This interview was first published on Good Choice Reading.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your newest book, Trafficked.
I’m trained as a journalist, but I quickly discovered that I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. I wanted to a novelist and make stories up. It had been my dream since I was ten years old and I decided to go for it. However, my journalism background definitely helped me to write this book because of how much research was required. I wrote two novels before this one – they ended up being practice novels. I’ve lived in Mexico and Korea, and travelled all around the world, which was useful experience when writing this book for many reasons, especially because I know how disorienting it is to live in another country where you don’t speak the language. It took me about six years to write TRAFFICKED. It’s about a seventeen-year-old girl who comes to Los Angeles from Moldova to be a nanny and ends up as a modern-day domestic slave.
2. What inspired you to write Trafficked?
I was teaching English as a Second Language to poor illegal immigrant mothers in Los Angeles for the Lennox School District when I first learned about people being trafficked and used as slaves in America. I thought slavery was over, at least in the western world. I had a degree in International Relations and not once had I heard about this. It shocked me. I looked at my beautiful students who had so much love and passion. Every day in class they shared touching stories about their lives. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. At the end of class, we ate a picnic from all the delicious food they brought in. I thought, this could happen to any of you, and I just had to learn more and write about it.
3. Were you worried about how readers would react to Trafficked?
I wasn’t. Now it seems strange because people have told me how shocking and disturbing it is to read in certain parts. I just wrote what I saw as the truth, based on the people I’d talked to and the research I’d done. I actually made it a little milder than what is probably the truth for many of these girls because I’d been warned that it could get banned in some areas due to the issue of slavery and the harsh nature of what she goes through. Despite this, I’ve heard some people say it really affected them emotionally. One of my best friends has told me she’s too afraid to read my story. That surprised me because ultimately this story is about the ability we all have to overcome fear and bring ourselves to a place of peace and joy.
4. What was the most difficult part to write in Trafficked?
When Hannah’s getting hurt, that was pretty tough to write. I really get into the characters when I’m writing. It’s kind of like method acting, but it’s method writing, in which I become the character. So when they get hurt, I feel it.
5. Human trafficking is something that is happening today, how much research did you have to do in order to write Trafficked?
I had a lot of stories to draw upon from the immigrants I taught, both from my poor students and the rich ones. I also traveled to Moldova, which has a huge trafficking problem, and I interviewed vulnerable girls in the city and the villages. I traveled in the same way that my girl Hannah travels out of Moldova to Romania and then finally to Los Angeles. A lot of her journey is based on what I experienced. I also interviewed people from anti-trafficking organizations both in Moldova and here in America. Of course, I read a lot too, but really most of the information that made into the book came from my direct experience with people in Moldova and immigrants here in America.
6. What are you working on now?
I have two novels on the go. One of them has to do with bullying. They’re both pretty suspenseful. We’ll see which one comes out first.