Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why give girls power?

CC: Why did you decide to split the main story into two stories?

AR: Bit had a story to tell. Who was I to deny her? Happily, it fit into the larger plot, and gave me a wider canvas to explore the book's theme. It made the plot more complex, but a child as young as eight read the book (three times, actually), and it posed no challenges. By the way, the book uses a double hourglass plot: One story line dividing into two lines that converge at the climax. Tolkien showed that multi-strand plots can work. Frodo and Sam are left hanging for some chapters while Merry and Pippin, Gimli and Legolas, and Aragorn do their thing. This approach gives a tale epic proportions. In Wyndano's Cloak, the activities in two worlds are intertwined. One misstep in one can have profound implications in the other. None of this is overt. It's kind in the background, felt more than spelled out.

CC: Whom did you want to affect by the telling of this story?

AR: I wanted to provide hope and encouragement to everyone, but mostly to young people. The world has become more complex and frightening than ever before. We face terrorism, global warming, unemployment, a bad economy, and greater competitiveness for jobs than ever before. After reading my book, I hope readers come away with a feeling that there are an infinite number of possibilities, and that they have unique talents to bring to the table.

CC: Did you base the main characters off of people you know?

AR: They're an amalgam of people I've encountered. A trait here, a phrase there. A snippet of an idiom heard from a waitress. You name it. And then all infused with my imagination. Also, the book was written over a five-year period, so the characters evolved over time. Pet is my favorite character, because she's so crusty. She's perhaps the roundest character, and her voice is so clear in mind. She seemed to spring full blown into my mind. Then I realized that some of her speech patterns were like my mother. So much of this process being unconscious, even when you think it isn't!

CC: Is there a specific message you wanted to get across to your readers through Bit?

AR: Both Jen and Bit are emotionally wounded, and in a state of disempowerment at the beginning of the book. While Jen is tough and courageous, and willing to fight for her family, her fears are binding her. And her family really doesn't listen to her when she pleads with them to defend against the evil that will soon confront them. Bit has a parallel story. No one listens. And no one (I dare say, not even the reader, at first!) believes that she is of much consequence. Both girls have a long way to travel to come into their own kingdom and realize their full potential. It's only through their unique talents that they have any chance at all against the power opposing them.

CC: Have you considered making Wyndano’s Cloak a series?

AR: My intention was to make Wyndano's Cloak a stand alone novel, with everything wrapped up. But people have asked for a sequel, so I've been playing with some ideas. Still, it may be some time before I get to it. I'm working on another novel right now, and there are several other projects I want to jump into.

CC: Why do you think it was important to feature girls as strong and independent?

AR: After culling through ten years worth of NIMH data, UCB psychologist Stephen Hinshaw found that up to forty percent of middle and upper-class girls, from puberty to young womanhood, have subclinical levels of emotional difficulties. He found an alarming increase in depression, cutting behavior, and other disorders, to the extent that he characterized what is going on as almost to epidemic proportions. He hypothesizes that the reason for this increase over the last twenty years is what he calls the triple bind. That is, girls feel a high expectation from society to be successful nurturers, competitive, and physically alluring. In my book, Jen and Bit are positive role models for girls to focus on what's inside of themselves, both as a source of resilience as well as for solutions. It takes strength and independence to go against society's grain. I hope in some small way, Wyndano's Cloak inspires girls to do just that.

CC: Who are the strong women in your life?

AR: My mom was strong and independent. My brother and I didn't live near her. In her eighties, she insisted on living on her own through a two-year battle with cancer, and drove herself to her chemo appointments. I can't imagine many people could do that. I doubt I could.

CC: Why is it important to redeem or give people the chance to redeem themselves in a story?

AR: Everyone wants a second chance. As a psychologist, I'm generally optimistic that people can change. In literature, readers want to see a character have an arc. If the main character doesn't change, it's rather unsatisfying.

CC: Are you planning to write more books with a female lead(s)?

AR: My current novel has a male protagonist, but there's a major character who is a strong female. I can't seem to get away from them!

CC: What inspired you to write for the young adult audience?

AR: It's just where my head was the time. I'd been reading a lot of fairy tales, myths, and fantasy fiction. In particular, I reread a bunch of the Oz books, which inspired my to write my own novel for children. As I worked on it, the child characters seemed to age, and my prose style evolved so that it was for an older audience. But I see the book as a preteen fantasy that people from age ten and up will enjoy.

CC: Where would you like Wyndano’s Cloak to make a difference?

I hope it inspires everyone, particularly girls, to believe in themselves.

CC: How do you typically interact with your audience?

I did twenty or more book signings over the last two years. I loved meeting and interacting live with children. So many of them told me that they want to be writers, and several wrote to me that my book inspired them to start their own stories. Nothing could be more gratifying. I'm certain that they will never forget meeting me. And I'll never forget them.

CC: Where can readers follow you?

AR: My website, blog, Facebook Author Page, and Twitter. I also have a Newsletter, which people can sign up for on my website. Those who sign up for it will be eligible for book giveaways, which I'll be launching soon!

CC: What message would you give to girls who struggle with the need to play the hero for themselves in life?

AR: Don't give up. Don't let anyone throw a wet blanket on your dreams, for they never die. Remember that it's your life. And when you doubt yourself and whether you can take one more step, listen to that small but wise voice inside. She's your guide.

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  1. When asked 'Why do you write strong women characters' Joss Whedon replied 'Because you are still asking me that question'.

    It's a simplistic answer on the face of it, but if you dig into it what he's saying is that the fact the question must be asked indicates some difference in the treatment of women, which then in turn inevitably gives rise to some of the problems you have identified.

  2. I love that quote, Ciara, thanks for sharing it!