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Friday, October 06, 2006


Flux Publicist Brian Farrey asks the author. . . .

You started your novel writing career as a mystery novelist. Why did you want to try your hand at a young adult novel?

Actually, I wrote a YA novel before I ever wrote an adult mystery. It was my “starter novel”—good enough to get me an agent, but not good enough to be published. That book taught me what works and what doesn’t. It also led me to SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), where I’ve met wonderful writers from all over the world. In fact, I dedicated Homefree to the members of my SCBWI critique group in Tampa Bay.

Back to your question about why I write for young adults: It’s exhilarating to spin a story with a teen at the center! My protagonist, Easter Hutton, doesn’t realize how brave and talented she is. I think that’s true of most of us when we’re in high school; we have no idea what we’re capable of because we haven’t flown solo.

Writing about Easter and her ability to astral-project allows me to imagine extraordinary problems that demand creative, courageous solutions. What’s more fun than that?

Where did the idea for HOMEFREE come from?

I think most stories—at least the ones I spin—are an amalgam of observations, experiences, dreams and wishes. Sometimes I don’t recognize the forces that shape my own work. But I can usually cite the primary inspiration.

Homefree was born of the discontent that followed my move from the Midwest to Florida a few years ago. Without going into a lot of personal detail, I can tell you that I deeply missed the places where I had lived before. In time, I became fond of Tampa Bay, and I still am, but during my transition, I channeled the loneliness and isolation I was feeling into this story about sixteen-year-old Easter Hutton. I didn’t do it consciously. I just found myself writing about an alienated girl who involuntarily “revisited” her former homes. On some level, I must have wished that I could go back to the places and people I used to know.

You have such an intriguing background as an actress and playwright. How did you get involved with these areas?

I fell in love with acting and story-telling before I knew how to read. By the time I was four years old, my father was recording the plays I made up and starred in. That doesn’t mean my family wanted me to be in the theater. During the years I worked as an actor, my mother could never bring herself to tell her friends what I did for a living.

To supplement my meager income, I took on a variety of jobs, including writing newsletters, advertising copy and corporate speeches. That was how I discovered I had a natural ability to write dialogue. From there I taught myself to write plays. Slowly but surely, I began to get them produced in theaters across the country. What a thrill it is to sit in a darkened room full of strangers watching actors bring to life the characters and story you made up!

HOMEFREE’S main character, Easter Hutton, is a true individual who has learned to take care of herself but she can still feel vulnerable. What qualities do you share with Easter and how are you different?

Easter is deeply cynical whereas I’m only mildly sarcastic. We share a dry sense of humor. Unlike me, Easter shows no symptoms of people-pleaser syndrome. In fact, she’s perfecting the art of not caring what anyone thinks. That’s a response to watching Mom throw herself at guy after guy in the hopes that one of them will “rescue” her.

Easter is more self-sufficient than I was at her age. But I’m fundamentally a loner, as Easter is. We’re both independent thinkers and bold doers, capable of taking whatever action is necessary. Also, we’re very loyal to our friends.

Easter hasn’t seen her father in four years and doesn’t even know where he is. Her mother can barely take care of herself, let alone raise a daughter. My family was the opposite: close-knit, conservative and nurturing.

Sadly, I lack Easter’s paranormal abilities. I’ve had prophetic dreams and a few other psychic experiences, but I’ve never astral-projected.

Do you feel that the skills you possess as an actress and playwright inform the way you approach writing a novel and, if so, how?

Absolutely! I’m the writer I am today because of my skills as an actor/playwright. Theater taught me how to develop engaging characters and show rather than tell a story that fascinates the audience all the way to the end.

I urge aspiring novelists to take a course in playwriting or screenwriting and, if they’re gutsy, also an acting class. Working and reworking a scene, as actors do, forces you to think about intention and action: What does this character want? What is blocking her way? What will she do to get what she wants? How will her choices affect her and other characters?

Acting is about playing the truth, by which I don’t mean “realism” but rather finding what is real and urgent for your character. To anyone seriously interested in writing fiction, I say, Give yourself the gift of theater! Or take a writing seminar with me.

At the very least, find a local theater group or college theater department and ask if you can sit in on rehearsals. The process will amaze and inspire you.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

In addition to adult fiction, I read lots of books for teens. One of my favorite writers is M.T. Anderson, author of Feed, which is brilliant—chilling, thought-provoking and darkly funny. Other favorite writers for the teen market include Gary Schmidt (Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy) and Gabrielle Zevin (Elsewhere).

For me, the mark of an exceptional story is that it stays in my head and heart after I put it down. Anderson, Schmidt and Zevin have created books that do that to me.

Some of the teens in HOMEFREE exhibit paranormal abilities. If you could have a special power like that, what would it be?

If I could choose a special power, I would want Easter’s gift of astral-projection. That would fulfill my fantasy of being able to instantly visit places I love—and I do love to travel. It might also satisfy my childhood dream of being invisible now and then. But I wouldn’t want to read other people’s thoughts, as Andrew and Kayla can in Homefree. There’s some information we’re better off not knowing. . . .

OK, ‘fess up—what kind of student were you in high school?

Your question brings to mind a line in a Susan Werner song: “I was weird in school.” What can I say? I was one of those artistic types who acted in plays, wrote romantic poetry and loved foreign languages, especially French. Sometimes when I went shopping, I faked a French accent. Other times I pretended to be blind. Or deaf. I wondered how people would react to me if I were someone else. I still wonder; that’s why I write fiction. . . .

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