Stopping by Authors & Readers Book Corner today is Kelly Rimmer. She is the USA Today bestselling women’s fiction author of five novels, including Me Without You and The Secret Daughter. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, 2 children and fantastically naughty dogs, Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages. Today Rimmer shares her thoughts on a variety of topics and issues reflected in her novels.
Q&A with Kelly Rimmer
Q: The opioid crisis in the United States was recently declared a national public health emergency, and yet you started work on this book nearly two years ago. What inspired you to write about an addicted mother and the struggles she faces within the relentlessly harsh legal system? What kind of research did you conduct to write so accurately about the current politics of addiction and recovery for this often unmentioned population of women?
A: Addiction is an issue close to my heart, so I have been watching the crisis evolve for some time. The situation has been at “crisis levels for almost a decade, and I’m relieved that it’s at least beginning to get some national attention—although there’s a very long way to go yet before it’s effectively addressed.
I spent almost a year interviewing, reading, and researching to gain an understanding of the science around addiction and the legal issues involved in the book. I also, of course, spent time researching the complex issues for those who leave fundamentalist religious sects like the one the sisters are trapped within as children.
Q: The novel really showcases how blurry the line between right and wrong is when dealing with addiction, and yet so often, women who are pregnant and addicted are dealt with harshly and in ways that negatively impact them, their babies, their families, and their communities for generations. The legal impact feels especially drastic in the book’s scenes when Annie delivers the baby and almost immediately loses all legal rights as a parent. Is this situation a common reality for women like Annie?
A: Laws around drug use in pregnancy are set at the state level, and each state handles the matter differently—but there are countless real-life cases like Annie’s across the nation, where women have lost their children or served prison time. It’s actually impossible to know how many women have had their parental rights removed like this because cases like Annie’s are often handled in the juvenile courts—which means case records aren’t publically available.
Q: At its core, Before I Let You Go is a powerful story of two sisters—Lexie and Annie—and the bond between them and the bond they both have with Annie’s baby, Daisy. How did you write about this relationship in such a real, moving way?
A: There are few relationships in life as profound as those between siblings—it’s a uniquely enduring relationship. Who else sees into the corners of our lives, right from early childhood? I wanted to try to capture the way those sibling relationships can stretch and bend under great tension…but it’s just so hard to break them, despite the fact that these are also the people we might fight with sometimes! In the case of Lexie’s special relationship with Daisy, I actually thought of her easy willingness to care for Daisy as an extension of her endless love for her sister, in a roundabout way. Of course, Lexie cares deeply for her niece, but her bond with Annie is so deep and so wide that she’d do anything for her and her child—even going so far as to step into her role as “mom” when the circumstances demand it.
Q: You write in your author’s note about a favorite uncle who suffered from addiction and how that has influenced you. Even though this book is a work of fiction and not autobiographical, was your uncle an inspiration for this book?
A: It was the loss of my uncle that sparked my interest in issues around addiction in the first place. He was one of the voices of my childhood, always cheering me on and encouraging me to believe I could do anything. When it comes to my writing career, sometimes I can’t quite believe the things I’ve managed to achieve, but I’m also fairly confident that if my uncle were still alive he’d be quite smug about it—I can easily imagine telling me, “Well, I knew you could do it!”
But there’s also no sugar-coating it: my uncle’s behavior could also be immensely destructive, and this deeply affected both his own life and the lives of those who loved him, and the damage lives on long after his death for some of our family members. This is the nature of addiction—it is ugly and brutal, and there are no simple solutions because real lives are changed forever. Once beautiful, vibrant people get caught in its grip. That’s why I dedicated the book to my uncle, and although the story in no way reflects his story, that’s how he inspired it.
Q: Addiction is an issue that most people have concrete opinions about, and yet your book presents addiction and pregnancy in a new light and shows the tragedy of it from a different perspective. Do you think what’s missing from the conversation is compassion? If so, how do we get that back into the dialogue?
A: I think the sheer scale of the drug crisis is part of the reason we have failed to address it—it’s unfortunately human nature to ignore something that seems too big to fix, particularly when we’re not personally impacted. I wanted to break the crisis all the way down to its most granular level and to tell the story of a single family in crisis. It’s so much easier to feel compassion towards a person you know, and the beautiful thing about fiction is that it gives us a chance to walk around in another character’s shoes for a while.
We do desperately we need to reframe the conversation around the opioid crisis. It’s a medical crisis, and it needs medical solutions. We need to remove moralistic language from the discussion and focus instead on resourcing addiction scientists and specialist health professionals as they implement evidence based treatments. This shift is particularly vital when it comes to our treatment of pregnant women with addiction within the legal system—the stakes are so high when the next generation is at risk, too.
Q: You’ve written several bestselling, acclaimed novels. Was the process and experience of writing Before I Let You Go different than your experience with past books?
A: The nature of the stories I write is that my writing process becomes deeply personal—but that was certainly true in a more intense way with this book. I think I lived and breathed Annie and Lexie’s story for six months and then “woke up” and realized my real life was actually still happening outside of my office!
Q: We have to ask, what’s next for you? Are you working on anything else you can share?
A: I’ve finished the first draft of my 2019 novel—I’m so excited for the next one! I can’t say too much just yet, as it’s still in the very early stages of development, but I think readers who enjoy Before I Let You Go will love it, too.
Learn more about Kelly Sommer and her books at www.kellyrimmer.com.
About the Book
On sale April 2018
Lexie is a successful doctor who hasn’t seen her trouble sister Annie in years when she receives an unexpected call: Annie, once bright and bubbly, is now drug addicted, living in a squalid trailer park, and has a baby on the way. While Lexie vows to fight for the little sister she swore she’d always protect, Annie herself harbors a dark secret that has haunted her for decades—and it’s one that just might kill her.