Open Book Society, reviewer Una, is back this month with a great interview. Here she chats with author Talia Haven, in which they discuss her book MAMA CRIED, the inspiration behind the short story, hellhounds, details throughout the story, the guardian Azula, character decisions, and more. Enjoy!
Una: As someone who has always thought it was too easy for someone who committed heinous crimes to be forgiven through their acceptance of Christ (and thus be able to go to heaven) with no justice for the victim; Was it a personal experience that brought you to write this thought provoking short story?
Talia Haven: We as a family have been very blessed, nothing like what Vivian has experienced has ever happened to us.
I wrote Mama Cried one night after watching the news. A mother of a child had just found out what had happened. And as you can guess the press was all over her. One of the questions they asked… is how are you feeling right now? What a stupid question, but they always seem to ask it. It does not matter if it is a major victory at a sporting event or something tragic like an accident or crime. How are you feeling right now, always gets asked.
The poor woman was unable to speak.
You also see families on the news always speaking about justice for so and so, and I always wondered what about justice for them. It is like they are expected to say justice had been served and it is time to move on.
Una: When the book opens you have Jenny playing, with her puppies near to her, in a playground setting and the reader at that point does not see the significance of the dogs other that as comfort for the children: What made you choose the “hell hounds” to be part of the story?
Talia Haven: What child does not love a cuddly bundle of soft fur? Always ready to play?
The Hell Hounds were also perfect to drag a soul to hell. Who can look at a strange dog and not feel some caution when you are around them? The dogs grew to be big and powerful enough to do the job.
Any other hell creature would have scared the children and give the reader a clue to early as to what they are really for.
Una: When Jenny and Azula go into the chamber where the killer is to be executed, was there another purpose of the feet rubbing other than to make the killer aware of the child’s presence? Is this a biblical allegory or would you consider it to be something different?
Talia Haven: If I remember correctly, people are buried without their shoes, and the condemned are sent to their deaths with no shoes.
So I placed the priest at his feet, and that is where I also put Jenny. The rubbing was just a way to get the soul out of Theodore and into Jenny’s hands.
Una: Other than having someone accompany the child was there any purpose to the guardian Azula? Did she have any other role other than explanation of what was going on? I also wondered what happened to her after the final decision was made. Could you comment on this?
Talia Haven: She and others like her continually gather up children from the dark void. They explain that if the child gets puppies and goes to the playground they will have to make a decision later on. They are also responsible for making the child forget what had happened to them. Remember that most of these people who commit these crimes had asked and received forgiveness. And the story is not about taking revenge for yourself, but to look at how it had changed the lives of family and friends.
Una: As Jenny realizes what had made her Mama cry, and then sees the killer through words make her Mama cry again, she decides his fate. Is she making this decision as a child or someone older as the dogs have definitely become adults or is it a timeless decision?
Talia Haven: It is a timeless decision and she judges as a child. Children love their parents; they do not want to see them hurt. I have been told that even children who are abused by their parent still love them.
Una: The killer is smug and exudes confidence when speaking to the mother (making me think a leopard doesn’t change his spots) assuring her that he and Jenny would be together not only now but in heaven. The mother is overwrought with grief. Why did you have the mother at the execution, with no hope of any type of closure?
Talia Haven: Vivian is there because she needs to hear that he is sorry.
I also put her there to remind Jenny of her mother’s love. Theodore spoke those words because I needed to give Jenny a reason to look into the pain he caused Mama. I needed to make Mama cry again. His being smug was the perfect way to move the story along.
Una: In the end the reader can only assume that Jenny would continue on to heaven and the killer would go to hell. Was this your intention?
Talia Haven: No, I intended this to be speculative. I felt that leaving it open would make the reader wonder. When Jenny made her decision did she continue to go where the rest of the children went? Did some other children forgive? Did some other children judge? Did some not make a decision at all? Do they all go to the same place?
Or as in life, in death when an important decision is made one path is closed while another is opened up? Example what would you be like now if you had only studied something else in college, or if you had moved out of state? Or what if you had but off your wedding for a few years, married the same person and had children? Would the children you have now be the same people if you had children a year sooner?
In our lives we have crossroads and the decisions we make decide the path we take. Jenny’s world it is the same.
Una: The book is short, fulfilling and the language speaks to the reader. Was there a reason it was only 11 pages long?
Talia Haven: Yes, I know what happens to Jenny but I decided that it would diminish the impact for the story. So I decided not to write about that and leave it as it is.
- Read our review for MAMA CRIED here at OBS.
- For more information about the author and her books visit her at her Official Website here.
Thank you to author Talia Haven for a great interview!