Today I am privileged to be sharing blog space with Tricia Drammeh who is here to talk to us about her brilliant but much overlooked novel The Fifth Circle.
Me: Welcome Tricia, Thanks for sparing some time from your busy schedule. Can you tell me when and how you came up with the idea for The Fifth Circle?
Tricia: Thanks for having me, Melanie. The Fifth Circle started out with Alex and Sean, the two main characters, but it was supposed to be a fantasy. During the process of building their characters, I discovered a certain darkness about them. The story really evolved after a strange dream I had one night. When I woke up, I knew where to take Sean and Alex.
Me: Did you have to do much research, since the novel touches on mental illness and the criminal justice system?
Tricia: I did do quite a bit of research. It also helped that an ex-coworker has a degree in Criminal Justice and patiently answered many of my questions. I also have close relationships with a couple of people who have had some experience with incarceration, either personally or with a family member. I attended a couple of proceedings in the courtroom where this story is supposed to have taken place, and it was eye-opening. There might be some people who say that portion of my book isn’t realistic because it differs from what we see on television, but I think people who have had experience with the criminal justice system will find it accurate. During my research, I also found online support groups for families of the incarcerated. It’s important for people to know they are not alone.
I did some research on mental illness, but not a lot. I have suffered with depression in the past and have people who are close to me who struggle with bipolar disorder. I read some psychology articles and texts before publishing this book, but most of my research was based on personal experience, chats with people who are being treated for mental illness, or visits to online forums.
There are many families who have been touched by mental illness, addiction, abuse, and incarceration. It’s something people need to talk about instead of hiding in shame.
Me: Do you think the Dante aspect is putting people off buying and reading the book? I have never read Dante but I found that aspect interesting, since we all know people who belong in the fifth circle, or below, in hell.
Tricia: It might put some people off. Since writing the book, I’ve had so many people tell me, “I hated reading The Diving Comedy.” The Dante aspect is very small. Aside from quotes from Inferno at the beginning of each chapter, there are very few references in the book. You don’t have to like or have read Dante in order to read The Fifth Circle.
Me: Who is your favourite character in The Fifth Circle and why?
Tricia: Mr. Chalmers, Alex’s English teacher. He’s my favourite because he teaches Alex that you can feel compassion for someone without making excuses for them. Understanding why someone has made the mistakes they have made is different from making excuses for them and allowing them to continue making poor decisions. He teaches her there’s a difference between giving someone a hand up or a handout. And, he teaches her she doesn’t have to let her past define her and that she doesn’t have to be a victim.
Me: Did you find yourself getting frustrated with Sean & Alex while writing the book? They don’t strike me as characters that would suddenly grab the novel and run away with it the way characters sometimes do.
Tricia: Mel, you are so right! I usually write romantic fantasy for young adults where the characters carry me away and I end up falling for my romantic hero. In The Fifth Circle, there are lots of moments where I didn’t find my characters likable. They are very flawed, very real, and very frustrating. When you’re reading the book, you’ll discover things about the characters that make you understand why they act the way they do, but you’ll still want to tear your hair out when they make their next bad decision. In real life, most lessons are learned the hard way, and that’s how it is for Sean and Alex.
Me: What is your favourite part of the book? Please could you give us a short excerpt or a couple of paragraphs that you’re especially proud of?
Tricia: I’m not sure if this passage is my favourite, but it does describe Sean’s mental illness and his inability to control it.
My rage was a monster that lived inside me. When I was able to sleep, it was like the proverbial music that soothed the savage beast. On sleeping days, he was calm, docile, a lap dog. But, on those nights I couldn’t sleep—nights which turned into weeks—the monster was a pit-bull who jumped his backyard fence and attacked the neighbor who gave him a treat just days before. The monster was unpredictable, striking out without prejudice or provocation.
I could feel the monster awakening once again. He pawed and stretched, and paced the perimeter of his cage. With a sudden leap, he gnashed at the bars of his prison. I counted to ten, but that never worked, and the anger still pulsed inside me.
Me: What genre (s) do you think best describe The Fifth Circle?
Tricia: The book doesn’t fall into a genre, so it’s classified as Literary Fiction on Amazon. Though the book deals with young adults, I didn’t classify it as a Young Adult book. There is very strong language and sexual (not romantic) situations that might not be suitable for young teenagers to read. Since children as young as eleven and twelve are reading young adult books, I didn’t want to categorize it in such a way that young teens were sure to read it. As a parent, I would allow my seventeen-year-old daughter to read it, but not my fourteen-year-old.
Me: Finally, just for fun, what actors would you like to play Sean and Alex if they ever made a movie version of The Fifth Circle?
Tricia: I’m not much of a movie-watcher, so it’s hard for me to think of actors and actresses that would be suitable. Alex is pretty, but shy. In terms of looks, Selena Gomez (of Disney fame) would be a good match. Sean is a average in terms of looks, height, and musculature. When he was young, Toby Maguire would have been the perfect Sean.