Dear Reader: a letter from Zoje Stage
My book, Bad Apple, began as a screenplay back when I was still pursuing a dream of being a writer/director, and so many of its earliest influences were cinematic. The story changed greatly once I developed it as a novel, but certain elements remained: a mute and mischievous child; an overwhelmed mother who questions her life decisions and, with the unavailability of her daughter’s love, needs the reassurance of her husband’s. Here’s a little peek at the various elements that inspired my book.
The 2008 Swedish film, Let The Right One In, was an artistic game changer for me. It inspired me to envision a film with a house that was beautiful and modern, but still a prison to the mother who began to resent her place in it. Though Suzette tries to maintain a perfect home, it stems in part from a fear that her husband will discover how inadequate she is as a mother. She’s internalized a rigid understanding of what sort of parent she should be, and everything about her daughter makes her feel like a failure. While Hanna certainly isn’t a vampire, I find it fascinating when children excel in ways they shouldn’t. For some, this may mean being a prodigy, but Hanna’s misaligned moral compass skews her talents in darker directions.
In more subtle ways, there have been numerous books that have given me things to ponder. I’m drawn to books with mother protagonists, especially ones where motherhood might not be the woman’s true calling, such as Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas, The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing and After Birth by Elisa Albert. Suzette certainly desires to be a good and loving mother, but she fears that having lacked a role model could doom her to make the same mistakes her mother made.
The magnitude of what chronically ill Suzette has undertaken as a wife and mother begin to make her feel trapped, not liberated – which reflects back to a Belgian film I watched many years ago, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, in which a woman becomes overwhelmed by the horrors of her domestic life. It made me think about how contemporary women, even in strongly feminist households, still do the bulk of the childrearing and household duties. It was a natural evolution to start contemplating how a woman – especially one with a difficult child – might start to regret her life and choices.
One of the final key elements in Bad Apple – Suzette’s Crohn’s disease – is something I know about all too well, having had it for 35 years. I never imagined I’d write about something so personal, but there were reasons why it worked well for this story: it gave Suzette both a physical and emotional vulnerability; it was a recognizable weakness that Hanna could exploit.
I hope readers enjoy how these influences eventually led me to write Bad Apple. Hanna and Suzette were very eager for me to tell their story.
Have you read Bad Apple by Zoje Stage yet? Let us know in the comments below!