I buddy-read and joint-reviewed Before I Go by Colleen Oakley with Brandie from Brandie is a Book Junkie. We both thoroughly enjoyed this heart-breaking read – so much so that I felt compelled to Tweet the author to let her know I was in desperate need of tissues, and it was all her fault. Thankfully, she took it well, and even agreed to be interviewed, and was kind enough to offer a hardback of Before I Go for giveaway (US only, sorry peeps!).
R: Introduce yourself and tell us a little about you, what do you do when you aren’t writing/blogging?
CO: I’m a 34-year-old mom, wife and sometimes triathlete. I have two beautiful kids and am currently pregnant with twins (due in March). I spend a lot of my time being in shock that I’m currently pregnant with twins.
R: I bet! Before I Go is your debut novel, what inspired you to become a writer?
CO: My background is in journalism – I was a magazine editor for the first half of my career (Women’s Health & Fitness and Marie Claire) and then went on to be a freelance writer for magazines and websites in 2007. I always wanted to write a novel, but I’m not sure that I believed that I really could for a long time. I – like most writers, I’m sure – have a stack of half-started, partly-finished manuscripts and story ideas. This one happened to work.
R: It definitely did. It’s a fantastic read, and a heart-felt novel that focuses on the life of 27-year-old main character, Daisy, who has been diagnosed with stage IV terminal cancer. What made you want to write a book dealing with such a serious and heavy topic?
CO: I liked the challenge of exploring something I knew so little about, as well as exploring the idea of what happens to a young passionately in-love couple, when the idyllic happily ever after is suddenly taken away from them. I know it’s a theme that’s been done before, but I wanted to put my own spin on it – specifically, trying to find and highlight the funny and the humor (without being too flippant) in such a tragic situation.
R: The story does manage to strike a balance between the more serious and sad moments of dealing with the illness, and maintaining an element of subtle humour throughout – why did you decide to write the story this way?
CO: Thank you! I very consciously wrote the book this way, because I didn’t want it to be a thoroughly maudlin, depressing tale where the reader is ready to jump off the nearest cliff by the end of it. It was definitely a challenge – a real balancing act between the authentic depths of emotion and comic relief, but I hope I pulled it off.
R: You definitely did – both Brandie and I commented on it. The characters in this novel feel so “real”, particularly the voice of Daisy – how much research did you have to do for this novel regarding her illness? And did you speak to cancer patients or survivors about their experiences?
CO: In my research, I purposefully didn’t speak to any cancer survivors or patients because I wanted the emotional experience to be authentically Daisy’s and not a modge podge of what other people have been through in real life. But I did interview a fabulous radiation oncologist who took me through all the possible diagnoses, treatments and side effects that Daisy might experience. His knowledge and help was invaluable.
R: That’s interesting to know, I would have assumed because of how real the emotions felt that there was a lot of research behind it! Is your writing process structured and planned, or do you get bursts of creativity?
CO: I was essentially a work-from-home mom caring for a 2-year-old and an infant when I wrote Before I Go, so my writing was definitely unstructured – I wrote whenever I had a spare 30 minutes to jump on my computer. Now that they’re both in school, I have a much more structured writing schedule – which is about to go all to hell when the twins are born.
R: Hopefully not, because I’m looking forward to your next release already! How do you know when your books feel “done”? How do you recognize that time when you are completely happy with them?
CO: I’m a writer who heavily edits as I go. It’s a terribly slow way to write and I don’t recommend it to anyone, but I have trouble moving forward until I feel good about each chapter, paragraph, sentence. So by the time I type “The End”, I feel fairly confident that I have a solid first draft that’s ready to go to my agent and editor.
R: So, back to the book – introduce Before I Go to Book Geeks in one sentence.
CO: This is the story of 27-year-old Daisy, who upon being diagnosed with an aggressive and deadly form of breast cancer, decides to find her intelligent-but-charmingly-helpless husband a new wife before she dies.
R: Yup, that about sums it up! Are you an avid reader? Who are some of your favourite authors, or your favourite books, and why?
CO: I devour books. A short list of my favorite writers: Lionel Shriver, Meg Wolitzer, Stephen King, Ann Patchett, Wally Lamb, Lolly Winston, Liane Moriarty, JoJo Moyes. I like books that draw me into a story and make me feel something – even if it’s extreme desire to knock the main characters on their thick skulls.
R: I love We Need To Talk About Kevin, it’s one of my favourite books of all time. I haven’t tried Stephen King (I don’t do scary movies, so I’m not sure how I’d fare with scary books!), and both JoJo Moyes and Liane Moriarty are on my TBR for this year. You’ve got me started now… OK, what’s your most favourite, and least favourite, part of the writing process?
CO: Most favourite: Typing “The End”. Least favourite: All the rest.
R: Weigh in on the eternal debate – eBook or hard-copy?
CO: Hard copy! I’m old school. I’ve never read an e-book and have no interest in them. I love the feel of books, the smell of them, sifting through bookstores and libraries for the ones that catch my eye. It’s such a simple pleasure that an e-book can’t begin to compete with.
R: Do you prefer to type stories on a computer, or hand-write in a notebook?
CO: Computer. My handwriting is so terrible that even I have trouble reading what it says sometimes.
R: What is your favourite word?
R: Which 5 fictional characters (books, TV, film etc.) would you invite to a dinner party?
CO: Jacob from Crazy Stupid Love (movie), Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife (book), Tea Cake from Their Eyes Were Watching God (the book and the movie), Mark Darcy from Bridget Jones’ Diary (movie), Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights (the TV show). The party would be clothing-optional.
R: What is your favourite non-fiction book?
CO: On Writing, by Stephen King.
R: Do you prefer the hero or the villain?
CO: If Ryan Gosling is playing the villain, then the villain ALL DAY LONG.
R: When you read, or write, books do you believe in book monogamy?
CO: 95% of the time, yes. But I’ve been known to cheat now and then.
R: What are you currently working on that we can look forward to?
CO: A novel about a woman who has a rare medical condition – she’s allergic to other humans. And naturally, it’s a love story.
About The Author:
One night in high school, I was watching the evening news with my mom, and she started yelling at a reporter onscreen who was being particularly pushy in his interviewing tactics. “I hate journalists,” she scowled. That’s when I decided to become a journalist. Since then my articles and essays have been featured in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings. I live in Atlanta with my husband, two children (who are also rebellious because, genetics) and a huge mutt named Bailey. I like to write and read and drink tequila. Not necessarily in that order.