12/10/13 – INTERVIEW WITH ANTON DiSCLAFANI, AUTHOR OF THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS
what a fascinating character Thea Atwell is. She’s also a controversial character. The New York Times called her “an impetuous, headstrong heroine, who often seems like a 1930s version of Scarlett O’Hara.” NPR Books said she’s a “budding feminist,” and The Boston Globe suggested she’s “impossible to like.”
Given the complexity of this character, I couldn’t wait to interview Anton DiSclafani, the author who created her.
SW: Who was the model for Thea? Where did this strong-willed, yet vulnerable, girl come from?
AD: I made her up, truly. I didn’t base her on anyone. Her voice was the very beginning of the story—I couldn’t have written Thea if her voice hadn’t come to me, if that makes sense.
SW: I’ve heard some readers say they didn’t particularly like Thea. When an interviewer told Claire Messud she wouldn’t want to be friends with one of her characters, Messud said, “If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble.” Do you think it’s important for readers to like characters? Is it important for them to like Thea?
AD: No, I don’t think it’s important for readers to like characters. Or at least it’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m writing. Honestly, I’m not thinking about my future readers at all when I’m writing. Writing a novel is such a long process, I can’t imagine going into it with the idea that you’re going to make your characters likable, or unlikable, or any other variation. So I can completely understand how readers like or dislike characters, but from an author’s point of view, that’s not part of the equation.
SW: Why did you choose the Depression as your time frame? Could the story have taken place at any other time?
AD: It needed to take place way before the sexual revolution. The Depression was an added layer of drama and uncertainty; I chose it because it interested me, as a period in history and also as a rich, sad setting for a novel.
SW: Sam, Georgie, and Mr. Holmes all play important roles in the story. How do you feel about creating male characters? Do you approach creating male characters differently from the way you approach creating female characters?
AD: I don’t. Every character starts as a blank slate, and I throw them in situations and see how they respond. That’s how I do things, anyway.
SW: Other than Thea, who is your favorite character in the book? Which character was the easiest to create? Which one was the hardest?
AD: Leona is my second favorite character (after Thea!) and she was also easiest to create. She only cares about horses. Nothing else interests her. People who are so single-mindedly passionate have always interested me, in life and in books. Sam was the hardest character to create. He remained a cipher to me for a long time.
SW: You said in another interview that it was important that Thea repeat her transgression. Why was that important?
AD: That’s what happens in coming-of-age stories—a character becomes her new self by destroying her old self. It was important that Thea become who she was going to become, and transgressing twice was a part of that.
SW: Did you have a coming-of-age experience, and if so, would you share it with us?
AD: I had a pretty normal American teenagerhood. No dramatic coming-of-age story!
SW: Since there once was a Camp Yonahlossee, did you have to go through any legal processes to be able to use the name?
SW: How would you categorize Yonahlossee? A lot of authors and agents currently use the phrase “women’s fiction” to describe novels with female protagonists. Do you agree with that categorization?
AD: Sure, if it gets my book into the hands of more readers! I’ve interacted with a lot of book clubs, which so far have been comprised completely of women, and they are a passionate, intelligent readership. I feel lucky that they’ve taken up Yonahlossee.
SW: What type of fiction do you usually read? What are your favorite novels?
AD: Right now I’m reading The Goldfinch, which is amazing. I try to read pretty widely—I’m also just starting Wheelmen, about Lance Armstrong—but mainly it’s contemporary fiction. The Known World by Edward P. Jones is a favorite. So are A Gesture Life by Chang Rae Lee and The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert.
SW: What’s your favorite way to make contact with readers? Book signings, book festivals, email, Twitter, Facebook?
AD: All of the above, and Skyping with book clubs has been really fun.
SW: Would you consider writing a novel about Thea when she’s twenty-five or thirty-five? What are you currently writing?
AD: No, I don’t think so. Right now, I’m working on a book about a Texas family set in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. It’s fun. Lots of cocktails and fancy dresses.