Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I love it when these things work out - Welcome, Dana Reinhardt!

Remember when I said that I wasn't just being nice because I wanted to interview the author someday? Hello, someday!

What excites me about Dana Reinhardt is that A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life and Harmless are vastly different books – you wouldn’t necessarily know that they were products of the same author. Reinhardt has exhibited significant range in just two books, and this makes me very eager to see what she’ll give us next.

So, when given the chance to interview her, I jumped, I clawed, I begged. Ok, not really, but I did ask very nicely, and Lo, Dana Reinhardt:

JP: Harmless is much darker in tone – so much so that I needed to take a break from its intensity and read something else before going back to it.
Has reader response been at all different between the two books?

DR: Reader response has been wildly different. Some people have had a hard time with HARMLESS. They’re so angry with the kids that it gets in the way of enjoying the story. To be fair, there are also readers who have let me know that they loved HARMLESS and thought it a much better novel than my first. To each her own taste, I guess.

Personally, I don’t quite get what all the anger is about. I have deep empathy for the characters in this book. I ache for what they’re going through and I feel like the mistakes they make could have been made by me, or by anyone at that age. The bottom line is that it’s much easier, I think, to love a book when you love the hero. HARMLESS doesn’t really give you a hero to love. But I think the other kinds of stories are worth telling too. Not every novel can be about the perfectly lovable kid.

JP: Some authors say that their characters are, in a way, real to them. It follows, under that philosophy, that characters could cause a certain amount of consternation to such authors. Since both novels are very psychological, did you ever struggle along with your characters while writing? Did they anger you or bring forth any other emotions? Because, I have to tell you, as a reader, both novels really hit me emotionally, and I'm normally a very cold, unfeeling person. Icy, really. I think that's a good descriptor. ;)

DR: Icy? You? I don’t believe it. I struggled more writing from point of view of a fourteen year old than I did a sixteen year old because at fourteen you’re less reflective and articulate and cognizant of the world around you. Because I cared about them, the characters in HARMLESS frustrated me at times. I watched how they made their bad decisions and sometimes all it would have taken for them to avoid the whole mess was someone whispering reason, but I couldn’t be the one to do that. I just had to watch everything unfold, and that wasn’t always easy. At the end of my first novel I felt terribly sad for Simone’s loss while at the same time proud of the young woman she’d become. I imagine it’s hard to spend all that time writing a book and not get emotionally connected to your characters. But you also have to know when to let them go.

JP: What those three girls in Harmless did was clearly very, very wrong. At every turn they seemed to make the wrong choice. Did you at all have any difficulty wrestling with that? Did you want to at all give the girls, who are, ultimately, while not forgivable, by the end a little bit sympathetic, any break at all?

DR: Again, I feel tremendous empathy for the girls in HARMLESS. In my opinion morality is inchoate in the teenage years. Often what keeps some kids on the good side of things is pure luck. Any kid could have done what these kids did on a night when they were feeling fragile or vulnerable, when the pull toward self-protection was particularly acute. There are details about each of their lives that I think earn each of them some sympathy. But honestly, I wasn’t trying to give them a break or invent reasons why a reader might sympathize with them, I was only trying to understand the forces beyond immaturity or an underdeveloped moral compass that might have led them to make such bad choices.

JP: Straight from my review of Harmless: Are there degrees of innocence and guilt? Is a small lie different than large lies? Does intent matter at all?

DR: Intent is everything, in my opinion. Well, maybe not everything, but almost everything. This would be a much different story if these girls sat by the river that night and decided that what they wanted to do was make up a lie that would bring them more attention at school. Or a lie that would get somebody in trouble. All they wanted to do that night was deflect attention. They each had a secret or an image of themselves that they desperately wanted to preserve, and the lie was an effort to do that. They didn’t think through the damage the lie would do. Had they intended to do the damage, this would be a very different book. Intent is what separates this story from a story like Mean Girls or any of the many stories out there about girls who seek to harm each other.

JP: In my review of Harmless, I mentioned that the novel reminded me, in some ways, of the Salem Witch Trials because of the hysteria and loss of rationale and control by the adults based upon the actions and lies of a small group of girls. Did history at all come into your mind while writing it? Any other instance? Am I a crazy person to think this?

DR: No, you’re not crazy. (And you’re not icy either.) With this novel I was drawing on something a bit more recent than the Salem Witch Trials. I wrote this novel as a response to the many current stories in the news about kids who’ve done something horrible. I started to notice that my reaction to these kinds of stories was different to those around me. Most people read those stories and think what bad kids. I always think hmmm…. I wonder why good kids would do something so bad. So this novel was an exploration of that, really. Trying to imagine how kids who deep down are good kids, as most kids are, can get caught up in a bad situation.

JP: Simone grapples with HUGE issues in Brief Chapter, issues that full-grown adults haven't always figured out. Did you set out to tell a story with so much questioning? Many would have thought that just the adoption would have been enough for one tale.

DR: I set out to write a novel about Jewish identity. The adoption story was initially a plot device. I wondered why a kid at sixteen would be asking herself all these questions about what it means to be Jewish, what it means to belong to a faith and tradition. And then I thought, maybe she didn’t even know she was Jewish and that’s why she’s suddenly engaged in all these questions. That’s how the adoption story came about. Of course, as it is with writing, often things that start out as secondary ideas wind up becoming your primary themes.

And as for grappling with HUGE questions, I think that’s a good place to start when you sit down to write a book. That’s what growing up is all about, and these questions should be reflected and wrestled with and torn apart piece by piece in books for teenage readers.

JP: What do you want your audience to take away from your books?

DR: I just want readers to have enjoyed the novel and been absorbed in the lives of the characters and felt some level of emotional investment in how it all turns out. I don’t write with messages in mind, I write to give a reader a good experience.

JP: What was the first thing you wrote for each of the books?

DR: The first sentence.
Neither changed from day one.

I like starting at the beginning.

JP: Which authors do you always look forward to reading their next book?

DR: That’s a great question because it made me realize that on my list of favorite books, there aren’t any repeats. No author gets more than one spot. Maybe this is true for any reader: once you’ve fallen head over heels for an author’s book, nothing else he or she produces can ever quite measure up. I’ll read new books by authors of books I’ve already loved, but rarely do I fall in love the same way. So for example, I’ve got the new Michael Chabon novel by my bed, but I’m nervous to read it because of how much I loved his last novel. I’m curious to read the new Ian McEwen book, but I’ve never liked any of his books as much as I enjoyed Enduring Love. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’ve only ever tried reading one of his other many books, and I never got beyond the first chapter. I love many of the early Richard Price novels, but haven’t loved his later, more popular fiction. You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates is a book I treasure, but I can’t say I rush out and by every new Joyce Carol Oates novel. For one thing, who can afford to buy a new book every month?? Okay, that was a long answer. But you see what I mean.

JP: I do. As much as I absolutely LOVE L.M. Montgomery's Anne series, and as many times as I've re-read them, I've never bothered with any of her's beyond those eight. I just couldn't imagine that they would be better.

JP: Which book do you think that everyone should read, and at what age or point of life do you think that they should read it? Why?

DR: I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but my favorite novel is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and one of the things I love about it is that it’s great for readers of almost any age. To me, it’s as close to a perfect novel as there is. It’s got it all. Read it when you’re young and read it when you’re old and you’ll learn something new each time. And she never messed things up by writing another novel!

JP: I have to ask – what can you tell us about what is coming up from you?

DR: I have a new novel coming out in 2008 called HOW TO BUILD A HOUSE. It’s about a girl who spends the summer building a house for a family who lost theirs in a tornado while sorting through her feelings about the break up of her own family. Forgive me-- I’m not very skilled at describing my own books, but I really am excited about it. I’ve just gotten over being sick of it and I’m able to appreciate it again.

JP: I can't wait to read How to Build a House! Thank You Dana SO Much!!

Your Wednesday Interview Schedule:

Mitali Perkins at Hip Writer Mama
Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production
Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating

Tomorrow you'll find my last interview of SBBT, with Brent Hartinger. By the time you'll actually be reading that, I'll be jetting off to Chicago and Michigan for 16 days! I'm very excited. Some people get all geeked to go to Europe, but Chicago's my favorite city, and I love my Michigan. You'll hear from me while I'm gone. ;) I'm bringing lots of books! Including my trusty iBook.


Little Willow said...

Quick question: May I use 'Hello, Someday' for a story or scene?

Erin said...

Great interview, Jac! Dana sounds like a really nice person. :)

Jackie Parker said...

Of course, LW.

Thanks Erin! She seems so to me, too!

Anonymous said...

Great questions! And I share the love for Mockingbird.

Thanks for the interview.

Vivian Mahoney said...

Thanks for this interview. Hmmm. Now I'm intrigued by Harmless.

Sarah Miller said...

That was really good. I loved both of Dana's books.

Little Willow said...

Thank you! Have fun during your travels!