Sunday, November 4, 2012

Question and Answers about BLUFF by Lenore Skomal

Q&A with Lenore Skomal on Bluff

You can reach Lenore Skomal and check out her blog and other books at her website,, or connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinked In and Goodreads. Buy BLUFF here.

Q: What inspired the idea for this story?

My real life experience. As my other lay in her hospital bed in an end-of-life morphine coma, a physician walked in the door, holding a clipboard. In a loud voice, he asked, “I need to ask you a few questions about your mother’s wishes, when it comes to life support.” She was merely feet away from this man. I grabbed his arm, and whispered, “Can we do this out in the hallway.” He stared back and sniffed, “She can’t hear us.” I pushed him out of the door anyway.
   In short, the kernel of the idea stems back to her death in 1990, when she died from complications after suffering from 4th stage multiple myeloma for seven months and egregious ravages to her physical body thanks to western medicine. I was dogged by the question, when she was in and out of consciousness: Where is her spirit?
   The can of worms was opened, and the story was in the making. Over the next two decades, I allowed the story to unfold organically. It wasn’t until March of 2007, that I actually attended a writer’s retreat in a remote area of Washington state to actually formally start tying the novel together, allowing the characters to tell me who they were and from then on, writing daily to allow the plot to unfold. I finished the first draft on November 7, 2007 at 3:33 a.m.

 Q: What was the research process for this novel?
Much of the story had to be vetted for authenticity. I had handpicked experts with whom I consulted about the development of the plot. A trauma physician, neurosurgeon, head of palliative care at a Catholic hospital, an OPO representative, and ICU nurse helped bring me up to speed on the culture and issues surrounding the medical portions of the book. None of them had ever had a case similar to Jude’s so they were forced to go into that unchartered territory of having a pregnant patient in a vegetative state. It made for lively discussions.
  A family court judge and a lawyer as well as a detective of police vetted the legal aspects of Bluff, especially addressing the issues of guardianship and the issue of paternity in such a unique case. I spoke extensively with rape counselors and psychologists about the validity of the effects of rape on the victim, as well as the motives and mindset of a rapist. That was crucial in lending validity.
   Finally, I interviewed a bioethicist and Catholic priest about the Church’s fine-line position on life after death and the continuance of life support. All in all, these experts, along with my own research, makes the novel much more credible.

Q: Were the characters based on real people? Who was your favorite?
To an extent, all characters we novelists conjure up are based on real people, or at the very least, aspects of certain people. That said, I knew Jude, first. In a way, I have always known Jude. Her morbid nature and morose look on life is part of my own nature many years ago. Much of her inner dialogue is real for me, and her relationship with her mother, an alcoholic, was drawn from my own experiences, of course in an exaggerated form.
   Mary Shannon was modeled after, in part, after my mother’s primary care nurse on the oncology floor. She was a brusque, almost cold woman, with a level of proficiency that helped keep my mother comfortable throughout her stays, so much so, that in the end, my mother preferred to be in her ward because she felt safe there. Safer than when she was at home, quite frankly. I drew upon that and wanted to build a backstory for this character that would make her more likeable.
   Paul started off as a configuration of several men, but when it came to writing the rape scene and explaining his motivations, I admit, it was the hardest portion of the writing for me. I wanted to make it believable, but harbored a growing hatred for this character that I had to really focus in order to write that scene.
   Frances is actually my mother’s name, and in many ways, she exemplifies how my mother viewed herself, but in reality, she was more like Gay, an active and tormented alcoholic prone to unreasonable outbursts.
   As far as my personal preference, I honestly don’t have a favorite because I truthfully don’t like any of them. That’s not to say I don’t have a codependent relationship with all of them, because I do. But that’s not healthy, is it?

Q: Did your religious upbringing affect this book?
Absolutely. I was raised Roman Catholic, capital R, capital C, hence why Frances and Jude are both Catholic: one devout, one fallen. The setting at the Catholic hospital was pivotal to the plot development and obviously, to the ending. While I no longer practice the faith, I am extremely driven by the exploration and understanding of spiritual, and even religious, issues. Because of that, I truly wanted to explore the idea of having my protagonist be in an altered state throughout the entire novel. Through this, she analyzes and makes peace with her life, the horrible and the selfish, and basically has her own cleansing before she dies. In a sense, the metaphor of death and rebirth is a main theme of this book—a theme crucial to Catholicism by the resurrection of Christ.

Q: The issue of lesbianism comes up in the book, since Jude is a closeted gay woman. Did you intend for this book to be part of the GLBT genre?
No, that’s not its intent because Jude isn’t a whole or fully developed depiction of a gay character. Her sexual preference was only revealed to me as I further developed the plot. She was not intended to be gay, just misunderstood. It was while I was fleshing out the details of her hidden pregnancy, that Jude spoke to me and basically said, “You know, I’m gay.” Which cracked me up because she was so good at hiding it, even me, the person who invented her, didn’t even know. I don’t want to say her sexual orientation was a footnote to her character—it wasn’t. But she viewed it as she did all the other factors of her life that shaped her. (For example, being a fatherless child, a daughter of an alcoholic and someone suffering from clinical depression.) Her sexual orientation was yet another thing to alienate rather than engender herself to society. For this very reason, I don’t view this novel as being pivotal to adult children of alcoholics, manic-depressives, fatherless children, Catholics, coma patients, rapists or those who cheat on their spouses.

Q: The scenes toward the end of the book are jarring, to say the least. Why did you feel it necessary to conclude the book in such an intense and emotional way?
The ending is crucial, even cruel, but that was constructed with purposeful intent. I wanted it to be jarring. The ending, and I define that as the last third of the second part, ushers in justice. There had to be consequences for actions, and this is where all of that plays out. Those who have been hiding secrets must pay for those secrets. I knew all along, well before I had worked out all the plot details, that this would be how the novel would end. In my mind, there was no other ending. The only two who aren’t forced to face their punishment are Frances and Paul. But Bluff might not be the end of their particular stories.

Q: There are many life lessons and heavy themes in Bluff, what is your hope for your readers when they put it down?
My burning desire is for them to reexamine their own beliefs about death and life. As an inescapable truth facing us all, death still is an uncomfortable topic. And if you have watched the most important people in your life die like I have, it seems as if we are gipping ourselves by not discussing it. End of life issues and whether or the soul exists, are just the tip of the iceberg in this book. The much larger discussion is about life. Judgment and petty differences can only prevent us from honoring each other and respecting choices. How we live our life individually and collectively is a daily decision. And lying on our deathbeds may not be the best place to evaluate that.

You can reach Lenore Skomal and check out her blog and other books at her website,, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Goodreads. Buy BLUFF here.

1 comment:

Debby said...

I always find it amazing how much work goes into a novel before you can put pen to paper.
debby236 at gmail dot com