Friday, January 20, 2006

Leah Stewart, The Myth of You and Me

Sometimes you just know when you open a book that its going to be a good one. No, a great one. A book you cannot put down or stop thinking about. A book that makes you want to turn to the end to see how things get wrapped up because you cannot read fast enough. Such was the case with The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart.

I enjoyed the novel from beginning to end and told all of my friends that they must read this book. Its essentially about two best friends who have grown apart due to a past event. You want to know what happened to drive the friends apart. There is much more to the story but if you have ever been fifteen, ever loved a friend like a sister, or ever lost touch with a buddy and can't stop thinking about him or her, this is the perfect book for you.

Who was your best friend when you were 15?

Her name was Kim. She was, as my brother recently said, "hot," and also one of the most genuinely good-natured people I've ever met. She was a year or two older, and she took me under her wing. She was a Southern Baptist, so I spent a lot of time at youth group, and she was a runner, so I spent a lot of time at the community college track. I used to run a mile or two with her and then walk while she did five or six more. She drove a tiny blue pick-up truck.

Who do you identify with more, Sonia or Cameron?

In the first drafts it was definitely Cameron. I gave her something out of my own life--being a military brat--so when she talks about her experience of moving, she's voicing thoughts I've had on the subject. And I gave her this question I've struggled with myself: If someone betrays you, does that erase the sum total of your relationship with them? Is a story only about its end?

In those early drafts Sonia wasn't terribly likable, so I made an effort to make her more so, because otherwise I didn't think the loss of the friendship would have the weight it should. And in doing that I came to, maybe not exactly identify with her, but definitely to understand her.

Did you plot out the entire book before writing or did the characters surprise you with their actions?

Neither, really. I'm not good at plotting beforehand. If I've thought through something too carefully, I have trouble writing it. I lose the sense of exploration and discovery that keeps me working.

With my first book I had a dead body on the first page, which provided a motor for the story. This book was actually considerably harder to write than that one, because when I began it I had so little idea of what the story was. But I don't often have that experience some writers talk about of being completely surprised by what characters do. It's more that in the process of writing I struggle to find what they should do, and when I find it, it feels like, "Oh, of course," like I knew it all along but didn't know I knew it. There were only two things that really came as a surprise: When I realized, after two drafts, that the friendship was the focus of the story. And when Oliver showed up.

What is your favorite song or group from when you were a teenager? The one you hear on the radio and it always brings you back to being with your best friend on summer break..?

This is not my favorite song, but "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard brings back vivid memories of cruising Main with Kim (who had a cassette she used to play in the pick-up) and going to high school dances.

Has having a daughter changed your writing schedule?

Oh my God, yes. I still try to work in the mornings, but now that's pretty much the only time I get, so there's a lot of pressure on those two or three hours. Sometimes that's good. I get a lot more done when I know I don't have the luxury of wasting time. Sometimes it's bad, because just as the ideas start coming I have to tear myself away from the desk.

What do you think was a major flaw of Sonia’s? I mean, she cheated on her fiancée! And lied to him. Was her adult self an indication of her mothers influence in her childhood? And why did you make Madame Gray so cruel?

I actually didn't mean to suggest that she cheated on her fiance, but that she slept with Will during a brief breakup from Martin.

Madame Gray always was cruel, from my first conception of her, which was as a deeply unhappy woman who loves and hates her daughter in equal measure. As for why, her behavior was crucial to the shaping of Sonia's character. Sonia has a habit of secrecy and compartmentalization, established in childhood because of her mother, that helps explain much of what she does, including lying to Martin.

Unlike Cameron, who has trouble showing affection to people she actually likes, Sonia has a tendency to be artificial. That's why she's good at rushing a sorority when Cameron is not. She's on a constant charm offensive, although it's gotten more subtle as she's gotten older, and she needs a lot of attention and affection to keep herself going. But then she also needs someone who knows the real Sonia, because all that tapdancing is exhausting and she can't be sure people will like her if she stops doing it.

Do you read your books all the way through once they are published? And if you do, do you ever wish you could change things?

I don't. I read them all the way through for the last time right before I deliver them to the publisher. Afterwards I don't think about changing the plot or the characters, but in each book there are certain sentences that make me cringe. I'd like to take a red pen to a few of those.

What do you like to do for fun?

Read, go to the movies, watch TV, then talk about books, movies, and TV. I'm a narrative junkie, which is one reason I love character-driven TV, because the story just goes on and on. It's a real indulgence for me to watch my DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And now Veronica Mars. That's good stuff.

Are you currently working on another novel? And when will your next book be out?

I'm working on a novel about a young nurse on the frontlines of the European Theater in WWII, based in part on my grandmother's experience. I have in mind to make it a visceral adventure story, with danger and romance and possibly a villain. We'll see how that goes. I have no idea when it will be out, because I don't know how long it will take to write it. The first book took about two years, the second about four. I'm hoping this one won't take eight


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