Interview by Kandy Williams
Alicia, Congratulations on the release of FRACTALS. It’s your fourth book but is a stand-alone. Can you tell us a bit about the story?
Of course, and thanks to Buckeye Crime Writers for having me. You’re an amazing group and I’m so happy to be a part of it. So, what can I say about Fractals? On the surface, this is the story of a teenager destroyed by life’s circumstances and sold to pay off her father’s debts, and her teacher, scarred by life in his own way, who tries to save her. But on a deeper level it’s a tale of good versus evil – a reflection on trauma, poverty, addiction, and abuse as experienced by these two main characters.
Readers may find that FRACTALS is a bit different from your Blood Secrets Saga. Since I snagged an ARC (thank you, btw!), I thought it was darker than your series and dealt with a timely yet difficult subject matter. How might you prepare readers for this deep-dive into the harrowing, complicated life of Carly Dalton?
Fractals centers around human trafficking, so readers should definitely expect to be uncomfortable. Although I never really shied away from the darker parts of life in my Blood Secrets series, Fractals is far grittier and more disturbing. I’d tell readers to be ready for raw and real characters so impacted by trauma that they don’t always make the “right” decisions.
The goal, for me, was to peel that scab back and shine a light on some dark subjects that most of us tend to ignore.
Both your main characters, Carly and Asher, have physical and emotional traumas to overcome. Do you think readers, who might identify with some of their situations, can find hope in your story? Was that a motivation for you while writing this book?
I definitely think there’s hope in Fractals. Carly and Asher are incredibly strong characters. They are put through a lot, but they are survivors and I think that comes through in the novel. As for motivation, it was certainly my goal to shine a light into the darkness that surrounds human trafficking and the failure of the system as a whole. The statistics are truly staggering, and I think many of us feel like trafficking is a problem that resides on the outskirts of our communities. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. I was motivated by the idea that the story of this young girl and her teacher could bring the horror of that trauma to life in a way that readers could empathize with, and I hope I’ve been able to accomplish that in Fractals.
FRACTALS explores perhaps a lesser-recognized form of sex trafficking. Do you think there are real solutions for ending this abuse?
I think the first step is acknowledgement. I don’t think the general public is aware of the industry that exists within our own communities. There are so many different forms of trafficking and Carly’s story is just a tiny slice of that activity. Strangers aren’t the only danger, and I wanted to shed some light on that fact and help people think about their own communities and ways they might be able to make situations better for those who are most at risk. Of course, there are organizations out there that do some great work in this area. The Polaris Project (http://www.polarisproject.org) is one I mention in the author’s note. I don’t know what the solution is to the problem of human trafficking. Frankly, as long as there’s a need, criminals will find a way to profit from it, but I think examining our own preconceived notions and supporting the organizations that help the victims of this abuse is a great way to start.
As a teacher, you’ve worked with students from various backgrounds. Do you often feel that you’re helping to equip them to make good life choices, and in general, do you feel that responsibility has grown over the years?
By day I’m an elementary school reading specialist, so my main duty is helping kids learn strategies to make them better readers, but that’s not really what it’s all about for me. I want my students feel seen and heard. And although I’m their teacher, I’d also like them to think of me as a friend, someone to bounce ideas off of and who would have their back if the going got tough. I teach reading, but more than that, I want them to know just how valuable they are, to take pride in themselves and understand that they are more than test scores and reading levels. I think if I can play some small part in that, then I’ve done my job. Better reading is just a byproduct of greater self-worth. And I absolutely think that responsibility has grown since I started teaching eighteen years ago. Our society is so much different today, but deep down the kids are the same. They still need love, understanding, and someone to cheer them on and point them in the right direction when things are rough. They still need to know we care.
Care to share about your writing process? Tell us how this story came to life for you and the journey to getting it published.
Fractals was an interesting journey. I read an article years ago about an artist who explored the nature of tears in some of her work. She found that different types of tears have different qualities dependent on the origin of the emotion. I know, crazy, right? Anyway, her work was published in a book called the Topography of Tears and that idea really stayed with me. I think somewhere deep in my psyche I was looking for a character that could help me explore that idea on my own, and I found her while watching a student sketch an eye one day after school. She did an amazing job and something about that sketch brought that abstract idea of different types of tears full circle, and Carly Dalton was born. Of course, the novel went through various stages. I submitted it to several agents and publishing houses early on, and it was recognized as a Claymore Award Finalist along the way. But in the end, I think I knew it was too dark to be picked up traditionally. Besides, after dipping my toes into the lake of indie publishing with my Blood Secrets series, I was more than game to do the same with Fractals.
What’s next for you?
The million dollar question! Fractals took a lot out of me, creatively and emotionally, so right now I’m taking a much-needed pause. I am prepping to teach a spring session for my alma mater, Spalding University’s Low-Residency MFA program, and I’m looking forward to that experience. Of course, my daughter graduates from high school this year, so that is eating up some …well, let’s face it, almost all of my mental and emotional energy. But once summer hits, I’ll be jumping back into the writing trenches with my next project, another twisty, but not nearly so dark, psychological thriller. In the meantime, I’m enjoying time spent with my daughter and all her senior year “lasts.”