My students LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Memento Nora, so I’m very excited to post this Students Want to Know interview with debut author, Angie Smibert. I loved her novel as well; you can read my review here. It’s an awesome addition to the dystopian genre, so I highly recommend reading it. Thank you, Angie, for doing this with my students!! 😀
Summary (From the publisher): In Nora’s world you don’t have to put up with nightmares. Nora goes with her mother to TFC—a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic. There, she can describe her horrible memory and take the pill that will erase it. But at TFC, a chance encounter with a mysterious guy changes Nora’s life. She doesn’t take the pill. And when Nora learns the memory her mother has chosen to forget, she realizes that someone needs to remember. With newfound friends Micah and Winter, Nora makes a comic book of their memories called M emento. Memento is an instant hit, but it sets off a dangerous chain of events. Will Nora, Micah, and Winter be forced to take the Big Pill that will erase their memories forever? Angie Smibert’s remarkable debut novel takes readers on a thrilling ride through shadowy world where corporations secretly rule and consumerism is praised above all.
- How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Good question, Ian. I read a lot of science / tech magazines and websites because (1) I’m a geek and (2) they’re great for ideas. The idea for this book came from an article (or three) about studies scientists are doing now to help people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People suffer from PTSD after experiencing or witnessing something traumatic—such as combat, child abuse, or even a bad accident. PTSD sufferers can’t let go of the memory of that experience and it haunts them. They may have nightmares, become depressed, etc. The researchers gave PTSD sufferers a drug to lessen the effects of the traumatic memories (and it seems to work).
So I thought what if the pill actually erased those particular memories—and what if you could get that pill as easily as you could a latte or frozen yogurt. I had a vision in my head of a Starbucks / frozen yogurt type place on every corner selling the pill and giving out reward points for every visit. The rest of the story grew out of this idea.
- How long did it take to write?
Memento Nora actually started out as a short story of the same name. It was published in the May/June 2008 issue of Odyssey magazine. After I sold the story, I started thinking about making it into a novel. It probably took me about a year and half (give or take) to write the novel. And after I sold the novel, I worked with the editor on revisions for another year or so, which is pretty typical. (Yes, you’re not done when you sell the book!)
- Will there be a second book?
Yes, Abigail! The second book is tentatively called the Forgetting Curve. It’s scheduled to come out next Spring.
- SPOILER QUESTION! HIGHLIGHT TO SEE THE QUESTION & ANSWER– Why did you decide to end the book with all of them forgetting each other? Did you consider ending it differently?
I might have had a different ending in the first draft, but I soon realized it would be more poignant if Nora sacrificed something —the new her that’s she’s discovered—in order to save her mom in the end. And if Nora forgot, then it was only fair that Winter and Micah did, too.
- The pill kind of confused me. How could they forget a little without it messing up their whole memory?
This is an excellent question, Abigail. Nobody really and truly knows exactly how memory works, but I based the way the pill might work on real research into memory and posttraumatic stress disorder. (I did use a little poetic license, though, to make the drug erase memories. The real drugs being studied only make the memories less vivid.)
Basically, you make memories (we think) by making connections between your brain cells. They “stick together” to make memories. However, those memories can be restuck together—and made stronger by replaying or repeating them. (Or so scientists think.) That’s why repeating something—like the lines in a play—over and over helps you remember better.
However, the brain handles traumatic and/or emotional memories differently than it does memorizing Shakespeare, for instance. Let’s say you got hit by a car. The experience would be scary and painful. And the memory of it would be much more vivid than an everyday memory or a speech from Romeo and Juliet. (You’re gonna eventually forget that eventually.) This is because of a chemical called adrenaline. When you’re scared, adrenaline makes your heart race—and it also makes the memory stick in your brain harder and faster than a normal memory.
So, in my book, I had the pill (amelioral, which I made up, btw) disrupt this resticking process. The person repeats the memory, takes the pill, and then the memory doesn’t reform in the brain. The drug doesn’t affect other memories because they weren’t reactivated plus the brain may even store other memories in different parts of the brain.
- You dedicated the book to your mother. So does the story have anything to do with her? Or was it because she wanted to be a writer?
My mother semi-secretly wanted to be a writer. She’d wanted to go to college to study English, but her family didn’t have the money. So she went to work, met my dad, had kids, and sold insurance. When she died, I found a box filled with her assignments from the Writer’s Digest correspondence school for writers. (She’d taken this course back in 70’s or 80’s, so all the home work and lessons were done through the mail.) The pieces she’d written were mostly romance stories, which is what she read most of the time.
- When you wrote the book, did you know exactly how you wanted it from the beginning, or did you make it over time with changes?
It was a little of both. I had the overall idea in mind when I started the novel, but a lot the pieces evolved as I wrote. For instance, the first draft was just from Nora’s perspective. I realized, though, that she didn’t know the whole story. So I added Micah and Winter’s points of view in the next draft.
- SPOILER QUESTION! HIGHLIGHT TO SEE THE QUESTION & ANSWER- Does Nora’s mom still remember everything?
Yes, she does. Her mom hears Nora’s whole story and spits out her pill in the end.
- SPOILER QUESTION! HIGHLIGHT TO SEE THE QUESTION & ANSWER- Do Nora, Winter and Micah ever meet up again?
You might need to read the second book to find that out.
- Do you think that the world could ever become like it is in the book?
I hope not, but there are some things in our world now that are uncomfortably close to Nora’s world.
- How long did it take for you to think of all the details? Did they come to you naturally, or did it take some time?
For me, the details come from asking myself questions—before, during, and after writing. Some the details I had in mind before I started. Others occurred to me as I wrote—or as I was revising.
- What made you decide to end the story with a cliffhanger?
I don’t want to give too much away, but I wanted to end on a glimmer of hope. The “cliffhanger” brings Nora full circle to where and who she was at the beginning of the book. But she did change things and save someone, [Spoiler Alert! Highlight to see the rest.] only she doesn’t remember doing it. The story could totally end there—or it could be continued.
- Why did you have the story take place in the future instead of in a parallel universe?
That’s a good question, Brianna. I did consider (briefly) making this an alternate universe; however, it wasn’t really necessary. By the time we could actually make a drug that does erase select memories (if it’s possible at all),our world could be like Nora’s.
- What year does this story take place?
I don’t want to put an exact date on it, but let’s just say it could be 30 years in the future (give or take a decade).
- Have you always pictured yourself as an author?
Nope. I always loved reading and did well in English. However, in high school (and through part of college), I wanted to be a veterinarian. After working for a couple of veterinarians, though, I decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. During most of my pre-author career, I was a writer, but I wrote non-fiction: everything from proposals to training videos. I didn’t start writing fiction until my late twenties / early thirties.
- How did you think of the word “glossy”?
I wanted a slang word that conveyed the idea that something was all shiny and pretty on the outside—but not necessarily so on the inside. When we “gloss over” something, we make it more attractive by some kind of deception (like leaving out certain details—or memories.) Nora uses the word, glossy, without any awareness of the deception part—at least at first.
- Why did you make Micah and Winter welders?
Micah and Winter did meet in a welding glass. Both wanted to learn how to weld for different reasons. Micah used the skill at Black Dog Village, and Winter welded some of her sculptures.
- How did you come up with the characters? Are they based off real people?
After I had the idea in my mind, I asked myself who would be the least likely hero/heroine in this world. That’s how I came up with Nora. She’s a happy consumer whose world gets turned upside. And Micah and Winter are two people the old Nora wouldn’t normally be friends with.
Micah is very loosely based on someone I know who is a graphic designer. I told him that Micah was how I imagined him if he’d been a homeless teenager living in the future.
- Why a comic book? Why not a book or an animated film?
Comics have a long history of being socially conscious and even subversive. Underground comics were popular in the ‘60’s and 70’s. Some were racy, but most were about politics and social injustice. Artists just needed pen, paper, and maybe an old mimeograph machine (ask your teacher) to produce their own comic books and magazines.