Hi!! Thanks for stopping by today! I'm very excited to be the first stop of Alexandra Allred's blogtour, celebrating the release of her novel, DAMAGED GOODS, by The Writer's Coffee Shop Publishing House. And I was lucky to have been given an ARC of the novel. It was awesome. I laughed, I raged and I cheered for the amazing women she wrote about. Alexandra has joined us today for an interview, and brought with her an e-copy of her book that a lucky winner will receive in the giveaway.
MFN: Welcome to My Fiction Nook, Alexandra. Let's start off with our first question. What inspired you to write this book?
A.A.: Since the day we discovered what we believed to be the reason for our son getting sick -- emissions from local cement plants - I tried to reach out to local politicians. It was a real eye opener for me. Big industry invests a lot of money in politicians so those same officials, voted in to represent the people, have very little interest in fixing the problems big industry creates. It's one thing to say that ...or to read it ... but when you lie in bed at night and listen to your son coughing and hacking and wheezing, when your baby is on so much medicine that the pharmacist actually questions how much a 40 lbs body can handle and you KNOW that harmful emissions is doing this, it is very hard to accept that money should be more important than public health. When you know that your neighbor's baby, who just got diagnosed with eye cancer and another with brain cancer, are also victims of cancer causing chemicals, you EXPECT officials to listen. The final straw was when we traveled to Washington D.C., had a set appointment with a Texas senator and were blown off. I realized that it really didn't matter and the best way to get the message out was through humor. I wrote a book about a quadriplegic, Captain Marshall Allen and found that the topic was so heavy, I had to add humor. The book, Swingman: What a Difference A Decade Makes, was a real hit because of humorous Christmas letters. It was amazing to watch how people would come to Capt. Allen and say, "Your book is hilarious!" As people chuckled over each Christmas letter, however, they also learned about Marshall's incredible and challenging life. When I wrote Damaged Goods, I had the same idea in mind -- introduce a really heavy topic through humor and ridiculous situations.
MFN: Did you draw on your own experiences while writing? If so, what parts?
A.A.: Oh, heck, yeah! Suzette Lee, Jeanie Archer, Dixie Quigley, Ruthie and Brianna are based on real people. The town of Marcus is based on the town where I live and what happens to the health of the people are all based on real events. I was also able to draw upon the big John Simmons head based on real events. When Gov. Rick Perry of Texas ran for re-election, a group I was affiliated with erected a big giant Rick Perry head. It was set upon my 16-foot flatbed trailer and yup, we dragged it all around the state of Texas. Funny but Gov. Perry was not amused. And yes, I have pictures!!
A.A.: Joanna represents each new resident who unwittingly moved to a town that is toxic. When we moved to the town where I live, we saw the cement plants and asked about them but were told, "Don't worry. They are in compliance." We had no idea what that meant but it sounded good to us. All we saw was a great house with great property and a good school district. Little did we know that our son's elementary school would later be named in USA Today's Special Report as being in the upper 1% of the most toxic elementary school in the United States! You feel so helpless, so angry, so stunned that this kind of thing can be happening now - today - in the United States! Joanna just wanted to start her life over. Once she is getting settled, it is a terrible shock to her to find out she's in a toxic toilet. To me, Joanna represents all the people I have met who suddenly realized their home and their town was not safe. What do you do? Move? Or stay and fight?
MFN: Why did you choose to put Suzette's views into 1st person when the rest of the book was in 3rd person?
A.A.: Thank you for asking this question!!! I debated on this one but Suzette is very real. In fact, we once had a conversation about moving or staying. She lives on a beautiful property. She had a successful horse ranch. But when her horses slowly began to die and/or babies were stillborn, she knew something was up. It was her vet who contacted the EPA because he knew something was amiss and sure enough, that was when Sue learned of the hazardous chemicals being burned. At that time, our little town was taking in hazardous waste from seven other states. It was a dangerous practice that killed her horses and so many other things. I once asked her why she just didn't move and she said, "Where?" Once you start moving because someone else is being dangerous, unhealthy, reckless and irresponsible, when and where do you draw the line? She's always asked, "Why should I have to move? This is my home!" For me, there was no other way to present her character but to let her speak in the first person. She is one amazing lady and I love her.
MFN: Do you have any real life experience with (beer addicted) emus?
A.A.: Ha! No, that one comes from a wild imagination. But can't you just see him?? I do have a horse who will assault you if he detects any donut on you, however.
MFN: What kind of animals do you have? Any tigers or lions?
A.A.: We've had plethora of guinea pigs, donkeys, goats, horses, dogs and cats. Suzette - the real Sue - had lions, tigers, wolves... They were all rescues as portrayed in the book.
MFN: You touch on a real important subject - the interest of big business vs. the pollution of a small town. How much of that was inspired by real life events?
A.A.: Pretty much ... all of it! I remember one day I was asked by one of my kid's coaches to take over the team for a while. I said 'sure' but when it was clear that I was a terrible coach, I asked when he was coming back. He asked me, "You know how your boss sometimes asks you to look at your stool?" I was so taken aback by the question. In all my nutty jobs (Gingerbread Cookie man at Christmas, UPS truck loader, dog trainer, waitress ...) I have NEVER had a boss tell me to look at my own bowel movement. But I nodded. "Yeah." He said that he did and found that he had blood so his work quickly put him on the Family Leave Act, gave him a paid two + week vacation until his blood cleaned up (or, rather, the heavy metals moved out of his system) and he'd be back to work. It was as casual as you saying you were going to the dentist. It was and is when I hear those kind of stories that I know this book needs to be read. If we can stimulate conversation about what we are emitting into the atmosphere and ingesting, discuss what its doing to our kids, it really could save lives. But again - its a heavy topic and that's when I knew I needed to add my insane (but very real) characters. The story of Jeanie Archer keeping her dead grandmother in her glove compartment is a very, very real story, let me tell you.
MFN: What are you working on now? When can we expect your next book?
A.A.: I am so happy with the publishing house I am with now. I love them. LOVE THEM! The Writer's Coffee Shop and I will be releasing my second book, WHITE TRASH, with even more outrageous characters in 2013. This is a book that was written in 22 days all based on the word "niglet." I can't wait for its release.
MFN: Thank you, Alexandra!
Alexandra Powe Allred graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in History, saying,"As everyone knows, once you get a degree in history, all you can really do is teach or write. I'm just doing what I can!" As the daughter of a (now retired) U.S. Diplomat, Allred traveled all over the United States and around the world. Her writing career began before graduation with several pieces on bi-lingual education with national education publications. But the real stories began while living as a youth in Moscow, Russia. Under a communist regime, imagination and the ability to create stories was the very best way to beat boredom (and the freezing cold!).As her career was taking off, Allred embraced her second passion -- sports. She trained for and made the U.S. women's bobsled team in 1994, becoming the ï¬ rst U.S. National Champion. She was named Athlete of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee and garnered much worldwide attention as she was also 4 1/2 months pregnant at the time! Her training regimen was (and is) used by the United States and International Olympic Committees for pregnant athletes. Following her retirement from the sport in 1998, Allred returned to the literary world with The Quiet Storm. While living in the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY, she was able to talk to Olympic and National athletes from all disciplines and share with sports enthusiasts.From there, her career was launched. She did adventure freelance writing for Sports Illustrated, Muscle & Fitness for Her, and Volvo magazines. She held a sports column, worked as an editor for NOW magazines outside Dallas, Texas and began working as a Clean Air advocate, often testifying before the EPA. Today, she writes (mostly) fi ction, teaches kinesiology classes for Navarro Community College while enjoying her family and animals in Texas. [Source: The Writers Coffee Shop Publishing House]
And now for the giveaway. It's open internationally. If you leave a comment on this blogpost, you are qualified for one entry. You can earn additional entries for tweeting about the post and Alexandra's book. Good luck!