After the tragic death of his mother and siblings, young William is left in the care of his abusive father, who uses religion to justify his brutal behavior. William’s extended family is his solace, however, they can only do so much to keep him safe.
The Devil Within made me weep from beginning to end. I wanted to climb into the book and save young William from his horrific life. With each page, I hoped for someone to come along and take William out of his situation. Greene’s prose is both emotional and simply heart wrenching. The novel is a stinging commentary on fundamental Christianity and the twisting of scripture to justify abuse.
The novel opens with the image of William’s father putting up a sign that reads “Go To Church or the Devil Will Get You.” Was the sign your inspiration or did you find it after you had started writing the novel?
The sign was my main inspiration for this book. I’ve grown up seeing this sign my entire life. One day, driving up to see my friend in Birmingham, I thought about the land and then the image of William came to me.
What was the inspiration for The Devil Within?
Growing up in Alabama, there is a lot of folklore. My main inspiration came from the sign, but there’s also a place near Prattville, Alabama called The Cross Garden. The Cross Garden is a garden full of homemade crosses with sayings like, “Burn in Hot, Hot Hell,” “Jesus Don’t Lie,” and “Repent Jesus Saves.” The tale, which I’ve since found out is not true, is that the man who created the garden lost his whole family in a car accident and the grief drove him to seek forgiveness from God by making the Cross Garden.
How did the character of William come to you? Why make him that age?
William came to me out of the blue. I liked the idea of him being the survivor of the car accident. I also liked him being nine because it’s an innocent age, but also an age when they’re beginning to grow-up and mature. Plus, I had a nine-year-old at the time so it made it easier for me to be able to get into the mind of a nine-year-old boy.
I was conflicted about the way William’s aunt and uncle dealt with the abuse. Was that a sign of the times or their religion?
Yes. When I wrote The Devil Within, I read a lot about how religion justified abuse. In my research, I found abuse was often seen as a family matter in the 1950s and the 1960s, and often people didn’t interfere even if they knew it was wrong.
Religion plays a large role in The Devil Within. Did you intend the novel to be a commentary on fundamental Christianity?
Not necessarily. Religion is such a huge part of the Southern culture, and as such it needed to be a major theme in the novel. I’ve always been interested in religion. I was raised Episcopalian. I went to a Catholic high school. I read the Bible growing up. People constantly use religion in the wrong way, to hurt others, to judge others, and for persecution. I wanted to show that in this book, but also show that religion can be a great source of comfort.
Grief and guilt go hand in hand in The Devil Within. Talk to me a bit about that.
Grief and guilt are often tied together, because when someone dies people tend to blame themselves even if they had nothing to do with the death. Because of William’s religious upbringing, he blames himself for his mother and siblings’ death in a case of flawed logic and feels guilt about their deaths. Because he is a child he doesn’t understand that his actions did not cause the death of his loved ones, and unfortunately, his father is not of the right character to help him work through his complex feelings. In a similar light, William’s father also has the stigma of his mother dying in childbirth, and so, once again he has guilt associated with her death.
William’s cousin, Lulu, is a ray of sunshine in his life. What was your inspiration for her character?
You know, it’s funny, because Lulu was my childhood nickname. My Dad swears Lulu is me, but she’s not because she’s a lot better than me. I have alopecia, and that’s where her characteristic came from, but mainly Lulu’s purpose in this book is to remind us of William’s age and the fact that he is still a child grappling with some pretty large problems. Lulu gives the reader a sense of what childhood should be like, in juxtaposition to what’s happening to William. I think Lulu is the quintessential best friend, and her inspiration most likely came from a lot of my friends over the years, their characteristics all rolled into one feisty little girl.
I saw the character of Tommy as the flawed hero of William’s story. Do you see him as a hero?
Absolutely—Tommy is the hero of the book. In fact, he became one of my favorite characters as I wrote. Despite having a lot of character flaws, he’s a great person and knows inherently the difference between right and wrong. He fights for William, and maybe he doesn’t go far enough, but ultimately he’s William’s savior.
Your first novel, No Turning Back, is women’s fiction. What made you change genres with this book?
I didn’t actually think about changing genres. More, I think, I was still trying to figure out what genre I needed to write. After writing The Devil Within, I started writing a few other women’s fiction novels and I felt like I couldn’t finish anything. I went back to Southern Fiction, and now the words are flowing. The South is embedded in my heart and soul, and when I write it I feel the most at home.
What’s next from Lauren Greene?
I’m currently editing a Southern contemporary thriller called Little Birdhouses. The main character, a teenager named Lana, has moved from Boston to Alabama and falls in with the wrong crowd. I hope to have it ready for submission by November. I’m also working on a story not-yet-named about a young girl named Anna Kate growing up on a cotton farm in Ramer, Alabama in the 1920s.
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