Wednesday, April 04, 2012

New Voice: Elissa Janine Hoole on Kiss the Morning Star

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Elissa Janine Hoole is the first-time author of Kiss the Morning Star (Marshall Cavendish, 2012) From the promotional copy:

When Anna sets out on a post-high school road trip towards an unknown destination with best friend Kat, she thinks she’s prepared for everything.

Clipboard in hand, she checks off her lists: Set up tent. Study maps. Avoid bears. Feelings are not on any list. For the past year – ever since her mother’s sudden death – Anna has shut down her emotions and shut out the people who love her most.

Kat is a different story. Clutching a well-worm copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel about Beat generation pilgrims, The Dharma Bums, she radiates enthusiasm. Maybe, she thinks, this road trip will shake Anna back to life.

The girls zigzag across the Northwest encountering fellow travelers of all kinds – cute hippie boys, spiritual gurus, a tattoo artist, and some sticky-fingered local girls.

But throughout their journey one question haunts Anna. It begins like a gentle rain and then becomes a raging storm: What place does Kat have in my life? Are we good friends?Or something more.

Kiss the Morning Star introduces two unforgettable pilgrims on an off-Beat road trip, a high-spirited, affecting exploration of art, faith, loss and love – both carnal and divine. 

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting this year?

Sometimes I miss the kind of reader I used to be—indiscriminate, voracious, and with the ability to lose myself completely in any book that fell open in my hands. As a child and as a teenager, I read absolutely everything, and those characters, those worlds, and even those sentences became a part of me and shaped the way I think.

Without Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, the rats of NIMH, Billy Pilgrim, Thomas Covenant, the Vampire Lestat, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, and even the hapless Arthur Dent, I would never have put my own words on paper.

I read to escape, I read to laugh and to cry. Mostly, though, I read for the characters I could fall in love with, one page at a time—even the ones I simultaneously despised.

I think that this tendency to read for the characters influences me in that my own writing starts most often with a character, a voice. Most of all—and if I can ever achieve this I’ll feel successful—I want to give my readers the experience of caring so deeply about my characters that they forget, even for a moment, that they are made up of words.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

This is a great question, especially because at first, Kiss the Morning Star was primarily a third-person narrative. The journal entries at the beginning of each chapter were always from Anna’s point of view, but the rest of the book was written in close third, all the way up through my first few rounds of queries.

Finally, two separate (and very kind) agents gave me personal feedback to say that yes, this book sounds interesting, but that the voice was wrong. They both suggested changing the point-of-view to first person.

One of my writing friends was actually visiting at my house the weekend I got the agent responses, and she got to listen to me rail against the idea like a crazy person.

 (Aren’t we all a little crazy, at first, when confronted with the idea of completely rewriting our darling manuscripts? I’m going to pretend you are all nodding your heads.)

But of course I tried it—just the first three chapters, at first. I went into it thinking, “Well, okay, I’ll change all the stupid pronouns and that will be that.” But the most amazing thing happened as I went in there and started thinking from Anna’s perspective. I thought I had found her voice—and maybe I had, here and there, in little snippets—but the more I started to tell the whole story in her words, the more I felt like I knew her. At last, she was this whole person, and I could feel what she wanted and hoped for.

Of course, those who were with me during that process (love to my musers!) know that neither of the agents who helped initiate the rewrite ended up offering in the end, but my new manuscript, greatly improved beyond the changing of pronouns, went on to get many more requests, positive feedback, and eventually offers of representation!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

Photo by David Hoole Photography
As a reader, I hate it when I’m reading a contemporary book that is a couple of years old, and already there is so much about it that’s out of date.

As a writer, I try to be aware of my technology, and I also try fairly hard to avoid using brand names or specific references that will quickly become out of date. As a result, my characters just “plug in the music” in their car instead of hooking up their ipod or their mp3 player or…I don’t even know…singing along to Adele?

That said, a major plot point in the book is that Anna and her father are exchanging text messages on their phones—the agreement is that she is supposed to send him the things she’s learning in her search for proof of the existence of God, and he is to send her the reasons he is getting out of bed.

The phone also plays another role in an important scene, and at the time I wrote the original scene, my own phone was practically an antique, and I had only sent a handful of text messages.

I revised several times over the two years that I was working on this to make the way she uses the phone more up-to-date and yet still keep it generic—I didn’t want it to be clear that she had to be using a certain kind of phone.

It’s funny because early on, a long time after her first read and before she read again, my editor started the conversation by asking me to remind her if the book was taking place in the contemporary world or in the sixties, and I guess in a lot of ways, I actually like that timelessness about it, the fact that my characters get to escape some of the technology of the world by taking off with only their car and their backpacks and this relic of a book.

They’re not updating their facebook statuses from their phones and posting pictures of their new tattoos on their tumblr, and maybe in some ways that’s not authentic, but in other ways it allows them to concentrate on their journey—and each other—in a way that maybe is getting harder and harder to do in this world.

copy edits

Cynsational Notes

Kiss the Morning Star will be available May 15 from Marshall Cavendish. Available for pre-order now.

Elissa Janine Hoole has a longstanding love of road trips and beat writers, but it was a summer-long ramble out West that inspired this debut novel, when she and her husband set off across the country with a backpack full of Kerouac books.

Now settled in her home in northern Minnesota, Elissa teaches middle school English and writes until midnight, sipping cold coffee and ignoring the laundry. She still suffers from acute wanderlust from time to time, but road trips now involve a mini-van and a chorus of “Are we there yet?” from two small dharma bums-in-training.

1 comment:

Anne Greenwood Brown said...

I got to read the advance copy of this book -- pure awesomeness.

The comments Elissa makes about wanting her characters to seem real...consider that mission accomplished.

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