I had the pleasure of interviewing Jody A. Kessler, author of the book When We’re Entwined. This novel follows the journey of a young woman named Jasper who leaves a turbulent home life by joining her boyfriend on tour with his band. Life, as it often does, goes sideways; thus leaving her far from home. This story is her journey.
Question: While reading (especially early on) there seemed to be an uneven power distribution between the main character Jasper and her boyfriend, Keel. I think back specifically to the scene where Keel leaves Jasper in a club with a sleazy producer. He gets mad that she left when she felt uncomfortable. She is worried that the band will dump her, thus leaving her stranded in the middle of nowhere. Can you take a minute to chat about the dynamics between Keel and Jasper and how that changes over the course of the story arc?
Answer: Jasper is young and naïve when it comes to her relationship with Keel. She has to learn to stop being a doormat—when she doesn’t even know what that means exactly. After leaving home, Jasper is forced to grow up quickly and she is trying to figure out what love is—and what it isn’t. Her home life doesn’t provide a healthy example. While Keel cares deeply for Jasper and wants to “rescue” her from her abusive family, he is extremely self-centered and vain. After the first couple of chapters, Jasper begins to see his true nature and realizes she is much better off without him.
Jasper and Keel have a dysfunctional relationship, which I try to convey without blatantly telling the reader. I want the reader to figure it out just like Jasper has to.
Real life relationships are multi-faceted and complex. Sometimes dysfunction isn’t obvious, and the abuse isn’t every minute of the day. It’s possible to love someone even when they aren’t the best person for you. Jasper figures this out as she grows and discovers her own meaning of unconditional love.
Question: I noticed a running theme of being uprooted and unwanted and the journey to your own place in the universe. Was this theme intentional? If so, can you expand your thoughts? I am especially interested in how this relates to the supporting characters in the novel.
Answer: There are many levels to When We’re Entwined, and yes, the journey of self-discovery was intentionally written. Being uprooted and unwanted gave Jasper a place from which to begin to find herself. When you’re at the bottom, you have no direction to go other than up.
Question: I really enjoyed Jasper’s aunt, Spidey, Bob, the farting dog Twix, and even Caspar. They were fleshed out beautifully. I felt like each of them could easily have supported their own story. I loved some of them. I hated some of them. I was repulsed and then endeared to some of them. The world building felt rich and diverse.
Answer: The importance of the supporting characters was to show that every person you meet has something valuable to share with you. Human paths cross all the time and it is never coincidental. If you have the ears to hear and the heart to feel you can learn everything you’re supposed to learn from any relationship with another person – whether the encounter is brief or prolonged.
Question: Lastly, a quick thought rather than a question.
I struggled with the scenes of domestic, sexual, and child abuse with the book. I didn’t see a content warning. It caught me off guard and was incredibly triggering. If you are able, a content or trigger warning early on would be incredibly helpful.
Answer: They were extremely difficult to write, and yet, I wanted them to remain in the story. I cried every time I worked on and rewrote the more difficult scenes. Finding the balance between too graphic vs. too mild was definitely a challenge. While I do not want to dissuade readers, I think many people can relate to abuse and being manipulated by someone they know. My hope is that the story helps people empathize and even heal some of their own emotional and mental wounds.
I have a conflicted relationship with this book. I root for Jasper. I care about what happens to her. I also got so mad in several parts that I nearly chucked my phone across the room. Which, I suppose, speaks to the author’s ability to get under my skin with her words. I wanted Jasper to fight back in all of these different situations she finds herself in. A great deal of this story is her slugging through and surviving. I wanted her to get angry. I wanted her to lash out when life crumbles. She doesn’t do that. She melts into the shadows as a way to survive. That is a way of fighting back too I suppose. This process of melting and surviving hurts. She deserves more. I wanted her to want more.
The author’s response to my question about Keel’s treatment of Jasper leaves me unsatisfied. Keel treats Jasper like fast food. She is a convenience. It bothers me deeply that no one in their circle of friends says anything about the way he treats her. I reject the notion that it is his vanity and need to rescue her that drives the dynamic. Being an ass by any other name still stinks. It angers me that no one stood up for her. No one said, “Hey, dude-bro, don’t talk to her like that. She’s a person, too, damn it. It is likely that I am projecting my own life experience over that of Jasper’s. As the reader, I get to do what I want. So, there.
This novel contains scenes that include coerced sex, physical abuse of a child, and verbal abuse of a spouse and children. Walk softly if these are triggers for you.
When We’re Entwined gave me a great deal to think about. The protagonist makes you want to champion her road to success. The side characters were rich and full. It left me wanting more. It’s worth the read.