Elephant by Natalie Rodriguez is an insane coming-of-age psychological suspense novel. It is a book that talks in good detail about the crucial subject of mental health. It is a book that translates the emotions of friendship, fear, anxiety, guilt, and love to create a vivid image of the story.
In a candid chat with Bookish Fame, Natalie Rodriguez talked about her book, her journey as a writer, and gave some tips for the budding writers too. Read on!
- Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, my name is Natalie Rodriguez! Thank you for having me here chat via virtual, considering today’s circumstances with COVD-19. I hope some background information on my debut young adult fiction, thriller novel, “Elephant,” will bring you some solace.
A bit about me: I grew up in the suburbs, about 30-40 miles from Los Angeles/Hollywood, aka where the entertainment industry was located. From the moment I was a girl, I LOVED movies and television. A lot had to do with my Grandma Connie and my mother’s passion for movies and TV – they simply loved to watch anything. From there, going to the movies and watching particular TV shows was sort of mandatory in my mother’s household.
Over the years, my passion for the arts only heightened over time.
- When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
The first art project that really left me in awe was Steve Martin’s “Cheaper by the Dozen” film. As I stepped out of the movie theatre, I kept thinking about the characters and the storyline. In the years to come, I realized that moment was a wakeup call – truly a moment where I was recognizing my desire for what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. A lot of “what if the film went this way and not that way” kept popping up in my mind. It was an obsession of mine and I had zero idea why as an eleven-year-old.
Of course, a few months later, I had to write a short story for a fifth-grade school project, which ended up being the earlier drafts of “Elephant.” Not too long after wrapping up the school project, not being able to sleep one night, I started writing my first screenplay onto lined pieces of paper. The script was my version of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” a story about family and how divorce affects a household and children. I was handwriting the screenplay, something that is still in the works.
- What inspires you to write books? What are the things which catch your attention?
What inspires me to write books is simply my passion for storytelling. I have to credit other writers’ work for both inspiring and motivating me to write and to continue to write today. Growing up, I read a lot of young adult mystery thrillers such as Joan Lowery Nixon’s “The Séance,” “A Deadly Game of Magic,” and “The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore.” What captivated me the most with Nixon’s work was the twists and turns of those ah-ha moments. Never once, did the stories feel cliché or boring. I would come home after school and be reading until my mom came home from work.
Definitely what captures my attention the most in a book, a movie, or a TV show is the characters. I LOVE all types of stories, both heavy dialogue-driven, and quirky storylines because, in the end, it is just refreshing to see both original and new concepts in storytelling. What can I say – as I get older, if I am obsessed with other writers’ work, I will NOT shut up about it.
- Tell something in brief about your book Elephant?
“Elephant” is a new young adult thriller, fiction crossover about four childhood best friends and multiple family secrets they uncover the summer before starting their freshman year in high school. After a strange encounter with a stranger, Matthew “Matty/Matt” Smith is injured on the night of his fourteenth birthday. He begins to experience both bizarre and horrific dreams, night terrors, anxiety, depression, and PTSD after his encounter with the stranger. Together, he and his friends must uncover the truth of the family secrets and the identity of the stranger, especially when Matty ends up in the hospital…for good.
- You have written on the crucial topic of Mental Health. What do you think about its acceptance in society?
Yes, mental health has been a HUGE part of my life for both personal and professional reasons. For years, I felt like a weirdo and the ‘odd man out’ for experiencing anxiety and depression throughout my childhood and earlier twenties. Especially working in the entertainment industry, it WAS not as widely accepted to be talked about. I had experienced former bosses (and even industry friends) down talk anyone who made content on mental health. So, you can only imagine what their thoughts and words were towards people who struggled with a disorder or simply going through a difficult time.
To this day, I absolutely HATE the stigmas around mental health. Although, I DO feel like it has been improving, where people are more open on their journey (both recovery and even slip-ups), there is still a lot that needs to be done. I would personally love to see both film and television show sets enforced wellness or some type of therapist being available on set. Production can get hectic; let alone being a director and producer myself, then you are spending anywhere from months to years, preparing for a project.
Fortunately, I made the choice to seek help by going to therapy. To this day, I continue to see my therapist weekly to practice cognitive behavioral therapy, where you learn how to deal with topics head-on, more so asking questions. Since quarantine began, my anxiety and depression, as I am sure it did for many survivors of a mental health disorder, was at its WORSE. I have been treating both with medication as well and I have to say – it has been helping A LOT. It is a forever day-by-day process in healing and recovery.
- How do you organize yourself, as a writer, to keep track of the world you are writing about?
Staying organized has fluctuated over the years, especially when life happens and working different freelance gigs or a nine to five. The key is just making time for something you want to work on, whether that is writing a word or a page a day at the start or end of your day. To me, it is different for everyone. In college, I used to write in the morning before class but today, it depends. Although I have always been writing or even filming projects, I still have to support myself financially as well. I still consider myself an independent artist, where you do as much work on your off work and downtime hours. Also, something I have been guilty of and still working on myself is taking needed breaks.
Life is too short to be working around the clock; it is how I burned out for overdoing it in the past.
- When you were young, did you ever see writing as a career or a full-time profession?
Ever since I saw the “Cheaper by the Dozen” movie and was super amped and excited to get writing, I honestly saw writing as becoming a full-time profession I would pursue. Simply because I was that odd child who wanted to run home after school to go write or edit. For years, I hid what I was doing on my downtime from both family and friends until my biological dad saw me writing one day. He had a big mouth and ended up bragging to a bunch of people, so that really had me on edge and I was a bit too embarrassed to admit my passion for storytelling.
Fortunately, what got me to snap out of that negative mind-frame was the summer before starting my junior year in high school. My guidance counselor asked what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, as most high school teachers do in order to prep you for the SATs. I told her I wanted to be a writer and filmmaker and saw no other profession out there for me. That was when I told her about the earlier draft of “Elephant.”
- How did you approach the writing process this time around? Do you have a set routine, or does it vary? And how do you manage it with your full-time work?
It is difficult to try and finish an edit or pen down the first draft of a project, whether an article, book, or a screenplay. Like I mentioned, life happens and sometimes, I find myself wanting to do nothing or to go out and hang out with friends and family. While working my full-time jobs, if it was not a remote position, I definitely learned the importance of balance and sleep. Often, I took my business calls on my breaks and squeezed in those meetings after work hours. To be honest, I also got burned out a few times and often took off work for mental health days.
Now, I am doing my best to find those gigs or day-job that fit best with my writing and film schedule. It is OKAY to not want a nine to five office job if you want to find something that gives you more leeway on working on those personal projects. It is possible, especially with a lot of work being remote.
- How would you describe the contemporary scenario of writing and reading around the world?
Writing and reading are forever here to say; that is my personal opinion, even during a dark time such as today with COVID-19 and a lot of global issues, people do seek out media for coping. Whether they are writing in a journal or diary, watching a movie or TV show, or reading something, it is both an escape but informative at the same time. It just comes down to the person’s preference. So, I honestly believe that writing and reading have those similar effects on an individual, whether it is to get inspired, learn something new, stay informed, or to escape their own real world.
- How crucial are marketing and promotions when it comes to selling a book?
Like an independent (or self-financed) film or TV sizzle, it is DIFFICULT. But that is also the reality of today’s art is the individual is both the creator and executive producer. YOU are the best person who knows the tone and voice of the product.
- Do you read much and if so, who are your favorite authors?
Some of my favorite authors are Joan Lowery Nixon, Gillian Flynn, Trish Cooke, and Gayle Forman. I also just finished reading “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” and my GOD, that was one of the quirkiest, cutest, and most heartwarming stories I read. Currently, I am reading “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and it is very WELL WRITTEN and haunting at the same time. The main character, Starr, is someone I am excited to learn more about. The next book I am planning to read afterward is the next Hunger Games book, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”
I TRY my best to read as much as I can; but lately, I have been in prep for my first feature film release date next month and in post-production on my second directorial feature film. Usually, when my film work is busy, it is a bit more difficult to read as much as I would like to. I am still trying to figure out a better schedule on being able to do it all; but again, maybe that is just the thing – we cannot always do it all and often need to take pauses or breaks in other departments.
- Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers.
My advice is to keep pursuing your goal(s) if you wake up and go to bed thinking about it. That was what kept me going with “Elephant” was thinking about the characters day and night. I say an obsession is a good thing when it comes to your creative work. For me, that is your instincts and guardian angel(s) telling you to not give up. Remember that part of the journey is rejection. It just takes that one “YES.”
- Are we going to hear more from you in the future?
I hope so! I definitely do not plan on stopping anytime soon. Next month, on FRI August 28th, my first feature film which I wrote, directed, and produced is coming out. It is called “The Extraordinary Ordinary,” a story about three young adults and how they cope with their mental health when old wounds resurface. The film will be available on Amazon and Google Play next month. For more details, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @theextraordfilm.
Later this holiday season, my second directorial feature film, “Howard Original,” will be available on video-on-demand. The story is based on a short film my buddy and I filmed back in 2017. It is a comedy-drama crossover about a washed-up screenwriter, HOWARD, who learns the meaning of life after escaping to the mountains to finish his screenplay. Details can be found via social media @howardoriginal1.
Also, I just got the first round of edits to look over for the sequel of “Elephant”! I am super excited about that. The second book is called “Skeletons” and will pick up a month after the first book. “Skeletons” will be available in January 2021.
We Wish Author Natalie Rodriguez all the best for her future.
Connect with the author: