Tag Archives: POV in novels

An Interview with Megan Kruse

28 Nov
Megan Kruse is the author of Call Me Home, which Elizabeth Gilbert called "a most unlikely tale of hardness and hustle, of grace and loss, of painful love and tough breaks."

Megan Kruse is the author of Call Me Home, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “a most unlikely tale of hardness and hustle, of grace and loss, of painful love and tough breaks.”

Megan Kruse grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Seattle. She studied creative writing at Oberlin College and earned her MFA at the University of Montana. Her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and her debut novel, Call Me Home, was released from Hawthorne Books in March 2015, with an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert. She teaches fiction at Eastern Oregon University’s Low-Residency MFA program, Hugo House, and Gotham Writers Workshop. She was one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 for 2015.

To read an exercise about creating internal dialogue, click here.

In this interview, Kruse discusses the larger whole of multiple perspective novels, queer sex scenes, and the importance of rural queer narratives.

Michael Noll

The novel is told from multiple perspectives, and I recently heard an agent say that readers tend to struggle to connect emotionally with characters in multi-perspective novels. I guess this makes sense in a way: just when things get tense for a character, the novel often cuts away to a different character. Was this something you thought about as you worked on the novel?

Megan Kruse

One of the things that I love about multiple perspectives is that the result seems greater than the sum of the parts; the reader gets to connect with the individual characters, and in addition, the reader comes to understand the bigger picture. I’ve always written family stories, and I think often about how in any family or group, there is no one on the inside who can fully see the whole story. So many family sorrows—our slights and misunderstandings and our greater rifts and losses—come back to our inability to see outside ourselves, to take into account all of the different narratives and histories that coexist in a family universe. I wanted to write a novel where the reader has the privilege of knowing the family’s story more fully than any of the individual characters. I understand what you’re saying about the potential for the reader to feel less connected to a single character, but I also think that the task of a successful novelist is to keep those threads feeling alive, to keep the reader tracking all of the characters even as the perspective shifts. My hope for my own fictional family was that their emotional ties to each other, the way that they’re searching and echoing off each other, would keep them present even when they weren’t on the page.

Michael Noll

You write a pretty explicit sex scene between Jackson and Don. In general, sex scenes give writers fits. There’s even an award given out annually for the worst sex writing, and very good writers often end up on the list. What was your approach to that scene?

Megan Kruse

I really loved writing those sex scenes! I wanted to write a queer story, to write characters that are so rarely visible in contemporary fiction. Jackson is coming of age, falling in love for the first time, and I don’t think you can separate that experience from the physicality of it. To be young and queer in a place where you don’t have other queer people to talk to, where you don’t have any models for how to live, means that your experience of sexuality is isolated, speculative, and lonely. The double whammy of emotional and physical connections makes that first love so wrenching and impacting when you finally experience it. Don is also Jackson’s boss, which adds another level of power and fear to the exchange. I loved writing into that murk—to put these two characters in a room together and consider how Jackson might feel, with all of these different elements trembling on the line.

Michael Noll

Megan Kruse's novel Call Me Home left the writer Dan Chaon "astonished by her talent."

Megan Kruse’s novel Call Me Home left the writer Dan Chaon “astonished by her talent.”

I love the dialogue in the novel, especially a scene between Jackson and Honey, when Honey is driving Jackson to see the crew boss. In it, Honey resists understanding. He says, “Bet yer scared, huh?” but when Jackson says, “I’m scared,” Honey answers, “Don’t worry. They’re just probably needing more help on this side.”

“You asked if I was scared.”

“Nah,” Honey said.

It makes no sense that Honey says this, or at least not immediate sense. Was this a lucky accident, the sort of thing that pops up as you write. Or did you have a sense of this character and set out to write dialogue that would reveal that sense?

Megan Kruse

I don’t remember exactly how I put that scene together, but I wanted to show through that exchange how adrift Jackson is in the fictional town of Silver, where he’s working on a construction crew. He’s trying to get his feet in a world where action speaks, where the currency is work and productivity, and so I wanted his interactions to mirror his confusion. He feels like he doesn’t know how to speak “man,” in other words, and so when he tries, he flounders. There’s another scene where he is at a bar in town with the men on his crew and he over-speaks, revealing too much about himself. He doesn’t know the rules of the world he’s in, and I wanted to capture how he is working to navigate that uncertain terrain.

Michael Noll

In an interview at The Rumpus, you talked about the importance of writing queer, rural narratives and how it’s not enough to portray non-urban places as only dangerous. Why do you think that particular narrative has taken hold? It’s true, of course, that some very bad things have happened to gay people in rural places, but I wonder if there isn’t a certain urban bias at work. I think of the scene in the film Milk when a kid calls from Minnesota or somewhere, wanting to come to San Francisco, saying that he’s scared of his father, but then the camera pans out and we see that he’s in a wheelchair. And, the new film Stonewall is about a gay Midwestern boy who moves to New York and finds himself. This is a common storyline in novels, too—that the city is safer and better, not just for queer people but for everyone. Is it inevitable that the rural, queer narrative will become more commonplace now that marriage equality is national law? Or do you think this narrative lags behind reality?

Megan Kruse

The narratives we hear about queerness are so often about departure—about leaving rural places for the city, for urban places with queer communities (San Francisco in Milk, as you mention—that’s a place where there is finally a critical mass, and you can imagine the joy of that). I don’t think that departure is about safety so much as it is about community—which then becomes safety. My experience has been that to find other people who share your experience, other people who want to live and love like you, is what feels most important, beyond physical safety. It feels safer because you have your people. But things are changing, rapidly, and the world feels different now that it did when I was younger. We’re at a moment in time when our narratives of queerness are being heard more than ever, and we need narratives now of queers everywhere, of those who’ve gone to the city and those who have made communities where previously there were none, of queers thriving and creating the worlds they want to live in. There are so many people who haven’t had a chance to tell their stories, or to read stories that speak to them of their experiences. And those are the stories that light the path for the people coming behind us.

November 2015

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

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An Interview with Rene S. Perez II

1 Oct
Rene S. Perez II won the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award for his story collection, Along These Highways. His latest book is the novel Seeing Off the Johns.

Rene S. Perez II won the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award for his story collection, Along These Highways. His latest book is the novel Seeing Off the Johns.

Rene S. Perez II is the author the story collection, Along These Highways, which won the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award and the 2013 NACCS Tejas Award for Fiction. His newest book is the novel Seeing Off the Johns. Perez was born in Kingsville, Texas, and raised in Corpus Christi. He received an MFA from Texas State University and currently teaches high school in Austin.

To read an exercise about backstory inspired by Seeing Off the Johns, click here.

In this interview, Perez discusses why teens want realistic stories, even if those stories are sad; the formatting challenges of italics in POV shifts, and what happens when the novel you’re writing suddenly disappears from your computer.

Michael Noll

This book is ferociously sad—and not in a gratuitous way, I might add. There’s a kind of firm reality to it that I recognize from my own childhood and hometown, and so I was able to connect with these characters very easily. And yet—whew, that opening is a tear-jerker. Did this make it a difficult novel to pitch and sell? Young Adult novels aren’t strangers to sad topics (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars), but this feels somehow different, if only because it’s a more realistic novel than that one, less of a romantic comedy (even though it has a romance). I’m curious if anyone (publishers, readers, writers) pushed back against the opening.

Rene S. Perez II

I never considered that I was writing a YA book. I think the very fact that I stumbled upon one by virtue of the age of my protagonist while not trying to write one can be both a big help and potentially a detriment. When I finished the first draft of the novel, I thought that I could get at least considered/read by presses and agents. I queried four agents. Three replied back, likely due to the “success” of my first book. Each of those who responded all said the same thing: It’s too sad. They wanted me to highlight the romance, and one even asked, if it were possible, focus less on the deaths at the center of the story.

When I found my eventual publisher, they got what I was going for and were all in. What they did want to change, initially, is the ending. I was hesitant to do so and mentioned that in my first conversation with my editor. When she read through again, she saw why the novel has to end how it does. It’s basically stayed the same, story-wise.

So, in those regards, sure, there was some pushback. I do think, however, that since this is being marketed as a YA book, the fact that I never initially set out to write a YA book but to write a realistic novel about the weight of a tragedy on a town, it will resonate more clearly with young readers. I really do think young readers want to be taken seriously. They want to engage in discourse on the big questions. They appreciate knowing the kiddie gloves have been taken off.

Michael Noll

The POV shifts are fascinating. In the first, we have so much empathy for the Johns and their families. Then we’re introduced to Chon, and we begin to see the Johns, especially John Mejia, in a less empathetic way. We begin to dislike him, just as Chon does. But then this feeling gets complicated by more shifts. This seems like a difficult thing to pull off, to successfully get the reader to reconsider an attitude toward a character. How did you approach this challenge?

Rene S. Perez II

The shifts are from close third-person focus on Chon, our protagonist, to an omniscient third-person narration that zoom out wide to show the tragedy’s effect on the town. With that, we get to see how Chon’s initially low opinion of Mejia is counter to the town’s adulation of him. But as the novel goes on, we see the town shifting—forgetting or divesting from the promise Mejia, and both Johns, had. We see Chon recognize it, and the curve of his feelings toward the Johns, Mejia in particular, and the curve of the town’s feelings intersect. Shifting from Chon to the town, zooming in and out, helped to show Chon change, and it changes the reader too.

Seeing Off the Johns, the debut novel from Rene Perez II, is a BookPage Teen Top Pick and has been called "a searing, mature novel."

Seeing Off the Johns, the debut novel from Rene Perez II, is a BookPage Teen Top Pick and has been called “a searing, mature novel.”

Michael Noll

Still on the subject of POV, how much planning did you do? When you began the novel, did you have a sense for which characters would receive their own POV and where those chapters would appear in the novel? Or was this something you discovered while writing the book?

Rene S. Perez II

As far as planning goes, I knew from the first time I filled the blank page that I would move from the town to Chon and back out. In fact, the original manuscript of Seeing Off the Johns had the town sections in italic typeface. I decided before word one that there would be italic sections and regular sections. Having allowed myself that, within the italic sections, I was able to really stretch out and get comfortable within the omniscience. I am able to jump ahead and back in time. I am able to tell biographical details of people in town or histories of places. I really gave myself license to push that as far as I needed, because I knew that the visual cue of the italics would let the reader know toe expect those shifts.

When Lee Byrd, my editor at Cinco Puntos, gave me her first notes, she did away with the italics. Just like that. It was a lot to get used to for me after having written in so specific a way. But now that I read it without the italics, it makes for a more interesting read. It certainly makes it seem like I was being more daring formally than I really was.

Michael Noll

You’re a high school teacher, and an English teacher to boot, and so I know you’re putting in a lot of hours on planning and grading. Where do you find the time to write? What’s your strategy?

Rene S. Perez II

I wish I would tell you that I have some solid work ethic that I organize my life into being able to write every day. Hell, I can’t even motivate myself to write every day. What I do is make sure to always have access to notes. In various forms ranging from texting myself to notes on my phone to e-mailing myself to always having my notebooks handy, I am always ready to put down ideas for characters or stories or plot points of larger works. Then, as that becomes more fruitful, I pick times when I can sit and either transcribe paragraphs or sentences I’ve handwritten into a larger work or get started on a story.

That’s how I work. I always allow ideas to at least start. I always have a couple stories and, as has been the case for the last 5 years, a novel in progress. That way I can always turn from one project to another. I tell myself I work best on something when I’m stealing time from something else. If I always have something I’m itching to work on, when I am done with school work and the baby’s bathed and in bed, or on weekends when my wife is stepping up so I can sequester myself in one of my writing holes, quality writing happens.

Michael Noll

A few years ago, I heard you say that you’d just lost a novel through a computer failure. Was this novel? What happened? Did you rewrite the entire thing?

Rene S. Perez II

Ah, the lost novel! I started writing Seeing Off the Johns while waiting for the first book to happen. When I finished SotJ, the collection, Along These Highways, was out. I showed SotJ to an editor who gave very thoughtful feedback. She said something was missing. I could feel it too. Now, while waiting to hear back on SotJ, around 2011, I had started to write another novel. It was cool and noir-ish and rolling along quite well. I was almost done with a first draft when I lost it. At that point I knew I only had two options: I could either set about to rewrite the lost novel or I could fix SotJ. I chose to write a play instead. When I finished that, push came to shove. I tore SotJ apart. I felt like a mechanic in a hollowed out car needing to find a faulty plug and put the damn thing back together. I figured it out (in the first draft, I was satisfied with the novel being 3-dimensional because of the POV shifts, but I’d neglected to make Chon fully rounded) and fixed it, and now the Johns is almost out.

A postscript on the lost novel: I’m still chipping away at the rewriting in notes and on the manuscript, but I’ve also started a new novel. We’ll see which happens first.

September 2015

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

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