Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Something welcome this way comes...

...and his name is Alan Gratz!

It's my great pleasure to host Alan Gratz on the 2nd day of his book tour. Alan's 2nd book, Something Rotten, has just been released from Dial Books. His first, Samurai Shortstop, came out in 2006. It's great to have you here, Alan. I'm just going to launch into my nosy questions!

1. I know you've written drama as well as "book" fiction. How do your skills as a drama writer come into play when you're writing a book? Is there a difference in pacing, dialogue, etc.?

Dialogue is of course very important on the stage. Most directors want to strip out the stage directions I write anyway, and just use the words I've put into the characters mouths. Writing for directors who do that made me much more conscious of my stage directions. I began putting in only those directions that were vitally important to the scene and leaving out a lot of the little things like "he pours a coffee" or "he stands." I'm learning to cut out a lot of those in my novels as well. There's just so much sitting and standing and looking and nodding and such a character can do before those things become meaningless in a book. I still find them sprinkled throughout my manuscripts, but I'm learning to cut those out as much as possible. Punctuating dialogue with actions like that helps to pace things, but I'm focusing now on making those actions more specific and meaningful, or perhaps expressing them in more creative ways. "The look on his face told me my idea stank worse than a weightlifter's armpit." That kind of thing.

2. I love that you survived a "humid childhood." Haha! So did I! Do you think you write in a southern voice? Or just a moister one?

I've been thinking more and more lately about whether or not I'm a "Southern writer." *Technically* I am, as I was born and raised in the humid climes of East Tennessee and now live in the more temperate mountains of western North Carolina. But geography alone does not define "Southern writer," at least not in the way I think of it. When I think of Southern writers I think of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Lee Smith, Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy--authors whose stories are in and *of* the South, whose palettes are filled with people and places that are unique to the region. Samurai Shortstop was written in Knoxville, Tennessee, but it certainly does not qualify me as a "Southern writer." Something Rotten comes closer, however. I chose to set my modern retelling of Hamlet in a fictional Denmark, Tennessee, which I place on the map somewhere near Knoxville. The novel's landscape is Appalachia, but does that make me a Southern writer? I'm still up in the air on that one. I'm not sure Something Rotten is *about* the South. It's just set there. I'd like to be thought of as a Southern writer--there's certainly a wonderful literary tradition here--but I may need to write something where the South is almost another character to really put myself on the map.

3. How do you handle the muddy middle of a long book project, when you're past the exciting beginning but far from the breathless finish?

Outlining! My stories used to sag in the middle like a carnival pony until I learned the art of outlining before writing the first word. Now I don't hit that big dead space in the middle anymore between how I knew the story began and how I knew it ended. When constructing the outline, I focus on making sure that something happens in each and every chapter that moves the story forward. That sounds simple, but it's really harder than it sounds. There's all kinds of opportunity in a novel to stop and dwell on the philosophical meaning of something, or veer off into an internal monologue or an aside, and many modern novels relish in this. When writing for young readers though, I try to keep such musings to a minimum--or at least fuse them with action. It's not that young readers can't understand* deep thoughts, it's that many of them don't want to make time for them. There are just too many things begging for the attention of young adults. I feel that competition, and I do everything I can to beat it. Besides, that's the kind of book I enjoy reading too. :-)

4. How do you think YA differs from adult fiction, since so many barriers have come down about sex, language and violence in YA?

The difference for me will always be one of perspective. Adult books may have a teenage protagonist, but are often couched as nostalgia or remembrances, or the books stand away from the character and make observations that come with the maturity of years. Young adult novels, on the other hand, are immediate. The characters live *in the moment,* as real teenagers do, often giving as little thought to what happened last year as they do to what will happen a year later. With no subject taboo anymore, YA isn't an issue of content, it's an issue of point of view. Teenagers have a limited point of view due to their age--they just can't have seen as much of the world as an adult, and so their viewpoint is unique. For them, every relationship is the best they will ever have, every breakup the worst they will ever have. A bad test score means the Worst Day Ever, a sports victory means the Greatest Day Ever. They've yet to learn that these ups and downs are a never-ending part of what it means to be alive, and I love them dearly for that. For young adults the world is constantly new, which means that everything, from the mundane to the taboo, is a totally emotional experience.

5. Do you plan to retool any of Shakespeare's other plots? Or perhaps to continue to write for this character, now that you know him so well?

Yes! I've already sold two sequels. The first is Something Wicked, which is based on Macbeth. My detective Horatio Wilkes will return, this time following his friend Mac and Mac's girlfriend Beth (yes, you may groan now) to a Scottish Highland Festival in the mountains of East Tennessee. There he'll solve a murder, fall in love, and wear a kilt, though not necessarily in that order. Something Wicked will be published by Dial next fall (2008), and will be followed in the fall of 2009 by Something Foolish, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. I haven't written that one yet, but it will be set at an all night keg party where Horatio must solve a date rape and repair a few broken relationships. I have plans too for Julius Caesar (think toga party at a college fraternity) and The Tempest (Horatio interns at a Disney-like theme park ruled by an animatronics wizard), and hope to sell those if the first three books do well. I'll keep writing mysteries based on Shakespeare as long as people keep reading them!

6. Have you any plans to write for a younger audience?

I have sold a middle grade novel (ages 8-12) called The Brooklyn Nine, which follows nine "innings," or generations, of an American family as told through the children's connections to baseball. It's American history, family history, and baseball history all rolled into one. The Brooklyn Nine is currently slated for release in spring of 2009--just in time for baseball season! As for anything younger, I have a few ideas for intermediate reader series, but my plate's so full right now I wouldn't have time to write them!

Thanks Alan.

Thank you, Kim!

Don't miss Alan's other blog appearances this week:
Monday: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Wednesday: Karen Lee
Thursday: Kerry Madden's Mountain Mist

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Elements

Couldn't help bragging about my son, who -- with a little bribing -- memorized the period table of elements, sung along with the the hilarious Tom Lehrer song... which is, of course, originally a Gilbert & Sullivan song.

If the picture quality is too bad, (and you'll really miss out if you don't see his dancing eyebrows keeping time to the music!), hop on over to YouTube and view it by clicking here.