Author Deirdre Riordan Hall joins us to discuss why she wrote Pearl, a story about living in a family full of addiction and abuse, and what writing means to her.
Pearl Jaeger is seventeen and homeless after drugs, poverty, and addiction unraveled the life she shared with JJ, her formerly glamorous rock star mother.
When tragedy brings a chance to start over at an elite boarding school, she doesn’t hesitate. Yet the only salvation comes from an art teacher as troubled as Pearl, and she faces the stark reality that what she thought she wanted isn’t straightforward.
Through the friendships she forms at school — especially with Grant, a boy who shows Pearl what it means to trust and forgive — she begins to see a path not defined by her past. But when confronted with the decision to be courageous or to take the easy way forged by her mother’s failures, which direction will Pearl choose?
Why I wrote ‘Pearl’ by Deirdre Riordan Hall
The easy answer is because I couldn’t not write it. But that isn’t an elaborate blog post or the full story.
So, really, why?
I needed to write Pearl because there are girls like her who’ve lived in families with addiction, abuse, with loss, and heartbreak… girls like me.
For years, the strands of this story wrote itself into the fabric of my thoughts until one day I put pen to paper with the scratches of ideas and eventually found my fingers on the keyboard with an inkling of a first draft…and then there were at least 10 more versions afterward. (The original opening scene was on a New York City street corner and involved the exchange of a banned book and chocolate. There were diary entries and the dial on tragedy was much higher.)
But back to the why. This was a story I wanted to tell; to create a narrative of juxtaposition, to have two potentially conflicting themes and place them side by side: rich and poor, loneliness and belonging, vulnerability and strength, love and loss. But that’s not the full story either because those themes also complement each other. At least in this instance, like two sides of a coin, they require us to rub both faces between our finger and thumb in order to shine.
An author friend recently wrote an article making the distinction between authors who need to write and those who want to write. I contemplated what composes me as an author and came to the conclusion, at least for now, like so many aspects of who I am — and who Pearl is — that I’m both a writer who needs and wants to tell stories. Paradox tends to rule my life. I need to write like I need to laugh, smile, and be with the people I love. I want to write in much the same way, but mostly it’s because I want to connect.
So, really, what kind of author am I?
Need, a requirement.
Want, a desire.
I’m a writer whose mind leaps, spins, and pirouettes with creativity, day and night and in the twilight moments between moments. Without a channel to funnel that energy into, I find myself anxious, unsettled. I need an outlet. It’s a personal truth. I need to write — whether it’s about the children of addicts, victims of abuse, mermaids, or Shakespeare retellings. I also believe telling stories is something some of us, many of us, require to connect, to reach through what we see on the exterior: pigtails, brown eyes, braces, knobby knees, unlaced sneakers, and into the webs that draw us together: the raw stuff of longing, friendship, love, perseverance, and hope, just to name a few.
Similarly, I believe within each person lay treasures, dirt encrusted jewels lodged in the depths of our being, and it’s up to us to find a medium with which to extricate them…or maybe the medium chooses us — as is the case with most forms of art. For me, I’m a person who needs to polish these gems with words.
But I’m also a writer who wants to write. When an idea sparks, wild, giddy joy rushes through me. When I’m drifting to sleep, ideas, single words, entire scenes pinch me awake and I pop on the book light and pull out my pen to make a note as a smile brushes my lips with wonder at where this stuff comes from. (*Looks star-ward, thanks universe.*)
My curiosity feeds this want and I follow it down sunny lanes, dim corridors, trailing characters and settings. Sometimes I arrive at dead ends and other times, entire worlds open up.
When the ideas for a story fill me to near-brimming, I know it’s time to let it pour out, and delight in losing sense of time, worries, and the nigglings of life. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t always easy: I get stuck, lost, confused, but the enchantment and magic and awe of this privilege, of storytelling, of saying yes! to doing something I want far outweighs the trickiness of it.
I am an author who needs and wants to write. So I do, every day, which brings me to what kind of book is Pearl?
Pearl is about grit and second chances, memories and potential, recklessness and redemption. The story is about friendships that turn into sisterhoods, the salvation of art, and learning what it is to trust and forgive. Pearl chases a tiger’s tail only to eventually decide to be done with it and bite the thing clean off.
Pearl was me exploring the impact of addiction on families, how a person can straddle socio-economic lines, how sometimes a girl has to make her own mistakes and choices, and learn the exquisite power of struggling and triumph.
Writing Pearl took courage, but ultimately brought me peace. It required humility and a quieting of my busy mind to distill all the questions I ask myself to this: which risks are worth taking? It asks us in what instances is it better to choose what we know or cast ourselves into the great unknown and rely not only on our own inner resources, but the extended hands of friends, teachers, and even, sometimes, strangers.
Pearl is the story of finding something believed to be tainted, tarnished and keeping it close, maybe wiping away dirt and tears, adding some polish, and seeing that really, it was beautiful, maybe even all along.
During a dance performance I recently attended, as I leaned in close, as though by doing so my proximity would transmit to me the same kind of concentrated joy on the faces of the dancers, I remembered that I once believed I’d never be happy. In that exuberant moment with live music directing movement through space, a pair of tears drifted down my cheeks. How sad for me, to have lived for so many years with the belief that I’d never be happy. How silly, embarrassing, unsettling… I sat there, a stranger in the audience, and continued to watch the dancers lift and glide, the music floating through all of us in attendance and transmitting that timeless something…the thing of connection. Then my experience transformed because I realized that when we connect, when we form bridges, everlasting pathways, even ones made of the intangible: sound, the physical: dance, and the visual: words, we find and share happiness.
And that’s what I do with writing; I bring my wants and needs to wrestle with the ugly and painful until what’s left alchemizes into something in which I see beauty and makes me happy.
I hope my words connect with readers and that they too glean their inner-extraordinary from unhappiness and sadness. And from the darkness too. If not, let’s look up; there are stars in the sky.
About Deirdre Riordan Hall
Deirdre Riordan Hall is the author of young adult novels including the Amazon bestseller, Sugar, and new adult fiction. When she’s not writing, she’s probably surfing or in pursuit of magic or both. She also has a healthy case of wanderlust, loves salsa, guacamole, and tortillas, and dreams about learning to play piano.