Monday, April 5, 2010

Author Interview: Caragh O'Brien

With me today to help promote her recent debut release Birthmarked is Caragh O'Brien, the brains behind this well developed dystopian.

AGA: How much research was involved in this book, particularly with the scientific/genetic aspect?

COB: Let me first say how honored I am that you invited me by to answer a few questions. I’m so glad you liked Birthmarked. For research, I wanted to know what might be real complications of human inbreeding, so I did research on that and on basic genetics. My husband is a professor of physiology and neurobiology, so for me, the cool part came when I pitched all my fictional genetic problems at him and asked how I could solve them. He told me about suppressor genes, which are real. He was a great resource.

AGA: What was the initial idea/scene that sparked the rest of this book?

COB: My family drove across the country during the drought of 2008, and the empty lakes in the south, state after state, were striking. I began to worry about how people would react if the U.S. became a wasteland, and that gave me the background idea for the setting and society of Birthmarked. Gaia emerged naturally as a pivotal character in that stressed, unfair society.

AGA: What was the hardest part of this book for you to write?

COB: Because I vicariously feel the emotions of my characters while I’m writing, there was one scene that was especially painful for me to write. It’s hard to say more without spoiling, but you can probably guess what it was.

AGA: Where did the inspiration come for the some of the original names/terms used in this book?

COB: Ha. That’s a fun question. Despite question 3 above, I normally had a great time writing this book, and making up the terms was part of the game. I took terms from today and pushed them together, mostly. Combining TV and altar into Tvaltar implies that we worship our TV’s, obviously. I originally spelled Protectorat with an “e” at the end, but my uncle reminded me that has a legitimate and different definition already, so I changed it.

AGA: How long did the pictures for the code take for you to make? What about the basic principle behind the code and cracking it?

COB: My father was a cryptanalyst for the army, and when I was little, my siblings and I were always messing around with codes. I combined some for the code in the book. I kept writing it wrong, though, and having to redo it. I think I ended up with four drafts. You should have seen me taking photos and dropping them in the manuscript. It was pesky, but again, really fun.

AGA: If you were one of the midwifes, how easily do you think you'd be able to advance the babies each month, knowing you were taking them from their mothers?

COB: You know, I’d like to think I wouldn’t do it, but I would be a creature of my culture as much as Gaia was. People persuade themselves to do awful, awful things because they think it’s right, especially if their own lives are at risk for disobeying. I hope I’ll be brave enough to do what’s right when the time comes, and that it will be clear to me what “right” really is.

AGA: If you could pair Gaia and Leon with any characters from any other book, what would be your pick for them?

COB: Romantically? Gaia would need someone incredibly charismatic and trustworthy. Leon. He’s such a mess, really. He needs someone kind, smart, maybe twisted. This is messing with my head. Can’t do it. Sorry.

AGA: How many drafts did you go through in writing this book- and were there many drastic changes from the beginning versions to the end ones?

COB: I first had a completely different ending, but once I started talking to Nan Mercado, my editor, I saw it wasn’t working well at all and would leave me in a difficult place to start Book 2. I scrapped the last 60 pages or so and wrote something completely new. It surprised me, and I liked it much better. During the year and a half I wrote and revised Birthmarked, I’d guess there were well over twenty drafts, with sections reworked countless times. I worked on it until Nan was asking me, do you want “clear” in this line, or “clean”? We were down to individual letters.

AGA: What has been the hardest part of writing on a whole for you? What about the easiest or most rewarding?

COB: The hardest parts are the most rewarding parts, just not yet.

AGA: Is there anything else you'd like to say or add?

COB: I’d just like to say thanks, Kari, for inviting me by and for your positive, thoughtful review of Birthmarked. I’ve been hoping that people would like Gaia’s story, and it makes it easier to go forward with Book 2 knowing you care about her. And these questions were fun. They made me think. Thanks!

You're very welcome and thanks again for stopping by! If you guys haven't checked out this book, go out and pick it up- it's in stores now! It's well worth it and will definitely make you think.


  1. This looks like a interesting book, love the cover. Nice interview :) I love seeing the authors POV

  2. I cannot wait to read this book. Great interview :D

  3. Glad I bought this book the other day ;)

    As usual, awesome questions. *nodnod* The author had such a fountain of information to work with when she wrote this book! A husband that knows genetics and a cryptanalyst for a father? Like, whoa. :D

  4. I really want to read Birthmarked.
    Lovely interview. I loved the part where she claims that she emotionally feels connected with the characters...very intense :)

  5. Really interesting interview! Thanks. :) And Birthmarked sounds amazing, Caragh -- adding it to my pile!