Monday, September 8, 2014

Lindsey Lane's Debut THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN

Okay kids, this novel is an incredible read - moving, mysterious, and deeply engaging. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for the easy-reader; it's a novel for those who love to think and be prodded out of their comfort zone. I devoured it in a single day. Lindsey Lane's debut YA THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN (out now from Farrar, Straus, Giroux) is a not-put-down story of the disappearance of one Tommy Smythe, a brilliant if odd teen. Here's a portion of the School Library Journal review and summary:

"The story unfolds through interviews with witnesses, scraps of scribbled notes from Tommy himself, and private moments between seemingly unrelated people. Tommy’s disappearance is at the forefront of some stories, at the back of others. Chapters are arranged by lead-characters or items, some more hard-hitting than others, but the picture of a small border town caught up in a mystery and bound by its secrets is an intriguing one that Lane does well. Some chapters do deal with more adult subject matter (drug use, teen pregnancy, racism, prostitution) and adult language is prevalent throughout, but isn’t gratuitous. Give to fans of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s I’ll be There (Little, Brown, 2012) and Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun (S. & S., 2002)."

Full disclosure: Lindsey is a dear friend. I've admired her work for as long as we've known one another - almost ten years! And we are agency mates, clients of Erin Murphy. I couldn't be more pleased.

Now, not only do we get to hear about this beautifully written novel, we've got a surprise - the first appearance of the novel's trailer! Here's Lindsey:


Please give readers a synopsis of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN.

Instead of writing a synopsis of EVIDENCE, I’d like to debut my book trailer on your blog (yay!!): 




I was sucked into the story right away, and I confess that one reason was that Tommy is such a strong presence even in absence. How did you come to feel about Tommy?

I’m glad you felt Tommy’s presence strongly. Originally, he showed up in one of the stories when the novel was linked short stories that all occurred around this patch of dirt by the side of the road called the pull out. It was my critique partner Anne Bustard who said, “I think this particular story might be a bit bigger.” That’s when I went back in and did a floor to ceiling kind of renovation of the book and Tommy became a thread through all the stories.

I love the multiple points of view, the interweaving story lines. Did you write this novel in a linear fashion?

Do you mean did I write it from start to finish with a beginning, middle and end? Nope. When it was linked short stories, I wrote them one after another. Boom. Boom. Boom. But after I had the piece of Tommy going missing, I had a time frame so I had to weave each thread in relation to the moment he disappears. That’s all when I added in the first person sections of the kids who knew Tommy. Gradually, I found that what I was doing was writing around the negative space. If you have something or someone who goes missing, what remains is cast in sharp relief. Even if Tommy wasn’t part of another character’s life, his absence still affects that character. Like, when you lose your keys, you are kind off course looking for it and all the people you ask if they’ve seen them start looking and they go a little off course. Or worse, when your child wanders away from you at a store and you and everyone around you goes into a freak out until you find her. So if the center of a story goes missing, everything wobbles. I wanted all the stories around Tommy to have that feeling that life is just a little bit off course.

You know, Tommy would say that I did write the novel in a linear fashion because I wrote it in linear time whether or not I went back and shifted the structure of the book. That’s the kind of guy he is. I feel his presence every day. I probably always will.

The notes are brilliant, allowing us to see not only more deeply into Tommy's way of thinking, but they connect the story of his disappearance with the physics of dimensional possibility. Was that something you came up with early on?

Almost as soon as Tommy showed up in my imagination, I knew he was a bright geeky kid who was a little bit off socially. Once his absence was a central thread, I started keeping Tommy’s journal. I wanted to know the way he thought. I wanted to know who he was. What I discovered was this brilliant kid who was in the middle of having his mind blown by particle physics. I knew his journal was important but all that I included in the manuscript that sold to FSGBYR was that little snippet at the beginning, which is still there. My editor Joy Peskin loved it so I included a bit more when I did a revision for her.

I believe I recall that this novel was inspired by true events. Is that correct? If not, where did it come from?

In the category of truth is stranger than fiction, I was double checking facts and I called the Blanco Chamber of Commerce because I set EVIDENCE in that neck of the Texas Hill Country in a town about the size of Blanco and I needed to check a few facts. I told the woman who answered the phone what my book was about and there was this long pause. “We had a boy that sounds just like your character who went missing a few years ago.” Then my side of the phone went silent. Turns out the boy came back but he had whole town in an uproar for a couple weeks. Wild, eh?

As for the stories in the rest of the book, they aren’t real but they are inspired by real events. For instance, when I interviewed Karla Faye Tucker on death row many years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about how her story had led her to kill someone. Like where did the stitch in the fabric of her life break so that the whole tapestry unravels one very bad night? She haunted me until she showed up in this book.

Truth and factual events captivate me. Then I like to go back and look at the why and how of it.  I’m a sucker for epiphanies. I love the aha of life.

That's an amazing story. We were at Vermont College of Fine Arts together, a memory and friendship I cherish. Was any of this novel a part of your Vermont College experience?

When I graduated from VCFA, two stories--Comic Book and Lost--are in my creative thesis. But what was really important about the VCFA experience and this novel was faith. Faith in my writing. Faith in following and developing an idea. Faith that my ideas were worthy. I don’t know if I could have found that faith without going to VCFA. Every month for two years, I leaped off a cliff and sent my advisors pages and pages of writing. Each month, I made those pages better with tools in my writer’s toolbox. The VCFA experience was pivotal in my development as a writer and certainly this book.

You know the title of this novel comes from a quote in the bible about faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In way, this book is a result of that faith in myself as a writer.
  
What's your typical writing process? Plotter, or pantser?

Hmmm, I bet I’m going to write every book just a little bit different every time. Even though, I probably pantsed my way into this novel, I held each thread in my head before I wrote them down. I knew where I was going with each section. I knew who the characters were.

On the next book, I purposefully journaled for quite a while. I figured out the characters, the backstory, the crisis and the climax. What was most important was finding the inciting incident. It is the moment that makes the story unravel to an inevitable conclusion. I think of backstory as the hand of god. The reader will believe one coincidence at the beginning of the book. I try to make sure that one coincidence will make all the dice in the hand of god fall on the table. Gradually. Inexorably. Fatalistically. Lovingly. (I have to absolutely love my characters.) After I finish drafting and let it rest, that’s probably when I will do that hard work of making sure it hangs together on the arc of a plot. I do like to write intuitively when I’m drafting but I’m holding the story in my head so I have a map of where I’m going.  If writing a novel is like a road trip, then I’m all about the surprises along the way in the first draft. I still get to the destination because I have the map but I’m stopping at cafes and pull outs and overlooks all along the way.

What are you working on now?

The working title is Inside the Notes. Here is the inciting incident: A young girl arrives in Boston. First time away from home. She is staying with a couple near the music conservatory where she is studying for four weeks. As she is unpacking, the clock radio in her room clicks on (the coincidence) and she hears men’s voices reading poetry and letters. It is a prison radio show. The girl knows her father is in prison for killing her mother when she was two years old. It is the first time she has considered he might be real and have a voice. The journey begins.

It does indeed. You can find Lindsey here:




Twitter @LindseyAuthor

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fun News! My Middle-Grade Debut Novel

The news is now out that my debut middle grade novel CHATELAINE: THE THIRTEENTH CHARM has been acquired in a pre-empt by Kendra Levin of Viking, for a winter 2016 release. I'm very excited, as I love this book and my main character, Kat, and I'm eager to share them with the world.

Here's a synopsis:

CHATELAINE is a middle-grade novel set in a rundown Scottish castle during WWII. The lady of the manor has set it up as a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz. But something is not right with that castle or that lady, and the children begin disappearing one by one. There are clues that hint that a spy is in the house; there are signs that can't be denied that there is a sinister magic. It's a race against the clock for one girl, her two younger siblings, and her new best friend to get to the bottom of things.

So...World War II, spies, ghosts, magic, a witch, a creepy castle, steampunk, children in danger, an "enigma machine", a magician who may live forever, the Scottish Highlands...

I've made a little video sneak-peek. Let me know what you think!



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Trigger Warnings & The Teen Brain on Fear

Warning: the content of this blog post is more adult than teen.

We young adult authors put a whole lot of thinking (or we should) into what we put on the page. We feel a certain responsibility - as parents, teachers, librarians, former teens - to make sense of the world for our readers, not to make life more difficult for them. And certainly we don't want to throw anyone into PTSD hell.

So along come two new ideas/studies that have me churning about what I might write next and whether I will inadvertently light up a young reader's brain with a post-traumatic stress reflex.

Trigger warnings (see this article in The New Yorker) are flags that the material about to be read (or studied in the classroom or viewed on the screen) may trigger a post-traumatic response to memories that are evoked by the material. Huckleberry Finn would come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced racism; Taxi Driver would come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced sexual assault; Game of Thrones would come with a trigger warning for those who have experienced...just about any negative horror you can imagine, and some you don't want to.

My first thought upon hearing about trigger warnings was, "Oh, for pity's sake." How would a teacher teach anything, even things in the canon, without a trigger warning? Shakespeare alone would merit multiple warnings about violence, misogyny, anti-Semitism. And forget the bloody Greeks: certain bits of The Iliad might ruin anyone's day.

Now new studies have determined that brain development in teens is not steady-state (golly, what a surprise.) The amygdala, that part of the brain that processes fear, develops earlier than the prefrontal cortex, which regulates reason (i.e., processes overcoming fear.) If you've ever wondered why so many of us get stuck reliving the dreadful anxieties that were born in high school, now there's a scientific reason why. Our brains keep trying to process the fear and anxiety that were brought on by those teenage experiences, even well after we are able to process newer fears and anxieties.

I find this newest brain research raising a level of concern, for me, that the experiences of adolescence that adults dismiss as trivial or advise as character-building may in fact be setting up kids for years of adult therapy.

I am not advocating sheltering young people from the bumps and bruises of life. Indeed, to a certain degree, resiliency is born of the ability to weather downturns and is necessary to achieving success. Furthermore, I do firmly believe that when teens are coping with a stressful situations - and even situations that are filled with horror - one of the best coping mechanisms is reading about it in the safety of one's home, room, school, library. Just look at what Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has accomplished in terms of raising awareness and giving voice to the victims of rape.

One of my works in progress is a contemporary YA novel and addresses a brutal attack on someone who has come out of the closet. Should it come with a trigger warning for those who've experienced abuse because of their sexual orientation?

I wonder whether you'd like to weigh in on this issue. What do you think about trigger warnings? What about this new brain research, and the vulnerability of teens to fear and anxiety? I'd really like to hear your opinions.