Inspiration Monday: An Interview with Author Dominique Paul

For this Inspiration Monday, I thought it’d be fun sharing a recent interview I had with Dominique Paul, author and director of a movie based on her first book, The Possibility of Fireflies. Dominique was incredibly gracious with her time and answered every one of my numerous questions with quite a bit of thought.

First, I should tell you, I borrowed Dominique Paul’s book The Possibility of Fireflies from the library. Ellie, the main character of the book, is such a strong girl, she made it to my Weekly Strong Girl Role Models of Children’s Literature. If you haven’t read this book yet, you simply must. Don’t be discouraged about the pink swirly cover. Which by the way, I think is very cool. I love pink. But I know some people hate pink and will just look at it and think Eeww. Do me a favor and don’t be deceived by the cover’s luscious pink hue.

The Possibility of Fireflies is a wonderful coming of age story. I cried. And I was totally rooting for fourteen year old Ellie Roma, who has a fascination with Elvis Presley. Ellie has a neglectful, volatile mother and an older sister who is becoming a juvenile delinquent. Her father left and Ellie finds herself wondering whether he left because he didn’t love her anymore. Ellie’s mom was really neglectful and mean spirited. It just made me so sick. Gwen, Ellie’s older sister, was a wild party girl who wanted to get away from he mother and out of the house. Every once in awhile she would show a little bit of kindness to Ellie, but Gwen’s pain and recklessness for the most part kept Gwen in trouble and Ellie reluctant to take part.

Enter new neighbor, dishy musician, 21 year old Leo. Of course, I’m then thinking, “Uh-oh…you’re gonna lose me on this.” And then you find out Leo is one cool guy who helps Ellie realize that no one can save you. The ending had me on edge, waiting for what would happen. You’ll find that despite the sadness of Ellie’s life, Ellie finds hope, strength and survival as she reaches for the possibilities. Here is the first chapter of the book.

The first part of this two part interview is below. My questions are in blue-green bold italics. Dominique’s answers are in regular print. Be forewarned: There are some SPOILERS. Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of Dominique Paul’s interview.

I love your bookcover. It’s so pink and cool, almost like a tattoo, but not really. I understand most authors don’t really have a say to their bookcover. Did you?

I gotta give it to Simon and Schuster on this one. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the cover. I was imagining something quiet, maybe even a firefly or two, and they sent me this. I had consultation rights, but that doesn’t mean much. I’m glad you think it looks like a tattoo because that’s the concept. It’s supposed to represent the rock n’ roll aspect of the book. But I didn’t think it looked rock n’ roll enough. I was having a meltdown thinking that people would think it was a book about Wicca! It was a very Spinal Tap moment. I was crying and saying it looked like a fairy was going to fly out of it. It’s funny now, but that was a very hard day.

What made you choose the 1980’s as the time period for this book? Did you find yourself having to do alot of research to remember the days, or was it fairly easy to go back in time?

I was feeling nostalgic for the 80’s and after I got a few chapters into the book, I realized this could be set in any time period so I used it. I have kept journals since I was 13 so I was re-reading a lot of those during the writing process, which I guess you could call research. There would be funny lines in my journals that were only funny in the context of the 80’s. Like I was furious at a friend of mine because she still hadn’t gotten an answering machine. When she finally did, it was always full (it only held ten messages). It just got me thinking about the limits we used to have that aren’t there anymore and how they shape your frame of reference.
1980’s music clearly plays a big part in your book. Just curious, were you listening to alot of Duran Duran and Jon Bon Jovi while writing the book? Were you thinking about the soundtrack for your movie? Will Jon Bon Jovi have a cameo appearance in your movie?
Wouldn’t it be awesome if Jon Bon Jovi played the Dad in the end? Jon, are you reading this? hahaha. I wrote my book to a now defunct DirectTV satellite station called Power Rock. In the script version, I actually wrote music cues in the direction lines! Apparently no one does that. But nothing brings up memories like music. And smells. Have you ever noticed that?
What inspired you to write The Possibility of Fireflies?
I’d just turned 28 and really was feeling lost and discontented in my life. I’d been pursuing an acting career in LA and was just depleted and miserable. I’d been searching for what to do with my life for many months. I went to therapy. I started doing Yoga. I went to Sedona. Still no answers. Then, and I realize it sounds sensational, but one day out of nowhere, it just clicked. I finished my breakfast and then sat down at my computer and I wrote Chapter One. I was living with my boyfriend at the time and when I finished it, I handed it to him. I said, “I think my life’s about to change.” He said, “Holy shit. You’re a writer.”
What is your writing process or ritual?
I write in bursts. I wish I could do a few hours here and there, but I can’t. When I’m writing, I’m possessed. It’s three straight days in front of the computer, in my pajamas, surviving on hummus and crackers, and holding in my pee for as long as possible because I can’t tear myself away. Then when I burn out, I go back to my life and I dread getting sucked back into the writing hole. It’s all very bipolar.

What similarities do you find between yourself and your main character, Ellie Roma?
That’s a tough one. When I was writing the book, I was as lost as Ellie was. She’s a searcher and so was I at the time. We kind of found our way together. I am as overly optimistic as she is. As unrelentingly hopeful and determined. I romanticize everything like she does. Probably just as insecure as she is unfortunately. At least at that time in my life.
I was somewhat disappointed that Celia wasn’t a strong best friend. I felt Ellie’s and Celia’s friendship was more surface level. Celia never confronted Ellie about her problems. Why did you portray Celia this way?
Part of it is Ellie’s fault. Because she was so ashamed of her situation, she really didn’t open up to
anyone about it. In this way, she never really gave Celia the chance to step up. But at the same time, Celia had a very naive, sheltered life. Ellie didn’t trust that Celia was strong enough to handle the truth, so I think she opted for superficial companionship rather than risk being judged or worse–abandoned.
I really enjoyed your book and found myself thinking of this movie I saw about 10 years ago called Beautiful Girls (1996) written by Scott Rosenberg, when I finished the book. The one similarity with your book and the movie is the exploration of the possibility of “romance” between an underage girl/young man. What made you think of this storyline and the way Leo handles Ellie’s crush?

We had to have a love interest. And Ellie wouldn’t be interested in a peer or a classmate. It would have to be someone extraordinary (at least to her), and yet also accessible (like a neighbor). Beautiful Girls is a good comparison, except that the age difference is bigger in the movie. I saw the movie after I wrote the book, thank God. But I see now that it’s kind of a common archetypal relationship–older guy/younger girl.
I like to think the Leo truly loved Ellie. That everytime she walked away, he found himself thinking, “What if she was older?” But Leo is more of a receptacle for Ellie. A place where she could put all her love and longing. She believed she was in love, but really he was just a catalyst for helping her find herself. Which, if you think about it, is what all relationships are.
Describe your process in figuring out the ending for the book.
Crazy as it sounds, I kept trying to find a way for Ellie and Leo to end up together. But obviously, there was just no way to make that ring true. Ultimately, I realized that no one could save Ellie. No one could come into her life and fix it. She couldn’t go to the Meyer’s (best friend Celia) either. That would be a band-aid. She had to be her own hero. And as I thought of it, I began to see that her deepest fear is that her mother is right…that she is unloveable. I thought if she can face that fear, if she can question this “belief” about her worth, then she can triumph over anything. And so I thought, she has to go to her father and see if he wants her.
I’ve had some reviews that say, “Oh sure, she left a bad situation because she was lucky enough to have somewhere to go.” Those people just don’t get it. In the first draft, she goes to her Dad’s but we never see him and we never know if he welcomes her with open arms or not. But my editor felt we needed to know, so I added a few pages. But I think his reaction is irrevelant. It’s about Ellie’s choice to leave home. The choice to question all you’ve been told is true. That’s what my book is about.
How long did it take you to write the book, The Possibility of Fireflies, before you sent it out to publishers?
The book took about a year to write. Then I sent it to five agents who all passed. I was heartbroken. Then a friend, who also happened to be a TV agent, suggested I turn the novel into a screenplay. That’s how I broke into screenwriting. It was through my screenwriting agent that I finally found a book agent in 2004.
How long did it take before your book was accepted by Simon and Schuster?
Once I got my agent, Diane Bartoli in late 2004, she submitted the book to publishers in early 2005. Within a week there was a bidding war. I couldn’t believe it. Ultimately, we went with Simon and Schuster.
Do you find screenwriting different from writing books? How?
At first I hated screenwriting. I found the structure very suffocating. There’s a formula: a three act structure and certain important plot points that must hit on the right page number, etc. But now, I like it. There’s comfort in knowing what the rules are.
What has been the hardest thing you have had to do regarding your book?
That’s tough. First of all, clearly the Universe thought I needed to learn patience! If you told me in 2002 when I finished writing the book that it wouldn’t be published until 2006, I would have jumped off a building. And then the two years it’s taken to get the film going? Absolute torture for me. So that’s been hard, and also the sacrifices I’ve made to get to this point. There isn’t a lot of time or energy left for friends and relationships. Some friends have gotten mad that I’m less available, they think success is going to my head or something. But this has taken everything I have and there isn’t room for much else at the moment. It can be lonely. My best friend told me that one day this book/movie will give back to me everything I’ve given to it. I like to think she’s right.
Clearly, you’re a woman who loves possibilities and is willing to give your all to getting things to happen. What advice would you give to the Ellie’s of the world?
Thank you for saying that. I take that as a huge compliment. Maybe it’s OCD, but once I get the notion that something is possible, I can’t stop until it’s manifested. What else is there? For me it’s all about creating something from nothing. The harder the better apparently. For the Ellie’s of the world, I would just like to say: You are everything you secretly dream you are and more. Even if you don’t have evidence of that in your immediate surroundings, one day when you are ready, you will go out into the world and create it for yourself. Just keep the faith, have courage and work your little butts off!

Stay tuned tomorrow to find out more about how Dominique became the director to the movie based on her book, her advice for writers and screenwriters, and her biggest surprise through her whole adventure surrounding The Possibility of Fireflies. Here is Part Two of Dominique Paul’s interview.

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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