John The Aussie Interviews Jessica McHugh

Interviewer: John The Aussie

Author: JessicaMcHugh, writer of Rabbits in the Garden

I was recently suggested to read a book by an author friend of mine (Because I’m in the know and all).  “Jessica has been around for a few years now and is getting quite popular.  Listen if you don’t like her book, delete it from you kindle and ignore my suggestions.  If ya like it, you may prefer to get into her alternate history and fantasy novels.”

So obviously I took his sketchy advice, downloaded it to kindle and read it.  At first I was honestly wondering what I was reading without checking what the genre was, who the author was or even what the book was about… I was nearly ready to kick the referer to the curb “This barstard sent me a soap opera book!”  Well that was until the main character beat some rabbit to death with her hare bare hands, walked into her cellar and later woke up to find herself at the steps to a mental asylum (paraphrased).

All of a sudden I am thrown into a world of psychosis, murder, sex, affairs and MORE murder.  I didn’t put the book down, and I found it a relatively easy to read.

So I got onto the author and after much debating on which time suited us both, being on opposite ends of the world, we finally caught a moment where we both could catch up for some coffee via chat…

: G’day Jessica. Thanks for giving me the oppurtunity for this interview. I was recently recommended to purchase your book ‘Rabbits In The Garden’ and I must say, it was a whole new genre for me to break into. It was a real page turner.

Avery Norton, the twelve year old girl in which was accused of multiple murders and sent to an asylum, how did you create such a victimized character?

Jessica McHugh: Thank you so much for this opportunity, John. I’m so happy you enjoyed the story.

The story and most of the characters in “Rabbits in the Garden,” came from two distinct places. The first was a story I started writing when I was 21. That is where the “rabbits in the garden” storyline originated, including Avery Norton and her mother Faye. At this point, I knew she was going to endure a lot, although I had no idea exactly what until I finished the book several years later.

The other piece of the story, which centers around Avery’s time in the asylum came from a dream I had. The morning after the dream, I wrote it all down and added the idea “1950s Asylum Love Story” to my corkboard. There was also an “Avery” in the dream, as well as a domineering mother. The stories fit so well together that I decided to merge the storylines. That’s when Avery got her depth and I was able to see what kind of character she would be. It was tough at times to write her. I felt very bad for what I put her through…and not so bad.


John : Avery was admitted to Taunton State Hospital (formerly known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton), a psychiatric hospital, where she is promptly given the nickname of Lizzie. The alias given to her by her roomate, was from Lizzie Borden from the infamous Fall River, Massachusetts massacre.

Did Lizzie Borden have any influence in the design of the story?

Jessica McHugh: Not hugely. I did read up on Lizzie Borden’s hijinks, (Has it been long enough that we can refer to them as “hijinks?”) but Lizzie was brought into the story because my mother and father mentioned her being confined to Taunton. My parents grew up in Massachusetts, my mother actually on Martha’s Vineyard, so their input was invaluable while I was doing research.

John: I find a lot of authors have invaluable input from their families and friends. Of which however Avery’s father dissapeared at a young, her sister was sent to boarding school and she is left at home with an overbearing mother. The bond between Avery and her sister Natalie have such a strong union between them and although they were kept apart, their bond stayed relatively strong. Who inspired this sibling relationship?

Jessica McHugh: I grew up with two older brothers, and I think only sisters could have the kind of bond Avery and Natalie have, especially considering their mother’s harrowing lessons. I never had an especially close relationship with either of my brothers, not even close to the Norton sisters’…but, in a way, our distance helped me create the closeness between the sisters. Sometimes you write about what you have. Sometimes you write about what you wish you’d have.

John : The influence of absense, that really surprised me. Though this isn’t the only relationship that Avery has and the other I would assume nearly comes close to sisterhood. The roomate mentioned earlier in which gave Avery her alias was Francine, aka Flint. Such a befitting name for a pyromaniac, or arsonist as Flint prefers. Though a rocky start to the friendship, their friendship blooms to how I would describe as a tangled rose bush. Avery’s innocence has her refuse to acknowledge, or simply assume that everyone in the hospital is normal, especially Flints. After a great loss, she finally realizes that everyone once around her when Flint sacrifices herself to help Avery escape. Did you find it hard to essentially ‘kill’ off some of the characters?

Jessica McHugh: Absolutely. I cried when I wrote Flint’s death scene. Also when I realized that in burning down the hospital, I had also killed hundreds of others I’d never even met. I didn’t even know their names. Avery’s realization that she’d really become a murderer was my own. Of course, I don’t think of writers as murderers, but hey, I think a lot of us take some delight in it. Even through the tears of cutting Flint out of Avery’s life, I was tickled at knowing that my readers would feel the same pain as I felt. It is amazing to twist the hearts and stomachs of people I’ve never met, and may never meet.
This is book with a high body count, and I suffered at writing every death, even the ones that deserved it. But I also rejoiced. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing horror.

John : “I suffered at writing every death, even the ones that deserved it.” is this to mean you take Faye’s stance (Avery’s overbearing mother), or just those that were actually evil enough to deserve their fate?

Jessica McHugh: I’m not sure anyone was truly “evil,” but I think Faye definitely got what she deserved…in Avery’s mind, at the very least. To herself, Faye was a saint. A martyr. There are probably some people out there in the real world who agree with her, which is even more disturbing than the character, I think.

John : Faye was disturbing enough as it was, to start thinking about people who would actually martyr her.

We come to the last of Avery’s major relationships, which is with Paul, her childhood sweetheart that forever truly believed her innocent of her accused crimes. A true roller coaster ride of a relationship which the love never disappears from. Paul, after growing up, faces his fears head on, face to face, which was such a change from when he was young and made his promise to Avery. The internal growth inspired by personal experience or witnessing a friend grow into their ‘zone’? Was there a moment when you thought “This is so when….”?

Jessica McHugh: Honestly, the emotion between Avery and Paul was straight from the dream. It was one of the most amazing dreams of my life, in that an entire story was revealed to me. Obviously, there were some parts that had to be changed. For instance, Angelina Jolie couldn’t be in it.

But Avery and Paul were “a thing” when I started the book. Writing them was a breeze because I felt for them. It was the same for Faye and Avery. I felt like I knew those characters so well, writing dialogue was an absolute delight.

I still love reading that original journal entry about my “1950s Asylum Love Story.” It’s very close to what “Rabbits in the Garden” ended up being.

John : Is the Journal available for everyone to see, if so where do we find it?

Jessica McHugh: Ha! No, it’s not online right now, but I’m not opposed to sharing the the entry.

John : Can I be the first to release it?

Jessica McHugh: (2009)

Idea for story from dream

Story of unrequited lovers in the 1940s/50s.
The daughter is locked away in a nuthouse even though she isn’t really crazy, and she gets frequent visits from her mother who teases her with information about the man her daughter loves (ie when he marries her older sister.)
When the man is discovered having a male lover on the side, the sister steps aside, but the mother, furious and trying to kill both lover and man, kill the lover and her eldest daughter instead.
The youngest daughter finally gets out of the asylum and is prepared to find the man she loves, to be with him and help care for the baby he had with her sister, but her mother blows up the boat he is on: killing him. But the daughter jumps in and saves the baby. The baby’s cries sound like voices to her, voices telling her the story of how she actually has been driven insane and telling her what she needs to do to finally be at peace. Those who have died come to her, including a badly burned man that she loved, who finally “makes love to her”. (Angelina Jolie, James Duval singing part) The people are still talking to her when she leaves the room for a while, and when she comes back and sits down, she is confronted by another dead person: her mother whom she has just killed; perhaps burned alive. (teeth- no lips)
The last scene is her crying tears of joy (which she has never been able to do before) as she rocks the baby to sleep.

Clearly, I changed the “male lover” bit…a bit. 

John : It’s amazing of what become of an entry and a dream; such a dark story to be told, with so much emotion involved.

So I have two questions left to finish up with one being for you and one for Avery.

You – Naked writing is it for you?

Jessica McHugh: Nah not so much. Although I do dig thin summer dresses, tall frosty beers, and writing outside at patio bars.

John : A good drink helps the words flow…

and Avery – with so much compassion and story to be told, what is the one thing you’d like to share with those that shared your life?

Jessica McHugh (as Avery): Sometimes, the opportunity to deny the past may give someone the ability to have a future, to *have* something for the first time ever. Second chances are a godsend.

John : Thanks Avery, and thank you again Jessica for joining me over cyber coffee for a chat.

Jessica McHugh: Thank you for having me, John. It was a lot of fun!

You can purchase Rabbits in the Garden from:

US Amazon: Rabbits in the Garden

UK Amazon: Rabbits in the Garden

You can also find Jessica McHugh and her latest news in the following places.
Rabbits in the Garden – Facebook page
Twitter: @theJessMcHugh