Monday, May 5, 2014

An Interview with Rebecca Demarest

Two months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of reading Rebecca Demarest's debut novel Undeliverable for review.  The story was filled with heartache, yet also contained tendrils of hope in the midst of a parent's worst nightmare.  I was pleased when she agreed to allow for an interview as well, so I could pick her brain over how this amazing story transpired.  Please join me in welcoming Rebecca back to the blog. 

DAB:   Was there a point in your life that prompted your desire to write or have you always wanted to be an author?

RAD:   I wrote my first story pretty much as soon as I learned to write, (Its called How the Butterfly got its Colors and I still have it. Thanks, mom.) so you could say I always had the bug. But I went through periods in my childhood where I was determined I would have a range of careers, including sculptress, veterinarian, anthropologist, and forensic psychologist. However, in college, as I was taking my psychology courses, I slipped in a creative writing course and it really showed me that I didn’t want to do anything but write, and hang the monetary consequences. The satisfaction of getting the words on the paper just right and then getting to share them with others was far better than the thought of spending the rest of my life in unending meetings or dealing with other people’s problems. If I was going to deal with problems, I’d rather it be my characters problems, where I had the virtue of both causing them and knowing exactly how to solve them

DAB:   I understand about causing characters problems/solving them - I had one character in my last release for whose life I caused endless complication. But don't you find that's real life? You know, the old "when it rains, it pours" construct?

RAD:   Dear, lord, yes. When one thing goes wrong, everything possible tends to follow suit. My job as a writer is to set it up so that so much goes wrong that went the character stubs their toe, it the final straw, and they either break down or take matters into their own hands.

DAB:   Tell us about a typical day in your world.

RAD:   My day job is a basic 9-5, working as a technical illustrator for O’Reilly Media, drawing flowcharts of programming and networking. Its actually rather fun and not only provides a steady paycheck and benefits, but it is also a fairly creative endeavor. But before and after work, my life belongs to the written word. I’m constantly reading, on breaks at work, before work, before bed, and the rest of my time is filled with my writing. Right now, this rotates between the book reviews for my blog (, the sequel to Undeliverable, the sequel to Thea of Oz, editing the first of my Mark of the Storyteller series, my column for The Tandem Region Times, a series of sci-fi novellas called Ask Corporate, or curating content for my new website, The Speculative Craft ( Basically, I work on whatever either grabs me that evening, or has a deadline looming.

DAB:   What does your desk look like?

RAD:   Most of my writing actually happens on the couch with my laptop, but I do have a standing desk. Its got a small profile, since I live in a fairly small apartment in Boston, but its got a lot of levels. Two shelves hold my computer body, my printer, my files, etc, then the desktop has a jury-rigged shelf on it to allow my monitor to sit at eye level and leave room underneath for lots of little drawers of bits. Right over the monitor is my whiteboard calendar so I don’t forget to many things, a separate whiteboard keeping track of my writing projects and what stage they are in, and a picture of my great-great aunt, a rather formidable old woman who was a writer in her own right. She keeps me on track whenever I am tempted to slip a deadline.

DAB:   What was the catalyst that first germinated Undeliverable?

RAD:   At some point in 2008, I read a news article about the Lost Letters Office of the United States Postal Service, and was immediately enthralled. I knew I had to write something about this place, but I didn’t yet know what. So I set about doing as much research about the facility, now known as the Lost Letters Office. As I was doing my research, the character of Ben was slowly forming at the back of my brain. I wrote the first chapter for a workshop at Emerson in 2009, and from there it was all downhill.

DAB:   Yes - that Lost Letters facility was a fascinating part of your novel. I'd never heard of it and simply had to know if it was authentic when I finished reading. What was it about the facility that enthralled you?

RAD:   What caught me was the sheer magnitude of the amount of mail that never makes it to its intended recipient. It was an image of such loneliness, but also hope. Because it means that even when something is lost, there is someone there to find it, and that just struck me as poignant and needed to be explored.

DAB:   You write about some pretty difficult material in your novel.  Tell us what the process was like to bring Undeliverable to fruition?

RAD:   It was really painful at times. I had this character that I had put into a horrible situation and then steadily made it worse until he broke. I hate seeing people in pain, so intentionally setting up my character for so much heartbreak was really hard. I cried writing a few of the chapters, let me tell you. The hardest though was the decision as to whether or not he would find his son by the end of the book. The choices were: he finds his son, he finds his son’s body, or he still doesn’t know what has happened to him. I spent a good year trying to decide what the outcome was going to be, talking it over repeatedly with my (now ex) boyfriend. In the end, I think I chose the option that allowed him the most growth as a character, regardless of how hard it was for him. Of course, now that I’ve put this character through such a wringer, it should be easy to do this to all my others...right?

DAB:   I found myself crying right along with you. We've read some dramatic rescue stories the last couple of years of missing children (now adults) who were found. What are the statistics generally of finding or even finding out what happens to abducted children?

RAD:   The last time someone did a comprehensive, national survey looking at missing children was back in 1999. During that year, approximately 800,000 children, under 18, were reported missing. They know that 200,000 of those were abducted by family members, 58,000 by non-family members, but only 115 of those were your typical "stranger danger" abductions, and only 100 of abductions result in the death of the child. The national center says that in 1990, only 62% of children were recovered. But, with their help, the recovery rate is up to 97%.

DAB:   Do you identify with any specific character(s) in your novel?

RAD:   There are parts of myself in each of the characters, but I am not wholly one or the other. Ben’s obsessive nature in regards to research, Sylvia’s penchant for taking care of lost critters and her art, even Ms. Biun’s dedication to doing the job just right; all of these are aspects I pulled out of my own psychology. Of course, these are just small parts of the characters. I pulled a lot of their aspects from friends, families, and enemies of mine as well; for example, young Benny is almost entirely my brother at that age (he still has an affinity for Star Wars, I’m the Trekkie in the family).

DAB:   When you start a writing project, do you outline first or do you allow the story to progress organically?

RAD:   I can’t write without an outline, though outline is a bit of a strong word. I have a scaffolding, a set course of benchmarks I know my characters need to hit, and essentially how I’m going to get them there, and what emotional depths I need to drive them to, to get them to take the actions I want them to take, but I don’t map out all the small details of each section before I start writing. Those I let come naturally and I’m happy to adjust my outline or character concept if something fun comes up. For instance, I was writing along in a scene in Undeliverable when all of a sudden Sylvia starts getting really angry at Ben for something he said and I had to sit back and ask my subconscious what in heck it thought it was doing. It turns out I had been working on an even stronger back story for Sylvia than I had even realized, so I made a few adjustments to the plot to account for it and it made her character even stronger.

DAB:   I'm so glad you did! Sylvia was such a wonderful character that added snapshots of humor and incredible insight at just the right moments. Will Sylvia's presence grace us again between your pages?

RAD:   You bet your bottom dollar, she will. She has a pretty significant role in the sequel, which will focus on Ben, Jr.  and his story.

DAB:   How did you go about developing a relationship with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children?

RAD:   I asked. Its amazing the amount of people who are happy to work with you on a mutually beneficial project if you just ask. Its something I learned as a Girl Scout and was organizing service projects and events. The worst thing that can happen is someone will say no, but if you’ve already planned on what you’ll do if they do say no, when they say yes, its incredible. I was persistent with the Center (they tend to be pretty busy) but after a time I was able to connect with them. Their research and publications were incredibly useful to me while I was writing Undeliverable, and I felt it was only right to give back to the population that the story talks about, so I broached the subject of using my book as a fundraiser for them, which they were happy to approve. In fact, I’ll be running a fundraiser later this month that if you make any kind of donation to the center, you’ll get a digital copy of my book for free!

DAB:   Can you give us an update so we can participate?

RAD:   Absolutely! I'll send along the link with the giveaway as soon as its live!

DAB:   Did you ever experience any sort of writer's block while crafting Undeliverable?

RAD:   Not in the traditional sense. I was about half-way through the first draft when I all of a sudden just couldn’t write anymore, on anything. I got really worried that I had fallen out of love with the story, or I was failing as a writer, when, SURPRISE! I was diagnosed with mono. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was. The nurse was a bit disconcerted when she told me I had mono and I started laughing, but it meant that all I needed to do was give myself a break for a month of two while I kicked the virus. That’s when I really learned to cut myself a break when it comes to being blocked in regards to my writing. If I just set it aside for a little bit, whatever is causing the blockage will get niggled loose, be it a looming cold, pressures at work, or a problem with one of my characters that I don’t yet realize is a problem. Once you’ve learned to stop treating writer’s block like a problem and treat it like an opportunity to address a problem you may not have realized was there, it actually becomes a very useful tool.

DAB:   Author's are usually avid readers.  What are you reading at present?

RAD:   Right at this moment, I’m waiting on a bunch of books from the library, so I’m re-reading some of my all-time favorites: the Phule series by Robert Asprin. Incredibly quick science fiction reads from the ‘90s that are absolutely hilarious.

DAB:   Care to tell us what is next on your writing horizon?

RAD:   Well, I have a column premiering on The Tandem Region Times in the next little bit where I play an “unspecified undead” lady of some repute offering advice on etiquette to serial killers and stalkers. Besides that, I’ve got a short story coming out in Far Off Places in the next couple months that was just dramatized in Edinburgh for a charity show, another coming out in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, and my novella, Thea of Oz is going on sale in the fall. I should also let you know that the sequel to Undeliverable will be out next spring, since I know that’s the first question anyone asks after they finish the book.

DAB:   Now's your chance - give us the final plug for Undeliverable.

RAD: When Benjamin Grant's son disappeared a year ago, he felt it was his duty as a father to do everything in his power to find his son, and he tried. He threw himself into the search, but his obsession left him without a home, wife, or job. Now, he's managed to find work at the United States Postal Service's Mail Recovery Center, which he hopes will prove an invaluable tool in his search. With the help of Sylvia - a kleptomaniac artist - Ben learns the ins and outs of a warehouse full of lost mail and explores every lead in his son's case. But when that investigation leads him to Leonard Moscovich, Ben fears the worst.

Thanks, Rebecca!  And now I'm pleased to also let you know that the fundraiser opportunity Rebecca mentioned in her interview is now live.  Click the Rafflecopter widget below for more details or visit

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. But Rebecca didn't mention almost getting arrested at the Atlanta Mail Recovery Center ... she is definitely dedicated to her research!

    1. Egads! We'll need another round of questions for that one, I'm sure. :-)