “out there.” I held my ground, explaining that it was one of the only ‘real’ things in the entire book, proving that old adage that reality is indeed stranger than fiction.* * *A special thank you to Talia at Blue Moon Publishers for connecting us with Susan Marshall, and to Susan herself for sharing her personal experiences and the inspiration behind NemeSIS.