Q&A with Revenge of the Radioactive Lady Author Elizabeth Stuckey-French

We chatted with the author about the inspiration for her novel, her fondness for dark comedy, and the challenges of writing a story from the perspective of seven different characters.
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You mention in the acknowledgements that your title character's ordeal with the radiation she unwittingly swallowed many years earlier is based on actual government-funded experiments that took place during the Cold War. What inspired you to craft a novel around these events?

Looking for something to read in my public library, I'd stumbled upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Plutonium Files by Eileen Welsome. It turned out to be a gripping read; it's just so horrifying that all of these experiments were done on unsuspecting people, including pregnant women. I kept wondering how these doctors and scientists could possibly justify their actions. How did they live with themselves?

I was initially interested in the doctor's point of view, but then started writing from the perspective of the victim, for personal reasons. I had thyroid cancer in my twenties, and was told it might have been caused by the old dental X-ray machines they used. I started thinking, "How do you forgive someone who has done something like this to you?" On top of that, I'm really interested in mass delusion. The Cold War era really fascinates me.

What inspired the character of Marylou, aka The Radioactive Lady?

She's based on a woman I read about in The Plutonium Files, but she's also combination of my mom and my aunt, who are both kind of kooky. They have great senses of humor, and even though they're really strong Christians they have no problem doing some morally questionable things [laughs]. I'm always interested in characters like that -- complicated and acting on various impulses. Good, but also with darker things going on. And, of course, funny.

You write about the devastating situations your characters face in darkly comic ways. What determined that choice?

I have a daughter with Asperger's syndrome who's been in a lot of support groups over the years, and sometimes you just have to laugh at stuff you wouldn't ordinarily laugh at. The things that the people in the novel are actually suffering from, like sexual abuse or autism, aren't funny at all, but I'm interested in how you cope with things by laughing or seeing the funny side, the darkly comic side. That's just how I see the world -- with a funny edge.

Continued on page 2:  Creating Characters

 

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