We’re back today with author, Lisa Mannetti.
For those of you who are just tuning in, we are continuing our talk with the winner of this year’s Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievment, First Novel, Lisa Mannetti, author of The Gentling Box. If you missed part one of our interview with Lisa, just click here.
Today we’re going to talk about point of view and a few of Lisa’s upcoming projects.
TF: You chose to use Imre as your first person narrator for The Gentling Box. A little while back some of our readers were discussing writing from the point of view of a member of the opposite sex.
Opposite sex is easy, honestly! As a writer you spread your wings and “experiment” and write characters who are demons or vampires or werewolves or whatever and you’re making a stretch, but the whole point of storytelling and writing is stretching.
I don’t think it should be a problem for any writer to get into the head of a character who is the opposite sex – whether the point of view is first or third person. Even if you use third person, you will still have to write from that point of view and one of my bugbears is writers who lose point of view during a book or story.
That’s not to say you can’t suddenly switch point of view when you’re using third person, but there should be a compelling reason. The character has to be important to the story. Reading a book (say) all about a cop who is tracking a killer and having the point of view suddenly switch to (say) some lady who is buying Genoa salami is the sign of a hack.
There should always be a crucial reason to change point of view. Read a book like Stephen King’s Pet Semetary – at the very end of the novel the point of view (and it’s third person all the way through) switches to the wife’s – after she’s come back from the dead. Staying tight with point of view can pull your readers in and be every bit as strong as first person.
You use third person if you need (like King did) certain kickers to enter the tale that can only be told from that character’s point of view or if you have a very large canvas (another example via the deft Mr. King would be The Stand). That story demands third person point of view because critical action and story arise through several characters. And I’d add a caveat: when you’re writing a short story, for the most part you should use one character’s point of view, whether you’re telling it from first, second or third person.
Back to novels: if you don’t need third person, chances are you can safely use first person point of view. Keep in mind there are limitations to first person -your protagonist must always have access to information and it must be his or her story.
In The Gentling Box, essentially, the story is Imre’s and he’s the one we follow during the course of the book. Regarding limitations for point of view, an example would be when Mimi (his wife) cuts off her own arm to obtain the gypsy talisman, the hand of the dead. Imre has to witness the act without being seen by Mimi. As a writer, it’s your job to figure out how your first person protagonist can have access to information the reader needs that involve other characters. It’s fun and I suggest every writer give it a try. You can get pretty creative and you don’t have to limit yourself while using first person to having your character get phone calls or e-mail or reading the newspaper. LOL.
TF: Tell us about your choice for narration for the Gentling Box. Why did you settle on first person and was it uncomfortable for you to write these scenes from the male point of view?
“My wife sits mute now in the corner of our caravan, because this morning it is her personality which has come to the fore.”
This auditory entree has happened to me a number of times – I hear the first line, get all jazzed up and things take off from there.
Even though I didn’t skip ahead, how perfect a segue is this considering your next question, Teresa? <LOL>
TF: *grin* You knew it had to come, right? So, when you have an idea for a story, how do you go about finding the right “voice” and setting for that particular story?
Usually, I have an idea of what the story is about (say, women being made into ghosts because they’re physically abused, or a guy who is desperate to sleep with his own wife, or dolls who capture the owners of a person-sized house) and as I’m sitting at the keyboard I “hear” the first line. I don’t know how to explain better than that. (It’s also the way I get psychic information. More on that later, I guess. Anyhow, with psychic stuff, mainly I discount it as being not true, then get freaked out when it happens.) With writing, that first line is a jumping off place, a beginning -with plenty of rewrite and more rewrite and more rewrite to follow.
I’ll also play with setting, character, mood, plot . . . and I ask myself questions . . . Who is this person? Where is this happening? When did it happen?
I also do back stories . . . Who was important to this character? Why? What does this character want now? And the most basic of all . . . What the hell is going on here and what the fuck is this story really about? <LOL>
Sometimes you find you have two stories or, conversely, two ideas that are essentially one story.
You have to play with the idea, the piece. Stay open and keep going till it satisfies you on every level – most important is to ask yourself if as a reader this is a story or book you’d want to read.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with the characters, setting, plot or anything else; and don’t be afraid to write “crapola.” So what if it’s not working – maybe later on it will, maybe it will turn into better story. Let the process be part of the fun -not just whether it’s ‘perfect’ or will be published.
When you enter the house of mirrors at a carnival, you don’t worry too much about whether you actually got “value” for the cost of the ticket – you go with the flow, you have fun. Approach your own writing with the same open spirit. Later on, you can evaluate whether or not a particular piece was worth the price of admission. If it’s not, scrap it and save it for later and move on to the next “ride” or amusement.
TF: The scenes in The Gentling Box were very, very intense at times. Were you uncomfortable as you wrote these scenes?
No, not precisely uncomfortable, because when I write, I’m just swept away by the story. I tend to identify with whichever character is front and center in the action. So, with a humorous story, I’ll be laughing out loud as I type. 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover which will be out in February 2010 in time for Valentine’s Day from Bad Moon Books (illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne who has also illustrated for Stephen King) started as a few one-liners that came to me while I was about to go to sleep and made me laugh so hard, I got up and started writing them down.
However, when I was writing The Gentling Box I didn’t always like what Anyeta (in particular) was doing, but since I was telling the story from Imre’s point of view, I could react to what he was feeling. I could get angry for Imre and through him and yet, honestly, at the same time, I also sort of enjoyed seeing what Anyeta could get away with. I kept upping the stakes. How far will she go? Who will she go after next? Will she really make Mimi, her own daughter and Imre’s wife, feel as though she’s turned into a wild dog complete with fur, six nipples and a snout and compelled to get down on all fours and eat out of a dish on the floor?
It was sort of fun in a weird way. At the same time, I definitely was weeping the entire time I was writing the end, which by the way came out pretty much the way it’s written and in a huge spurt of 10,000 words in one day. That’s the beauty of being so tethered to a book that you get swept along and write 10 times what you’d normally produce. I actually thought (even though I was on fire to finish this version) it would take 3 to 4 days – imagine my surprise when in one marathon session the book was done.
At any rate, no matter what material you’re dealing with, as a writer it’s your job to explore it completely. Sex. Drugs. Violence. Raw emotion. Abuse. Heartbreak.
Whatever it is, you have to plumb it. Never worry if anyone thinks you actually did those reprehensible things – your job is to create verisimilitude and make it seem as though your characters have lived this experience. If you’ve never even smoked a cigarette or taken a sip of 2.0 beer but your protagonist is a junkie, you have to create his or her world and you have to do it in a way that is compelling and pulls in the reader. You also have to create enough empathy so that your readers can identify – in The Gentling Box, Anyetta is so awful, the reader automatically feels for Imre and Mimi and their daughter, Lenore.
TF: During the course of the novel, you revisit Imre’s experience with the wild horses three times for maximum impact at the end of the novel. This is a great technique. Every writer functions differently, but it would be nice if you could tell us how you crafted The Gentling Box.
It’s part of the reason I chose this tagline for the banner: “What if you’re worst nightmare is your only salvation?” Imre has sworn – based on the horrific events he witnessed as a child – never to use the premier tool of his trade, the gentling box.
And while he’s forced at the end to make a decision (no spoilers here) about whether he will use it, I don’t see the device (literally, the gentling device or the plot mechanism) as strictly “device” per se. Very often in real life, what we fear most does become one of our greatest tests as if the gods (or the Universe) want us to grow – or give up. It’s more than self-fulfilling prophecy I think (although that certainly plays a role); it’s more like we fear something because our intuition tells us we’ll have to face it down someday, and that’s a hell of a scary thought – but true nonetheless, I believe.
What do you fear? It might come back to confront you in an alley some night and you’ll feel the cold steel of a razor against your throat . . . or, you could find yourself in a cancer ward or lying abandoned at 28,000 feet on a mountain side . . . or perhaps something even more sinister.
TF: Okay, let’s talk about this fear of lying abandoned at 28,000 feet on a mountain side. Tell us about your next novel, The Everest Hauntings.
The Everest Hauntings is about a woman who’s always dreamed of equaling the success achieved by her older brother and sister who are twins. Maxie (the protagonist) feels like the “economic black sheep” of the family, despite her advanced degrees. She decides to climb Mt. Everest (and trust me, a ton of research has gone into this) and be the first person to conquer the summit using self-hypnosis. Her plan (stateside) is to return safely and to go on the ever-popular lecture circuit armed, not only with talk like “you can overcome your hurdles,” but hands-on training using her tried and proven method to achieve goals a college student or corporate mogul would never dream possible.
That’s her plan before she leaves for Nepal. But she’s a neophyte and she’s only vaguely aware that the 200 plus bodies still on the mountain are hungry ghosts – and that despite utilizing one of the best Himalayan climbers in the business as her mentor and guide on the mountain, these ghosts will key into the “trance” state or self-hypnosis she needs to climb the mountain. That’s when the fun really begins. <wicked grin>
TF: Ouch! I can’t wait to see how that experience turns out. You’ve had so many great things happening all of a sudden. Tell us about the short film, “Bye-Bye Sally,” which is being shown at the Malibu International Film Festival and the Montreal World Film Festival. How did your short-story, “Everybody Wins” come to be made into a short film?
I used to joke that it made absolutely no difference what I wore every day because it wasn’t like Hollywood was calling. Imagine my surprise when I was scanning my spam file and saw “Everybody Wins” in the subject. Naturally, I opened the e-mail, but truthfully I was expecting a variation on the Nigerian letters that promise your bank account is about to be enriched.
I probably would have just deleted it along with the 300 other pieces of junk mail that arrive in that file every 24 hours, but I had more time than usual that day. Turned out it was from Paul Leyden (an actor and director) and he’d read my story and wanted to make it into a short film. After we corresponded that afternoon and evening, the very next day, he phoned – so much for my theory about Hollywood calling! Anyhow, he was looking for material (he’s directed a half-dozen or more short films in Australia whence he hails) and had picked up the anthology These Guns for Hire which was edited by the amazing J.A. Konrath and, lo and behold, settled on my story.
Paul was also generous enough to bring me out to L.A. for the filming and I have a tiny sliver of a spot in the short film; and needless to say I seriously hope it gets picked up and will be a feature length film. But in any case, he is a director to keep your eye on. He’s unique and his talent shines through every second of the short.
TF: You recently tweeted that your novella, Deathwatch, will be published by Cargo Cult Press in 2010. Tell us about Deathwatch.
In this case, even though The Gentling Box had a major agent when I began the novella (call it jitters or psychic pre-cognition arising from the fact that said agent was not able to sell The Gentling Box back then) I wasn’t sure what to work on next. My mentor at the time, Emily Hanlon, advised that I just sit (as she put it, even if it took 4 days of just sitting there and waiting but being ready to write) and “listen in” on what was happening.
What I heard, again, was a first person account, a voice in my head that turned out to be a character named Stuart Granville who had this to say:
“I was 20 when I first came to Hyde Park, New York and fell in love with the child who was both woman and ghost. And God help me, it was my infatuation–or obsession–if you prefer, that spawned both her strange shadow life as my bride and–later, much later–her death.
It was December and the Hudson River was frozen. I hailed from the Carolinas, and after a bleak train ride north, my first–my strongest–memory of the region was that solid white mass like a road, of wind blowing, and the sight of tight-lipped red faced men hauling blocks of ice on sledges, their horses straining for purchase on the slippery surface.”
I had in mind the isolation that occurs in Ethan Frome, the way that winter actually shut people down in the previous century—way more serious than the isolation or sense of being cut off we experience now when we can’t access the Internet or the lights go out or we have a day or two when we feel “lonely.”
It’s 1893 and Stuart has been expelled from the University of Virginia medical school for drinking and accepts a position as a tutor in a doctor’s home in upstate New York—in what would have been a completely rural area at the time.
Stuart is dealing with his own guilt. His tunnel vision (or, if you prefer, his self-centeredness in focusing on his own transgressions and failures) limits his imagination and his ability to understand the evil around him; the weather and the situation he encounters compound his sense of uncertainty.
What he is unaware of is that the girls he’s been hired to ‘educate’ are Siamese twins and their father, a doctor, means to separate them – and to take advantage of Stuart’s outcast status as a failed medical student to help him with this surgery.
That’s the basic premise, but of course, there’s much more that transpires – and I think (hope) most readers will agree that the haunting that underpins Deathwatch is terrifying.
TF: Okay, one last question: If you had one wish for your next book, what would that be?
I hope that my readers will walk away after finishing it feeling stimulated, intrigued and ‘satisfied.’ And I hope it does well in terms of sales and becomes the literary jumping off point for the third, fourth, fifth . . . fifteenth . . .
I don’t necessarily want to be (although it wouldn’t hoit) a New York Times bestselling author, but I do have this weird macabre wish which involves achieving enough (and, of course, primarily I want to feel good about what I write and feel I’ve given my best) stature that when I die I get an obituary in the Times.
I haven’t made up my mind whether I’d be okay with just a notice – or whether I want to go for the brass ring and be one of the lucky dead folks who also gets a picture that accompanies the obit.
A picture, to accompany the obit with a nice tidy and chubby list of books I’ve written, I have to admit, is something to aim for. <wicked grin>
TF: And with her wicked grin, she leaves us for now (said your host with a <wicked grin> of she own).
Look for Lisa’s up-coming works, including the short story, “It’s Magic,” in Sephera Giron’s Beach Boys anthology.
I hope you enjoyed our interview with Lisa Mannetti. You can say hello in the comments or if you have a question, leave it in the comments and I’ll forward your question to Ms. Mannetti. She has graciously agreed to hang around this week to answer your questions.
If you have a minute, you can visit Lisa at:
Her blog is at: www.lisamannetti.blogspot.com.