Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bookanista Interview with Michelle Hodkin, author of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER

To wrap up my week of MARA DYER, I've got an interview with the lovely author herself. I was lucky enough to meet Michelle in NYC (she took me to this fab restaurant and coerced me into eating squid-ink pasta, and then she followed it up by taking me to a place called Pomme Frites which serves the BEST french fries EVAR). Then, Michelle was a guest stop at two of the Ash to Nash events, which was fantastic!

Still, I hadn't really had a chance to pick her brain specifically about Mara, so today, we're going to do just that!

We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?

I am a champion food-orderer at restaurants. A skill appreciated by no one but my dining companions, but a skill nonetheless. 

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up? 
As a little little kid? The Joss Bird by Sarah Garland (about this bird that infiltrates a museum to retrieve her stolen egg). As an elementary-school kid, anything in the Fear Street saga by RL Stine. As a middle-schooler? Anything by Stephen King or Michael Crichton. As a high schooler? LOLITA and GEEK LOVE. As an adult, those books are still my top two favorites, I still think Fear Street is frightening (and awesome) and I still veer towards the dark and disturbing; the more dark and disturbing, the better. 

Did you draw anything in your book, THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, from your real life? 
The Ebola incident (see e.g. 41-42)
A sketchy dog incident not unlike page 70 for reasons referenced on p.197
The jhbjhjhbb  gggggggggggggggggggggggggg and hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.                            
Err, actually, my lawyer told me not to answer that. 


It's the inevitable question: what inspired THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER? 
Short answer: I was inspired by true events.
Long answer: will be posted on when it goes live :)

You are unflinching with your words—unafraid to graphically describe hard situations or censor your characters. Can you talk a little about how you came up with this style of writing, and why you chose to tell your story in this way?

First: thank you. That means a lot, coming from a writer whose raw, emotional prose has made me a) cry b) laugh and c) scream in the span of a few hundred pages. 

I don’t censor my characters because I know they would sound false if I did. How do I know? 

I tried it. 

I was told by some people that choosing to use certain words (usually consisting of four letters, sometimes beginning with the letters f and s) would limit my audience. Which I didn’t really want. So I tried substituting the words out, changing the sentences, and dancing around the words to try and achieve the same emotional content of the scene without using the same language. 

It didn’t work. 

The truth? I personally believe that words are just words, and they only have the power that we give them. The f-word is no more inherently evil than the word “melon.” But when it’s used in the book, it’s used to convey emotion in a way that would be real to the teens in the story—Mara (the protagonist), who has been through events so traumatic that she hallucinates and has unconsciously self-harmed; Noah (the male main character), who really couldn’t give a *&^% what other people think of him; and Jamie (Mara's only friend in Miami), who is loud, obnoxious, and brutally honest no matter what. Eagle Scouts my characters are not. That’s how they roll, and those are the words they would use at the points that I used them. Daniel (Mara’s older brother) wouldn’t use those words, and so…he doesn’t. And he even comments (negatively) on Mara’s use of them. 

As far as describing hard situations, I felt (and feel) that my main responsibility was to always firmly stay in Mara’s perspective while I wrote the book. She has suffered through some tough stuff. Glossing over it would do the book, and it’s readers, a great disservice. 

That said, it is recommended for readers 14+, and I do strongly believe that teenagers (and their parents) should decide what kind of content they’re ready for. Is it a dark book? Yes. Is it a sexy book? I like to think so. And will the sequel get darker and sexier? Definitely. So if dark and edgy isn’t your thing? This may not be the book for you. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER?
It took me ten months from writing my first words of fiction ever (on May 15, 2009) to the day I submitted it to a handful of agents in March 2010. I signed with an agent a month later, worked on a few revisions over the course of a few of weeks, and then Simon & Schuster bought MARA DYER in a two book deal at auction on May 25th, 2010. It happened crazily (and unusually) fast. 

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, what would you want it to be?
I just hope that people have fun reading it!

Beyond that, I wouldn’t complain if it made even one person rethink the (silly) idea that pit bulls should be banned from towns, cities, states, and even countries. And that statement will make no sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book. 

What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?
The fact that I can write books. Seriously, I’m still getting used to the idea that I wrote a book. It’s still reaaaaallllly really surreal. Really surreal. 

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
Write the story that only you can write. And finish the book. 

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing?
I’m proud of my characterization. I had no idea how tough it would be to write an unreliable narrator until I was in far too deep to quit, but I think that my legal experience helped me stay firmly in her perspective (which isn’t easy when you’re writing in the first person) even when I was painfully aware that what she was noticing, experiencing, thinking, feeling, or opining wasn’t accurate in the story’s context. Keeping track of who knows X, who believes Y, and who’s lying about Z was a juggling act, but I think I did the characters justice. I hope readers agree—especially when they read the sequel. 

Structure, on the other hand, was an enormous challenge. It’s kind of mathematical to me, which means I had to call in reinforcements (like my brother) to offer their assistance. I’m lucky to have readers whose strengths compliment my weaknesses. 

Don't forget! You can enter to win a SIGNED copy of THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER until October 3rd! And if you'd like to read what the other Bookanistas are reading, check it out here:

Post a Comment