Interview of Christina Meldrum

1. In writing your story, did you start with the intention of advocating a balance of religion and science? Or were you leaning to one side more than the other and gained a better understanding through arguing both sides?

Christina: I started out with the intention of wanting to explore the nexus between science and religion, not really with the intention of advocating a position. The more I researched the natural world in my writing of Madapple, the more convinced I became that the dichotomy between science and religion is a human construct - and a relatively modern one. Many of the greatest thinkers of all time, like Pythagoras and Socrates, didn't separate science from religion. They believed understanding the natural world was a means of understanding God.

2. Your protagonist, Aslaug, struggles with questions of religion. Do you find that it is common to struggle with religious issues in the coming of age process, and why did you pick this specific theme to explore?

Christina: I think we humans search for meaning from the time we are quite young, throughout our lives. That search may lead us toward religion. It may lead us toward science. It may lead us toward public service or toward a variety of other paths. Adolescence may be uniquely suited toward this search in some ways. Many adolescents have developed a fairly sophisticated intellect yet often are not deeply entrenched in their belief systems. And many are not yet burdened with the responsibilities of holding down a job and/or caring for a family. Hence, they have the ability and freedom to ask the big questions.

3. I find Suzanne's discussion of religion and history interesting (though absolutely controversial). Bits and pieces of information that I have read and been exposed to lend plausibility to these theories, such as Jesus being an Essene and the similarity of Jesus and Gautama Buddha (as well as other religious figures). Since you have studied religion, can you tell us what religious information you drew from your studies or recommend scholars or books further reading?

Christina: I incorporated a bibliography in Madapple for this very reason, because I wanted people to have the opportunity to evaluate theories set forth in Madapple outside the context of the story. There is a partial bibliography on my website as well, at

4. After reading Madapple, it is hard to believe you did not already have a background in botany. How did you come up with a story so meshed with this science? Were there references in your religious studies that intrigued you regarding botany?

Christina: Although I don't have a background in botany, I love science. I'm actually one of those people who read theoretical physics books for fun. I also love books like Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and Sharman Apt Russell's books on butterflies and roses. And I love when authors incorporate science into their fiction, like Andrea Barrett does. Also, I definitely was influenced by references in various religions and mythologies to the natural world. Hence, weaving science and botany into Madapple came quite naturally to me. That said, almost all of the particulars about plants in Madapple I learned from research I did specifically for Madapple.

5. Aslaug is homeschooled and seems to me to support some myths about homeschooling, such as the children being social misfits or uneducated in some categories. Because I am a homeschool teacher I know that there is a great range of attitudes and schooling going on. There can be isolation involved for varying reasons, but not always. Have you met many homeschooling families? Were you intending to make a statement about this, or was it just a way to make Aslaug's predicament more believable in the modern world?

Christina: I wasn't in any way attempting to make a statement about homeschooling. Reading this question was actually the first time I heard anyone mention the book supporting myths about homeschooling. Aslaug's situation was an extraordinary one; it surely bears little resemblance to most people's lives, including those who are homeschooled. I have met many families who homeschool. My personal exposure to homeschooling has been positive. That said, each child is unique, as is each family's situation. Making broad categorizations about such a complicated, nuanced subject as homeschooling is, in many ways, the antithesis of Madapple's message.

6. As a litigator, did you see many cases where the system seemed to fail? In your story, there is such a lack of communication, especially with Aslaug as the accused. Is this a part of what you meant by categories and confinement and categories failing-that the witnesses put Aslaug into categories and couldn't see her differently without being lead towards understanding? Is this representative of real trials? If so, did you have difficulty dealing with consequences of the trials emotionally?

Christina: As a litigator, I spent my days formulating arguments for my clients, selecting and emphasizing those facts that best supported my positions. In each case, opposing counsel would do the same, emphasizing the facts that behooved his or her client. In theory, truth somehow filtered through: the judge or jury would sort through the relatively extreme arguments and parse out what was fair and true. In actuality, each argument oversimplified reality, and the ending result, while perhaps as fair as was feasible, often had little to do with truth. Does this mean the system failed? Not necessarily. In a society as diverse as ours, it would be difficult to prescribe a system that would better protect individual rights. That said, litigation often does lead to categorization and simplification and hence distortion. Experiencing this firsthand was challenging, and it served as a catalyst for my writing of Madapple. In Madapple, I hoped readers would, in a sense, experience this challenge themselves. Essentially, Madapple asks readers to serve as the jury and to sort through the relatively extreme positions. In the end, the various categorizations of Aslaug and her motives fail. I think we humans, in attempt to understand our world outside the courtroom, often create similar categories, based on what we want or have felt or believe is socially acceptable, and then we divide the world into these categories. But, as in the courtroom, our categories often oversimplify the world, leading to our missing a great deal.

7. What type of fiction do you enjoy reading, and did that impact your story? For ex. do you read mythological, medieval, or fantasy in which plant and herbal lore are significant or part of the setting?

Christina: I read a wide variety of fiction, although my mainstay is literary fiction. In terms of incorporating science and nature in Madapple, I was influenced by Andrea Barrett, the author of Ship Fever and Servants of the Map. But I also was influenced by my interest in and love of science. I enjoy reading non-fiction books about physics and botany and zoology, such as Brian Greene's, The Elegant Universe and Sharman Apt Russell's An Obsession With Butterflies. My incorporation of mythology, including plant lore, was spurred by my study of comparative religion. Nature plays a large role in many religions and mythologies, Norse mythology being a prime example.

8. From reading personal information of other authors I know there are different processes of writing. Did your story largely flow from inspiration, and then you went back to fill in gaps? Or did you plan out the plot and other main parts, then write each section?

Christina: I did a bit of both actually. I had a general framework for my plot originally, but then I wrote the first draft based largely on inspiration. I then had to go back and try to fit the draft into my framework, which didn't always work, hence I would adjust the plot accordingly. The research I did had a large impact on my character and plot development, too, so with the research thrown into the mix, the process was quite fluid. At times it felt like layering. At times it felt circular. The process very rarely felt linear.

9. What inspired you to write your first novel? (As a budding author, my son wants to know).

Christina: Good luck to your son!

Although I had enjoyed writing as a child and always kept detailed journals whenever I traveled, I did not have the idea for a novel until college. The seed for Madapple came from my study of comparative religion. It was this seed, combined with attending law school and practicing law, that really inspired my writing of Madapple.

10. Your setting is in Maine. Do you have a personal connection with the area?

Christina: I went to law school on the East Coast and fell in love with Maine then. Since then, I have traveled to Maine on vacation. In a strange way, Maine felt like home to me the first time I visited, and each time I've returned, I've felt the same way. I can't really explain the connection I feel, but when I was deciding where to locate Madapple, I remembered advice I was once given: write what you love. I knew I would need to become intimately familiar with the fauna and flora of Madapple's setting, and I could not think of a location that I would love to learn about more than Maine. So I traveled to Maine and read books about Maine and consulted with experts who live in Maine. And the more I learned, the more perfect Maine seemed as the setting for Madapple.

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