Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Talking with Eric Gansworth, part 3

The third and final part of our conversation with author Eric Gansworth from CCBC-Net.

Writing for Teens 

Did you find it restrictive to orient the novel towards a YA audience?

Bison Books, 2005
I probably went a fair amount softer than I would have for an adult audience, but that’s to be expected. Most of the edgier things that I thought were important to understanding Lewis’s world are still in the novel, if maybe a little more veiled than they were in the first incarnation. We had discussions about some of these areas, in the editorial process. Though a few of these passages, even in their muted versions, may alienate adult folks who feel protectively censorious on their constituents’ behalf, we left in the elements that were important. It’s a book about teenage guys. Even sensitive teenage guys are still, well, teenage guys.

To neuter them, worrying about offending someone, would not have been a realistic representation of the world I wanted to present. Young readers know when you’re playing it safe and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s strange to me how the culture has changed. In many ways, being more sensitive is a great thing, but young people who want to read provocative, edgier material are going to find it. Why not offer them some range of choices? I hope I’m not the literary equivalent of broccoli, but you never know. This book is oriented to late middle school and high school students. In middle school, I had already read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead (one great novel, one workmanlike novelization). Most of the girls I knew in eighth grade were obsessed with Flowers in the Attic, an over-the-top contemporary Gothic novel with a primary narrative focusing on incestuous siblings locked in an attic by their dysfunctional family. It seemed like Hansel and Gretel: The Cinemax Late Nite Years.

Milkweed Press, 2010
The one real restriction I think was great for me, as a writer. I’m generally a very meditative fiction writer, perhaps even to the point of indulgence sometimes. I’m interested in the interior lives of characters, the ways their memories and histories inform who they are at any given moment. My understanding of YA, from discussions with others and from reading many many contemporary YA novels while writing, is that it’s got to move a bit faster than I normally choose to. I’m sure that has more to do with my own temperament than any issue with the field. I’m a contemplative person, the sort who still gets insomnia over conversations I had 10 or 15 years ago that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. As such, my novels for adults probably require a reader with a greater reservoir of patience than the average reader. If I wanted slower meditative passages to remain in this novel, I had to find legitimate reasons for them to exist. I learned so much about writing for an audience in search of more immediate payoffs, that I believe right now, I could probably trim another thirty pages out of the first half, and make the pace a little peppier. It’s a learning curve, like anything else.
Thanks so much for taking the time to engage with my work and again for inviting me to participate in the conversation.  


If I Ever Get Out of Here was a 2014 Honor Book for the American Indian Youth Library Award and was chosen for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list in 2014.  You can find it at your local library and bookstore.

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