interview with Lucia DiStefano, author of BORROWED

Today I'm pleased to host this interview with a dear friend of mine, and a fellow 2018 debut Lucia DiStefano! Lucia's debut YA novel is BORROWED and I had a pleasure to read and review an early copy - and, WOW, this book, THIS BOOK. 

Have a read, and if you feel like it, leave your impressions and well wishes to Lucia's on her debut's publication in the comments. 


Love, mystery, and danger collide in this new literary thriller with the dark heart of a Gillian Flynn novel and the lyrical prose of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

A triumph of authenticity, grace, and nail-biting suspense, Lucia DiStefano’s ingenious debut is an unflinching, genre-bending page-turner.

As seventeen-year-old Linnea celebrates the first anniversary of her heart transplant, she can’t escape the feeling that the wires have been crossed. After a series of unsettling dreams, inked messages mysteriously appear on her body, and she starts to wonder if this new heart belongs to her at all.

In another Austin neighborhood, Maxine braces for a heartbreaking anniversary: her sister Harper’s death. Between raising her brothers and parenting her grief-stricken mother, Max is unable to ignore her guilty crush on Harper’s old flame or shake her lingering suspicion that her sister’s drowning wasn’t really an accident. With Harper as the sole connection, Linnea and Maxine are soon brought together in fantastic and terrifying ways as the shocking truth behind Harper’s death comes to light.

Official release date: 
November 1, 2018 
Pages: 264

What I thought about BORROWED: 

DiStefano's BORROWED is a haunting exploration of mortality, toxic masculinity, violence, and bodily autonomy. 

This breakout debut is a rare gem of a genre-bender. It starts off as a coming-of-age contemporary, and then it darkens, making a turn before seamlessly transforming into a frantic psychological thriller. The transformation leaves you breathless, and before you know it, you’re totally hooked. DiStefano’s mastery is in the unpredictable twists, the tense build-ups and satisfying reveals. Her aching portrayal of sisterhood and grief is authentic as it is stark. Though, at the heart of this book lies the question of what makes us human: What are we beyond the bodies we wear, what is left when our physical lives are forfeit, and what are we willing to sacrifice for those we love?

Lucia answers some questions about herself and her genre-defying debut: 

What book influenced you most when you were a child (and why)?

Dare Wright’s THE LONELY DOLL. It both frightened and captivated me, and it may have been the first storybook I’d encountered with photos instead of drawings, so everything felt more real because of that. That sense of verisimilitude, in conjunction with the fact that the story scared me just a bit, led to a feeling of confusion, or a feeling of searchingness . . . but one that made me want to reread the book again and again.

If you have one, what is your favorite book of all time?

I both love this question and dread it, because it’s so excruciatingly hard to narrow it down to one, and also because what avid reader doesn’t love talking about books? If you forced me to choose just one, I think I’d have to say The Great Gatsby. If you let me have a backup (in case The Great Gatsby couldn’t fulfill its duties as fave book of all time), I’d say The Goldfinch.

You worked as an editor, a ghostwriter, and a writing coach before writing a book of your own. When did you first know you wanted to be a published author?

Gosh, I think I wanted to have my words out there as soon as I knew people created books and they didn’t just appear out of the ether. I used to grab extra blue examination books when taking tests in school (more than I needed) and subtly slip them in my backpack and take them home with me. I’d fill them up with stories. Most of the stories involved food. Hopefully I’ve become a more sophisticated writer over the course of the ensuing decades, but most of my stories still involve food.

Your debut, BORROWED, is out on November 1, 2018, one year after it won the Helen Sheehan YA BOOK Prize - what was your path to publication like?

Long and windy and twisty and filled with more disappointments and near-misses than yesses. Still, I think it was the path I needed to be on. Not because it felt good at all times (eep! Just the opposite sometimes), but because it allowed me to really get clear about why I was writing and about how deeply I wanted to be published. At times I’d quit writing altogether because I was so frustrated about not “breaking in,” but that never lasted long. Eventually story ideas would start creeping in and I’d realize I’d be a happier person (and nicer to be around) if I went back to writing again.

Having had the pleasure of reading (and blurbing) BORROWED, I have to say: readers haven’t got a clue of what they’re getting themselves into! BORROWED is truly unlike anything I’ve read before. I’m fascinated by genre-bending books, and BORROWED is a perfect example of just that: it starts as a coming-of-age contemporary, and then seamlessly transforms into something dark, edgy, frantic, and utterly terrifying. Did you plan to blend genres from the beginning or it happened naturally as you were writing?

Thank you for these words of praise, Katya! They mean so much coming from you, since I am an uber-fan of your own YA debut (WHAT THE WOODS KEEP had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish!), and I am eagerly awaiting OASIS. I certainly didn’t think I’d be blending genres when I started off. I like novels that start quiet and build up to unexpected crises as they progress, so perhaps I was only guided by my own preferences as I wrote. Looking at it now, I can see what you mean about genre-bending, but I don’t know that I’d have been able to identify that quality in it if you hadn’t pointed it out. Sometimes we’re too close to our own work to make those distinctions.

At the core of BORROWED is the idea of cellular memory – a fascinating but poorly understood phenomenon occurring when an organ transplant recipient is inexplicably affected by the donor's preferences, behaviors, and tendencies. What kind of research have you done into this phenomenon (and more generally) for this book?

Because I wanted the look at cellular memory to be more "what if?" than hard science, I tried not to get bogged down in too much research. There is much anecdotal evidence of cellular memory, especially with heart transplant patients, but because it's difficult or impossible to confirm it or explain it within the current bounds of science, it's still hanging out in that nebulous gray area. So I started with the germ of cellular memory, but I used creative license (and suspension of disbelief) to think of a scenario even more dramatic than any I'd read about.

BORROWED is set in Austin, Texas, where you currently live. What was it like to write your current home setting into a fictional reality of your book?

I started the novel while I was living in New Mexico (when I was having a long-distance love affair with Austin), and I think setting it in Austin was my way of going back there, again and again. At first it felt indulgent to set the story in Austin (maybe because of my long-distance love affair n’ all), but then I realized the book had to be set somewhere, and I calmed down and plowed on.

What comes next? What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a YA contemporary retelling of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." There's a band tour bus instead of a ship, and a white wolf instead of an albatross. Thinking up band names has been ridiculously fun.

Any advice for all the aspiring/emerging writers out there?

Be kind to yourself as you create. Try not to worry about finished products (or worse, worry about the publishing industry) while you’re writing first drafts. Allow your creative mind to play!

Bonus questions!

Your dream holiday?

Australia! (And not just because that’s where you live; I’ve always wanted to take a vacation to that special corner of the world. But now that I’ve met you online, I’d love to meet you in person, either while on a dream holiday to the Land Down Under, or when you visit the States.)

In your writing process/routine, are you… a planner, pantser, or…?

Despite the fact that I've tried many times (oh-so-many!) to become a plotter (it seems so much more efficient), I am a stubborn pantser.

Do you listen to music when you write? (If yes, what's been on your play-list lately?)

Yes, always! Spoon, Beck, Milky Chance, Cake, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, The Dandy Warhols, The Revivalists, Mondo Cozmo . . . (okay, I’ll stop!)

Cats or dogs?

Cats (I love both and I have both, but the cats outnumber the dog, so they win this question)

Coffee or tea?

Coffee, especially Cuvee’s cold brew with lots o’ cream

Thank you, Lucia! It was a pleasure to have you featured on my blog!

Where to buy Borrowed?

About Lucia DiStefano: 

A former high school English teacher, Lucia DiStefano works as an editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach. Daughter of a Sicilian olive farmer, she admits to having recurring pasta dreams. Hailing from central Connecticut, Lucia lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and an old bloodhound named Waffle.

And don't forget to follow Lucia on Twitter: @LuciaDiStef


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