Linda’ Book Obsession Interviews A.J. Banner Author “The Poison Garden”
- How did you go about researching your book?
The murderer in THE POISON GARDEN really came to life for me when I dug into the mind of a killer, like digging up the roots of poisonous plants. I needed to find a toxic substance that could not be traced in the bloodstream. I’m sure I scared the physician friend I interviewed, who might’ve thought I was up to something evil…until I explained that I was writing a novel. He mentioned a couple of medications that, if given in high doses, could have, um, rather alarming effects.
Also, the proprietor of SugarPill, an herbal apothecary in Seattle, gave me a fascinating insight into her profession and the uses of various herbs. Part of my research involved simply walking through our gardens at home and consulting with my husband, a Master Gardener. We live in a house in the woods on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, in almost the same setting depicted in THE POISON GARDEN, except that we’re not on an island and our house is a rambler rather than a creaky old Victorian. We’re surrounded by a variety of salvaged plants and unusual herbs. There’s also good information to be found on the Internet, and I read various books for inspiration, including Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart. In the end, I created a fictional poisonous plant called Juliet for my novel. You won’t find the Juliet in any reference books!
- What are your goals for readers to take away after reading?
My goal in writing THE POISON GARDEN was to give the reader an immersive experience. This means crafting prose, dialogue, and descriptions that move the story forward with each scene, replete with sensory details: sights, sounds, smells, flavors, and textures. Writers work hard to draw the reader into the main character’s world. Through several revisions, we try to home in on a central dilemma, a singular narrative drive. We try to create suspense, so the reader cares about the characters and feels compelled to keep turning the pages. I feel when we write fiction, our biases seep into the work by accident, no matter our intention, but our primary focus must be on the story, not on a predetermined moral lesson or message. Each reader brings his or her own emotions and perspective to the book, based on his or her experiences and worldview. Taste in fiction, like taste in any type of art, is highly subjective.
- Did you base any of your characters on people that you know?
Actually, to be honest, yes. I’ve known at least one sociopath in my life, someone who focused primarily on narcissistic goals without regard for others, like the diabolical killer in THE POISON GARDEN. And I’ve also known violent, obsessive people, as well as kind, caring humans struggling to make their way in the world after a great loss or big life changes. I suppose the characters in my books are an amalgam of the people I’ve known and the various aspects of my own character. As they say, we write what we can imagine, right?
- What is a typical day of your life?
Ha! Is there such a thing as a typical day? First thing in the morning, I drink Peet’s coffee. Take care of the cats. Read. Write in my journal. A few times a week, I swim a mile at the local pool, and I like to take brisk walks in the neighborhood. Morning is my writing time, as well. I head out for a walk around midday, and then I spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening on administrative tasks (responding to email, sending books, filling out forms, and so on). Exciting, right?
- What are your hobbies or things you do in your downtime?
I love to read, hike in the woods, take photographs of nature with my Canon SX530HS camera, swim, and when I get a few minutes, I play salsa riffs on my full electronic keyboard (I learned classical piano when I was young). I also love to draw, but I rarely have time. I love to visit antique stores, museums, and wild places with my husband and other family members and friends. I’ve started to collect vintage typewriters!
- What can you tell us of any new writing projects that you might have?
I’m working on a new novel of psychological fiction in which the main character is in an unusual profession and is grieving a great loss. Something happens to turn her world upside down, sending her on a quest for answers, and she learns that everything she thought she knew about her life and her relationships is not at all what it seems. Does this sound terribly vague? It is! That’s because I don’t want to give away even one tiny element of the story before I finish writing! I’m having a lot of fun with the project.
- What are your favorite genres of books that you like to read?
I read widely, in many genres. I love middle-grade fiction, which I feel is an underappreciated and overlooked genre among many of the adults I know who love to read. Contrary to popular opinion, novels for youngsters are not oversimplified, “dumbed down” books for adults. Middle-grade novels often tackle deep, complex themes, they’re difficult to write and a delight to read. Some of my favorite novels were ostensibly written for youngsters, like Robert Cormier’s I am the Cheese and The Chocolate War, as well as Polly Horvath’s hilarious, offbeat Everything on a Waffle, The Trolls and The Canning Season. I also love literary, speculative novels, like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I recently read a stunning book of short stories, All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva. I also love psychological suspense in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier, and I enjoy humorous novels as well as riveting nonfiction, like The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte. I also love stories of magic realism and lovely general fiction with beautiful covers, like The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston. And the list goes on!
- What advice can you give to someone that wants to be a writer?
Writing is a profession like any other. It’s important to learn the craft, take classes, read books about how to write, and most importantly, write. Practice. Write and write some more. And read. Read novels, memoirs, poetry, whatever you like to read. Practice. Write. Revise. Find a mentor. Be humble. Understand that you’re always learning. You never know everything there is to know. Your career as a writer will evolve over time. You have to love the actual writing, the process, not the success you expect to achieve, because the life of a writer is a roller coaster ride, an endless series of failures and disappointments punctuated by brief periods of success. As Joyce Carol Oates wrote of the writer’s life in her book, The Faith of a Writer, “Don’t expect to be treated justly by the world. Don’t even expect to be treated mercifully.” The world will not be kind to creative people. Be prepared and keep going.
- If your book were adapted to the screen, what actors, actresses could you envision for the main characters?
I didn’t envision any actors or actresses when I was writing the story, but now that you ask, Alexander Skarsgard might make a great Kieran, Diane Lane might be a lovely choice for the main character, Elise (Kieran’s wife), and for the ex-husband, hmmm…. Tom Hiddleston?
- How would you like the readers to connect with you? The best way to connect with me is by email at ajbanner at protonmail dot com. Links to my Instagram and Facebook pages may be found on my website, www.ajbanner.com. Thank you.