The Making of Baby Girl: Book Review and Interview with Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

Monday, April 18, 2016
It isn’t very often when you get to find out all the details of your co-worker’s life story, so when author Bette Lee Crosby wrote a book with WOW’s Crystal Otto as the main character, I jumped at the chance to read it!

Baby Girl is the best book I’ve read this year. Crystal’s character is Cheryl Ann Ferguson, a young mother faced with a heartbreaking amount of adversity who takes us on her twenty-some-year journey of love, loss, betrayal, sacrifice, and survival—each experience molding her into the exceptional person and mother she is today.

The story begins in 1991, when fourteen-year-old Cheryl Ann meets Ryan Carter, two years older, who is moving into the old Ballinger place a couple doors down. They form a close friendship, and eventually fall in love. Besides her Daddy, Ryan is her only ally against her cold, unloving mother.

When her father dies, two years later, Cheryl is left with her mom who finds fault in everything she does. But Cheryl is smart, and through the grief, she finds herself a steady job, plans for graduation, and saves up for college. When the acceptance letter from the college-of-her-dreams arrives, her mother says that she’s not allowing her to go to college. In fact, if she doesn’t get a job and pay room and board she’ll have to find another place to live. Her mother also doesn’t show up for her graduation, which brings Cheryl Ann to tears.

This is a major turning point in Cheryl Ann’s life, and from here on she must face a series of difficult decisions.

She decides to use the money she saved for college to move out with her high school sweetheart and fiancé, Ryan. They find an apartment and both find work. Cheryl Ann gets a job working for the local newspaper and quickly advances up the ladder. (This is not surprising because Crystal is one of the hardest workers I know!) They are building their life together and things are good. Yet, every time Cheryl Ann mentions marriage, Ryan puts it off by saying they need to get “established.” A house, a new car, and a boat are first on his list.

Cheryl Ann finds herself pregnant, and Ryan forces her to choose between him and the baby. She is crushed and doesn’t want to get an abortion, so she selflessly decides to give her baby girl up for adoption. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for her.

I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Baby Girl is an emotional rollercoaster ride, an inspiring journey and a real tearjerker! Be sure to have tissues ready. You will get to meet important characters in Cheryl Ann’s life—her baby girl’s adoptive mom LeeAnn, her best friend Nicole, her landlord and mother figure Margaret, and the wise Ophelia Brown, who owns the apothecary and Memory House B&B. You will experience the men in Cheryl Ann’s life—Ryan, Nick, Vince—and the love of her life, William. And you will get to know WOW’s Crystal Otto intimately, like a best friend.

Baby Girl is book four in the Memory House series, but it serves as a standalone. This is the first book I’ve read of Bette Lee Crosby’s and it certainly won’t be the last. She has such a natural, unobtrusive writing style that allows the reader to focus deeply on the story, which is masterful storytelling in my opinion. She managed to capture Crystal’s character perfectly and respectfully. I can’t thank her enough for that!

After reading Baby Girl, I had to find out more about how they managed to put this book together, so I asked Crystal to answer some questions for me. Enjoy!

Interview with Crystal J. Casavant-Otto about Baby Girl

WOW: Crystal, I feel so close to you after reading Baby Girl. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and your life story is so emotional and inspiring! How did you meet author Bette Lee Crosby, and how did she approach you about being the main character in her novel?

Crystal: I’m so glad you found the story inspiring, and as for emotion, Bette Lee never disappoints. Each of her books has a way of tugging at my heart strings. I met Bette Lee a few years ago. She approached me about doing a WOW! Women On Writing book blog tour for one of her books. I read through the book and we discussed it, but the timing just wasn’t right for her to do a tour. We kept in touch as she loves supporting WOW! I had an opportunity to be an early reader for some of her other novels, and at one point I just tossed out the idea and sent her a private facing message saying “if you’d ever like to do a book based on a birth mother’s story and point of view, let me know and I’ll share my story with you.” She answered rather quickly and as they say…the rest is history.

USA Today Bestselling Novelist, Bette Lee Crosby
WOW: I feel like Bette really captured the essence of your character. I imagine endless cups of dandelion tea as you two chat about your life story. How did she conduct her interviews with you?

Crystal: We did most of our brainstorming over the phone. Bette Lee asks some great questions. She got me to thinking about things I had sort of pushed to the back of my mind. There were quite a few emails and private messages back and forth as well. It was exciting to see the finished product, because I wasn’t sure what was going to be usable information and what wasn’t. It felt great to share my story with Bette Lee. She was very motherly through the process and it never felt like she was judging me as we were sharing information.

WOW: Baby Girl is Book Four in the Memory House series, and I know there must be parts of the book that are connected with the others, but I think it reads as a standalone. Without giving too much away, which parts of the book were true-to-life and which were fictional? I know names were changed, and I’m assuming the character of Ophelia is fictional?

Crystal: Yes, Ophelia is fictional. I also have to go on record saying that the character of my mother is fictional. My mom is pretty amazing and has lived through more than most people can imagine. My mom and I were not close (geographically or emotionally) while I was pregnant with my daughter, but the mother figure in the story isn’t at all like my real life mom.

WOW: I'm glad for that! You shared some very intimate details in the book, including the divorce of your first husband and giving up your baby girl for adoption. How do you feel now that your story is out there for the world to read? How does your family feel?

Crystal: I’m a little nervous now that the story is out there. When I read the online reviews of Baby Girl, I hold my breath. I don’t want people to hate me (or my character in the book). So far, the reviews have been awesome though. It’s still a little unsettling to share things with the world and know it’s their right to pass judgment on you. My family is supportive. I haven’t given my mom a copy to read yet…because I’m a little nervous about how she is going to feel about her character in the book. My husband and my children are very supportive and they have known about the adoption since the beginning. It’s wonderful to hear that this book is helping not only birth mothers, but also helping adoptive parents to see things through new eyes.

WOW: It was eye-opening to me, and I'm not a mother, but I think anyone can empathize with the struggles and challenges you've endured. I’m assuming you read drafts along the way, or at least an ARC. Were there any parts of the book that you asked Bette to change?

Crystal: I love Bette Lee and I read the ARC and told her I wouldn’t change a thing. She really did an amazing job capturing the emotions of the story. My goal has always been to give people hope. Some birth mothers never have the opportunity to have a family. Some people who make the wrong choices early in life feel like they can’t make things right. I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start making wise choices and it’s never too late to live your dream. Bette Lee really captures those sentiments in Baby Girl.

WOW: I agree wholeheartedly! I would love to know more about your life from your perspective, and if the reviews of Baby Girl are any indication, others would as well. Do you have any plans to write a memoir?

Crystal: You’re sweet. I may write a memoir someday. I would love to write down a lot of stories from my life, just so my children have them to pass on to their children. My grandparents were gone before I was born and my dad passed away when I was young. I would love to capture the stories I know of their lives and pass it on. I remember vowing to write and be published by my son Breccan’s first birthday. He will be 3 this fall and I’m nowhere close. I guess I’m just busy with little people right now.

Crystal and family, photo © Oh! Photography

WOW: Yes, you have your hands full of little people! You are amazing, Crystal. I don’t want to give away any spoilers away here, but I’m sure readers of Baby Girl would love to know if you are still in touch with your daughter that you gave up for adoption?

Crystal: I have never actually received a letter or call from my daughter. I receive letters and pictures from her parents though. She will be graduating from high school in a few months and will also be turning 18. I hope that I’ll hear from her. My now 9-year-old loves talking about her big sister and would especially love if she could have some sort of relationship with her. We pray for her each and every day and regardless of what the future brings, she is most definitely a part of our story and a part of our family.

WOW: Thank you, Crystal, for the interview and for sharing your story with Bette Lee Crosby so she could write Baby Girl! It’s such a treasure and will make a perfect gift for Mother's Day. I have a major book hangover! 


Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks for the interview, Crystal! :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Holy moly, Crystal. You are one deep lake. I read the first part of this post (before the interview) and felt like I was experiencing whiplash. What? Crystal? A birth mother? I've enjoyed seeing all the photos of your cute kids, but hearing about a past that you'd never shared (at least I had not read of it) was quite a surprise.

I am adopted, and I'm also a mother. I can try and imagine the selflessness and courage it takes to surrender a child, but I really can't. I cannot even begin to understand how heartwrenching it is.

You must be some super-strong woman.

Yes, write a memoir. And don't use your kids as an excuse. Use them as the motivation. Get a contraption or program or app that allows you to dictate while you milk cows or herd or race after a toddler... well, you get the picture.

Angela--Thanks for the interview. And Crystal, get writing. There are lots of women who NEED to hear your story... so they can continue standing upright and proud.

iamagemcrystal said...

Thank you Ang for this opportunity & Sioux for your kind words. This has been such an enjoyable part of my journey!

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