Thursday, August 7, 2008

Interview: Christine Fletcher, Part 1

Christine Fletcher is the author of two young adult novels, Ten Cents a Dance and Tallulah Falls, which was named a 2007 Book for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library. In her other life, Christine is a veterinarian. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her boyfriend and an assortment of rescued animals. On the web, she can be found at Christine Fletcher Books, where she has a delightful blog, Piccalilli.

Worducopia: In your talk, you mentioned your characters surprising you. I can definitely relate--the characters in the book I'm working on refused to cooperate with a major turning point I'd planned, so the ending is completely different from what I originally had in mind. When you start writing, do you know your ending? Did you know where Ruby would end up, for example, or did that happen organically as you wrote?

Christine: I did know the ending of the book before I started writing it. I wasn’t sure that was exactly where Ruby would end up, but it gave me a destination to aim for. Not just in terms of physical setting and situation, but also where the character might be emotionally, what changes might have taken place in her over the course of the book. Like you, I never know for sure where the action of the novel will take my characters, so I was open to a different ending. But it happened that the one I’d originally envisioned fell into place perfectly.

W: Some of my favorite scenes to read and to write are those that expose a characters' vulnerability and then their strength, in how they respond to it. For example, when Ruby first enters the dance floor at the Starlight, wearing the Wrong Dress. Is there one scene (or type of scene) that was especially fun for you to write?

C: Those are my favorite scenes to write, too, although I always have to make myself go there. My impulse is to go into the scene and pad the sharp corners, so to speak, so that my characters don’t have such a hard time and they come out winners. I always want to protect my poor characters! Which sounds nice, but of course it kills the conflict and tension I’m trying to build on the page, and it doesn’t allow the characters to grow.

W: This is so funny because I just posted about this exact thing on my other blog! I feel like I put my character through so much pain, but I realized at a workshop this weekend that I had set all sorts of difficult situations in front of him throughout the book which could make it a real page-turner, if only I didn't proceed to either solve them on the next page, or write around them so that he's all, "But it's okay, I didn't care about that much anyway."

C: That was a big hurdle I had to get over. Now that I'm aware of it, it makes writing the next book a little easier--I'm not wasting time trying to minimize damage to my character!

So when problems came up for Ruby, I as the author had to step back, keep my meddling hands out of it and imagine how she would respond. She surprised me every single time. That is the most fun, when the character surprises you. During the writing of one particular scene, for example, the action was running in my head almost as if it was a movie, and I was scribbling down everything the characters did and said. Out of nowhere, Ruby pulled this completely unexpected stunt that not only turbo-charged the scene, it raised the stakes to a whole new level I hadn’t anticipated. When I watched her do it, I actually said aloud, “Oh, no, you did not!”

W: I did too! I think I actually wrote that, almost verbatim, in my review.

C: The action was so authentically, outrageously Ruby, and yet I hadn’t planned it at all. I love that.

W: How long does it take you to move from one book to the next? Do you start getting ideas when you're still in the revision process, or do you need to completely finish with one set of characters before you can let the next ones move in to your head?

C: Once a cast of characters is in my head, they take over completely. All their stuff is lying around, they’ve flung dirty socks and pizza boxes everywhere, there’s not a square inch of brainspace left. It’s a mess.

W: I can relate to that--especially with adolescent characters, it can get pretty ripe in there!

C: Seriously, it’s not until revisions are done that I can clear out some space and dive in hot and heavy with a brand-new batch of characters. Before that, I’ll jot down ideas, and during any downtime--while the manuscript is off being edited, for example--I’ll start sketching out background material, doing research, etc. I know people who can work on two novels at once, but when it comes to my writing I’m a monogamous gal. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t…but sadly, we can only work with the number of neurons we’re allotted!

See Part 2, where Christine and I talk more about Ten Cents a Dance and the challenges--and benefits--of tackling sensitive issues from a historical perspective.

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