Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: JT Dutton

JT Dutton is a 2k classmate, whose debut novel, FREAKED, came out last year. Her second novel, STRANDED, has just launched to rave reviews. She's been a wonderful person to "meet" virtually - smart and supportive - and I'm truly delighted to have her here. And I'm pleased that I'll finally meet her in person when we are both speaking on a panel at NCTE this fall!

Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, STRANDED. Please tell us a bit about the novel.

Kelly Louise Sorenson is a teen girl whose Mom forces her to move to a small town in Iowa, an area still reeling from a media reaction to an abandoned baby. Bored and frustrated, Kelly Louise embarks on a campaign to corrupt her goody-goody cousin only to discover that Natalie has serious secrets which the whole family must come to terms with.

What was the biggest difference in craft terms between this novel and your first novel, FREAKED?

I wrote FREAKED as if it were a nostalgia/humor novel for Deadheads. I thought teens might be interested, but I didn’t think that they would be the primary audience, at least at first. When I wrote STRANDED, I kept teen readers in mind from the beginning and tried to make the themes, references, writing style, snappy.

I also switched from writing about a boy to telling a girl’s story. Believe it or not, despite my gender and the fact that I was once like Kelly Louise, I found “being a ‘girl” in my writing difficult, especially when it came to expressing negative feelings.  Kelly Louise’s quirky humor came to my rescue, as my own weird way of looking at the world once helped me, but the work was still hard because I think girls are less free to express certain frustrations out loud. 

I read in a post you wrote for the Class of 2k10 that you feel that the personal concept of what is "good" drives your novels. Can you talk about that a bit?

People have asked me a lot about my dark characters. My interest in teens who don’t behave well carries over into my personal life. I have read a lot of novels of transgression, dated a lot of bad boys in my single years and know more than my share of addicts and homeless people. Some people love vampires but I love the human version of risk taking, outsider, and otherness. 

I think we live in a broken society. The frustration of oil leaking into the gulf of Mexico, for example, angers me enough that rather than tell stories of characters who patiently endure and survive, behave as victims of wrongdoing, I am motivated to write ones about characters who get angry and defy.

Scotty Loveletter and Kelly Louise Sorenson, my protagonists, may make more mistakes than their less rebellious peers, but in the end they have at least stepped out of a passive shell or desire to let their troubles roll over them. By the end of both books, neither one is hiding anymore. I can’t always say what they do is “right” but I think they are more on the way to adulthood than they would be if they folded their hands and waited for someone else to save them.

Do you usually start with a concept, like "goodness", or do you start with a character?

I actually began writing STRANDED in response to an incident—a baby abandoned in a corn field in Iowa. Huge media arguments about right to life vs. right to choice erupted following a very real incident in the news and I began wondering about questions of forgiveness. Usually I start with a character or I begin channeling a voice, but this time I felt the draw of a moral dilemma.

You're a teacher. Do you share your work with your students? How do you share your craft with them?

I teach College Composition and Creative Writing at Hiram College in Ohio. It’s hard to share my work with my students, but I always do, in the form of group writing exercises and sometimes readings. To be honest, I think some of my students are more creative, artful, and sometimes even better word-smiths than me and by exposing them to my raw stuff I have to suck up a lot of feelings of embarrassment.  I toss my struggles into the mix because I feel like no writer should have to suffer alone. Writing is hard, but motivation, support, and a great deal of insight can come from some kind of collaboration.

I stay in touch with a lot of my former students because one day one of them is going to win the Pulitzer or something, I just know it.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a novel about a character from STRANDED who almost stole the whole show from Kelly Louise as I was drafting. I love the project because it involves a wealthy girls camp, a degenerate boy, and an explosion—sort of the best of all worlds.

How can readers find out more about you?

I have a website— The usual links to Facebook and Twitter are posted there.

And here is the trailer for STRANDED: