Monday, November 19, 2007

Interview with C.G. Watson

Today's interview is with C.G. Watson, the author of Quad. You may visit her site here. You may read my review of Quad here.

What inspired you to write Quad? (Or how did this novel come to be…)

I never set out to write QUAD. I never wanted to write a book like QUAD. But I’m a high school teacher, and a couple of years ago, I watched helplessly as one of my classes systematically dismantled certain kids with a campaign of meanness, teasing and isolation so cruel, I was afraid it would end in tragedy. And they wouldn't listen to my interventions, which came off as flimsy, even funny to them. I felt like I needed to find another way for them to get the message. Not long after that, the first draft of QUAD was born.

How long did it take to write?

The first draft came very quickly. I started in March and finished in May, spent a month revising and polishing, and then began sending it out.

Were there any surprises along the way on your journey to publication?

It was an admittedly naïve surprise that not everyone loved this story. In my quest for an agent, I got lots of rejections – everything from, “Not my taste,” to “This story will never sell.” That was pretty shocking somehow. I couldn’t figure out how something so timely and relevant could be met with such a forceful chorus of “No’s!”
There are many narrators—many stories—within Quad. Do you have a favorite?

I really love Rufus and Ranger – theirs were the first voices I heard when I started writing this story. They were smart and funny and they made me laugh. I guess I’ll always have a soft place in my heart for them. As far as story lines go, I found myself rooting for Ken and Hayley, even as I was writing their parts.

Did you find it hard as a writer, to capture so many different voices, to tell so many different stories? Were there certain characters that were easier to write than others?

All I can say is, thank god for editors! I have a pretty good ear for voice, though, and as a high school teacher, I hear a hundred and fifty distinct voices every day. So it wasn’t as challenging as it may seem. Brittany and Nicole were probably the easiest to write because I’ve had a “Brittany” and a “Nicole” in every class every year for the last twenty one years. They screamed their lines at me – it would have been harder not to write them.

What do you hope readers gain from reading Quad?

The one thing I did not set out to do was try to fix anything or solve any issues at the end of the story. My goal is to get the reader to think: Why do we push each other so hard? What is recreational meanness? Are there any other alternatives? How far is too far? And if we push someone too far and then go one step further, what happens then? And of course, once the reader starts thinking about these things, it’s my hope that they start talking about it too; and in talking about these things, maybe people can affect their own change, rather than have someone (like a teacher) try to do it for them.

Why do you think high schoolers can be so mean to one another, so cruel?

Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m about to get a little political now - but since you asked … I think they’re this way because we’ve made them be, because we’ve more than allowed it. Look at what’s on TV – first there were shows like Jerry Springer that taught us to revel in the humiliation of others. People watched those shows and measured their own lives against the high drama they saw, and then came to the realization that their own lives didn’t measure up. So they’d whip up their own drama instead. Now we have all these programs where people judge each other in the cruelest of ways, where the meanest people win, and they do so by isolating each other and breaking each other down. I even heard about a show recently where people get a chance to spy on their neighbors and then spill their secrets on national TV. It’s incredibly mean-spirited – and these are the shows that win the ratings. Even kids’ clothing has gotten mean – have you noticed that? And we’re buying that stuff. We’re programming our kids to be mean by what we watch, what we buy, and by allowing negative comments to go unchallenged in our homes and schools. It’s sad to say, but they’re doing what we, as a society, have set them up to do.

Do you think there is anything teachers and parents can do to intervene in situations such as these?

We simply can’t let negative comments, name-calling, or hurtful, isolating language go unchallenged, ever. Not at home, not at school. And we need to lead by example. Sometimes I think that parents and other caring adults underestimate their value in the eyes of our children – especially our teens.

Is there anything you’d like to tell teens going through such emotionally turbulent situations?

Find an ally. An ally is someone who listens to you without judgment, is willing to tell you the truth, believes you, and stands by you. Anyone can be an ally – a parent (yours or someone else’s), a trusted teacher, a friend, a religious leader, an older sibling (yours or someone else’s). And when you get to a place where you’re able to manage your own “stuff,” reach out and be an ally to someone else who needs it. Bottom line: every kid needs an ally. Every single kid.

You’re a high school teacher, how do your students feel about your recent ‘success’ as a writer? Have any of your students read your book? Are they proud of you?

Uh, I wouldn’t say “proud” so much as “shocked.” I’m told that my book is pretty popular – at least at the schools in my town. My own students say things to me like, “I can’t believe you wrote that book.” They’re reluctant to elaborate when I ask them, but if I had to guess: it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would come from [a] and adult, [b] a middle-aged adult, or [c] a middle-aged adult woman. Who also happens to be their Spanish teacher. Yeah, I’d say more shock than anything else.

Who has been your biggest supporter?

There’s no way I could write this or any other novel if my family wasn’t so unbelievably supportive. My husband and kids are the bomb! Our local indie bookstore, Lyon’s Books, has been a huge supporter, as has our local B&N, Dr. Lynne Berkaw at CSU Chico (go Wildcats!) has been amazing, using the book in several of her courses. My friends at SCBWI have been amazingly supportive. The list goes on. I’d like to thank the academy …
Are you writing a second novel? Is there anything you can tell us about your work in progress?

I’ve completed both a second and a third novel, both of which are in revisions at this time and have not been picked up yet, so … it’s all very hush-hush for now.

Are you excited that your novel has been nominated for a Cybil?

Way! I’ve never been nominated for a Cybil before. You know, you write for the love of writing and the love of story-telling. But when someone acknowledges that effort with a nod like this, it’s unbelievably validating and I really do appreciate it.

Does award-season (best-of season) make you nervous or excited as a writer?

I’ve actually given very little thought to awards. There are so many outstanding books out there, how does one begin selecting “the best of”? It’s almost too much to think about. On my end of things, I told a story that I passionately felt needed to be told, and if someone deems the book to be deserving of special recognition, even better. That said, I’m honored beyond belief that QUAD has been nominated for a Cybil and as an ALA Quick Pick as well.

Have you heard from any fans—any readers—since the publication of Quad?

Oh sure. I have a special spot on my website for reader mail – but you have to be a teen to be posted there. Young adult readers are the most articulate, thoughtful book reviewers because they’re so completely up-front and honest. However, I’ve gotten a lot of amazing email from adult readers as well, and I’ve been extraordinarily moved –and surprised- by their thoughts on the book. Opening reader email is the highlight of my day.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

Holy cow – this question is blowing my mind. I’m not a big proponent of going back and changing things, because I think that each moment in our lives, good or bad, lays the path for what comes next. And I’m not one for wanting to know what happens in the future, either, for basically the same reason. So if I were to get in a time machine and go somewhere, it would have to be for the sole purpose of witnessing something amazing. It would be incredible to spend a day in the height of the Aztec empire – that’d be cool. Something like that. But I definitely wouldn’t want to do anything to alter history, nor the change course of the future.

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