Estelle Laure’s debut novel blew me away last year. I’ve been waiting for the release of her followup novel But Then I Came Back ever since. But Then I Came Back is set shortly after This Raging Light but follows Eden, Lucille’s best friend. But Then I Came Back is a story about love and friendship, moving on, and letting go. It’s also what Estelle is here to talk with me about today.
Estelle Laure (EL): While I was writing my second book one of my best friends my whole life committed suicide. I was trying to write a different book and it wouldn’t come together because I was preoccupied thinking about questions of life and death and making an argument for choosing to live even though life is so hard sometimes. I finally gave into the fact that this was the story that was really needing to be written by me just then, and that’s when it really took on life.
MP: But Then I Came Back is set in the same world as your debut novel but focuses on Eden’s recovery after she wakes up from her coma. Did you always know you would write a companion to your debut novel? How did writing about a place and characters you’ve encountered before influence your writing process?
EL: It takes me a long time to find out about characters and their backgrounds and motivations. I’m talking years. I’m always envious of people who can come up with them so quickly. Then, once I have them I get pretty invested and it’s hard for me to let them go. As This Raging Light was coming out, I got a lot of positive feedback about Eden. People wanted to know more about her. Having had the accident in This Raging Light it provided a natural place for a story to begin. It was really fun for me to explore the way we view other people and then when we’re really in their skin there’s a whole other thing going on, meaning even if life looks easy for them, they have their own challenges and insecurities to deal with. No one gets off easy. As far as writing process, I suppose it saved me some time having to discover characters, although there were so many new ones here I still had a lot to do!
MP: In your debut, This Raging Light, Lucille has some magical moments but they are all based in reality complete with natural explanations. Eden, by contrast, experiences something like an afterlife during her coma and begins seeing magical flowers everywhere after she wakes up. Not to mention her connection to Jaz–another comatose girl in the hospital. What was it like incorporating these fantastical elements into your otherwise contemporary/realistic novel?
EL: I LOVE magical realism for its freedom of expression. I would say there have been some things I couldn’t explain in my own life. Let’s say I think of reality as being on a spectrum, Life can be totally magical and connected and filled with signs if you’re open to it. I’m not insane I promise, and I have never hallucinated anything, but I found it quite natural to incorporate more magic into an otherwise realistic setting. I just considered it on the far side of reality, rather than the recognizable grit of Lucille’s life.
MP: After she wakes up, Eden starts a long road to recovery with physical therapy, talking to a therapist, and getting back into routine things like school or ballet. She also starts reading about near death experiences and some anecdotes about it are included in the book. What kind of research went into writing all of these things? What books did you read? Who did you talk to?
EL: I put out a general call on social media for anyone who had experienced an NDE. I was shocked at how many people responded. I had email exchanges, met for coffees, had a few phone calls, and got a lot of interesting answers. I got a little obsessed actually and read books and a bunch of articles, plus talked to a couple of doctors who had worked with coma patients. The book that I found most fascinating was Proof of Heaven. It’s a controversial one, but I liked it for putting some kind of structure to Jaz’s experience in the hospital. I didn’t want to be held responsible for making claims about the afterlife, but people consistently felt there was something, and I felt comfortable enough to put that out there.
MP: Eden is a tough talker and uses bravado to hide a lot of her vulnerability. She is also passionate about ballet and an avid reader who collects quotes. In our previous interview you said you’d like to think of yourself as similar to Eden. Do you have any of these things in common with her?
EL: I am NOT a ballet dancer (I wish you could see the blooper dancing reel in my head right now). I think I liked having a graceful character because that’s so not me. But I do read a ton and collect quotes. I like my wisdom distilled in ways I could never say it. And I think I used to use bravado that way until I talked to a therapist who told me being defended was weak, not strong, and that vulnerability and honesty were the strongest stance. I never forgot that and it changed my way of being. So maybe I was more Eden as a teenager than I am now.
MP: What was your favorite scene to write in this novel? Which seen or character are you most excited for readers to encounter?
EL: My favorite scene and the one that still gives me goosebumps every time I read it is when Eden jumps out of the plane. It’s so short, but it gets me every time. It’s when she is the most free and for me, who is deathly afraid of heights, even reading it gives me that falling, out-of-control feeling. I think I’m partial to Gigi as a character, actually. Though she isn’t in the book that much, she is based on my grandmother’s best friend, a woman from Martinique named George, who read cards and talked to ghosts. She completely fascinated me when I was little, and this is my way of letting some of her eccentric magic stay here on this earth even though she’s gone.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of the characters here?
EL: I think I’m done with Cherryville, actually. I feel complete there. I’m working on another magical book now and I’m afraid I can’t share much except that it’s still YA and is the book I’m writing for all the badass ladies in my life. I am totally letting loose in this one and it feels so good.
Thanks again to Estelle for this awesome interview.