Wednesday, September 22, 2010


1. Your characters are so deep and complex. Please tell us how you get to know your characters so well.

Thank you, Kate. When I start writing a story, I usually begin with the characters. I have a general idea about the kind of person I want to write about, but to make that person come to life, I conduct an interview. That is what I did for Lu and Salman, two of the main characters in Come Fall. I asked them a whole lot of questions and I let myself write pages and pages to explore where they were coming from. Most of that material didn’t get used in the book, but it did provide the basis for a few scenes.

I didn’t interview Blos, at first, because I thought he was going to be a minor character. I modeled him on several people I had known at various points in my life, and his personality came to me almost whole. I knew he lived by rules and parameters he had set for himself, and so I was able to fit him in situations following those rules. It wasn’t until I began redrafting that I realized how important he was to the story, and that is when I asked him questions.

Puck was altogether different. Like Blos, he had a minor part in the story at first. As his part grew, I envisioned him acting the way he did in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So I reread Shakespeare’s play, as well as Kipling’s Puck stories and other authors’ take on the character. Then I imagined what it must be like to be a servant to two extremely strong-willed and powerful sovereigns. His character came quickly after that.

2. Since you know your characters so well, they each have a distinctive voice. Please tell us how you honed each character’s voice.

Blos’ voice actually arrived whole. I found his to be the easiest to write—I knew him the minute I started writing about him, perhaps because I have known people like him in real life. My main objective was to keep him consistent and in character. For example, he was not good at recognizing other people’s emotions, and so I had to be careful when he observed people’s reactions.

Puck, too, arrived whole, but for a different reason. I stole him from Shakespeare. My challenge was to keep him playful and trickster-like while staying out of trouble with the king and queen. My favorite passages were when he lied by misdirection yet spoke the literal truth.

Lu and Salman required more work. Their interviews gave me their initial voices. As I wrote their scenes, I tried to keep the observations, the tone, the manner of speech consistent with each of their points of view. What matters to a boy who has spent his life in foster care will be different from what matters to a girl who feels like she has too many brothers. I tried to let each character tell the story in the way which made sense to them.

3. In a Blos Pease way, I counted how many chapters each character had, and looked to see if there was a pattern that dictated when you switched voices, but I couldn’t find one. Please talk about how you organized Come Fall.

You didn’t find a pattern because there really wasn’t one. Initially, I chose a voice for a particular chapter based upon what made the most sense for that scene. When several characters were featured in the same scene, I chose a voice different from the one the reader had last heard, to mix it up.

Once I had a working draft of the book, I created an outline—one sentence per chapter—and noted which voice I used for each chapter. That’s when I consciously balanced the voices. I wanted the reader to hear from each of the characters in the beginning. I had written fewer chapters with Blos’ and Puck’s voices, so I made sure these were spaced somewhat evenly throughout the story. And then I considered whether I had too many scenes in a row in Salman’s or Lu’s voice, and how best to balance their points of view without confusing the reader or slowing the pace of the novel.

Although I did count the chapters each character had, I didn’t use any mathematical formula. I built the novel like a musical composition, or a painting—I was balancing almost by feel.

4. This novel is a tribute to gardeners, bird-watchers, and forest lovers. Do you have a special affinity for gardens, birds, and/or forests?

I am a terrible gardener. I cannot exaggerate how bad I am at caring for plants, which is why I consider a beautiful and bountiful garden to be magical. But I have a lifelong love of forests—I spent large portions of my childhood in the wilds of Quebec, and I go back there as often as I can.

Although I find all birds interesting, I am particularly enamored by crows. I enjoy watching them squabble around our backyard bird feeder. They can be noisy and bullies, but they are some of the most intelligent birds around. They are capable of solving problems and in some cases using tools, and have been known to befriend people.

5. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

I rewrote the novel a great deal. Although the interviews were helpful to start me off, I had to reconsider my characterizations and my structure with each rewrite. My editor had a great deal of input. Some characters, like Queen Titania, didn’t quite settle into who they needed to be until the last few drafts.

The rewriting stages are when I truly craft a novel. The first draft is just a structure to hang characters on. As I rewrite, I make more sense of the order of things, the way the story best unfolds, and the way I want to introduce the characters to the reader.

Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed. You had some very interesting questions!

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