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Conversation with Saundra Mitchell!

First author interview on this blog – squee! Here’s my problem – I can’t do the standard form-based interview deal. I’m a former radio jockey and reporter for the school paper, so my interviews have to be live, because I need to react and ask follow-up questions. Hopefully I’ll conquer that, but for now, you’re going to deal with my long drawn-out conversations with the authors who have the patience to deal with me.

So obviously, I’m starting with the awesome Saundra Mitchell, Deb extraordinaire and author of  SHADOWED SUMMER (review)!

—————-

Mya

Okay, are we ready?

Saundra

Yes!

Mya

Sweet. This is Conversation with Saundra Mitchell, take one!

Saundra

THE EARLY YEARS, dun dun dun!

Mya

Okay Saundra, now these questions are really intense, and come from a long and comprehensive week of research on my part, so don’t be afraid, okay?

Saundra

I promise to keep all whimpers muffled with my woobie blanket.

Mya

My first extremely difficult and challenging literary question is: how do you feel about llamas?

Saundra

OMG, I love llamas. True story, when my son was a year old, this local morning show did a comedy bit about the Indiana State Fair. They would go on and on about the midway and the fried food, and then they’d finish up with the sideshow, with this crazy barker voice:
“Step up and see Anita, she has the body of a beautiful woman, but the HEAD of a HIDEOUS LLAMAAAAAAAAAA! AND SHE’S ALIIIIIIIVE!”
And for some reason, that particular phrase, in that particular voice, made my son laugh hysterically. So the entire family spent a summer walking around like sideshow barkers, “But the HEAD of a HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDEOUS LLAMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
We still call my son Llama Boy. He doesn’t even hate us!

Mya

LOL – I wouldn’t be too sure about that. What about ghost llamas? Do those exist?

Saundra

No. When llamas are about to die, they spit out their llama souls. One last expectoration to get them to Valhalla.

Mya

Darnit… I was pretty sure this scary little presence I felt was a llama. Now I’ll have to be afraid.

Saundra

It could be another dromedary. Wait, are llamas dromedaries? Man, now I have to Wiki.

Mya

But seriously, why ghosts? There’s a whole host of known and unknown paranormal beings to write about out there. What’s this morbid fascination with ghosts about? Do you believe in them?

Saundra

Ghosts perfectly stand in the middle of us, between what we know in life and what we can never know in death. I’ve always been a seeker- I want to know things completely, I want to devour them entirely. But what comes after my last breath is unanswerable- faith can theorize, science can theorize, I can sit awake at night with my chest tight and my breath thin and theorize, but no one knows. Still, I have to ask the question- and ghosts are the best “I don’t know” of them all.
As for whether I believe- I don’t know. I’ve seen things I can’t explain. But I also know that science hasn’t explained everything yet. There are lab experiments with electromagnetic pulses that recreate the feeling people get of being watched. The same pulses manage to move things, just like a poltergeist might. And what is a ghost? There are so many phenomena bundled up beneath the one word, that it’s hard to say, “Yes, I believe.” So what I say is, “I don’t know.”

Mya

But you must have had some spooky experiences, right? I mean, I can’t imagine coming up with an Elijah so real without some form of belief/experience lying beneath the surface…

Saundra

I don’t not believe! And I’ve seen odd things. Like, my brother and I, one Thanksgiving holiday when we were children, walked into the same room from different directions, and saw the same strange man by the window. And we both saw him fade away.
My grandmother always swore she saw her late parents in her turned-off television. Her canary abruptly stopped singing the day my brother died, but started singing again the day of his funeral.
In college, I went to a friend’s house to stay the night, to prove it wasn’t haunted so he would get the mental health treatment we all truly believed he needed. I laid awake all night, listening to ghost dogs bark in his room, like he claimed they did. So instead of taking him to the psych ward, I helped him move.
But I can’t say what those things are for certain. I can only say they happened.

Mya

Whoa… that’s seriously creepy. Now, I just read Shadowed Summer and I absodumalutely and completely adored it. Tell me, how was the story born?

Saundra

On accident. Iris showed up in my head and sort of loomed there for most of the summer. Usually characters start chatting- at me, with each other- and get bothersome to the point that I have to write something, just to get some peace.
Iris, on the other hand, appeared fully-formed, with her name. Her hometown. I even knew her best friend’s name. But Iris said nothing. It was like having somebody read over my shoulder for an entire summer. Finally, I was like, look, this is freaking obnoxious, you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna use that character and write a paranormal romance. Something like Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss- you know, angsty and broken, with a bigger story than the romance there, and a ghost instead of a vampire.
And as soon as I sat down to do that, Iris balked. No. She would not fall in love with a ghost. She would NOT fall in love with anybody, thanks. Everything I wanted her to do, she wouldn’t. And the story more or less came together based on what Iris didn’t complain about. It was an interesting- and frustrating- way to write a story.

Mya

I have to say, it was a little strange reading about a young girl and her not wanting to fall for anyone. Refreshing change! Any chance we’ll see her again in the future? *Calls quietly and creepily into Saundra’s ear, “Hey, Iris. Where y’at?”*

Saundra

I did write a treatment and a production package for a series based on Shadowed Summer- the continuing adventures of… more or less. The Ghost Whisperer meets True Blood, if you will. But I can’t imagine writing another book about Iris. She barely tolerated the first one!

Mya

Aww, that’s sad. I wish her all the best (and non-icky males) in the future. So what’s this I hear about you never having lived in Louisiana?! You’re kidding, right? I mean… no way! How’d you get it to sound so real?

Saundra

I’ve never been there- I’ve never lived there. But I read a lot, and I’m not afraid to ask questions. I called the media relations guy for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Department. I talked to people at the Louisiana Native Plant Society. If I had a question, I asked. It also helps that southern Indiana is influenced heavily by the American south, my great aunt lives near Baton Rouge, and my best friend is from Georgia. I had a lot of help!

Mya

What did you read, growing up? Or listen to, as the case may be.

Saundra

Oh, anything. Books, cereal boxes, the back of the toothpaste tube. But I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Zilpha Keatly Snyder. I loved ghost stories from Betty Ren Wright, and contemporary, realistic fiction by SE Hinton and Katherine Patterson, and fantasy by Tamora Pierce, and paranormal thrillers by Lois Duncan and Caroline Cooney and I am totally forgetting somebody. Christopher Pike, too, and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street. Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Annette Curtis Klause… the list of authors I don’t read is a lot shorter than the list of authors I do. (Dickens. Sorry. He bores me right out of my mind.)

Mya

I’m guessing Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte didn’t figure too high up there, either… unless Fitzwilliam Darcy was actually a vampire and I missed it.

Saundra

Austen is a brilliant writer, but I just don’t have a taste for comedies of manners. But I do enjoy the Brontes. Gothic, destructive fiction is right up my alley. du Maurier, too, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Oh hey, literary trivia time! Did you know he was the grandson of John Hathorne- a judge who presided over the Salem Witch Trials? Hawthorne was so ashamed of that ugly history, that he added the W to his name to separate himself from it.

Mya

Seriously? That’s insane! How’d you even find that out?

Saundra

I read it! I read tons of non-fiction, and I’m particularly interested in the Salem Witch Trials.

Mya

Clearly! =D I have another question about Shadowed Summer. There’s a very short, very subtle paragraph in there that leads me to believe Collette is African-American. Is that true?

Saundra

Yes, she is!

Mya

Was it a conscious decision on your part to not emphasize that? I mean, I know a lot of people didn’t realize this fact and probably visualized her as white… I’m just wondering if there was a thought process behind this…

Saundra

Here’s the thing- I loathe sitting at the dinner table with a particular family member, because his stories always start, “This black guy at work…” I’m like, is it relevant to the story that he’s black, or do you expect me to pick up on your subtle, racist connotations with that description?
When I sold the book, I had two lines in the sand- I would do everything my editor told me to, except for two things. One of them was that if they put all three kids on the cover, Collette could not be portrayed as white. It’s vital to me as a writer that my stories reflect the real world.
But I didn’t belabor the point because it wasn’t part of the story- anymore than I belabored the point that Lee is gay. We are not a world of homogenous white, straight people, and I won’t ever write a book that pretends we are. It shouldn’t be remarkable that a character isn’t white; it should be utterly ordinary.

[…] I have, and will continue, to write characters of color, and in most definitely in the future, lead characters of color. My world is not a vanilla world, and my heroes are not all vanilla heroes, you know?

Mya

We PoC appreciate that! (Look, a new term I learned this weekend!) So, have your kids read/asked you to read Shadowed Summer to them?

Saundra

My son (he’s 15 now,) read about a chapter and a half and abandoned it. I know he abandoned it, because he wrote a book report about it- and he seems to be under the impression that my main character’s name is Tris, and it’s a book about a young wiccan.
On the other hand, my seven-year-old daughter would very much like to read it, but I think she’s a little young, yet. She has a hard time with stories where people argue and walk away from each other; I think Iris and Collette’s relationship would upset her.

Mya

That might just be because you call him Llama Boy. Have you thought about that?

Saundra

LOL the revenge comes slowly, in trickles. He really loved my friend Sarah Rees Brennan’s book, though. He fought me for a bound galley I had!

Mya

Aaah I can’t wait to read The Demon’s Lexicon! Quick – distract me from my longing! Three song playlist for Shadowed Summer!

Saundra

Mexican Moon by Concrete Blonde, Hear Me by Kelly Clarkson, and Run Away by Live & Shelby Lynne. You can actually listen to my whole soundtrack for Shadowed Summer on my website here! http://shadowedsummer.com/soundtrack.html

Mya

Oh sweet, I’m downloading the whole thing for my re-reading. I’m curious – what book character would you want to drag out into the woods and beat up? (Um… I mean, which one drives you out of your mind with annoyance/irritation?)

Saundra

I often wanted to deck Heathcliff and Cathy both. I mean, really- they should have been together just to keep from making other people miserable. But it’s a conflicted fury, because I also love them like crazy. So I guess I fit right in there- it’s a threesome of inappropriate desire and fury.

*insert mutual breathless explosion of squee-ing about Ed Westwick as Heathcliff here*

Mya

(after calming down) Is there anything you’re surprised people don’t ask more? Or wish people asked?

Saundra

I sort of expected more people to want to know about what Jack and Elijah were like, back then. But no one’s ever asked. Probably because it’s pretty obvious. I’m just overly attached to Jack!

—————–

As am I! =) Again, a huuuge thank you to Saundra for doing this. You should definitely check out Saundra’s blog and say hi to her because she is HI-LAR-IOUS and totally amazing, both as a writer and a person!

Okay, what are you still doing here? Go read SHADOWED SUMMER this instant! No, seriously. GO!

A screenwriter and author, Saundra Mitchell penned the screenplays for the Fresh Films and Girls in the Director’s   Chair short film series. Her short story “Ready to Wear” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her first feature film, Revenge Ends, debuted on the festival circuit in 2008. In her free time, she enjoys ghost hunting, papermaking, and spending time with her husband and her two children. She lives in Indianapolis and welcomes you to visit her on the Web at www.saundramitchell.com.

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6 responses

  1. Pingback: Making Stuff Up for a Living: The Blog

  2. Wow.
    That was a fantastic interview. One of the bestest ever.
    I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about SHADOWED SUMMER and it is on my ToBeRead list.
    Thank you for having Saundra Mitchell here.
    I look forward to any other interviews you do 🙂
    Love from Canada
    twitter.com/RKCharron
    xoxo

    July 20, 2009 at 9:27 am

  3. Wonderful interview! The live format definitely brings out a flavor and energy to interviews that the standard “send the author questions in e-mail, get her carefully worded responses back” doesn’t. I got a big kick out of your questions and Saundra’s answers — her personality really shines through. Great work!

    July 20, 2009 at 9:52 am

  4. Kimberly

    Great interview, Mya! And I loved Shadowed Summer too, Saundra’s writing completely draws you in!!! 🙂

    July 20, 2009 at 10:42 am

  5. Pingback: Conversation with Saundra Mitchell! « Dissecting Perfection « bookreports

  6. Wow people!! Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂
    Thanksgiving is 1 of my favorite holidays, and every yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, when it were-by reading “Thanksgiving novels.” For example, those stories are mostly about friends and family, about coming together to heal old hurts and showing thanks for the gift of love. … .. –
    Have You Been Much better Off These days Than You Had been 10 Years Ago?

    November 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm

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