Rosalind Noonan Explores the Dark Side of College Life in Pretty, Nasty, Lovely

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College is supposed to be the “best years of your life.” But these formative years aren’t always the carefree time they're made out to be, and Rosalind Noonan’s latest suspense novel, Pretty, Nasty, Lovely, takes us to Merriwether University — where not everything is rosy.
 
Emma Danelski pledged to Theta Pi and found the family she desperately needed. But when a Theta Pi sister, Lydia Drakos, jumps to her death in a horrible suicide, all eyes are on Emma. She had recently spent long nights talking with Lydia, and when Emma’s name pops up in Lydia’s diary, the police want to know why. Emma doesn’t know why Lydia jumped, but she also has Theta Pi secrets she’s been sworn to secrecy over.  
 
Noonan tackles some very difficult and hot button issues in Pretty, Nasty, Lovely, and we touched base to discuss her inspiration, writing craft and the health issues facing young people today. 
 
What a wild ride! A haunting suicide, a mysterious baby and real-life issues concerning mental and women’s health. With so much packed into this story, was there one thing that initially inspired you?
 
Inspiration comes from a variety of sources. When I came across a news account of a young woman who gave birth in her dorm room, apparently alone, and killed her baby, I was struck by how lonely the college experience can be and how limited women's healthcare services are in some parts of the country. It's tragic that a student could give birth to a baby on campus without any support from healthcare providers or friends. 
 
There is also something appealing about writing about a community with the strange economics of a college campus. Although nearly all students have the bare necessities such as a place to live and food for survival, there is a large segment of the student population that is totally broke. That was me in college. My parents were going through a divorce on the other side of the globe, and when my father cut me off financially, I had to get creative. I worked every job I could find in the dorms, the theater, the registrar's office. I spent many holidays and weekends at the homes of friends because I could not afford to travel home. I took on student loans and was fortunate to get a grant from the college and a scholarship from my sorority. Like me, the character of Emma was a student with few financial options. By the end of the story, she realizes that her best resource is herself and her friends.
 
I was also inspired by the fear of failure that I see in college students I know. Although our society purports college to be "the time of your life," many college freshman arrive at campus feeling alienated, unhappy with their choices, and unsure about their futures. The message that college is supposed to be a good time only adds to the feeling of failure among students who are depressed and struggling to fit in. With a diverse, young and often volatile population, a university is a rich environment for storytelling.
 
From chapter to chapter we bounce among multiple character POVs, and while the majority are told from a third-person perspective, Emma’s chapters are told from first person. What was your reason for this choice?
 
As the main character and vehicle of the novel, Emma needed to have a distinctive, personal voice, and I thought the first-person point of view would serve her well. First person helps keep the character in the moment and lends immediacy to a scene. By contrast, the third person point used for the other characters allows them to have more distance. Their thoughts are better hidden; their actions are not as transparent, but it gives the writer more latitude to provide facts that are beyond the character's knowledge.
 
Lydia Drakos commits suicide shortly before Pretty, Nasty, Lovely begins. While her Theta Pi sisters knew she was depressed, after her death they learn that much of what Lydia told them about her life was fabricated. While sorority life gives Emma best friends and camaraderie, how did it help or hinder poor Lydia?
 
The fake history Lydia created for herself is generally unquestioned among her sorority sisters, largely due to the attitude of trust in that group. Lydia could spin off great stories, but when she was feeling down, her Theta Pi sisters were there for her. Were the late nights Emma spent talking and sharing with Lydia less real because of Lydia's posturing about her past and her relationship with guys? I like to think not. When we're in the moment, I think it's real. Overall, I would say sorority life helped Lydia navigate some of her problems and stressors, though it could not save her. 
 
You dedicate this book to your sorority sisters. To help us rest at night … the twists in this book weren’t inspired by any of your real-life experiences, right?!
 
Oh, ha ha, no! Any backstabbing and deceit in the book was inspired by my involvement in or observations of other less cohesive groups. I never set out to write a book that reveals the true secrets or downside of a sorority. In fact, Emma's search for a family is fulfilled by Theta Pi, even with the bumps and hurtles along the way. In reality, my sorority sisters were and are lovely women who brought sanity, fun and a sense of security to my college years. When I started college I had no intention of pledging a sorority. I became friends with a few freshman girls on the same floor in my dorm who were determined to pledge, and began hanging out with girls from Alpha. By the end of freshman year I was hanging out with Alphas all the time, going home with them for weekends, traveling long distances to get together during the summer. Since these girls were my best friends, pledging the same sorority made a lot of sense for me. When I pledged in my sophomore year, I got to know other sisters in the sorority who nurtured an attitude of respect, dignity and love through their leadership. Of course, we had the occasional disagreements on how to handle a fundraiser or how large to make the homecoming float, but working with these young women taught me how to take part in an active community. These women have gone on to be successful professionals in medicine and business while creating their own families. I will always be grateful for my family of sisters. 
 
Emma’s classmates and sisters are all developed and well-drawn. Were any of them, like Angela, Isabel or Defiance, inspired by any of your sisters?
 
As each book needs to have characters who serve that story well, it's rare that a character in one of my books is based on a real person. Sometimes I play a game in my head and choose celebrities that I would choose if I were casting the film version of my book. Angela would be played by Ryan Destiny (A Girl Like Grace). Isabel would be Ariana Grande, and Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel would be Defiance.
 
Merriwether University is a beautiful campus set amongst breathtaking gorges and high-rising bridges. But it also has a suicide epidemic. What do you want readers to take away from your book concerning depression and women’s health care?
 
Although the campus is set in Oregon, it was loosely based on Cornell University where they have had issues with students jumping from the bridges over the gorge. In my research of campus medical facilities I found a wide range of services for women's health care and student therapy. While some universities are being sued for their quick expulsion of students in crisis, others have designed programs to respond to students with mental health issues. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year-olds.  I hope that colleges around the country address the need to reach out to their most vital resource, their students.
 
What can Noonan fans look forward to in the future? Are you currently working on a new project?
 
This summer I'm back to work on a new novel loosely based on a child born into a cult, who struggles to escape the psychological and physical confines. So far it's untitled, but the themes of motherhood, belonging and survival are intertwined. As always, my new characters are finding a place in my heart. They tend to do that.
 
We’re already excited about this new novel! But until then, you can pre-order your copy of Pretty, Nasty, Lovely from one of these retailers: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Indiebound
 
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