Today, we’ve got a fantastic interview for you from our Kidlit Book Club pick of the month author, Heather Duffy Stone. Since her debut novel, THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU, deals with such intense and honest emotions, I wanted to find out more about what her process was when it came to writing these types of scenes. Enjoy!
Kidlit: All three of your main characters in the book, Noelle, Nadio and Keeley, have intense feelings about sex. From Noelle’s disappointment and Keeley’s experience to Nadio’s complicated inner struggle, how did you go about writing these scenes? What did you want to convey?
Heather Duffy Stone: This is a great question. I have to say these scenes were easy in the sense that I knew that the book was going to be about the intensely complicated nature of first sexual experiences. I felt very strongly where the characters were coming from and I pulled on experience. I mean not just my own.
In fact it was very much the experience of growing up and of hearing friends’ stories and talking friends through different experiences. I wanted to convey the truth of first relationships. I think Keeley and Nadio cared about each other deeply but they were coming from different, and very uncertain places. I think Noelle and Parker did not have a relationship based on love or trust, but it was certainly based on a mutual physical attraction. I wanted to convey that both of these things are very real and valid.
KL: The triangle of relationships between the three main characters makes for a lot of intense emotions: love, hate, jealousy. Does this “threesome” relationship come from something in your own life?
HDS: Wow. Well, yes and no. Everything I write comes from some kind of experience. And I actually have been part of a lot of friendships where two parties end up falling in love. But mostly I wanted to write about the two sides of ourselves that pull us in different directions—hence the twin thing.
KL: Without giving too much away, there is also a breakdown and cry for help in your book, including a time when the character isn’t exactly clear-headed. How did you handle writing this scene? Did you have any concerns about broaching the topic of possible suicide?
HDS: I didn’t have any concerns—this scene had to happen. I felt comfortable and confident writing it and, again, I wanted to convey only truth. I did not want to sugar coat anything. I have a graduate degree in Counseling, so maybe I have added confidence writing about these kinds of scenes—but at the same time I certainly worry. I knew there was not going to be a clear fix or a happy ending to this story. But life is often the same way.
KL: Nadio has a complicated relationship with his role as a man and other males, especially his estranged father. What was it like writing from his perspective? How did you make his experience and his relationship with manhood and with his father so truthful?
HDS: Writing as a teenage boy was so hard. In some ways, Nadio is the character I’m closest to. He is most like me I think and it was very easy to write his inner journey sometimes. But he was definitely way too feminine in the early stages. Some of my readers just kept underlining scenes. “Too girly, too girly”. He is still very sensitive, but I think he is undoubtedly a man now… thanks in huge part to my critique partners!
As far as manhood, I think I was able to convey trying to grow up—to fill expectations and be yourself and protect and take care of people without giving up too much of yourself. I hope I was able to do that. I think we can all relate to that same kind of searching.
KL: Did the book begin with either narrator or was it always going to be two POVs? Which narrator was easier to write? Did you ever find yourself writing more fluidly in one or the other?
HDS: Actually, the book began seven years ago with Lace (the mother). It was a third person adult novel about her. But my perspective and my interest changed gradually. Then it had three narrators—Keeley was actually a narrator. But the story belongs to the twins. I loved writing both of them—it really fed two sides of my story, and my needs as a writer, but I think I could also appeal to different kinds of readers too.
KL: You made the choice not to use any quotes or a lot of dialogue tags. Can you talk to us a little bit about the thought process behind this?
HDS: It’s not very exciting. It just felt completely unnatural to punctuate dialogue in this story. Noelle and Nadio are so overwhelmed, so uncertain about speaking certain truths out loud, and sometimes aren’t even making the distinction themselves between what they’re feeling and what they’re saying. I just wanted the reader, in some way, to feel this with them.
Thank you so so so much for having me, Mary. This was so fun!
THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU is Heather Duffy Stone’s first novel, it came out with Flux in March, 2009. Order it right here or pick it up in your favorite indie store. You can check out Heather’s website here and join the dedicated Kidlit Book Club page we have by clicking here.