Blythe Woolston, the author of The Freak Observer, which received the 2011 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, shares some of her thoughts with us about the creation of her novel. You can read an excerpt of it on Figment here.
I will never speak French. I don’t think Loa will, either. Her relationship with French is very much based on my own. It was fun to write her “French” words. I can kinda-sorta do French on paper, reading and writing, but it never feels natural. This is also true of German and Japanese. I go absolutely deer-in-the-headlights when I have to say something, even something simple like arigato. Despite this, I love to listen to languages I don’t understand. I have music in my library in Japanese, Polish, German, Dutch, Turkish…. And I love to watch television in other countries when I visit.
The language of dreams was even more challenging to capture than French. Dreams are usually fragmentary and confusing, not stories with beginnings, middles, and endings. While writing, I tried to find a balance that made the dreams believable, but useful to the story and Loa. About half the dreams in the book are straight out of my own dream journals; the other half are made up. I hope it isn’t easy to tell the difference.
The relationship between memory and sensory triggers is strong. For most people, like Loa says, that’s a positive thing. For Loa, the best thing she can do is to try to avoid her triggers. It’s not a great defense. It is very hard to protect yourself from events that take place inside your own brain. (NOTE: I have a chapter about PTSD and The Hunger Games in this book)
People have been screwing up my name my whole life. I’ve been called Blanche and Blighty and Blith–and Faith, mysteriously, by one teacher for a whole year.
Names might be the most important words in a story. Everything the reader knows about the character builds up around that first little crumb of information. So how did I decide which names to use in The Freak Observer?
Loa Elizabeth: I had a sister who died when she was only a few days old. This was her name.
Little Harold: It is pretty common here in Montana for families to have Bigs and Littles. It is sort of like being a Junior. It isn’t uncommon to meet a “Little” who is a grandpa more than six feet tall. Once a Little, always a Little.
Asta Sollija: This is the most important name symbolically, but I can’t say I had any system for discovering it. It is thename of a character in a book by Halldór Laxness, one of my favorite authors.
Ester: I knew that this character’s name had to be biblical, and I wanted a connection between this character and Asta. They are very similar names, but they look so different, I wasn’t worried that readers would confuse the characters. They would be linked, but not hard to tell apart.
Corey: I knew I needed a sort of gender-neutral for the character who became Corey. At one point, he was named Riley, but I saw a first-paragraph competition where every other character was named Riley. Riley was the new beige. So I scrapped it and poked around on the Social Security name site and NameVoyager
Jack King-Fisher: First of all, Jack’s mom, Dr. King, is named that because I like A.S. King’s book “Dust of 100 Dogs” so much. Jack is the all purpose guy name of fairy tales. I like kingfishers, which are amazing birds. Finally, The Fisher King is from the legends of King Arthur. In my next book* there is a character named Odd who is mythologically related to Jack. (*It’s called Troutzilla right now, but that can change. It will be published in February of 2012.)