1. “Heavenly” introduces us to teenager Zoe; her autistic younger sister, Abria; and Abria’s guardian angel, Matthias. Immediately, the names capture readers’ attention and spark their imaginations. Where did you find these particular names (especially “Abria” and “Matthias”) and do you feel they express the personalities you gave these characters?
I wanted names that were unique, and would be identifiable to my story only, or pretty close to that goal. One of my daughters has a friend named Zoe, and so I thought it was a good place to start. I researched different older names for Matthias, and, again, wanted something totally unique that I’d never heard of yet not so outlandish you couldn’t pronounce it. Plus, I wanted the name to mean something, and it’s a derivative of more popular Mathew, who was one of the 12 Apostles. Abria came from a friend of ours, Abreea Delgrosso, of the performing Delgrosso family. I changed the spelling to make the pronunciation clearer to the reader.
2. The character of Matthias and the character of Zoe are, literally, a lifetime apart; did this concern you at all when you decided to make Matthias not only the object of Zoe’s affections, but have the much-older Matthias return these feelings for his teenage charge? How do you feel the relationship spans the age gap for these two characters?
The separation in Zoe and Matthias’ ages was intentional. Originally, I played with the idea that the Matthias character be from biblical times. But I didn’t have the understanding of the day to day of that period, and he might not have been as relatable to readers having lived during that time. So, I went with something closer to our time period and something wilder. I have a friend who’s a 20’s expert, and spent hours talking to him about the period to get a feeling for Matthias and how he might have lived. And, he’s only in his early twenties—at least, he only lived that long—so he’s not that much older than Zoe, unless you use a mortal time table.
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of life after death. I’ve formulated, in my head, what feels comfortable for me to believe might happen to people after they die and that definitely includes reuniting with deceased loved ones. But it also includes a world where others exist and meet and associate. Why would a person who died without falling in love and having a family for instance, not be able to meet their “true love” in the next life? I guess as a mother with a child who will never do those things in this life, my thought processes led me to considering other, merciful alternatives. Which led to me writing about two people who might be ‘meant for each other’ but be from completely different life times.
3. You have a child with autism and writing this series, I’m sure, has been a cathartic experience. Were you ever concerned that you might be putting too much of yourself—or of family members—into the writing of these novels?
Never. My writing is honest. I knew that opening the doors of my house to the world like this, even through fiction, would drive the reality deeper to those who read the story. Everything that happens in Heavenly, happened to us. My children ( there are six ) have all struggled in their own, unique way to accept our daughter with autism. The journey has been long, hard and tough, rivaled only by my teenage son’s drug addiction issues. Do I care that someone close to us can identify the characters? “Oh, that’s _” Not at all. Partly, because the kids have gotten past their issues with alcohol and drugs. When I was writing Heavenly, we were deep into my son’s drug issues. There were times I literally wept over my own words. I was so happy to be able to control the outcome, knowing I couldn’t control the outcome in real life! Luckily, my son has been clean for over two years now, and has put that cycle behind him. Zoe’s character is a combination of my two oldest daughters, both of whom reacted to their autistic sibling differently.
4. The idea of “innocents” like Abria having a guardian angel is a comforting one, and you write about it with such conviction; is it more than a storyline for you? Are guardian angels a belief that you carry in your own heart?
I definitely believe that guardian angels exist. The conviction comes from countless times when our daughter was lost, nearly hurt or whatnot and there was no other explanation for her safety but that someone was watching over her. My ponderings led to me to the idea that, why wouldn’t our deceased loved ones ( who else would have our interests and safety at heart more? ) would be watching out for us when we need them? This idea has brought me so much comfort over the years, I’ve no doubt that a similar plan is in place for us mortals.
5. You also write under the name “JM Warwick;” what are the advantage and disadvantages of utilizing a pen name? Do you find more creative freedom in using one name v. the other when creating storylines?
The various pen names were created to satisfy my need to write and publish three times a year, and to write in three different genres: women’s romance, edgy YA and YA. Most of my projects are falling under the Jennifer Laurens name now, which simplifies my life a bit.
The Heavenly series is close to my heart, and I love that people “feel” the special spirit of the book. I appreciate any and all chances to share!