Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: The opening images in “The Summer of Abby” really caught our eye. What inspired you to use a movie as the framing device for the story?

Ria Parody Erlich: Julianna has a penchant for overlaying movies onto real life. When she initially sees Abby, she imagines her as the Katharine Hepburn character in the film Pat and Mike. The next time she sees Abby, Julianna imagines her as a ghostly, horror-movie-like rider in a cinematic—and dramatic—New Orleans thunderstorm, the threat of which recurs throughout the story. Later, she imagines her tennis lesson with Abby as a slow-motion scene in which Hepburn co-stars. It seemed appropriate to me that looking back on their relationship, Julianna would associate it with both movies and storms, which provided the basis for the “frame.”

RR: We loved reading about Abby and Julianna’s emerging relationship. How did you decide to write a coming-of-age story about a friendship between two teenage girls?

RPE: I think there has been a dearth of stories realistically depicting friendships of preteen and teenage girls, who form complex, intense bonds at perhaps the most complex, intense time in their lives, which includes sexual awakening along with myriad other self-awareness, self-defining, and self-realization issues. One of the things I rarely see addressed and thought was important to show is how some girls that age form “asexual crushes,” as a friend of mine calls it, on other girls during the transition from girlhood to womanhood. To that point, I was pleased that several “women of a certain age” told me they wished there had been a story like mine for them to read when they were growing up.

RR: What drove your development of Julianna’s aunt and all her eccentricities? Did you draw on any personal experience for her character?

RPE: I wanted Julianna to have a confident, supportive woman in her life who broke all the rules at a time when it was somewhat dangerous and unacceptable for women to do so. Aunt Ida is a product of my imagination, but I will admit she has some of the characteristics and qualities of several of my favorite female relatives—which ones, I’ll never tell.

RR: You mentioned in your bio that your one-act play, “Toast,” just recently made its debut on stage. What were some of the differences in how you approach writing for the stage and writing a short story?

RPE: “Toast” is a published short story of mine, which I adapted into a one-act play. The biggest difference, other than converting some narrative passages to dialogue, and including lighting, sound, and set design, as well as stage directions, was writing the Angel of Death, who is only mentioned in the story, as a full-blown character. Because the character doesn’t speak, but must react to what’s happening on stage, I wrote a series of suggested movements for an actor adept at improvisation and pantomime. By the way, I was delighted to be able to see a recording of the recent production by the SkyPilot Theatre Company in Los Angeles, which not only was exceptionally well acted, designed, directed, and staged, but also was faithful to and in some cases went delightfully beyond my vision.

RR: Which do you prefer: movies, books, or live performances (musicals, plays, etc.), and why?

RPE: You might as well ask a mom which of her children she loves best. I love them all equally, of course!

Read “The Summer of Abby” by Ria Parody Erlich.