Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Between the Pages With Christine Fletcher

Some of you know that I did NaNoMo last month to finish my latest WIP. About three days into it I discovered Christine Fletcher's novel, Ten Cents A Dance. Upon reading the excerpt on her website, I had to have it. But my rule when writing, especially a first draft, is that I don't get to read novels. I made her book my reward when I reached "the end."

It's not a great way to live but now you know why I write my books so quickly.

As soon as it arrived, I tore into it and rarely came up for air ... except when the Little Dude ate crap from falling out of his wagon. Anyway, we've all used the saying, "a guilty pleasure" and I've resolved to abolish it from my lexicon because pleasure and rewards after a hard day's work shouldn't inspire guilt. A pleasure such as Christine's novel makes me remember what its like to be a reader again and why I got into this business in the first place.

So I was stoked when she agreed to my crazed fan email/interview request. Please welcome Christine Fletcher!

Chica Lit: As writers we always have a particular idea that simmers in our heads. Ten Cents A Dance was inspired by the story of your great aunt. How long had you had the idea for a story about taxi dancers and when/how did it come to life?

Christine: Five or six years ago, I had the idea to write a novel based on my great-aunt’s life. They say every writer has a half-finished novel abandoned in a drawer, and that one is mine. I just couldn’t make it work. But while trying to write that book, I did some research on taxi dancers. I was fascinated to learn that many of the younger dancers kept their jobs a secret while living with their families. I kept wondering: how would a teenaged girl get away with that? And for how long? Once I made those questions the focus for a novel, the writing really took off.

Chica Lit: Ruby is one of those characters who truly felt alive as I read her story. Did she shock and surprise you during the writing of the story and do you think you'll continue her story?

Christine: Ruby constantly surprised me during the writing of the book. I remember vividly one scene which played itself out in my head--it was almost like watching a movie, and I was typing madly, trying to keep up with the action--when suddenly Ruby did something so completely unexpected that I actually said out loud, “Oh no, you did not!” It was a perfect Ruby move, but when I sat down to write the scene, I had no idea she would do that! Moments like that made her an enormously fun character to hang out with.

At the moment, I’m working on another historical novel with different characters. But Ruby is near and dear to my heart, and I may take up her story again at some point.

Chica Lit: Did you research before writing the book, or during and in between revisions?

Christine: All of the above! As I mentioned earlier, I'd done some research on taxi dancers beforehand. But most of the research happened during the writing. I would get to a certain point and then I’d have to find out what a black-and-tan club might have looked like. Or which radio shows were popular in 1942. So the writing directed the research to a large extent…although occasionally, it happened the other way around. That was how the policy kings ended up in the book. I was looking for information on urban crime in the 1940s and came across a reference to this enormous gambling empire in Chicago. It not only filled a niche in the story perfectly, it eventually provided material for an entire subplot.

The danger with research, at least for me, is that it’s easy to start obsessing. At one point I was driving myself crazy trying to find out if chicken was expensive during the war. Some references said yes, others said no. My older relatives either couldn’t agree or couldn’t remember (yes, I was even asking family members!) I finally came to my senses and realized the price of chicken in 1942 was not going to make or break the book. So I cut out that detail and immediately felt my sanity returning.

Chica Lit: The relationship between Paulie and Ruby is fascinating and yet, as an adult woman, made me cringe because I knew the games he was playing with her. How did Paulie's character evolve and what do you hope readers will take away from Ruby's experience with him?

Christine: Most of us are familiar with the guy who thinks he’s smarter and tougher than anybody else around. From the beginning, I knew Paulie was that guy. And I knew Ruby would fall for him, because I’ve been that girl. It’s the age-old question: Why do girls go for bad boys? People say, “How can she be so blind? Can’t she see how terrible he is for her?” They don’t understand that being with him makes her feel good. Especially at the beginning, in that heady, romantic time. These guys talk a good game, and she feels special because he could have anyone but he chose her. (Of course, the real reason he chose her is because other girls won’t put up with being manipulated and bullied, and she will--but she doesn't realize that). Ruby is smart and savvy for her age, but Paulie knows just how to play her. I wanted readers to experience what that dynamic feels like from the inside. How easy it is to get caught up, and how hard it is to get out.

Chica Lit: I read that you have a day job as a vet. When do you write? Do you think you'll write full-time?

Christine: I work part-time two days a week. The other five are for writing (and everything else in life!) I mostly write in the morning (and try to push until mid-afternoon if I can) three to four days a week.

Right now it’s not financially possible for me to write full-time. If it ever does become possible, though, I’m not sure I would. Writing is such an isolating activity. In one sense, that’s not a problem for me, because I’m terribly introverted--I love quiet and solitude. But I’ve found that too much solitude makes me a bit wobbly, as if I’m out of step with the rest of life. My day job keeps me rooted in the real world, and I think ultimately that helps the writing. There’s something tremendously grounding about working with animals. They take life as it comes, for better or worse. I’ve learned more from my patients than I could ever have imagined, and I’m not sure I’d give that up, even if all my books become runaway bestsellers. (Not that I’d complain if that happened, mind you!

Chica Lit: What's next for you and what was the best book you read in 2008 and why?

Christine: Next up is another historical YA novel set during World War II. I’ve discovered that what I really love is dropping characters into situations way over their heads, then seeing what happens! So I’m doing that again in this book, and I’m having a blast.

The best book I read in 2008…that’s a tough one, because I read several I adored. But I’d have to say the best was A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I read the first three pages in the bookstore and was immediately enthralled. It’s a big, multiple-family epic set in India in the early 1950s. Lata's family is looking for a "suitable boy" for her to marry...only Lata has ideas of her own, and thereupon hangs the tale! The author carried me through 1400+ pages, four families, a few dozen characters, I don’t know how many plots and subplots…and somehow never confused me or lost my interest. The book made it onto my "desert island" list, and that’s the highest recommendation I can make!

Chica Lit: If you're behind on your holiday shopping like me, and you have a teen on your list who loves books, you'll be the coolest aunt/uncle when you give Ten Cents A Dance ... even if you're wearing a dorky reindeer sweater. You can learn more about Christine's books at her website.

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