Q&A with Deborah Cloyed

1. Please tell us about What Tears Us Apart.

What Tears Us Apart
 (MIRA Books/Harlequin 2013) is a non-linear love story set against the 2007 political violence in Kenya.  
A disaffected Angeleno heiress flees a life of privilege for an orphanage in the Kibera slum, and finds connection with its charismatic founder.  Their newfound bond is threatened by his complex history with a local gang leader.  When the slum erupts in violence, an attack exposes disturbing secrets, leaving all three characters to grapple with regret and dreams of atonement.

2. What inspired you to use Kenya for the background in this book?
I spent the summer of 2007 volunteering in Kenya.  The experience was as challenging as it was magical.  I returned home with mixed emotions and conflicting thoughts, even before the violence broke out.  So, I guess, I always knew I would write about Kenya—about its beauty and conflicts—but it would be years before I gained the clarity of thought and calm to form a story set against those turbulent times.  

3. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?
The violent scenes were very, very difficult for me to write.  I’m a pacifist deeply troubled by the prevalence of violence in history and our modern world.  I’m especially wary of the glorification of violence in entertainment, a la video games and Quentin Tarantino movies.  I grew up in Virginia, where my dad taught me to shoot a shotgun at age six, so I’ve certainly been exposed to both sides of the gun debate raging in America.  In this book, I strove to not sensationalize, but to show instead the costs of violence, in my own struggle to understand how such terrible things happen.

4. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I hope they will consider a part of the world and history they might not have been familiar with, and perhaps examine their own notions about loyalty, poverty, and destiny.  And I hope they will cheer for Ita and Leda, remembering that love is stronger than sorrow.

5. What are you working on next?
Top secret for now, but expect more exotic locations and love against all odds.

6. You've appeared as a contestant on The Amazing Race. Will you share with us an experience that happened to you while competing?
What an incredible experience overall, especially because I was on the show with my childhood best friend of twenty-seven years.  The vision that comes to mind first is us trying to wrangle llamas under the hot sun in Peru.  I love animals, but you’ll never catch me with a llama calendar! The experience most people remember though, is when I ate four pounds of meat (meat being a loose term – it was a BBQ Argentina style with blood sausage, livers, the works) in a half hour, a feat none of the contestants (all male) accomplished.

7. How would you compare photography to writing?
Hmmmm, difficult to compare.  Commercial photography is a far more social activity, obviously, than writing – whole teams of people to manage for photoshoots.  Art & travel photography is far more quiet and solo, but still it deals with manipulating and re-imagining the world at hand.  Novel writing is such a different animal, so much more about creation.  I will have to give this question some more thought, but I do know that working in both has helped me as both writer and photographer.  In photography, my role as a writer reminds me that above all, it is important to tell a story.  And in my writing, photography has given me the vocabulary and tools – lighting, shadows, tone, mood, texture – to create a picture in people’s minds.

8. If you could be any character in one of your books, which character would you choose and why?
I suppose I would be Samantha, in The Summer We Came to Life, although that’s not really fair, since she’s the most like me already.  So, I’ll say Jesse.  Brave, sassy, full of life and love and laughter.  If I turn out at like her at age sixty, I’ll consider it a success.

9. As a travel writer, you've obviously traveled quite a bit. Where is one place you'd recommend everyone should go?
A safari in East Africa.  Like I believe it says in the book, it’s one of those rare travel experiences that lives up to every single expectation and hope, and then exceeds them.

10. What is your favorite summer activity? 
We kicked off summer with a taco truck pool party with all our closest friends, good music, and laughter.  Yesterday I lay on the beach with my Kindle.  Last night we had pizza & beer, watching Game of Thrones with the windows open and the sound of crickets.  Coming up is an outdoor movie theater night, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, a girls’ spa weekend in Palm Springs, an outdoor music festival, and dinner parties on our patio.  
Basically, I love summer.

*If you'd like to read an excerpt from What Tears Us Apart, click here.