Friday, 2 October 2009

Interview - Kathy Charles (Hollywood Ending)

Kathy Charles' debut novel, Hollywood Ending will be released in the US (MTV Books) next year but is currently on shelves in Australia (Text Publishing). It's a fantastic book, one that I recommend highly (review here) and am also giving a copy away. It's something new in the Young Adult Literature market - dark, snarky and gripping.

Kathy kindly answered my questions about her process, her characters and her love of pithy dialogue.

Hollywood Ending is your debut novel. How does it feel to see it on the bookstore shelves?
Having a novel published feels like such a long process that by the time the book came out I was just very impatient to see it on the shelves. I’m also a bit neurotic so I find it hard to just enjoy seeing my book out there: I’m always checking how many copies a store has and making sure it’s in a good spot where people can see it.

I think it’s safe to say that you share Hilda’s fascination with celebrity death. What was the first one that you encountered that grabbed your attention?
When I was very young there was a terrible accident on the set of The Twilight Zone Movie (1983). An actor named Vic Morrow and two young children were killed when a helicopter crashed down on top of them during a scene. I remember seeing details of the accident on the news. It was very sad and scary. Then as I got older there were so many high-profile celebrity deaths that captured my attention: River Phoenix, John Candy, Kurt Cobain. With every death there were unanswered questions. It was very easy to be sucked into the mystery of it all.

How difficult was it to get Aunt Lynette right as you needed to straddle the line between self-involved, empathetic and caring?
Hilda and her Aunt Lynnette were both thrown together after a tragic accident and never expected to be such a major part of each other’s lives. Lynette is a ‘career woman’ but she cares very much for her neice and is doing her very best to raise her. There is already conflict in the relationship because Hilda’s mother was such a free-spirit while Lynette is more uptight. Lynette believes she is setting a good example for Hilda by being a positive role-model. Her intentions are always good, even if she does come across as a little self absorbed.

It is not often you read about a relationship between a senior citizen male and a high school senior girl – what was your motivation in telling this very authentic bond that forms between these two very different people?
I’ve always been fascinated by stories about young people who form unlikely bonds with their elders. One of my favorite movies is ‘Harold and Maude’, which is the story of a love affair between a young man and a woman in her eighties. Recently I enjoyed the movie ‘Gran Torino’ starring Clint Eastwood, which was about an old war veteren who befriends an Asian teenager who teaches him how to overcome his own prejudices. I love the idea that two people can come from such dramatically different backgrounds and forge such a strong bond. People connect in their hearts. Sometimes age is just irrelevant.

Was this a story that unfurled as you wrote or was it something you meticulously planned out?
I find writing to be a very organic process so I never do a detailed outline or a character breakdown. I usually know how the story starts and how it should end but that can also change as I go along. I let the characters guide me. If I ever get stuck on how a scene should be resolved I’ll leave it for a little while, and then I’ll get a lightbulb going off in my head saying “of course this is what needs to happen next.” It’s like the story is already there and my job is to uncover it, so I don’t like to force things. It needs to come naturally, otherwise it’s like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle by cutting the pieces to fit where you want to put them. Eventually it might go together but the picture won’t look the way it was meant to.

You’re an award winning playwright, is there much difference between writing for a live performance and writing for people to read?
I actually approach writing a novel as if it were a screenplay, with dialogue and plot forming the foundation that everything else rests on. I don’t like overly descriptive passages that tell you everything about how a scene looks: I like to just give a few details and let the reader fill in the rest with their imagination. I also love witty, pithy dialogue that riffs on popular culture. Quentin Tarantino is a master of it. So is Diablo Cody who wrote the screenplay for ‘Juno’. I tried to encapsulate some of that style of dialogue in ‘Hollywood Ending.’

What are your writing habits?
I work a fulltime job so all my writing is done at night and on the weekends. Once I start writing a novel I am fully committed to it every day until the first draft is done. I’ll set myself a quota of 1,000 words on weekdays and 2,000 words on weekends, which gives me a first draft in around four to six months. Then I’ll give myself a big break in between the next draft and come back to it with fresh eyes.

Are you planning on writing more YA? What are you working on at the moment?
‘Hollywood Ending’ is more a “crossover” novel than being strictly YA. The book has teen protagonists but the themes are very dark. I love writing about teens because it is a time in your life when you are discovering the world and how it works, and emotions are still very raw and heightened. One of the main protagonists in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment is a teenager so again it might be a “crossover” novel. But overall I try not to think about what genre I’m writing in. I just think about what makes a good story and let other people put labels on it. If it’s a good story it will find a wide audience, whether it’s called “Young Adult” or “Adult.” Story is everything.

Kathy has a wonderful website that you must check out, and she's also a-twitter:

1 comment:

brizmus said...

Great interview - that's so tragic about what happened on the Twilight Zone movie set. I'd never heard that story before!