Thursday, February 26, 2015

Crocodile Mothers Eat Their Young - a novel by Avi Morris

Today I am honored to host a fellow All Things That Matter Press author Avi Morris.  He is here to discuss his autobiographical novel Crocodile Mothers Eat Their Young based on his experience as a foster father.  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, but above all, for what you have done for these children.

MJN: Speaking about writing what you know!  You and your wife have actually fostered children.  I have briefly worked in childcare protection services myself, and I've reviewed case records. It's amazing how much they have in common. Each child comes with his/her own story, yet all these stories have so many common elements.  Are there any stories from your experience that you would hesitate to share in a work of fiction?

AM: I’m wrestling with just that right now in a new novel. Like "Crocodile Mothers", it is meant to be a fictionalized version of a true story of a foster child of mine.  This one has a longer, more personal history to me, because the real life child is a drug addicted relative, and my wife and I have a continuing relationship with the whole family. The short answer to your question is that there is nothing that I would hesitate to portray, but I will modify and have modified actual events in a way that gets the point across of sexual or physical abuse, drug overdose etc, without indulging in too much emphasis on the shock value of horrendous events. My focus is more on the aftermath of these situations than it is on the precipitating events.  

MJN: It's amazing how many life-altering, eye-opening journeys begin on a whim. In the beginning of the novel you have an empty-nester couple toying with the idea of providing emergency fostering. They think they are doing minimally obliging baby-steps towards fostering, and once they take those first steps, they realize there is no going back.  

AM: People go into foster parenting for different reasons. The novel is a relatively faithful portrayal of how my wife and I decided to become foster parents. She’s a teacher and was witness to many children being taken away from their family, friends, school. The reality is, I knew all along that my wife was more ready for full time foster parenting than I was.  I needed the baby steps of doing short term arrangements more than she did.  But our very first step, the three month fostering of two pubescent sisters, was well beyond the typical short term emergency placement and more of a toddler walk than a baby step.  It had many challenges and many rewards.  It also gave me the time to understand that children coming out of even the worst of situations, while clearly psychologically damaged, can be pretty much interested in everything that a “normal” child is interested in.  The reality for any placement beyond a very short emergency, is that fostering a child often means a lot of effort to meet the needs of the child and live within the dictates of the oversight state agency, with which there can be, and often are, disagreements.  

MJN: You and your wife have three children of your own. Do you believe that having biological children makes you a better foster parent in a sense that it gives you insight into a child's psyche?  Or did you have to unlearn everything you'd learned while raising your own children?

AM: It’s hard for me to know if having our own children made us better foster parents than people who don’t have their own, but I think my willingness to foster was made easier because I had parenting experience. I don’t know that I unlearned anything, but I certainly had to learn new things, one big reason is that my own three children are male, and the first case we had, and which effectively lasted over a stretch of almost five years in the case of one of them, were teen age sisters.  I think I became more vigilant of them than I had been of my own sons. Certainly part of that was that I knew my sons far better than I knew the girls.  They were kids who had been physically abused and sexually molested. They had more foster experience than we did. Their educational needs were far different from anything we had experienced with our sons.  Not only that, but they came from quite a different cultural background from my wife and me. We spent a lot of time both purposely, and I suppose by osmosis, learning about each other.  I characterize my fostering experience as a major learning experience for me. 

MJN: Let's talk about the cover.  It's mysterious in its minimalism. It looks like a curtain at a community theater.  Makes you wonder what's behind it.  The title is clearly very striking and provocative. It's meant to solicit a certain emotional response from the reader.  Yet the background is very plain.  Was that contrast intentional?

AM: The cover was the only real point of debate between my publisher and me.  We had some difficulty agreeing on the cover.  Ultimately, they proposed the current cover.  The contrast between the title and the curtain-like background is intentional. The title creates some shock, while the curtain represents some mystery, or in effect, symbolic that the terrible things that happened to the children in the story happened behind closed doors, out of the light of day.

MJN: The two foster children described in your novel are biological sisters of Latin descent.  It's no secret that in Latin culture, where family is put on the pedestal, even if that family is struggling and dysfunctional, parents do not like the idea of giving up their children, especially to Caucasian foster parents.  At least, that was my impression.  Would you agree? 

AM: I think that in general, your observation is correct.  In the case of our foster daughters, their mother, as much as she mistreated her children, always wanted them.  When they were taken from her, she fled with a third, younger daughter to keep her from being removed. We never met her except briefly, years later at the wedding of the girl who is the model for the character Tina in the novel.  I know she resented us, but I don’t know if she would have felt any differently if the girls had been placed with a non-Caucasian family. They were the only Hispanic children we fostered. There were some awkward situations when the mother’s mother was dying in the hospital and later at her funeral where we brought “Tina”.   Her extended family was there on both occasions, aunts. Uncles, cousins, and we had the sense that we were not welcome, although nobody was outright hostile. Whether race had anything to do with the reaction, I truthfully don’t know.   

MJN: I'm going to ask you a personal question.  Is there a reason why you wrote this novel under a pen name?  Is it just that you want to keep your identities as writer and parent separately, or do you want to put a distance between yourself and other foster parents and social workers for privacy reasons? 

AM: The principal reason had more to do with shielding the identity of the real children that might have been guessed in some quarters had I used my real name.  That’s also the reason other aspects of the true story were disguised, including the locale. The pen name I chose is actually a tribute to my grandfathers, because my pen name, Avi Morris, is based on their names. 

No comments:

Post a Comment