Followers of my blog may remember that I interviewed author,Lisette Brodey last year about her book Crooked Moon and her latest novel,Molly Hacker Is Too Picky!.
I thoroughly enjoyed Crooked Moon, and it's one of my favourite books ever, so I was looking forward to readng another of Lisette's books. I recently found time to read Squalor, New Mexico. After reading that, I invited Lisette back here to talk about it. She is an author who deserves to be read. She has the rare talent of being able to create many varied and realistic characters in her books. Her stories are modern, but the messages contained within them are timeless. It's a pleasure to welcome her back here.
Here is the interview:
The main characters in Squalor are teenagers and I thought that they were all very realistic as if you'd really got into the mind of a teenager when writing the book. In particular, the narrative is in the first person and Darla, the protagonist is telling her story; I could really feel her passion and frustration coming across in the way the story was told. What kind of research did you do into teenage behaviour? Or was it a matter of recalling your own teenage experience?
Hi, Maria. Thanks so much for having me as a guest again on your blog. It’s great to be here.
The writing of Darla’s character came from my own childhood. Like Darla, I was very determined and didn’t give up easily, though I would not say that I am Darla. Nor is her story mine.
When Darla was nine years old, after overhearing a conversation between her mother and her aunt, she learned that they had a sister she had known nothing about. I think that most people would be curious to learn of a “mystery relative.” When Darla asks her mother about Aunt Rebecca, she is given a bare-bones answer, just enough to satisfy her. But as time goes on, things happen, and Darla becomes painfully aware that her mother is being less than forthcoming. It was really important to me to show Darla’s frustration, coupled with her growing pains and the desire to do right by her parents while standing by her individuality.
Many of the crazy teenage stunts in the book are quite reminiscent of my own childhood.
This is a silly question, so bear with me. What does 'skeive' or 'skieve me out' mean? Your character Melanie uses it a lot!
That is a very good question. “Skieve me out” was a common expression when I was growing up on the East Coast of the United States meaning “gross me out.” “Skievy” meant vile, disgusting or unnaturally uncomfortable. Some people spell it “skeeve.” As you know, Maria, although the book is titled Squalor, New Mexico, it takes place in East Coast suburbia in the 1970s and has nothing to do with New Mexico. That said, I have come to find that the word is regional and not known by all. I first learned that when a woman who grew up in California asked me what it meant. Not sure of the origin, but that’s what the word means to me.
Darla meets an elderly woman, Victoria, in a care home when her cousin May takes her to visit. Victoria is one of my favourite characters in the book. She is so wise. Again, I was impressed at how you really seemed to be writing her dialogue from the perspective of someone with over 70 years of life experience. There are real lessons to be learned from what Victoria says. How did you go about creating that character?
Victoria, like all of my characters, is a hybrid of people I have known. Prior to writing the book, I was visiting an 87-year-old friend of mine, Marjory, in a rehab facility. She was a very sharp woman and we had much in common. She didn’t live in the facility, but during her stay she had a lot of the same complaints as Victoria: being served dinner at ridiculously early hours, being talked to as if she were a child, and so on. My feelings about the place and my memories of what she told me were a contributing factor, but Victoria’s character just came to me, and as many characters do, she told me what she had to say and I simply typed out her words.
Although classed as a Young Adult book, I understand that you prefer to think of Squalor as general fiction, and I agree. I think it's suitable for all ages. The thing that struck me most about it is how many diverse characters there are in the book. There are teenagers, parents, drug addicts, loose women, elderly people, eccentrics, drunks. All are well drawn and believable. Having also read your first novel, Crooked Moon (which is one of my favourite books), I have noticed that you seem to have a real talent for being able to portray different types of people realistically and with an almost extraordinary insight into human nature. How do you go about creating each character? Are they based on people you know?
First, let me address your question about the genre of the book. You are correct. I really don’t think of Squalor, New Mexico as a Young Adult book. I think of it as general fiction where the main character happens to be a teenager. It was very important to me in the writing of this book not to side with either Darla or her parents, but to show the frustration on both sides. I don’t like to tell my readers how they should feel. Real conflicts between people are ones that don’t always have a definitive answer and that are multilayered. To me, this novel is the story of a family. I wanted to show how easily it was for a family to fracture, as sadly, this is a far too frequent occurrence for many. People everywhere are estranged from loved ones and many can’t even tell you why. It’s very sad.
Thank you for your kind words about my diverse characters. I have always been a people watcher. Shortly after high school, I moved to New York City for ten years. But more than just watching people on the street, I have always had a keen interest in human behavior. For years, I watched talk shows to try and understand the motivation behind people’s outrageous behavior. I am a good listener and have heard myriad stories from friends and seen much in my own life.
Squalor is set in the 1970s before the introduction of the internet and mobile phones etc. This meant that solving the mystery of Darla's estranged aunt Rebecca was made all the more difficult. I'm writing a book at the moment where part of the story is set in a time when not everyone had a mobile phone so I know that it can be hard to avoid slipping and accidentally making one of the characters pick up a mobile. How did you go about avoiding such mistakes?
You ask great questions. The easy answer to this is that I wrote this novel in 1996. The more complicated answer is that I was quite the sleuth in my youth. (No rhyme intended! ) If I say so myself, as a teenager, I came up with brilliant ways to seek out information in an age with no computers or cell phones. I just put myself in Darla’s shoes and asked myself what I would have done.
Your character Darla has many vivid nightmares in the book. You have described some of those in detail. I loved the way her nightmares would relate back to experiences she'd had in the day in a sometimes comical, if frightening way. Have you ever suffered from nightmares?
Oh, yes! I have had quite the bizarre, and I do mean bizarre, dreams in my time. I’ve always found it interesting how some people have very ordinary dreams and others do not. Our dreams are comprised of symbols. Water, for example, is a symbol, but it means different things to different people. If you have a recurring dream of being in a swimming pool that suddenly loses all water, if you are a swimmer, that dream may indicate that you are frustrated and feel you cannot move ahead. If you cannot swim, that dream may indicate that you feel you have been rescued.
I am fascinated by how the mind works and interprets our life while we are asleep.
I understand that you're currently at work on a fourth novel, which is something you began writing when you were 17. How is that going and can you tell us a little about it?
Yes, that is correct. When I was 17, I was attending college in New York. My grandmother came to visit one weekend, and after a special outing in with her, I was inspired to write a short story. I never got very far with it. Years later, while living in New York, I asked my roommate at the time if she would photocopy it for me at work. She forgot to do so and eight years later, when I was living in Los Angeles, mailed me the story I had forgotten about. It was like being reunited with an old friend.
I was so happy to have the story back and quickly turned it into a one-act play. Years later, I expanded it into a two-act play. Long story short, the characters have been with me a long time, and the novel will explore a great deal more than is in the play. This, like Squalor, New Mexico, is a period piece and will take place in the 1980s. No cell/mobile phones in this book, either!
Do you have any upcoming events or news you'd like to share with your readers?
I am currently promoting my latest/third novel, Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! It is a romantic comedy and the most lighthearted of my three novels. As you know, Maria, for a year prior to publishing this book, I blogged weekly as Molly Hacker at www.mollyhacker.com and conducted interviews (as Molly) of my creative peers. You, of course, were one of Molly’s very delightful guests. I’m still interviewing lots of great people in 2012, but on a semiregular basis. Readers can keep up-to-date with my latest news on Molly’s site as well as my Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/BrodeyAuthor. I also have a profile here on Goodreads.com.
I do have some surprises in store, but they’re secrets for the time being. Thanks so much for having me as your guest, Maria. It’s been a true pleasure. You’re a great support to your fellow authors.
Thank you, Lisette, and good luck with your future writing and promoting. I look forward to chatting with you again soon.
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