What does Caged Dove mean/what is the book about? In 2009, I heard that a pregnant woman ran away. Although this book isn't about a missing person as The 20th Christmas was, my main character (Aniston) is a single mom to a toddler and feels the need to "run away" for five days. I wanted to combine that idea with one I'd had since junior high: suicide caused by being bullied. I put the manuscript aside, however. I wanted to wait until I could do the best job. Every time there was another victim of bullycide in the news, I felt God tell me this was a book I was meant to write due to having experienced bullying myself.
Where did the title, Caged Dove, come from? I've always had trouble with titles. I can come up with an idea, summary, outline, and even the manuscript better than a title! But, in 2009, I was walking around my house and a title entered my mind. I looked up scripture about doves and had chills. Nothing could have fit better with the story I wanted to write. (Psalm 55:6—I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.”) Dictionary definition of a dove: A pure white bird used as a symbol of innocence, gentleness, tenderness, and peace.
You wrote your first published novel (The 20th Christmas) in one month, how long did Caged Dove take? This is another fast-paced read (60,000 words) so it only took three months. Along with the title, I'd written the summary and first three chapters in January 2009 but I couldn't continue until it fell into place in 2014. I'm so glad Caged Dove could be released in October 2015 for National Bullying Awareness Month.
You have been described as a writer who manages to write about dark topics without being too dark. How did you do that with Caged Dove? Much of Caged Dove is a light-hearted love story. I wanted there to be a subplot that breaks up the bullying-suicide issue. If you ever had a high school crush then you can relate to the giddy and silly memories that Aniston has of Arjay—whom she comes into contact with after fifteen years. School crushes were a bright light for me, as they were for Aniston. I kept one high school journal so it was fun to read to get back into that mind-frame!
Are the characters in Caged Dove based on anyone in particular? People love to assume everything in a novel has happened to the author. Similarities to real life might be sprinkled in, but fiction is imagination. Caged Dove, for example, deals with a woman who goes back to her hometown and is stranded with her high school crush. Even though I didn't go back to my hometown until The 20th Christmas booksigning in 2014, and my husband was my first boyfriend, I was four years old when I had my first crush and they continued back-to-back until I met my husband. This book is about how much of a difference a simple smile or wave can make to a person's life--how that can actually save someone during a dark time--which is what happened to me. Teenagers will read this book and I want them to consider being that person for someone. I can understand how writing a book about bullying and suicide when it's something I've dealt with means people in my past may be nervous. I warned my mom after I wrote this book that the mother in my story isn't a great character and is bipolar, which is not the case with my own mom. Arjay and Aniston have a similar courtship as she did with my stepdad, as well as my husband's parents' love story. As for my former bullies, Caged Dove was written with a loving heart. I have no hard feelings from my past. I love the places I've been and the people who helped make me who I am. I would be devastated if anyone was to be embarrassed or threatened by anything in any of my books or to take anything personally. This book and all of the characters took on a life of their own, so I didn't even know what was going to happen from chapter to chapter. As a writer, I constantly put myself into other people's shoes and get into the mind and emotions of my characters. I recognize non-writers may mistake characters for me or people who they find coincidences with, and will see what they try to see, so I just pray my books are positive to readers--never negative.
Is there a theme song like “Breath of Heaven” was for The 20th Christmas? I reference the song “Cut” by the Christian group, Plumb. Aniston hears this song a decade after she's been bullied and realizes she experienced that self-destructive behavior to try to deal with the pain in junior high. When young teens go through dark times, they often turn to unhealthy behaviors. As adults, we need to be on the alert for these behaviors to help teens replace them with something positive before it's too late. As for the love story portion of the novel, there is mention of the 1989 song “Listen To Your Heart,” as well as the 2014 song, “Night Changes.”
What message do you want readers to walk away with from Caged Dove? Sadly, bullycide is a way-too-common issue. With social media now, bullying is more difficult to get through than ever. Thankfully, there is attention now that wasn't when I was growing up. Aside from October being National Bullying Awareness Month, celebrities are standing up for victims and schools have taken an anti-bullying pledge. However, there are still plenty of misconceptions. Often adults think bullying is a rite of passage that all children go through. With other forms of abuse, our society seems to have a clear picture that a victim is not to be blamed. With bullying, there is sometimes a mentality that if only the victim had stood up for themselves more, or talked about it, or just ignored it, etc. then all would be fine. In reality, every situation is unique and after so long a child doesn't have the ability to prevent their spirit from being broken. Day in and day out for years will eventually tear down anyone. We need to be there for all children—to make sure they're not allowed to be bullies and to be there for those who are being bullied.
For me, it really helped to have the perspective that Jesus was bullied and therefore knew exactly what it was like and was on my side. Looking at what he'd endured, I had motivation to rise above my own situation. I'd spent an entire year being an athiest (or what I now see as actually being mad at God), but once I realized he was with me every single minute at school—I wasn't on my own, he was watching everything and would help me through it—life got amazingly better. I wore cross necklaces to school and, when the kids were mean, I'd hold on to the cross and feel Jesus standing beside me. He was not only my friend, but gave me the most strength I'd ever had. I could feel the insecurity leave when I held on to that cross. Often times, students around me would stop in mid-sentence from picking on me—I remember being surprised because they didn't know that I was calling on God in those moments. I was able to have a great high school experience, free from bullying. I'm thankful I didn't get stuck in the darkness that once consumed me. But, even though my life since then has been positive, I'll never forget what those earlier days were like and so I pray Caged Dove can help someone else out there who is struggling.
For more about Andrea's writing background, please check out her interview about The 20th Christmas HERE.