Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote in fangs_fur_fey,
Sarah Rees Brennan

Interview with the Mysterious (Yet Alluring) Saundra Mitchell

Saundra Mitchell's SHADOWED SUMMER is in bookshops from February 10th, and is one of my favourite books this year (okay, the year is young, but I don't think it's getting displaced anytime soon). Two young girls in a sleepy Southern town raise a ghost and with the ghost too many questions: about lies, love and family. About whether it is ever possible for us to truly lay our dead to rest.

Much like the dead, I am always pestering people, so I secured this interview!

1. SHADOWED SUMMER features a spooky scene or four in a graveyard. I understand (and by understand, I mean, am shamelessly manipulating you into doing what I want!) that you have a graveyard story or two to tell us?

In high school, my boyfriend and I built an entire pet cemetery set for a film he wrote called "Roadkill Zombies." We had the whole woods behind his father's empty cabin, so by the time we were done digging, and tomb-stoning, and casketmaking, it was pretty impressive.

We- and by we, I mean my boyfriend- nearly killed one of our friends when we buried him in one of our makeshift graves. It wasn't a full burial- it was mostly moss, but a lot of earth, because we needed him to emerge as- what do you think?- a zombie! Well, he got stuck when the dirt compacted around him- he couldn't breathe, and we had to dig him out- AT NIGHT! By a SHOP LIGHT!

Looking back, it seems like one of us should have been smart enough not to bury a theatre geek alive, but fortunately, no humans were actually harmed in the making of this movie. Permanently, anyway...

2. So how is writing books different from writing for the films (and how do your friends cope with the envy of your glamorous and artistic lifestyle? I guess they just remind themselves of the graveyard a lot.)

It's so glamorous, let me tell you. While tucked away in my bedroom office, with mussed hair and stained jeans, I pound out scripts as fast as I possibly can because productions are always notoriously behind, and I don't want to contribute to that.

Then, if the scripts are ready to go to production... I will hear back in five or six months that the movies are done. If they're not ready to go, I'll get notes and start over again until I don't hear back for five or six months.

Sometimes I don't hear anything for a year or two. My first feature film, it took six years from the time I wrote it until I saw a *rough* cut of the principal photography. I still haven't seen a final cut!

Rarely, I'll get invited to the premiere. And if I do, absolutely nobody wants to talk to me. They want to talk to the actors. Who will get credit for any clever lines I wrote. (And will claim they ad-libbed it.)

Comparatively, wait times in literary publishing are delightfully short, and the lines of communication are wide open. Plus, they always invite you to your own book launch.

So I'd say the difference between the glamour of screenwriting and the glamour of writing novels is that people actually notice you've written a novel. (The downside though- I have to take credit for any stupid, clunky lines instead of blaming them on the actors ad-libbing!)

3. The main characters of SHADOWED SUMMER are Iris the sensible heroine, Collette her flighty friend, Ben the boy who piques both their interest and Elijah the ghost - and I like them all, but I was wondering which was your favourite minor character, and why?

Rennie Delancie, the town malcontent. I enjoy a guy with a wicked grin and an entire arsenal of homemade demolitions, just waiting for the right moment to set them off in the creek. Prize goes to the good-hearted neighbor with the cherry bombs!

4. Favourite line from your book. Go on, piiick one.

"Wind kissed my ear, cool and soft, and I heard a voice. It sounded like clover tastes, green and new and sweet."

5. Scandalous secret about one of your characters (that isn't revealed in the book, which has plenty of scandalous secrets to be going on with, but a special secret, please!)

Most of my secrets are spoilers! But, there's a boy named Saracen Borne who lives in Ondine. The first draft met him, but not the final book. I'll leave him to your imagination for now- but I sure do intend to re-use him one day. Keep an eye out.

6. One of the most striking things about SHADOWED SUMMER is the Southern setting. It feels deeply authentic, but you're not Southern: speaking on behalf of writers everywhere, how d'you write a setting that's not your own so well? In-depth research? Selling your soul? (And if it was the soul selling, do you have a soul sale form that I can fill out?)

I only hope I'm convincing people of authenticity. I do research, but in a limited kind of way. I enjoy learning about regional voice and idioms, and I'll stop to look up just about anything that occurs to me.

What kind of wildflowers grow in a place. Whether they call it soda or pop or Coke. What color the police cars are; the names of the newspapers. The high school mascots. What highways run through...

Really, it's picking things up by osmosis. I read what regional voices have to say about their own communities when I'm looking up the color of uniforms and cars, for example. Then I use it, and I hope that it's honest and natural and real.

7. What are you reading right now, and how are you liking it?

"The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village" by Thomas Robisheaux. It's a fascinating account of a poisoning murder that took place in Germany in 1672, and how it came to be judged not just as homicide, but as witchcraft.

While the prose isn't as narratively deft as Norton's "In the Devil's Snare" or Hill's "A Delusion of Satan," I'm truly enjoying the careful details and a distinctly European point of view on witchcraft trials taking place (and ebbing away) at the same time as the American outbreaks.

(You should have asked me last week. Last week, I was reading comic books.)

8. So - what are some unexpected influences for you when you're writing? Everyone says classics, but is your muse inspired by anything surprising?

R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Stephen King, Lois Duncan, Caroline B. Cooney. That's who I spent my teen years reading, and that's what I liked.

I mean, yeah, I've read classics. I love 1984, I love Call of the Wild. I love Poe like I'm supposed to, but Stine, Pike, King, Duncan and Cooney were the ones who built worlds for me when my imagination was its most free.

I love the essential humanity in all their stuff- their books may contain dream jumpers, body-stealing twins, killer clowns, deadly fog, and possessed cheerleaders - but their books are also about what people do when something terrible happens.

Literary novels that set out to Delve into the Importance of Anything bore me to tears. I like books- I like writers- who manage to get to that human place and entertain me on the way.

9. Your take on Elijah the ghost was, I thought, very cool: a shadow and a piece of a person, lingering emotions and desires, rather than a whole person. In the end we're never quite sure how much of Elijah is still there. Was this a deliberate decision on your part to show how death is inherently mysterious, or possibly just to torture your readers? (Because I respect that...)

Torturing is always a goal! But the way I approached this, and the way I see it, Elijah was always the one at rest. The town haunted itself with his memory. All Iris did was stir those memories with her blood and determination.

Once you call out, you can't be surprised when the echo goes on and on.

10. Can you let us know some ideas you're toying as to what comes next for you? Ninja vampires? Ninja zombies? Ninja unicorns? Something not ninja-related?

Everything is ninja-related. Even things that seem like they might be related to sunset visions and a boy who survives the drowning times- they're still secretly ninja-related.

Thanks Saundra! Shadowed Summer is now out in American shops. Unfortunate devils who live in Ireland wait for their amazon package...
Tags: interview, sarah rees brennan, saundra mitchell

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