Today I bring you, fresh from my inbox, an interview with Lise Haines, author of GIRL IN THE ARENA (Bloomsbury 2009).
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today! I admit to being unabashedly in love with GIRL IN THE ARENA, so I will try to hold back most of the fawning and ask hard-hitting, 20/20-esque questions. (Or, wait. Is 20/20 hard-hitting anymore? Ignore the comparison. Hopefully the questions won’t suck. We’ll stick with that.)
Thanks so much, Kari! It’s great to have a chance to talk with you.
Your daughter was very involved when you were hashing out the ending of your book. Did anything in your original story change dramatically because of things she said or suggested?
Yes, Sienna was critical in helping me develop the end. Along the way, I ran things by her and she’d either give them a thumb’s up or down. I guess you could say I was the author in the arena. She understands subtleties of character and plot, and she’s almost sixteen, so I appreciate her sensibility. I loved talking with her about how it was going.
As a mother and an author, how do you balance your time?
Balance my time? Can you hear me laughing? : -] Did I say I also juggle a fulltime teaching load? I have to find time to exercise, get out and do readings, wash the dishes, balance my checkbook, and all the other things that a head of household does. Yet, with the help of the college where I teach, I manage to pick my daughter up from school each day. I guess you could say I have a lot of discipline, I’ve learned to flex, and I take things one day at a time.
And as a tag-a-long to that last question – do you have time to read? I’ve read that you didn’t necessarily enjoy reading when you were young. Do feel more drawn to it now? What books do you enjoy? What books did you enjoy when you were a teen?
I actually loved reading, I just had a great deal of difficulty learning how. So I was very slow. And even today, I hear every word aloud in my head…which in many ways is not such a bad thing if you care passionately about language. As a teen, I read some of the classics, or books that eventually became classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye. I also read some T.H. White—he was good for fantasy. I enjoy such a wide range of authors. Two of my favorites are Tim O’Brien and Lorrie Moore. I read a lot of short stories because I teach short stories primarily. Today I was talking with my students about a very dark story by Antonya Nelson.
Do you talk to a lot of teens about your book? What is the number one question they ask?
I’m just getting started on school visits, so most of my conversations have been with bloggers. I think the first question is: How did I come up with the idea for the book? Then I have to say that I didn’t start with an idea at all. Some people don’t realize that I sold the book before I had heard of Hunger Games—so there’s some curiosity about that. The next question is whether or not I’m going to do a sequel.
Is there a particular teacher (or two or three) who helped or hindered your growth as a writer?
I’ve studied with some of the best writers in the country like Rick Moody and Amy Hempel. There’s really nothing like having the right mentor. But I also remember that first creative writing teacher in high school. She went through my writing with such care. And one Sunday she invited me over to her house for tea. High school was a tough time for me, as it can be for a lot of people. She helped me to have faith in what I was doing and that was a powerful experience. I’m not sure anyone realizes how hard teachers work unless they themselves go on to teach.
How do you feel about the comparisons between GIRL AND THE ARENA and the HUNGER GAMES?
It’s an interesting thing to watch bloggers compare and contrast the two. I think both of them stir some great conversations about girl power, authoritarian societies or corporations, what we fight for, what we’re capable of doing as women, what the impact of violence on young women is like today. I think we’re at one of those pivotal times where dystopian fiction has a lot of meaning and resonance. It’s possible it’s the next big wave after vampire culture.
What do you want people to get from reading GITA? The satire sometimes just seethes off the page. (And I mean that in a good way.)
When I think about what really does it for me when I consider a novel, a piece of music, a painting, or movie—it’s the ability to live inside the work for a while, inside the characters. And when something really captures me, it comes back in a rush of thought or emotion, in fascinating ways, long after the initial experience is over. This is what I hope people walk away with when they read GITA.
What inspired you to not use quotation marks? I love this part of the book, but I know some readers have a hard time with it. Would you like to take a bow and/or defend your choice?
We live in a short-form world. Texting, emailing, IMing... We want to cut to the chase but still express ourselves. I’m certainly not the first to use this form, but it’s quick and easy and I enjoy it.
One last question… would it be possible for you to send a picture of your desk (or your writing space)?
To send a picture of my writing space, I’d have to make my bed. That’s where I work mostly, on my laptop. And I’m working such long hours, sometimes that bed never seems to get fully made. I don’t think my daughter minds much, because then she doesn’t have to make her bed too often either. I guess you’d call our household: casual living.
Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions today!
My absolute pleasure.