Hi Everyone! Please join me in welcoming Amanda McNeil to the blog. She is the author of the post-apocalyptic drama Waiting for Daybreak and has graciously agreed to a Q&A session as part of the blog tour for her novel. Additionally, she also agreed to send us a copy of Waiting for Daybreak to give away on the blog! Details follow the interview below:
What made you decide on writing a novel about a zombie apocalypse?
It’s interesting, really. A lot of people have asked me that (both in the tour and in person), and it’s not like I really decided. The idea just came to me. I was walking home from the bus stop. I had to work over Thanksgiving, and Boston is a city that empties out for that holiday. The streets were empty. I thought to myself, “This is what Boston would look like after an apocalypse.” That day at work I had been reading about how fMRI scans show that people with Borderline Personality Disorder actually have a different sized amygdala from people without BPD. I thought, “Hey, what if there was a virus of some sort and having the different brain made the mentally ill immune?” The zombies just flowed from there.
What was your favorite part about writing Frieda? What was your inspiration for a character like her?
I think my favorite part about writing Frieda was writing someone who grows from trying to conform to gender norms and roles before the apocalypse to letting herself just be herself whether what she’s doing is considered feminine or not. I think by the end of the novel, she has grown out of the confinement of gender norms entirely, and that was very enjoyable for me.
As far as my inspiration, I think sometimes characters in post-apocalyptic novels are written at a super-human level. There’s nothing wrong with that, a lot of people enjoy it. But I got to thinking what if the survivor isn’t abnormal in a “good” way like she’s a sharp-shooter or something. What if she’s abnormal in a way that was seen as a hindrance before the event and isn’t a clear advantage after? Since I also was currently learning a lot about mental illness at my job at a psychiatric hospital’s library, it just seemed natural to me to make that be Frieda’s issue.
Both Frieda and Mike struggle with mental health issues, which seem to be a background theme for the novel. What made you decide to focus on mental health?
There were a few reasons, some personal some less so. I’ve loved multiple people, whether as friends or as a significant other, who have a mental illness, and it’s not something that is often given an even-handed depiction in literature or movies. The mentally ill person is either just crazy nut-job like the main character in “Fatal Attraction” or their mental illness is actually some aspect of something enviable in them such as the genius of the main character in “A Beautiful Mind.” Neither of those are generally the experiences of either the person with the mental illness or the people who love them. I wanted to show that people with a mental illness have good qualities and bad qualities just like everyone else. I also wanted to give readers with a mental illness a novel featuring someone like them where the illness wasn’t the entire focus. That’s why I decided to combine the mental illness with something very genre like a zombie apocalypse. It’s not fair that these real people should be constantly relegated to “issue” novels.
What part did you enjoy writing the most?
That is a real toss-up between Frieda’s trek to the MSPCA to get the medicine for Snuggles or the climax. The former let me envision actual neighborhoods I frequent in a post-apocalyptic setting, which was just fun. The latter, without giving anything away, was cathartic for me.
I see that you have a special place for our furry friends in your novel. Do you have a pet currently?
I do! I have a gorgeous tortoiseshell cat. Her name is Ayla, and I adopted her as an adult from the MSPCA. She’s about four-ish now (her exact age has always been uncertain). She always greets me at the door with a meow, and she loves watching the birds from the windows in my attic apartment.
We also adopted an abused pit bull mix when I was in highschool. He’s named Bruschi after the Patriots player. He lives in Vermont with my brother (and sister-in-law and nephews and niece) currently, but I get to visit him.
Did you ever imagine that you would become an author?
Oh it’s basically been all I ever wanted. The hard part was figuring out what career to do to survive, since we all know how hard it is to live off of your writing! When I was around the age of four, I wrote a book about a grasshopper, illustrated it, bound it, and forced it upon my family. I kind of see that as the early version of what I do now, lol.
What is your favorite part about writing?
I used to say that it’s seeing this whole world come from my head to exist on the page and going, “Wow, I can’t believe that came from my head!” But now that I’m actually getting readers, I also really enjoy seeing someone say, “This part really touched me” or “How I think about the world changed after reading this.” It’s a real toss-up between those two. The writing the first draft is really for me. Publishing it is hoping that it will affect someone somewhere in the way that reading has affected me my whole life.
Finally, if you had to survive a zombie apocalypse, and could only carry three things with you (other than basic supplies), what would they be?
Oh jeez what a tough question! I know I would want a journal, so definitely a notebook and pen. (That counts as one item, right?) Something to read of course. And that’s all I can think of. Perhaps I’m counting too many things as basic supplies? I’m also not a person who really needs much either though.
Thank you for having me and for the great questions!