Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Enchanting Interview: BRIAN MANDABACH

What do you hope for readers to take away from the story?

I hope people will take the characters and the story with along with them. I want them to have a few images of the places and people Cassie loves: The rain in her mountain valley, the snowy Goathorn against the blue sky, Ally with blue speckles of paint on her face, the foggy Oregon coast. Mostly, I hope Or Not becomes a story that's alive inside others besides myself.

This morning I was reading Wallace Stegner's On Teaching and Writing Fiction, and he was speaking about the primacy of story over ideas. Writing fiction isn't really about themes or lessons, but the best stories have plenty of opportunity for readers to come to new understandings as they read and after they read. So I hope the story leaves impressions of things in the imagination—lots of real things, from rocks and the scent of sunshine on pine needles to emptiness and hope and despair.

· Are experiences from your book based on someone you know or events in your own life?

Not exactly. None of the characters is based on one person, but little things I remember are woven throughout. For example, I did have a student a number of years ago who was told that she was going to hell. Oh, and here's something I've never told an interviewer before: the hot springs incident was loosely based on something that happened to a college girlfriend and me. She did pretty much what Allie did, and it was awesome.

Mostly, I got into the character of Cassie and relied on feelings and experiences that were true to her. As Stephen King has written of his process, I put my character into situations and let her react. Many of her situations come from my experience as a teacher, but some originate in my own memory. I had a good friend reject me in middle school, and I was just baffled. That also happened to Cassie.

· Did you know a person like Cassie?

Again, not exactly. But there are people I've met who make me believe in Cassie. I've had students write incredibly deep poems and rants and use vocabulary that many adults wouldn't think possible, (though teens find it credible).

· How did you come up with the title for 'Or Not'?

I was calling it IN THE PINES, from the song that figures prominently in the book. My editor, Andrew Karre at FLUX/Llewellyn, liked it a lot but wanted to hear other ideas. I searched through the book for a phrase that was Cassie's, that fit into the overall story, and that was—as my niece said when she heard Or Not—"grabby."

· Which books influenced you most when you were growing up?

I read Laura Ingalls Wilder obsessively. Also The Lord of the Rings. Later, The Outsiders, The Pigman, Catcher in the Rye, Dandelion Wine, the short stories "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" by Hemingway. Lots more Hemingway. I also read Satre's Nausea when I Cassie's age. I re-read that one when I was developing Cassie's character, and though there's an allusion to it in the novel, I decided that Cassie hadn't read it.

· Are you planning on writing another book?

I'm revising one right now. Actually, I'm in a difficult part where I have to make some changes, so I am procrastinating by writing answers to your questions. J

This one has characters that are 17 and 18, and it's set in suburban Chicagoland in the late 1970s, which is where and when I was at that age. It's a love quadrangle between four best friends, two couples.

· What is the hardest part of writing for you?

I'm revising now, so I'll have to say that the hardest part is deciding what to cut and what to change. It's tough to trust myself to know where my own bias ends and the real story begins. Other than that, it's finding the time and the confidence. Oh, and putting in the years of work to learn how to do it.

· Do you have any words of wisdom to share with an aspiring YA author?

This is just my opinion rather than wisdom, but I'd say don't aspire to be a YA author. Tell the stories you want and need to tell about the characters you love. If the book you come up with happens to be YA, great. If not, also great.

Even if you do have an idea that is clearly YA from the beginning, my advice would be to write the best thing you can, and then concentrate on getting published. You'll think a lot about publishing before that, of course, but don't work on it until you have the novel written. You shouldn't be researching agents or reading Marketing 101 while you are writing. You should be reading great novels, mediocre novels, and inspiring things about writing like King's ON WRITING or WHY I WRITE, edited by Will Blythe.

· What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Just the usual boring stuff—do you think any of these are intersting?

I have to write almost every day or I'm not getting anywhere. I like my front porch at night. I need coffee and tea and pomegranite juice mixtures, food, and often music. I'm currently addicted to nicotine gum. Everyone should stay far away from tobacco because it will catch you and try to kill you!!!!! I'm thinking of replacing the gum with energy drinks, but ginseng gives me the jitters. I wish I was like Carrie Jones and only needed Postum.

I cannot let anyone see the book until the first draft is finished. I cannot talk about the story either. If I'm stuck, I can't shave until I get through it. I set deadlines. I tell myself to dream about the story before I go to sleep.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

I love to hear from readers. While my agent, the wonderful Gary Heidt of FINEPRINT, was on the job getting it into the hands of editors, I was posting Or Not on my myspace blog, and the comments kept me alive. Now that they book is out, it's even better.

I like it when they tell me about parts that made them laugh, made them angry, made them think, or parts that they related to.

Here's the latest and maybe the best ever comment from a reader, also from myspace, by a high school senior who had just friended me:

Mar 14, 2008 12:16 AM

You are my new personal HERO!!! I just finished your book tonight. I buckled down and devoted several hours to finishing the last half of the book and I swear that has to be one of the best books I've EVER read. I wish this book would have come out in my seventh grade year, because Or Not? is extremely similar to my middle school career. I have never been able to so closely relate to a character before, so thanks. And reading your book has inspired me to actually complete my story I've been working on for ages!!!

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!! I'm on a cloud of super elated awesomeness after finishing. This book is NEVER leaving my collection.

I'm as insecure as any writer, but this sort of thing makes it hard to be! Even a word or two as a comment on my blog or myspace is really nice. For anyone who wants to get in touch, my website is and there's a link there to my myspace.

Thanks for the interview—I enjoyed answering your questions.

Interview by Courtney & Lisa

No comments:

Post a Comment