I've been waiting 3 long years for another book from Avasthi and my wait is over! Chasing Shadows came out last week! You'll have to wait for my review of that one, but trust me, the book is amazing.
Today, Swati Avasthi has kindly agreed to talk a little about how her latest book became something very different from her first. After you read this awesome guest post, head out and pick up both Split and Chasing Shadows. You won't regret it!
CHASING SHADOWS was supposed to be a prose novel. At least that was what I presumed when I started on book no. 2. After all, my first novel SPLIT was in prose, and I was in getting an MFA in fiction prose. Additionally, I'd hardly read any American comics. So how did CHASING SHADOWS turn out so differently - a graphic novel inside a prose novel?
Steven Johnson in his Ted Talk suggests when we create something new, we’ve had the ideas growing for years, but what makes us break into something new is a connection. Connecting one disparate idea to another. (Don’t mistake me. I’m not comparing myself to any of the geniuses in Johnson’s Ted Talk. Rather, I’m talking about how I made something new for me and surprised myself into a new genre.)
The idea to tell this story in part prose and part graphics came from five disparate places: 1) a book I was reading 2) a question 3) a story 4) a memory and 5) a challenge
In 2007, about a year before I started working on Chasing Shadows, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In it, there’s a scene where Hugo is trapped on a train track, and the train is bearing down on him. On each two-spread page, the train gets closer, and closer, and closer each time I flipped the page, until the grill fills up the whole of the page. Panic surged through me – a wholly visceral reaction, as if I were there, as if I was a part of the book. Which created my question.
Could I get the same visceral response from a reader using words? Prose writers manage time on the page by using subjective time (how long it feels like it takes), rather than objective time. We speed through days, dismiss hours, upon hours. Or, we slow time down for impact. For instance, in Stephen King’s “The Body” (also made into the movie “Stand By Me”) there’s a moment when the protagonist is trapped on a train track. King slows time down and takes a long paragraph to explain in detail everything that happens. And it does have an impact; it is powerful. But it is a different kind of power – one that builds tension detail by detail, moment by moment. Not the visceral response of feeling like you are in another world.
I was working on a short story in which the girl, whose mother just died, loves comics for how they take on villains. I began following her love of comics, began reading them.
The summer I turned 18, I walked into our den to say a quick goodbye to my parents while they were watching the news. My mom stopped me because on the news was a story about an 18-year-old girl who'd been shot and killed in what was deemed to be a drive-by shooting. It was a girl who I'd known well when we were in middle school. Though we weren't friends anymore (we had gone to different high schools), we had done sleepover, and birthday parties, and middle school squabbling together. And I loved her family. I had a crush on her brother, greatly admired her mother, and thought her other siblings were practically perfect.
When I found out she was killed, all my language left me. I was shocked of course. But more than that, I didn’t know how to respond, for years really, how to find the words to tell her family that I still think of her, still grieve for all that they lost. It seemed wrong –invasive—to go to her funeral after we hadn’t spoken in so many years. So I kept silent.
I love the word “can’t” because as soon as I hear it, I want to disprove it, especially when it comes from someone who is in a position of relative power over me. Someone who was in that position, told me SPLIT wouldn’t work because I couldn’t withhold a secret in a first person narrative. Which of course, I did. **SPOILER** That same person in that position told me that writing a first-person descent into madness was impossible. Hence CHASING SHADOWS.
The “eureka moment,” according to Steven Johnson, is a little false. It is more of a slow hunch – something that gathers and grows, connecting disparate ideas. For me, all that gathering did lead to a slower understanding — an understanding that the strong image in my mind was the one that needed to be on the page, that to express how violence is visceral, how speech slips away, I needed to leave words behind. So, I started researching and taking classes on how to write a graphic novel.
So I wrote the novel with the script in it (over and over and over xnth power). The script included the panel layouts, the panel descriptions/actions, and dialogue. When I was finally finished, my editor, Nancy Siscoe, and I discussed the look we wanted. Then she and Sarah Hokenson, the art editor, brought Craig Phillips on board.
I’ve never spoken directly with Sarah or Craig, which sounds crazy, right? He read the script, made character sketches, revised them according to notes, and did the illustrations, beautifully. He also devised some elegant solutions to problems, like this page, which we really struggled with:
All my notes on Craig’s illustrations went to Nancy, who discussed them with Sarah, who discussed them with Craig. And vice versa when he had questions. It sounds like a bad game of operator, but I think it was the right way to go. And because I trusted Nancy and Sarah, I felt very comfortable that every note was passed along and that we were all working to get a single vision for the novel, using prose and graphics, on the page.
Thanks for the opportunity to post and for making me feel so welcome.