#AuthorInterview with Robin D'Amato, author of Don't Poke the Bear
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kimberly Trix Lee is talking with Robin D'Amato, author of Don't Poke the Bear.
FQ: According to your profile, you moved to New York City, fell in love with it, and never left. If you could only pick one, what’s your favorite thing about New York City?
D'AMATO: The variety of people. Everybody has a story, and there are millions of them intertwining in the City every day. Sometimes I like to sit on my stoop and just people-watch.
FQ: I’m curious about your inspiration for the characters in this book. Could you tell us more about this and how you developed them?
D'AMATO: As this was the first novel I ever attempted, these characters were based on people I used to know in the 90s. I knew I wanted to write about New York City (“Write what you know”), and the biggest changes in the City for me were happening in the 90s. I picked people who I thought had the most interesting stories and tried to make a book about them. The individual characters are composites of more than one person, but the inspiration came from real people and some actual events. The book is full of “Easter Eggs” for people who lived through the 90s in New York City.
FQ: Among the three main female characters in this story, is there one you can relate to the most? Which one would it be and how so?
D'AMATO: I would say Allie is the character closest to me, which is probably why I decided to make her the central character of the three. Her thoughts and sensibilities are similar to mine, including her taste in music. I ultimately put more of myself in her as I went along. She was a great mouthpiece for my opinions, even though she had her own agenda at times.
FQ: How long did it take you to develop this story from start to end? What was the most challenging aspect?
D'AMATO: This book was eight years in the making, not including a break of a couple years I took to write Somebody’s Watching You, which actually came out first. My rough draft was really sketchy, and I started to add characters and scenes to make it more interesting. What I got was more interesting, but the timelines were all off. Because I didn’t write this linearly, scenes were out of order, things that should have happened in sequence were overlapping, and the flashbacks were confusing. It took a long time to organize all the different elements into something cohesive.
FQ: The women in the book were all involved in relationships that don’t really allow them to grow and develop, whether he’s a junkie or a serial cheater or even someone who’s just not pulling his own weight in terms of financial responsibility. Is there anything you’d like to say to women who are currently in relationships like these?
D'AMATO: I know several women in relationships like these, women who become the caretakers in all aspects of their relationships. I often wonder if it starts out as a fear of losing their partner if they don’t give him enough, then turns into something they can’t undo. I would say relationships work best when they strive to find some balance, as cliché as that might sound. Both partners should take care of the other—maybe not always equally, but shared caretaking over time.
FQ: Every single one of us is a product of our past. Pest was especially molded by his traumatizing childhood. Do you believe that there could be a way for him to free himself from his past?
D'AMATO: I think, rather than free himself of his past, it is more a matter of recovering from his past. His past shaped him into the survivor he is, which is a large part of his personality. But recovering from the worst aspects of it could help with his decision-making processes and life choices, not to mention how he reacts to stressful situations. I think over time Pest would learn some better coping skills, as he is a character who, despite his outbursts, is self-aware.
FQ: Allie’s issue about “having a thing for rabid dogs” is a real one. I know people who have been in bad relationships with toxic men and they now believe that they just attract the worst men. What are your thoughts on this?
D'AMATO: On the surface, men who have a lot of baggage seem more interesting and are often irresistibly charming. As much as Allie didn’t like the furniture salesman because she didn’t want to be bored, she found Pest fascinating, and not just because he was talented. There is something between furniture salesman and Charles Manson, however. Allie was well into her thirties before she figured that one out.
FQ: Let’s talk about Natia’s mother. She wasn’t a bad person. She only wanted the best for her daughter and I can imagine that after seeing that Natia was living in a cluttered apartment in a shady neighborhood, as a mother, she would want her daughter to get out of that area. Tell us a bit about your thoughts on this.
D'AMATO: Natia’s mother did mean well, but her style of taking care of the people she loved was to control all aspects of their lives. Meanwhile her daughter was impulsive and determined, which created a huge conflict between mother and daughter when they disagreed. It would be a shock to any parent to see their child living in squalor, but other parents might try having a discussion, or maybe offering financial assistance, but in any case, would keep the lines of communication open while they were busy worrying. Natia’s mother didn’t like what she saw and simply turned on her daughter. When Natia’s mother couldn’t control something, she’d simply attempt to get rid of it. Acceptance wasn’t even considered.
I think this happens with a lot of parents when faced with unpleasant truths about their child. Maybe the child doesn’t want to go to college, maybe the child is gay, maybe the child is transgender, maybe they want to join the circus. Some parents would rather cut off the child, maybe disown them, rather than deal with an unpleasant truth. This is what Natia’s mother was doing.