Local author Teresa Summer’s latest novel, “Dignity,” follows an ALS patient’s final months as she ultimately decides to end her life through physician-assisted suicide.
An Ohio native, Summers chose to set her novel, “Dignity,” in Columbus, specifically around Ohio State’s campus, while also referencing the university throughout the plot. The main character, Ashley O’Reilly, owns a fictional bakery named “Buckeye Bakery,” and even has a dog named Buckeye.
Summers sat down with The Lantern to talk about her inspiration for the novel and the role Ohio State played in the creation of her story.
Q: How did you get your start in writing and how long have you been writing professionally?
I’ve been writing professionally since the 90s. I got my start because, really, I’ve been writing since I was a child. I wrote my first thing at nine because I grew up in a family of readers and writers. My mom was a graduate of Ohio State, and she was an English teacher and an art major, and my dad was in advertising writing commercials for, at the time, big companies in the area. I really came from a family of writers.
Q: What was your inspiration for “Dignity?”
My inspiration was a PBS documentary called “The Suicide Tourist,” which followed a man who had ALS to Switzerland to a place called Dignitas, where people can choose how they die because they’re dying anyway. So what really struck me as I was watching that was the love story between the husband and the wife because it was clear how much she loved him going with this process through him. So that was really my inspiration, then I really just worked on it for a couple of years, you know you work on stuff in your head as a writer. Then it just kind of developed and when it came time to write something, I wrote this.
Q: How much research did you have to do on ALS and what it’s like to live with ALS?
I did a lot of research. College helped me a great deal with that, and I studied psychology and switched over to writing because I was writing anyway. But when you’re studying psychology you’re basically doing research and writing, you’re reading other people’s research papers and writing your own stuff. So I’m a very good researcher, but I did have to do a lot, on that and on other aspects. They have a premature baby, so I had to do a lot of research on making it what it’s actually like. People think you have an idea but you really have to dig into it. That’s good because when you put it out there you’re going to have people who know.
Q: Why did you decide to place this story in the campus area?
I was raised here in Ohio, I lived outside of Ohio during various times in my life, and I just like the OSU campus area. I don’t really know why I decided, you know you want an interesting setting and I think the Ohio State campus area is a great area. It’s a great little setting and I think just because I’m from Ohio and I’m a Buckeyes fan I wanted another angle.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.