Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Interview with M.E. Roufa, author of The Norma Gene - August 5, 2015

Please welcome M.E. Roufa to The Qwillery  as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Norma Gene is published by Bitingduck Press.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

M.E.:  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I still have some of the books I wrote from elementary and middle school, which I saved at the time because even then I thought were worth hanging on to. (Which is either a sign that I was precocious, or that I have a long history of falling in love with my own writing. Ack)

TQAre you a plotter or a pantser?

M.E.:  A little of both. By nature, I'm a total pantser. But if I don't see where something is going, it's a lot easier for me to abandon it. For The Norma Gene, I hit that point where I knew how the characters started out and ended up, but I couldn't figure out how to get them together from one place to another, knowing the paths each one was going to take. So I did end up outlining their interactions to help me make the timeframe make sense. So I guess that makes me a plontzer? Please tell me that’s not yet another Yiddish word for penis.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

M.E.:  Actually doing it.

TQYou are a creative director and copywriter. How does this affect or not your fiction writing?

M.E.:  To be any good at writing ads, you learn to compress everything you need to say toward the shortest possible attention span. So you develop an inner voice that has no tolerance for filler. You have to cut to the chase. That’s great for a 30 second television spot, but much harder when you’re staring down the long barrel of an 80,000 word novel. I had to relearn things like environment descriptions and introspective thinking. HEY YOU, BUY THIS NOW has no room for that sort of thing.

TQWho are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

M.E.:  Influences? Douglas Adams. Jasper Fforde. Everyone who ever wrote for The Muppet Show. Favorite authors would be all of those, plus Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope. And Lemony Snicket.

TQDescribe The Norma Gene in 140 characters or less.

M.E.:  An illegal Abraham Lincoln Clone goes on the run, and a Marilyn Monroe clone comes to his rescue. On segways. Plus they eat dodo.

TQTell us something about The Norma Gene that is not found in the book description.

M.E.:  There’s a small mini-plotline that I love – Abe has a hard time in general with being an Abraham Lincoln clone, and does everything he can to keep people from associating him with the man he can’t help but resemble. But more than anything else about his genetic ancestor, he really, really hates the stovepipe hat. Part of his journey involves his coming to terms with it. It casts a long goofy shadow.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Norma Gene?

M.E.:  About a thousand years ago, I wrote a TV commercial for Little Caesars Pizza about cloning ( . It got me thinking about Dolly, the first cloned sheep and because of that, the first celebrity clone. It brought up all sorts of thoughts about identity and fame – who you are versus how people perceive you based on your image.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Norma Gene?

M.E.:  I did a lot of Lincoln research. I read Sandburg’s amazing bio along with a lot of online resources, and visited the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, MO. I talked with cast members at Disney World and took a tour through the utilidors (secret underground tunnels) beneath the Magic Kingdom. I also did some research into Marilyn Monroe, especially about her transformations and her role in fashion and beauty iconography, but mostly with her I winged it. Marilyn Monroe was a cultural construct – she wasn’t born looking or even acting like we envision her. So I wanted Norma to be more of a blank slate with these unforgettable images projected onto her.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

M.E.:  Norma was incredibly easy to write, in many ways. Women are constantly being told they don’t measure up to some feminine ideal, especially physically. Now imagine not only having society’s pressure to groom yourself toward perfection, but also a couple decades worth of “proof” of what you could look like, if you chose. How incredibly pulled you would be toward getting that “easy” approval, and how repellent that would be.

Ed (one of the People Who Don’t Work for the Government who is after Abe) was probably the hardest. We’ve all seen the straight laced “good cop” who is actually out to get the hero, and I didn’t want him to feel like a cliché.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Norma Gene.


“This despite the fact that the Hitler clone had not only failed to live up to his “potential,” his sense of inferiority and petty vindictiveness kept him from rising past assistant manager at McDonalds.”

“Later that night, after The Dress forced her to drink a bottle of chardonnay and pose in front of the mirror in every conceivable position short of Downward Facing Dog, Norma suddenly remembered the word Stealing. Also the word Wrong, and the word Prison. When the next mental leap brought her to the words Jumpsuit and Orange, the dress suddenly weakened its silken grip.”

TQWhat's next?

M.E.:  I’ve been thinking a lot about time travel.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

M.E.:  Thanks for having me! I really love the work you showcase and am thrilled to be included here.

The Norma Gene
Bitingduck Press, August 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 310 pages

Abe Finkelstein is an illegal clone of Abraham Lincoln - not an easy thing to keep secret when your face is on money. Norma Greenberg, one of the world’s many Marilyn Monroe clones, is wrestling with identity issues of a different sort. It’s not easy living as a perfect copy of the beautiful Norma Jeane Baker! When Abe is kidnapped by government agents eager to discover the secrets of his illustrious ancestor, Norma could be Abe’s last hope of escape - or thanks to her barely suppressed kleptomania, his worst chance of recapture. With only their wits, a cigarette lighter, a bottle of perfume, and the disembodied arm of Richard Millhouse Nixon (don't ask), can Abe and Norma make it back to safety and anonymity? Set in Orlando, Florida, where artifice beats authenticity with one animatronic hand tied behind its back, The Norma Gene features a host of Abe Lincolns, a gaggle of Marilyns, a segway chase through the secret underground tunnels of the Magic Kingdom, and the answer to the age-old mystery about the dodo bird: what flavor was it?

About M.E. Roufa

M.E. Roufa has ridden an ostrich, appeared on Jeopardy, and can crochet a mean banana. In her spare time, she works as an award winning advertising writer and creative director whose work has appeared everywhere from the Super Bowl to the sides of shampoo bottles. THE NORMA GENE is her first novel.

Twitter  @MERoufa ~  FacebookWebsite


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