Welcome on the blog, Swati Avasthi! Swathi is the author of the YA novel Split.:
16-year-old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father's fist), $3.84, and a secret. It is about what happens after. After you've said enough, after you've run, after you've made the split - how do you begin to live again?
What inspired you to write Split?
First let me say, thanks for having me here.
Split was inspired by my professional experience coordinating a domestic violence legal clinic. I listened to thousands of people -- mainly women -- recount their experiences of as victims of abuse. Once, while a woman was telling me her experience while her two little kids sat listening and watching, I asked her if she'd like an intern to look after her kids. She said no, they had seen it anyway. That was one of the most haunting experiences of working in the clinic. It made me wonder what it would be like to grow up watching your dad hit your mom. Split is about Jace's struggle to discover what it means to be a man. Does it mean rescuing his mom who is still trapped with his dad? Does it mean helping his brother, who is supposed to be helping him? Or, is it something far more simple and far more complicated than that?
What influences and experiences did you bring into the book?
None of the stories of abuse in the book were brought directly from the clients' stories. More frequently, there were moments of backstory that harken from my own experience. For instance, there is a memory that Jace has about riding a bike while his brother ran beside him and that was based on something that my dad and I did together.
I'd say the book itself was most influenced by other books and other writers. I had a few mentors who really helped me determine the shape of the book: Mary Logue, Pete Hautman, and Julie Schumacher and of course, the two fabulous critique groups that I'm a part of.
When did you know you wanted to write professionally?
When I was 5 and read Little House in the Big Woods, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wish I could say it was straight path from there, but in reality, I wound about quite a bit, exploring both theater and the law, before returning to it, rather quietly, in 2001. I started to consider myself a writer when I began to submit short stories for publication in 2005 and declared myself a writer by trade in 2006 when I received the Loft's Mentor Series award, got my first publication credits, and applied for an MFA from the University of Minnesota, the degree for which I was just awarded in June 2010.
How much of your writing is based on your own experience as a teenager?
Not that much, really. The sports experiences (though I was in volleyball and softball, not soccer) and the characters at school are the experiences/people who are most clearly based on my high school years.
If you could have dinner with a book character, who would it be and why?
Atticus Finch. Why? Well, because he is Atticus Finch, a.k.a., practically perfect. A great father, an ethical lawyer, a patient man who fights worthy fights without compromising or making the struggle about him. I have the sense that if I went to him with any problem ever, he would answer me with no less than the wisdom of Solomon.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the book to life?
One of the biggest literary challenges was keeping Jace's secret a secret for almost half the book. When writing in first person with a close narrative distance, it can become quickly irritating if a narrator is keeping a secret from the readers for no apparent reason except that it serves the author's purpose. I was told by one writer of high repute that it couldn't be done, not without breaking the contract with the reader. But I kept looking at a model where it had been done (Invisible by Pete Hautman) and riffed off the strategy Hautman used which is, basically: you can use a first person reveal if your character has a good, believable, psychologically true reason for keeping a secret secret. Honestly, I can't think of that many good, believable psychologically true reasons, but Jace had one, so it worked out.
Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?
Publication is such an odd beast. Getting a contract for Split was definitely a sprint. It took about 8 weeks to get representation, from query letter to contract, and 3 weeks until Split sold at auction.
But, it took me two years to get a short story published. The story itself was very successful -- it got me a number of grants, admission to a competitive MFA program, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize -- but it still took 2 years of hunting in journals to find a home. Which was as long as it took to write Split.
What did you read as a teen?, which authors inspired you the most? And which are your favorite books and authors now?
I am, and has always been, a bit of an omnivore. As a teen, I read a lot of poetry, plays, and novels. The authors who really inspired me, but to whom I can never realistically aspire are: Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickinson, Sophocles, Hawthorne, and Faulkner. While I still love all those authors (though probably am more impressed now with Euripides than Sophocles), my favorite authors now are primarily YA: John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Pete Hautman, and the upcoming works by Brian Farrey (CHASERS, Simon Pulse, 2011 or 2012 and a MG series from Harper Collins, not sure when). Outside of YA, I'd say I admire so many authors but wouldn't count them among my favorite because they never make me either cry or laugh out loud but they include: Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, Nicholson Baker, and Mohsin Hamid.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you love to accomplish?
I'd like to have a writing career, filled with books that mean something to readers. It's all for naught, if my writing doesn't move a reader.
For more about Swati, visit her official site here