Interview With an Author - Christopher Meades
A little while ago I did a review of the book 'For The Love of Mary', you can read what I wrote about it HERE (SPOILER- It's amazing).
It's definitely one of my favourite books this year. The author, Christopher Meades was kind enough to take some time out and answer some questions for me about the book, his inspiration and life in general. I really, really loved what Christopher wrote and I think it made me like the book even more hearing some of the stories behind it.
Take a read of the interview below and then go have a read of the book after it....You won't regret it, pinky promise...
1. For the Love of Mary is such a quirky and original take on the YA genre. How did you come up with the story?
-More than anything, I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to write it in first person (my first two novels were written in third person with multiple shifts in perspective). However, I think it would have been very difficult for me to write a straightforward romance like The Notebook. So I chose to intertwine the love story with a satire about small town churches. That way I could insert enough humour and hijinks to (hopefully) keep the reader interested.
I wanted the meaningful connections Jacob makes with other characters in the book to sneak up on the reader, for the reader to be so busy laughing and wondering what happens next that they start to care about Jacob and Mary and the other players in the story without even realizing it. That way the emotional punch of the last quarter of the novel could resonate deeper.
2. Being from a small town myself I just connected so much to that aspect of the book. I loved the array of crazy and funny characters. I always say that people wouldn’t believe me if I told them half the random, weird things that go on in my town as they sound made up but small towns really do have the best stories to tell! What made you chose to set the story in a small community?
-Setting a story in a small town intensely personalizes the narrative. In the novels and movies I enjoy, universal truths are often revealed by narrowing the story’s focus to just a few people. Also, the town I grew up in was rife with odd, wonderful characters. There really was a bearded lady at our Dairy Queen and a youth pastor constantly hanging around the pretty girls at my high school. Also, my friend Moss was far too dirty for my mother to allow him in the car (although I made up the part about him being addicted to Cheetos).
After writing THE LAST HICCUP, which was set in 1930’s Russia, I wanted to write something more contemporary, something that came directly from my own experiences. I set FOR THE LOVE OF MARY in 1996 because I (a) grew up in the 90’s and (b) really wanted to take technology out of the equation. I’m the only person I know who doesn’t have a cell phone and I wanted the characters in the book to communicate in person, for them to interact with each other rather than through their phones.
3. One of the main aspects of the story comes from religion and the tension between two warring churches, what was the inspiration for using religion as the backdrop?
-A few years before I wrote FOR THE LOVE OF MARY, I saw different news reports about churches of different denominations battling it out in the USA. A lot of times they were kitty corner to one another and couldn’t help but start a war.
I think religion is such an interesting topic because people are so entrenched in their own points of view and have such strong ideas of right/wrong and good/evil, whereas in reality I believe we’re all connected. In FOR THE LOVE OF MARY, there might be sickly ferrets and inflatable Ms. Clauses and accusations of messiah self-love, but I hope the book depicts that the true strength you find in life comes from the connections you make with the people around you, regardless of their religion.
4. I know that religion can be such a fraught and passionate subject for a lot of people and I think that’s why it doesn’t seem to creep up too often in YA fiction. I loved though how you used religion not in a preaching way or in an offence way, you just showed it as part of life, which it is for many people around the world. You somehow managed to make it a source of a lot of humour but again not in a poking fun way but in a light-hearted sense. You showed that actually it’s ok to laugh and joke about these types of things whilst still be really respectful to your characters’ beliefs. I think it was such a perfect balance that you found, was this something that you felt was important for you to achieve with this subject?
-My biggest thing was I didn’t want to be mean. It’s really easy to write sharp, biting satire: you just make fun of people over and over again. I didn’t want to do that. You can’t make people laugh for 300-plus pages if you’re intent on offending everyone.
In terms of keeping the book light-hearted, one thing I noticed after I completed the first draft of FOR THE LOVE OF MARY was that the narrator character Jacob was far too sassy, almost cheeky in the way he dealt with authority figures. In revision, I made a concerted effort to tone down the sass, to make Jacob a little amazed and befuddled by the world around him. That way the other characters (whether they have outlandish addictions or can’t stop warring with the church across the street) could be seen through his eyes in a humane, constantly-surprised-but-not-really kind of way.
5. The book is such a quirky coming of age story and I think it would just make such a great film, is that something that you’ve thought about and if so who do you see playing the characters?
-I suppose I’d like the main characters to be unknowns, except for Jacob’s father, Don, who I like to imagine being played by John C. Reilly (who is amazing in everything he does). And maybe Owen Wilson as either Shotgun or Blowpipe.
6. You’ve wrote a few books before For the Love of Mary, how did you get your start in writing and get published?
-When I first started writing seriously in 2005, I had a couple goals. One was to get published, which I think is every writer’s ultimate objective. But another was to get better at my craft. I knew that I had a lot to learn and set about reading dozens of books on the craft of writing, taking classes, seeking opinions on my work and trying to improve as a writer. I used to take paragraphs from some of my favourite authors (Patrick Süskind, Vladimir Nabokov and Janet Frame) and parse them out, studying how they used adjectives and prepositional phrases, until I understood exactly how they wrote. Then I would take my own work and parse it out and ask myself what worked and what didn’t.
Gradually my writing started to get better and after about a year, I won a contest for the Vancouver Province Newspaper (which was super-exciting as I’d been a finalist for the same contest a few times before winning). I’ve also been published in about 25 literary print journals. One of those journals was The Fiddlehead, Canada’s oldest and most respected literary journal. I was really tenacious about submitting to them. The Fiddlehead turned my short stories down 14 times before one was finally accepted. (You can read the story they accepted “Naked Girls and the Grinch” on my website, if you like).
Writing is still a challenge. There are a lot of times when I sit down in front of my computer and wonder “How would one write a book?” And then one of my young daughters will come into the room and climb me like a jungle gym or eat crackers on my keyboard or insist on painting my toes and I’m still sitting there thinking “How would one write a book?” But I think the struggle is worth it, especially when readers connect with your work.
7. Can you give us a sneak peek as to what your new book will be about?
-My next novel is entitled HANNA WHO FELL FROM THE SKY and it’s going to be released by Park Row Books/HarperCollins in September 2017. I’m knee-deep in the final edits for it right now.
I’m very excited as it’s my first book for a US publisher and I’m hoping a wider audience will get a chance to read it. It’s very different from FOR THE LOVE OF MARY as it’s literary fiction and there are no funny parts at all, but I assure you it’s awesome…
Here’s a tag line for HANNA WHO FELL FROM THE SKY:
A week before Hanna is going to be forced to marry a man twice her age, her mother tells her she wasn’t born like a normal girl, that as a baby she fell from the sky; that Hanna fell from the heavens and landed unscathed. Hanna must decide if her mother is telling the truth, whether she can leave her disabled sister and if she can she find it inside herself to escape the small town where powerful men take teenage brides.
8. And finally, as tradition goes here on Is This Real Life, what is the best piece of advice you could pass on?
-For writing, it would definitely be to read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. It’s a $3000 course stuffed inside a $12 book and I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s funny: I suggest this book to every aspiring author I meet and then inevitably, when I bump into them at a party six months later, they haven’t read it! It drives me crazy because I really like to see people put themselves in the best possible position to succeed.
For life, it would be: Be kind. Be careful who your friends are. Avoid ‘The Clap.’ And never let ‘The Man’ get you down.
You can buy For The Love of Mary on Wordery and get free worldwide delivery. And you can buy it from Amazon and download it in the kindle store too.