In ABSOLUTE VALUE, a teen couple faces an unwanted pregnancy. The twist? Nate is from a Christian, pro-life family. Gabrielle isn’t. Told from both teens’ points of view, ABSOLUTE VALUE is a powerful story about two teens and their families who confront the grey area between right and wrong…and who are changed forever as a result.
How will teens from two different backgrounds deal with the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy? Will the teens and their families handle it successfully, and how will their lives change? Anna Henrik, the author behind this tale of values in ‘Absolute Value’, has kindly dropped into ItsWriteNow.com to guide us through the complexities these two families now face. Anna, can you start setting the scene around your book by sharing a little about the characters readers will meet developed?
The story arc came to me before the characters did. I knew that I wanted the story to take place in a short time frame. I wanted to take a close look at the decision-making process and break it down into the smallest units. Beyond that, I knew that I wanted all of my characters–particularly the teenage boy–to be goodhearted, responsible, decent people.
The next decision was that the boy would be from a conservative Christian, pro-life family. I thought it would provide a unique angle to the story. And then I asked, what if those pro-life parents are sympathetic characters as well? What happens if they are good people completely sincere in their beliefs? All of these early decisions formed the basis of the story.
At first, I was worried about the way I’d gone about this. It seemed too calculating. I imagined that a “real writer” would start out with a feeling for the characters, or a setting or situation. I was concerned that my characters would seem flat, and that the story would be about the issue rather than the people. But when I started writing, the characters pretty quickly became real to me. It’s the magic of fiction—when you feel that you are not a creator, necessarily, but an explorer. A particular truth is out there and it’s your job to find it and portray it to the best of your ability. It’s a truth that exists beyond you. And most of the time, it isn’t what you expect to find.
Did you find that some of the truths that you found, and in turn share were based on life experiences from your own life?
ABSOLUTE VALUE is a work of fiction. My own life experiences have been very different from those of my characters. However, a few of the details in the book are from my own life. For example, Gabrielle throws up on the Ferris wheel after having eaten Dots candies. Well, I know good and well what that looks like–when my daughter was little, she threw up Dots, too. Twice! :)
*Laughs* Oh, no! That’s no good!
The nursery rhyme water glasses in Gabrielle’s house are also from my own childhood. And my mother played in a bell choir, like Nate’s mom did, although I wasn’t living at home anymore when she did.
I always find it so interesting how little aspects from a writer’s life like nursery rhyme water glasses, bell choirs or unfortunate Ferris wheel rides end up being woven into the fabric of their book. Looking back now, what do you feel is the main message that you wanted the canvas that is your book to share with readers?
ABSOLUTE VALUE speaks to a core truth: That making a decision about abortion is, at its heart, a spiritual decision, dependent on very personal beliefs about the nature of the universe and our place in it. My hope is that no matter what side readers are on, they will be able to understand a little better why someone might make a choice different from their own.
We need to have conversations about abortion, not shouting matches. And fiction offers a good place to start.
With all of the current women’s movements, do you feel that conversations around the subject of abortion are still relevant, or do you feel it will become stronger in the future?
I began writing ABSOLUTE VALUE in 2005 as my thesis in an MFA program. At that time, the teen pregnancy rate was much higher than it is today, but the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade seemed unlikely. Now the situation is reversed. That’s why I’m making a renewed effort to get ABSOLUTE VALUE out in the public eye. I think we NEED a book like this. Its themes are completely relevant but yet are far enough removed from the current political climate to let readers step back a bit and catch their breaths.
Despite the need to share stories like this, are there people who maybe shouldn’t read it?
The only people who shouldn’t read ABSOLUTE VALUE are kids who aren’t old enough to read YA books. Otherwise, everyone should! Fiction helps us better understand the nuances of our own experiences, and also lets us safely explore issues that we haven’t personally gone through.
What has been the feedback from people who have taken the time to use your book to explore the issues that they may not have personally gone through?
I am humbled and grateful that many of my readers have been deeply moved by my book. A common response has been that people keep thinking about these characters long after they finish the book. Another response has been that the characters seem so real. That makes me happy–because even years later, my characters seem real to me, too!
That’s great to hear! Outside of the storyline of your book, are there aspects of your book’s publication or marketing that you think about years after that first publication?
My book cover. I made so many mistakes with my book cover! I hadn’t realized that book cover images stay out there online forever, even if you aren’t offering that edition for sale. You cannot get rid of them. And I have not one, not two, but THREE dreadful covers! Two of them I tried to do myself, and for the third one, I used a cheap book design service but ran out of revisions and just went with what I had. I really don’t know what I was thinking!! My current cover, from December 2018, was designed by a professional in Minneapolis. I can’t tell you how much better I feel about my book, now that I genuinely like its cover.
As inept as I was about my book covers, I was savvy about my book’s interior. I’m a clean writer and I’d had a lot of astute readers look at my manuscript, but I still hired a professional copy editor. You’d be amazed at the little things a person can miss. Writing and editing and proofreading are very different processes, and I don’t believe it’s possible for the same person to do all three. I also hired professionals to design the interior of the printed book. I feel confident that my book is as free of errors as any traditionally published book.
I don’t think many other authors really realise how hard it can be to release an updated book cover, but I hope that your renewed promotion efforts overwhelm the old ones so it becomes harder to find those older covers. It is great to hear that your copy has always looked great, keeping clear writing is always a great start. Overall, what have been your biggest learning experiences in self-publishing this book?
Besides coming to terms with the importance of the cover, I am learning just how difficult it is to market a book. The things you think will get you some traction just don’t. For example, I paid for a Kirkus Indie review, and was happy to get a very positive review. I thought maybe that would lead to some sales. I knew better than to expect hundreds, but I figured I’d sell maybe a few dozen copies. Didn’t happen. Then I found out that my review would go into the Kirkus print magazine–which was an honor, since fewer than 10 percent of indie reviews make it into the magazine. Again, I hoped to sell a few dozen copies, and again I was disappointed. I’m still glad I got the Kirkus review because that validation is important to me, and I can use it in my own marketing efforts going forward. But I am realizing every day that I have my work cut out for me. I believe in my book and I want it out in the world, so I will undertake this journey. I might have to do it a little at a time, but I won’t give up!
Never give up! The journey of becoming an author, while perhaps longer than first expected really is too much fun to give up on. Anna, thanks for sharing a taste of your book and a taste of your author journey, and I can’t wait to hear how it progresses in the future.
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘Absolute Value ( ASIN: B009QM48V0 )‘.
Want to find out more about Anna Henrik? Connect here!