Monday, November 18, 2013

Taking Chances, Pushing the Envelope with WHITE SPACE

Last week, I mentioned that I’d be on Goodreads answering all things Bick. I got some terrific questions, too, covering everything from MONSTERS to the things I love and hate about being a writer. In all that, there were a fair number of questions about the first book in my upcoming, two-volume Dark Passages series, WHITE SPACE. By now, word’s gotten out that the book is . . . pretty different. A couple aspects that seem to intrigue people revolve around the book’s structure, including multiple POVs. As with all questions, I give my answers a fair amount of thought, and so I figured, okay, since this is on people’s minds, why not simply share one very excellent question about the book and my answer here?

Oh, and before I forget: a heartfelt thank you to the David Estes Fan Page and YA Book Lovers Unite Discussion Group for letting me barge in for a week and speak my peace. If you want to see what follows in context (and get a gander at the entire week-long discussion), drop by here.

* * * (Jeann)I'm excited about your upcoming book White Spaces(sic). I hear there's many POVs within it, could you tell us about how this is weaved into the story? How do you think readers will find your new release?

Thanks! But I'm not sure how to answer your question. I mean, there are many POVs in the ASHES trilogy, too, if you think about it. So the challenge is in creating compelling characters, each with a distinctive voice, to help people keep things straight. For this particular book, because I'm not building on characters you've heard about in the first book (e.g., in SHADOWS, you already knew who the main players were), I help people a little bit by heading each chapter with the POV's name (Lizzie, Emma, Eric, etc.).

Are there are a lot of people to keep track of (in WHITE SPACE)? Sure, but there are tons of characters in books by Dickens and Stephen King and Dan Simmons and . . .

I trust that a) my readers have brains and b) they come to my books--and this one, in particular--understanding that it's not the same-o, same-o. To be honest, I think that part of the predictability problem with a lot of YA is that writers limit their POVs because they think it'll be "easier" on their readers. In a sense, they're right; it's not like I've NEVER written a book from first-person POV. I write whatever POV the story demands. That means I won't shy away from bigger, broader novels with multiple POVs because that limits your options as a writer and may act to the detriment of your story. (I can think of MANY very popular trilogies that falter because of this problem. MANY. OTOH, they're ridiculously popular . . . so don't pay any attention to me.) And, frankly, every time you write, you ought to try something you've never done before. Otherwise, you get stale, and so does your writing.

White Space Cover
WHITE SPACE really hinges on readers "getting" the conceit: what the different POVs are about; why they're playing out the way they are. That means I do weird things in the narrative, but because it's also partially horror, weird fits in naturally in terms of genre.

And I honestly think about things like that with every book. One of the lovely things about YA is you can get away with genre mash-ups. YA readers are, in some ways, much more flexible that way. So, you can stretch genre limits and expectations--but you must also really understand the conceits and structures of (and to) the genres you're playing with.

So, in WHITE SPACE, I do things you wouldn't expect, like end chapters in mid-sentence or with ellipses or dashes. I'm not trying to be cute, although--yeah--I'm shaking up expectations. (If you think about it, I did that at the end of the first ASHES book. Boy, were people mad and my editor was nervous because of it. But you weren't indifferent. I also ended it that way for a very specific, fairly artsy-fartsy reason: at the end of that book, Alex has discovered that all the niceties, everything she's ever taken for granted, are gone, stripped away. Civilization as she's known it has collapsed. So I wanted to give my readers that same kind of gut-punch shock. Nothing is nice and predictable for her anymore . . . so why should they be for you?)

In WHITE SPACE, I play with form to cue your mind about what's going on in the only ways available to me as a writer without sitting you down for a very boring, fairly condescending "you-know-Bob" moment. I know you guys are smarter than that. (But if you want a hint--or a movie that I mention in the book and which I think plays with the same concepts I do--then check out IDENTITY. Really interesting flick, and in some ways, much more inventive than INCEPTION, though that was also a great film.) As for how they'll find it . . . I'm going to presume you mean . . . "like" it? Or do you mean, figure out I've written it? The latter's easy ;-) As for the former, I don't know if people will like it; I hope they do. I think it's a book and concept that has the virtue of never having been tried in quite this way. (I'd like to think I'm a bit like Kirk this way.)

But . . . WHITE SPACE is a very different read. I know that going into this. It's not your standard kind of book, and I also understand that not everyone will "get" it. But you take that risk with every book. (I was going to go all artsy-fartsy and say something about how boring any art would be if all we did was churn out identical narratives or paintings or songs . . . but that's way too serious for me. Is writing an art? Sure . . . but above all else, I'm an entertainer. That's my job. You pick up a book to be entertained, not because you need your daily dose of art.)

So, changing things up, taking chances, trying something new . . . all that keeps things fresh. It's part of the terror of writing, and--for me--most of the fun.

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