Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Collaborative Relationship Between Reader and Writer

LUCY BURDETTE: You may remember a visit in 2013 from Kristen-Paige Madonia with her marvelous novel, FINGERPRINTS OF YOU. She has a new book out now called INVISIBLE FAULT LINES, and I couldn't resist checking in with her. Welcome Kristen-Paige!

KRISTEN-PAIGE MADONIA: I never imagined becoming a writer who wrote books about time-travel or alternate universes, but when I began drafting INVISIBLE FAULT LINES I knew that I wanted to be braver on the page. I wanted to take risks and do something different than what I had done with my first novel, FINGERPRINTS OF YOU. Both of my books explore the complexities of family dynamics and a teenager’s journey coming-of-age, but with INVISIBLE FAULT LINES I wanted to consider the idea of the impossible being possible, to experiment with structure and form, and to challenge my own perceptions of reality and mystery. It turned out that I wouldn’t be able to do that on my own -- the book would become a collaborative project with each person who read it.

INVISIBLE FAULT LINES is a character-driven missing-persons story about the ways we cope with loss and an intimate look at one family’s modes of survival when faced with tragedy. But it’s something more, too. It’s a mystery novel with historical fiction elements blended into a contemporary story that contains hints of time-travel and the possibility of alternate worlds or simultaneous existences. And so I’ve settled on the label “hybrid” – it’s part contemporary, part historical, part mystery and part magical, depending on what you choose to believe. In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide what has happened to the characters and how their lives will take shape as the story progresses. 

The book invites the reader to participate and to make his or her own decisions. With this novel, I wanted to acknowledge that not all questions have clear answers, and I wanted readers to reevaluate their own beliefs and consider how they would cope with the loss that my character is faced with it. The book asks a great deal of the reader in that way. 

With each novel I publish I become more aware that once the book is on shelves, it no longer belongs to me. My book becomes your book, and the book becomes a different book with each reader who reads it. No two readers are alike, and, consequently, there are as many versions of the novel as there are readers. With the publication of INVISIBLE FAULT LINES it has become increasingly clear that creating a story requires active participation from the reader. Regardless of my own intentions, the reader will enter the novel with their own backstory and experiences that will impact their interpretation of the narrative arc and the characters’ actions and reactions. The reader becomes responsible for filling any voids or ambiguities I’ve allowed for in the story. 

And isn’t that why we write? To engage with the world in new ways, to connect with others by exploring our emotions on a more complex and intimate level, and to come together in collaboration to create something magical through the words on the page.    

What do you look for in an ending, Jungle Red Readers -- a tied up conclusion with all the questions answered, or an open-ended ambiguous conclusion that invites you to participate in the story? 

Kristen-Paige Madonia is the author of Invisible Fault Lines and Fingerprints of You, both published by Simon & Schuster. She teaches creative writing at James Madison University, Goochland County High School, and the Key West Literary Seminar and is a member of the low-residency MFA program faculty with the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Visit her at or follow her @KPMadonia.


  1. Generally, I prefer my endings reasonably tied up, meaning that if I finish the book and discover I have more questions than when I began reading, I will not be a happy reader.
    Open-ended ambiguous conclusions are more problematic in that I am frustrated when I read a book and then find myself with no idea of what happened or why it happened.
    I’d actually prefer a combination of the two, with answers provided for at least some of larger questions while I ponder the possibilities for the characters and consider what might be for those unanswered questions.

    I enjoyed “Fingerprints of You” and look forward to reading “Invisible Fault Lines” . . . .

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Joan! I completely agree - a balance of the two is the goal. I hope you love Invisible Fault Lines!

  2. What an interesting idea, Kristen. I do like to tie up my endings, though I might leave motivation ambiguous, and the murderer might get away with it. I do feel like I own my story. The reader owns his/her reaction to it. Having said that, I also like books that leave me to fill in more than a few blanks.

  3. Welcome, Kristin! OK, this is a fascinating post -- I love ambiguity in novels and I do think readers are also participating in the creative process by how they imagine things.... Going to be thinking about this for a while...

  4. My short answer is both! A great example of this, although a TV series, not a book, is Happy Valley. If you haven't watched this series, you should.

    But back to books. The most ambiguous endings I can remember are the several of The French Lieutenant's Woman. I began to wonder if it hadn't crossed the editor's desk yet. Still and all, what a great tale.

    My favorite endings, at least in the mystery genre, are those that tie everything up tidily and then gob smack me. Right up side the head in Texasspeak. Yesterday I finished an ARC, The Reek of Red Herring, by Catriona McPherson. This bewk is a prime example of the unexpected twist. I can hardly wait until I can review it.

    All in all, I don't think mysteries, especially series, lend themselves well to ambiguity. I see them as puzzles, and puzzles mean to be solved. Am I being ingenuous here? Maybe.

  5. Cannot wait to read this to see what you've sounds fascinating.

    I do like to tie up most of the ends…but I like to have a little ambiguity, too. Because in life we don't know what will happen, and my books have lives. SO when xx person is left standing at the end, we may not know EXACTLY what will happen to her--and I may have the other characters speculate. BUT the bad guy is caught, certainly, and the motivation will always be clear. That's one Of my priorities.

  6. Welcome K-P! This reminds me of the time I tried to insist to wonderful writer Peter Abrahams that his character was going to be ok...I wanted a different ending than he had envisioned. (Looking back, ok the guy had a brain tumor so what were the chances?) Peter looked skeptical but at least he didn't argue with me:).

    I think with a mystery reading crowd, you are probably going to get more people annoyed if endings aren't wrapped up. Your new book is not really adhering to genre conventions, which is fine--because you didn't intend it to be so. Is that right?

  7. The books I dislike the most are the ones where you read the first few pages, skip to the end, and say, "Thought so." Yawn, toss book away. Everything obvious from the opening pages leaves nothing for the reader to think about. Invisible Fault Lines is the kind of book I would be intrigued by, but whether I would get into the book might depend on how pressed for time/tired I'm feeling. If my mind's been in overdrive because of work, I will choose a book that's like an old friend--you slide back into their world and see what's new with all your favorite characters. Even Cyril the cat, for example, from the Martha Grimes's Richard Jury mysteries.

  8. Hi Kristin! Your book sounds fascinating. I love time travel and historical story lines and stories that cross boundaries. That said, I do like at least some of the ends tied up, especially in a mystery. But unless you're writing--or reading--a long Victorian novel, you're not going to see entire lives played out.

    It's so interesting to write a book that means one thing to you and then find that it means something completely different to a reader. You do have to let books go when you send them out into the world, I think.

  9. It sounds like there are so many things going on in your book that I will not know what to expect. I love mystery, historical fiction, and magic. So, I think I have to read Invisible Fault Lines and see if I can wrap my brain around it.

  10. Invisible Fault Lines sounds like a wonderfully engaging book where you have accomplished quite a lot, Kristen. My curiosity is certainly peaked.

    I usually like endings to tie things up, especially mysteries. I want to know how did it and why. However, leaving some questions about what the main character of a series will do next is always a great draw to read the next book. I just finished the first Ian Rutledge book (well, actually I read A Fine Summer's Day first), A Test of Wills, and the end leaves us not knowing how Rutledge is going to work his life out, by any means, but I can't wait to know how his struggle with shell shock will play out. (Debs, I can't believe I'm just now getting to the Todd books.)

  11. I'm so glad this got you thinking, Susan! And Hallie, I LOVE the idea of a reader "owning" their reaction and the author owning the story. Brilliantly worded. Yes, Lucy, I was intentionally aiming to break the rules in hopes of commenting on the fact that, in real life, sometimes there are no answers to the mysteries. But I think (hope) you'll find that the ending is authentic to the world I've built and, consequently, feels satisfying. I tried to answer some questions and to leave some unanswered as well. It's all about balance in writing, isn't it? I can't wait to hear what you think, Ann (from Rochester)!

  12. I can't wait to hear what you think, Hank, Deborah, Pat & Kathy! Do let me know your thoughts once you've had time to read the novel. And yes, FChurch, I completely agree -- I hate that "thought so" feeling at the end of a book! I hope you don't feel that way with IFL! Thanks for such wonderful comments, y'all!