By E. M. Powell
I’m going to start by making a confession. When I got the e-mail asking if I’d be interested in covering Nicole Maggi’s new release, THE FORGETTING, my initial reaction was, “Well, it’s probably not for me.” You see, THE FORGETTING is a Young Adult (YA) thriller and the last time I could be described as a YA was in another century. But then I read the description, and saw that it’s about a teenager who wakes up after a heart transplant—and finds that she’s inherited the memories of her donor. I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for medical thrillers. I was in. Nicole very kindly provided me with a copy of the book, and with a bit of time to spare, I thought I’d get started on a few chapters. I emerged hours later with my afternoon’s other tasks still to do. It is a gripping, original read, and there was so much I wanted to ask Nicole.
Nicole is originally from upstate New York and has worked as an actor. But sunny Los Angeles is where she’s made her home with her husband and daughter, and two oddball cats. Nicole is also the author of The Twin Willows Trilogy.
It’s an intriguing hook to have your heroine, Georgie Kendrick, as the teenage recipient of a transplanted heart. So much of her experience reads as genuine. Have you had experience of this in your life? What research did you do around this topic?
I have not had an organ transplant myself, so I wanted to be sure that I was accurate with the research. I reached out to a couple of transplant recipients but wasn’t able to connect with any, so I relied on information from some other sources. I talked to my own cardiologist and I connected with LifeSource, which is an organization that helps educate the public about organ donation and offers support to donors and recipients and their families. I read a lot about real-life recipients who have gone on to do some incredible things, which I managed to work into the book. And I talked to my dad, who had quadruple bypass surgery over a decade ago, about the physical effects and recovery from open-heart surgery.
The issue of teenage homelessness also comes up in the book. It felt like you touched on a number of personal stories when describing minor characters. Were there any that you would have liked to have pursued further/in more depth but couldn’t?
Oh, yes. I wish I could’ve spent a lot more time delving into the foster care system. Jane Doe’s experiences in her foster homes were based on a real story that was told to me by a former foster kid. It didn’t need to be exaggerated for fiction. I also really wish I could’ve expanded the character of Tommy more. She was inspired by someone I know as well and I wanted her to play a bigger role in the story. But in a thriller, everything has to be so compact and the pacing is so critical. So I had to sacrifice some of those golden nuggets of character and backstory in order for the main story to work. I feel like there are a lot of threads in the book that could actually be their own book.
I second that! The other important strand in your story is the horror that is teenage prostitution. You’re writing for a YA audience. Was it easy to get the balance right? Did you feel constrained in any way by the market you’re writing for?
I did not feel constrained by the YA market at all. My biggest concern was that the sex trafficking storyline felt real and that it wouldn’t come across like it was there for shock value. So I wanted to be sure that those scenes were written in a way that conveyed what was going on without going into too much detail. I was prepared to tone down the one graphic scene in the book but I was never asked to—not by my agent, and not by my editor. We did get pushback from a couple of the publishers we submitted the manuscript to, who said flat-out that they wouldn’t publish a book that involved sex trafficking. But Sourcebooks was very supportive of it.
All credit to Sourcebooks—these issues are real for many young people. I also think you got the balance absolutely right. That scene needed to be there and was not in any way gratuitous. And through the whole book, the contrast between Georgie’s safe, comfortable life and that of those on the streets was stark. I could really feel your underlying anger at the fate of some young people. And not just at their fate, but the amount of ignorance that there is about it. Do you think writing this novel helped to harness that rage?
I think some of my motivation for this book comes from the fact that I have a young daughter and the thought of her falling into this kind of situation is very scary. In fact, I was inspired to bring in the whole trafficking plotline because while I was developing the book, I passed a sex-trafficking awareness billboard every day when I took my daughter to daycare. It was an image of a child surrounded by a bunch of shadowy adults and the caption read, “Sexually trafficked children are hiding in plain sight.” Seeing that every day with my own child in the backseat brought the message very close to home. Writing the book educated me on the issue of sex trafficking. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about it until I began to delve into it as I was creating Jane Doe’s character. I think you’d have to be a zombie to not be affected by some of the things I discovered, and I’m a pretty emotional person (I am Italian, after all!), so pouring my own emotions into my writing isn’t a hard thing for me to do.
As we’ve talked about, there are a number of serious issues within the book, yet you’ve woven them into a really pacey and intriguing thriller. (I can confirm that, having devoured it in one sitting!) Are you a writer to whom pace comes naturally?
To a certain extent. With this book, the pieces of it fell into place almost magically and even the first draft didn’t have a lot of extraneous scenes. Maybe because it feels like when you write a thriller you’re just barreling towards an inevitable conclusion for the main character and there’s not a lot of room for meandering. But in my other non-thriller books, there has definitely been some meandering. I like to write scenes where people sit around and shoot the breeze, and then I make myself sad when I have to cut them out in a later draft.
There were one or two points not completely resolved by the end of the book. Does that mean there’s more to come from Georgie and Nate?
From your mouth to my publisher’s ears! There is not a planned sequel, although I do have an idea for one should the book do well enough to warrant one. In the first draft I did have an epilogue that wrapped up some of those loose threads and I was advised by my critique group and my agent to leave it out. I’m glad I did, because I think it would’ve diluted the power of the last line of the book. Also, I hope that readers are thinking about what happens to Georgie and Nate after the book ends and coming up with their own conclusions. I’d love to hear what other people think happens to them and see if it matches up with what I think happens.
Many people don’t carry a donor card. Sadly, for most, it’s pure apathy. What would you say to people to encourage them to sign up as a donor?
Well, it’s definitely a very personal choice. And I can understand why people don’t sign up for it. But I think what I would say is that in spite of any icky-squicky feelings you might have about it, organ donation is an amazing gift. It is literally the gift of life. You could save numerous lives by simply checking off a box when you renew your driver’s license. I’m proud to be an organ donor.
As am I, Nicole! Thanks for a great read and bringing this non-YA into the YA fold—I’m so glad you did.
Nicole was born in the suburbs of upstate New York, and began writing poems about unicorns and rainbows at a very early age. She detoured into acting, earned a BFA from Emerson College, and moved to NYC where she performed in lots of off-off-off-Broadway Shakespeare. After a decade of schlepping groceries on the subway, she and her husband hightailed it to sunny Los Angeles, where they now reside, surrounded by fruit trees, with their daughter and two oddball cats.
To learn more about Nicole, please visit her website.