(Originally published on October 5th, 2010 on my old blog)
Today is awesome for two reasons: 1) It’s my BFF’s birthday (Happy birthday, Amanda! I hope you’re having fun in Montreal!), and 2) It’s the day Hold Still, with its pretty, blue, paperback cover hits bookstore shelves. (Eek!)
In honor of the release, I’m answering some questions that you guys asked me. First, though, so that I don’t keep you in suspense for much longer, the winner of the final giveaway is Tara! (Tara, congrats!, and please email me with your mailing address at email@example.com.)
OK. Here we go.
Kirsten asks, Who was your favorite character to write in Hold Still??
That’s such a tough question, because it varied a lot scene by scene, but I’m going to go with Taylor. Dylan’s a close second. But while many of the scenes with Dylan were difficult to write because of the ways in which Caitlin wanted to connect with her but wouldn’t allow herself to, the scenes with Taylor usually had an element of fun and excitement. While Dylan makes Caitlin confront her grief and work through it, Taylor (usually) offers some relief, and I felt relieved, too, when writing those scenes.
Melissa Nataly asks, Was it hard writing the grief part?
Yes, Melissa, it was really hard. On one hand, it was difficult because I wanted Caitlin’s emotional state to be believable–I wanted her to be appropriately stunned and confused and sad–but I also had to keep in mind that people would (hopefully) be reading this, and that most readers (myself included) can only take so much angst. Angst is a good thing, but it can only take you so far. Another reason it was difficult relates to Jillian’s question . . .
Jillian asks, Did you find yourself grieving and experiencing the feelings your characters felt throughout your daily life as you wrote this novel?
Yes. Writing the parts about grief was emotionally difficult. There’s a certain amount of channeling of feelings I have to do in order to write believably, so I kept having to enter that grieving state with Caitlin, and that took a toll on me sometimes. Some days I would just feel sad, because I was so immersed in the story. But, at the same time, writing can be an exhilarating process, so that gave me the energy to overcome the feelings that spilled over from the characters. Also, I always knew that the story would go in a positive direction, that it was as much about hope and beginnings as it was grief and losses.
Llehn asks, What is your writing mantra in 15 words or less?
Hmmm . . . maybe something like, “Get to that place. Write it down.” That makes sense to me. Does it make sense to anyone else?
Christi asks, Did you know from the beginning what direction the story was going to take, or did it evolve as you wrote?
I was in graduate school when I started writing Hold Still, and I had a professor, the great horror/mystery writer Kathryn Reiss, who had the class make outlines for our novels. I resisted making an outline for all of the reasons one would resist such a thing. Because it would limit my creativity. Because I wanted my characters to live on their own. Because I needed an element of surprise in order to stay engaged during the writing process. On and on. But I was a good student, so I did it. I ended up loving the process of making an outline. Perhaps most importantly, it made real the idea that I would actually complete a novel, that my story was really going somewhere. I ended up disregarding the outline after the first few chapters, because, as I had hoped they would, my characters started doing things that I hadn’t known they would do. And I began to have better ideas than my initial ones. So, to answer your question, Christi, I thought I knew the story’s direction, but it ended up evolving into something pretty different.
Tara asks, Did you research suicide and depression before you wrote Hold Still or did you just let the characters’ emotions be as you think they would be?
My answer to this one is a lot like my answer to Christi above. Initially, I did some research. Research is sometimes necessary, and, for me, can also be a great method of procrastination. But, yes. I read up on signs of depression; I read articles about teen suicide; I read about the grieving process. Some of what I found made it into my book. A lot of it solidified what I already thought, which was that there are no easy or clear answers about depression and suicide, which was helpful because I wasn’t interested in writing a book that would attempt to reveal or explain why someone like Ingrid would take her life. It turned out, in the end, that my own memories of how it felt to be in high school were vastly more helpful than the research I did, because the story is about the day-to-day things that happen after a terrible event, and I can remember feeling lonely, feeling excited, feeling out-of-place and taken care of and inspired–all of the things that my characters feel.
Laura Miranda asks, Who was the character that was hard/tough to write?
Quite a few of the characters were difficult to write at certain times, but I’ll go with Ms. Delani. She’s pretty interesting to me. When I started writing, I wasn’t a high school teacher yet, but during my final revision I was, and the Ms. Delani plot line became more prominent near the end of the process. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think readers might judge her more harshly than I do. It was difficult to write a character who was so badly needed and yet so neglectful, who had reasons for acting the way she did that my narrator couldn’t even fathom. She was a good challenge for me.
Yan asks, How many edits did you do for Hold Still?
I write in a really weird way. I jump around from scene to scene, from the beginning to the end to the middle and back, and I revise a lot as I go. So while I probably only did three big comprehensive revisions, I was constantly revising on a smaller scale. I wish I had a clear answer to that question!
Carolyn asks, Did you have any expectations before or during the writing of Hold Still? Did they constrain your writing? If so, how did you overcome them to allow you novel to grow in new directions?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, Carolyn. I didn’t really have expectations when I was writing Hold Still because I started it in school and initially saw it as just something I was writing, not something I was writing that was going to be published. Making that transition, from being an unpublished writer to a published one, is trickier than I had imagined. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that feeling again of writing without the pressures that publication bring. (Let me just say here that I’m not complaining. Being an author is such an honor, and I wouldn’t go back for anything.) I have always been at war with my inner critic, but now I have thousands of other critics in my head as I work on new projects, and I’m trying hard to exorcise them so that the novel I am currently writing can blossom in the way that it should. I think I’m getting better at it.
DeAnn Campbell asks, How did you know when you were done with Hold Still? How did you know you were ready to send it off into the world?
When I had taken it as far as I could on my own. You know the three major revisions I mentioned earlier? The first of those I did by myself, after I had finished writing it. I took a little time off from the book, and then I dove back in and filled scenes out, cut scenes, worked on the plot, refined characters, etc. I knew when I sent it out to agents that I would want to work with an editor who would help guide me through revisions, but I also knew that it was at the point where I didn’t know what to do to make it better. I knew it could be better, but I didn’t know how I could make that happen. I think that this is the right feeling to have when sending a manuscript out into the world: a sense that you’ve done all that you can at the point at which you are.
Matt Sbar asks, Is there anything about writing that other people write that really just annoys you?
I like it when people write genuinely. I don’t like it when I feel like the writer is trying hard to impress the readers. But as a reader and especially as a teacher who discusses literature with classrooms full of people all day, I know that what people like is totally subjective. I don’t really let writing annoy me, because if I don’t like something I’ll put it down.
And, Matt also asks an awesome question to end on: What do you think is the most significant impact Hold Still has had on anyone’s life as far as you’re aware?
I’ve received many very personal emails from readers that have really touched me. I had no idea that people would feel so close to the book, and it humbles me every time I get a message like that from a reader. But, since most of what I receive is so personal, I’m going to let one of my readers speak for himself: http://tiny.cc/ec231
Thanks so much for all of your questions! Wow, this turned out to be pretty long. If you read to the end, send me an email with your mailing address by midnight tonight (Pacific time) to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a tiny present!