Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Mary Andonian takes us to "Bitsy's Labyrinth"
HALLIE: I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Andonian at the Willamette Writers conference in Portland, Oregon. She was coordinating the enormous programming schedule, wrangling agents and editors and making me, a newbie there, feel comfortable and welcome.
Mary is a novelist and a screenwriter, and her new book for teen readers, Bitsy's Labyrinth, is set in the beautiful Willamette Valley.
Welcome to Jungle Red, Mary. Tell us about Bitsy.
MARY: Bitsy Johnson is a teenager suffering from her parents’ benign neglect. Her dad has recently remarried and prioritizes the new wife over his kids. Bitsy’s mom is in recovery, which is a good thing, but spends all of her free time helping other alcoholics. Bitsy’s left to fend for herself.
HALLIE: Was it hard for you to think like a 13-year old? Particularly one who's dealing with divorced and dysfunctional parents and starting to have feelings for boys?
MARY: I felt like Bitsy represented a lot of us who grew up in an “almost normal” household. I remember as a teenager reading extreme stories of abuse and neglect, and thinking I had no right to feel bad about my situation. I wanted Bitsy’s story to capture what it was like to feel lonely in your own home.
HALLIE: I love the idea of a lavender farm, which is where this book is set. Are there really lavender farms in the Willamette Valley?
MARY: Absolutely! The Pacific Northwest is actually the perfect place to grow lavender. The setting is my friend Sarah Bader’s farm, Lavender at Stonegate, in West Linn, Oregon (www.lavenderatstonegate.com). It’s gorgeous. The first time I went there I knew I wanted to write about it. Ironically, she plans to build a labyrinth on the property!
HALLIE: I can see why it inspired you. It's gorgeous! (And, mental note: they ship lavendar plants all over the country.)
Why a labyrinth? I can't help wondering if you ever built one yourself, and where the idea came to you that a labyrinth could be a place of contemplation.
MARY: I’ve loved labyrinths ever since I walked my first one at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. When the lot next store to our home became available, I told my husband I wanted to buy it and put a labyrinth there. He said I was crazy. After the lot sold to someone else, I decided to do the next best thing: write a fictional story about a family who builds a labyrinth and find out what happens.
HALLIE: That makes me laugh -- I set my last novel in a gorgeous Victorian house that my husband and I bid on but didn't get.
I know the novel started out as a screenplay. You've said that what you learned about screenwriting helped make Bitsy's Labyrinth a better story. How?
MARY: During the process of writing the screenplay for Bitsy’s Labyrinth, I noticed I had done way too much “telling,” and not enough “showing.” I needed to move scenes around to fit the classic three-act screenplay structure. Characters had to be introduced earlier on in the story. I realized I hadn’t sufficiently increased the stakes or created enough tension, and my payoffs were coming too early. I made all of these changes when I wrote the screenplay, and then incorporated them back into the manuscript when I was finished.
HALLIE: That's so fascinating. Jan is right now turning a screenplay into a book. Such an interesting process.
In this blog we're all mystery writers, and I'm convinced that every good novel has a mystery in it. Without spoiling it, what kind of mystery do you think Bitsy's Labyrinth has in it?
MARY: For me, Bitsy's dad poses the biggest mystery. Why do some Fathers forsake their own children for new spouses? And how do kids cope with this realization?
HALLIE: Just reading that makes me want to cry.
Mary will be stopping by today, so if you have any comments and questions for her, please post them.