Monday, November 17, 2008

Interview with Elizabeth Scott

As faithful readers have probably concluded by now, I love Elizabeth Scott. I do. Her books are wonderful. Though she's only been on the scene a relatively short time (this is her second year), I consider her a real must-read.

You’ve had quite a busy year what with the release of three books—Perfect You, Stealing Heaven, and Living Dead Girl. (Both Living Dead Girl and Perfect You were nominated for a Cybils in the YA category.) What has life been like at your house?

Well, the Cybils nominations were an unexpected--and lovely--surprise! But otherwise, life is pretty much exactly the same as it always is, although the revision/copy edits/page proof stage for three books in a year made for some *very* busy times.

Do you get caught up in following your books? Watching to see how people—readers of all ages—respond?

No, because that way lies madness. Besides, I'd rather be writing.

Whose opinions matter most to you as a writer? Teens or the adult critics?

Teens. Praise from adults is lovely, of course, but at the end of the day, I write for teens, and they are the ones I most like to hear from.

What inspired you to write Living Dead Girl? (Or how did this novel come to be?)

Usually, when I get an idea for a story, it comes in bits and pieces. But once in a while--a great while, frankly--an idea will come to me fully formed, a story demanding to be told.
Living Dead Girl was one of those stories.
I woke up the night of April 5, 2007, from a disturbing dream. I write all my dreams down, and usually they're pretty nonsensical, but this one was different.
I wrote:
"Alice." It is her name but it isn't her name. She thinks of who she was as someone far away. Long ago. Kidnapped when she was ten. Five years, and she lives with kidnapper still. Now he wants someone else. New. She'll do anything to get him off her. Knows no one sees her, staring at blue thing, plastic like water but not water, reflection strange. Blurred, featureless. Flash of teeth, grinning not grinning, hands and pain, HIM. Thinks, I am a living dead girl.
By the time I was done writing, I knew Alice's story. I knew I had to tell it. But I had other projects I was working on, and I told myself to file it away.
The night of April 6, 2007, I had the same dream again.
By the night of April 8, 2007, I woke up from the now-familiar dream and wrote only one word:
In short--I wrote Living Dead Girl because it demanded to be told, and I hope it speaks to readers as strongly as it did to me.

Living Dead Girl is so unlike your other novels—Bloom, Perfect You, Stealing Heaven—was it a different experience to write it? Did you ever feel trapped like Alice by the experience? In other words, were you able to get inside the mind of your character, wrap your heart and mind around the situation without letting it get you down? Without the characters haunting you?

I actually cut my writing teeth writing short stories, most of which were very dark, so writing Living Dead Girl didn't--and doesn't--feel like a departure. It was an intense experience, though, because the story came out very quickly and I didn't feel like I could stop until I was done.

As far as the situation/characters haunting me--well, let's be honest here. It's not as if things like this don't happen. That's what makes it so horrifying.

To me, however, the heart of Living Dead Girl is all about the moments where we see something--someone--that gives us pause, those moments where we know something is wrong...and turn away. That was, and is, the hardest thing to think about. To write about. Alice could have been saved, but no one ever saw her. Or rather, no one ever let themselves see her.

Living Dead Girl has gotten some great—and some not-so-great reviews. In particular, there are some readers who feel that the subject matter isn’t suitable for teens—even older teens. In other words, that if teens read this it will scare the pants off them. What is your response to that?

I think everyone is entitled to their opinion about Living Dead Girl. I also think that teens are much more aware of what goes on in the world than adults realize, and that assuming a teen reader can't handle something is--well, just that. An assumption.

In the response I've gotten from teens, I've found they read are actually way more likely to see what I was thinking about a lot when I wrote the book--the way society blames victims, the way we choose not to see others' pain--and that adults are more likely to focus on the kidnapping. And, you know, it's easy to get outraged over that. Kidnapping *is* awful. Abuse *is* awful.

But victim blaming and turning away from those moments that give you pause--well, I think Alice says it best:

They will ask why they didn't say anything.
Why didn't you tell someone?
Why didn't you ask for help?
Why didn't you leave him?
Why didn't you respect yourself enough to get away?
All our fault, always.

Three Life Lessons

1. No one will see you. 2. No one will say anything. 3. No one will save you.

Do you think teens should have the opportunity to be exposed to the ugly brutality of the “real world”? Do you think that teens are able to self-censor the books they read?

I think teens already know exactly what the "real world" is like, and of course they're able to decide what they can and can't read.

At least, that's what I think. Whether or not others believe this is, of course, another story.

Why did you choose to have the predator, the pedophile, be a stranger instead of someone the victim knows?

I didn't choose it--Ray is who he is. From that very first dream, he was there, and he was what he was. And I knew people would see him and Alice and that no one--not one single person--would ever question him about his life or his clearly starving--and clearly abused-- "daughter."

What was your first impression of the cover for Living Dead Girl?

That it was perfect---the dress, the leaves, the leg looming in the shot from the corner--it says so much of what the story is about.

Stealing Heaven and Perfect You are much lighter books. And they’re both great YA romances. Now that you’ve done both—both light and dark—which do you prefer? Or is that a fair question? Is one easier to write than the other? What do you have planned next for us?

You know, I don't really have a preference. I like writing all kinds of things. Human nature is both light and dark, and I think I'll always be drawn to writing about that.

As far as what I've got next--in March, Simon Pulse will release Something, Maybe (which is excerpted at the end of Perfect You--though in some editions the title is Live! Nude! Mom. which was changed at the request of one of the bookstore chains)

Something, Maybe is a flat-out romance, and I had a lot of fun writing it!

And then, in June, Harper will release Love You Hate You Miss You, a story about what happens after life as you know it ends, about how you try to find your way past grief and deal with your loss and your role in it. (And okay, it also has a romance too.)

What does Kate’s playlist sound like? Does she have a theme song? What would Dani’s playlist sound like? Does she have a theme song?

This is going to sound so strange, but what the heck, I'm going to tell you the truth--when I think about my characters, I never think about them in terms of music. Instead, it's smells.

( Remember, I said it was strange!)

But anyway, it's definitely smells for me. When I think of Lauren, from Bloom, I think of the way clarinet reeds smell, and the scent of libraries. When I think of Kate, from Perfect You, I think of that weird smell all malls have. (And they all have them! how do they do that?) When I think of Dani, from Stealing Heaven, I think of the smell of silver, and the beach. And for Alice, from Living Dead Girl, it's yogurt that's just expired--that first sniff where you think, oh, it's okay, but underneath, you can tell it isn't.

What inspired you to write Perfect You?

I decided to write Perfect You after getting an idea for a story about a family who had to deal with an extremely demanding relative moving in. The original idea was very (*very*) different from how the story ended up, but that's one of the fun things about writing --- there are always surprises along the way!

Perfect You has one of the best first lines ever…in my humble opinion…”Vitamins had ruined my life.” Was this line easy for you? Or did you struggle to get it just right? To get readers hooked right from the start?

Oh, thank you! And actually, that line was always there--I knew, from the second I got the idea, that vitamins were going to be in the story, and that first line would be the first line.

Was Kate’s Grandma inspired by anyone? Just curious...

No, she wasn't, but I sure did have a lot of fun writing about her!

What was your first impression of the cover for Perfect You?

SHOES! I had so much fun writing the scene at the party, where Kate throws one of her shoes at Will, and when the cover came, I thought it was perfect. Every time I see it, I think of that scene and smile.

What inspired you to write Stealing Heaven?

I wanted to write a book about a mother/daughter thief team, and I wanted the daughter to *not* want to be a thief. The only problem was, what could they steal? I didn't want them robbing banks or anything like that, and after reading an article about someone who'd tried to steal antique silver, I thought "huh." It was just such an unusual thing to steal, and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like it was the right thing for my two thieves to chase after. And as for Greg...well, he was always going to be part of the story!

Did you have any reservations about it, consider for even one second that you just might be glamorizing burglary and theft?

Not at all. I don't think Stealing Heaven glamorizes theft--I mean, Dani clearly isn't enjoying her life, so I don't see how it makes thievery look fun.

(I’m not one of those that think teens will copycat what they see in books…I’m just wondering if you’ve heard any criticism from other folks about the life-choices of this fictional family.)

I haven't heard from anyone about this, actually. There have been a few emails from people who think Dani's mother is a pretty rotten mom--which is true, but I would add that Dani's mom is the best mom she can be.

Which leads me to my next question…Do you think adults take fiction books too seriously at times?.

I think that's a really loaded question, but I will say this:

While I think it is absolutely a parent or guardian's right to discuss what their child is reading/wants to read and, if they choose, ask their child not to read certain books, I don't think anyone has the right to decide what those outside their immediate family should or shouldn't read. I don't think anybody should have that power. For example, I don't like Charles Dickens, but I also don't think I have the right to demand that no one ever read him again.

I admit this was a loaded question! But in my defense, I was writing the questions late at night and my head wasn't quite as together as I thought it was. :)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Sarah Miller said...

The part about the smells? WOW.

Anna said...

What a great interview! I haven't read this author, but I'll definitely check out her books now!

Diary of an Eccentric

Melissa said...

Fascinating interview. (As always. :) I liked how she got the idea for Living Dead Girl. Interesting.

Janet said...

Wow! Great Interview. It was fantastic.

Abby said...

Great interview, Becky! I really enjoyed reading this!

Erin said...

I love the bit about the smells. That's amazing.

Anonymous said...

does Alice die at the end? Is she free because shes dead?