Courtney Eldridge’s newest book, Ghost Time, is a YA scifi/fantasy mind-bending thriller, and it’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. From my review back in June:
This is one of those experimental books that people either love or hate. I happen to (mostly) love experimental fiction (Patrick Ness, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf), so I was totally on board for the unusual narrative style. It skips around in time, it doesn’t have any quotation marks, and Thea’s voice really does sound like what you’d expect a real teenager to sound like. She says “like” a lot, she skips around in her sentences, thoughts meander from one topic to the next without much of a connection. It takes a bit of getting used to, but if you can make it through it becomes an AMAZING book.
The story itself is just as fascinating as the format. On the surface, it’s a missing person story. Underneath that, though, is a super creepy conspiracies story with possible scifi/fantasy elements and it’s AMAZING. JUST AMAZING. I haven’t been this excited about a book for a while!
So yeah, I really loved it! And YAY, I got to do an interview with the author herself– with a giveaway, too!
But first, the interview! (Click on images to enlarge them.)
Ghost Time developed out of a multimedia collaboration with various teenage artists. Can you tell us a bit more about that writing process?
When I first began, even before I began writing a single word, the one thing I knew about Thea Denny was that she was a brilliant fifteen-year-old artist. Then again, what does that mean, really? In terms of her artwork, I didn’t have any particular style or medium or artist in mind, so I had to look around and start gathering ideas, hunt for clues in bits and pieces and jpegs. So I started looking all over the internet for young artists whose work really floored me, teens producing work way beyond their years, and in the process, I realized there was no better way to create this character and make her truly genuine than to work with actual teen artists.
So I started reaching out to those I had discovered along the way, and the first three artists were Mike Bailey-Gates, Laurence Philomène and Tara Violet Niami. Once I found their work, I wrote them directly, explaining that I was writing this book and that I wanted to work with them. Mike was the first person I wrote, and he signed on that day, and then, since he was friends with Laurence and Tara, he put in a good word for me, and they agreed, as well. Those three helped me launch Saccades Project, and, I hope, they will all contribute to the next two books even though they’re all now in college.
In terms of the actual process, well, an image isn’t quite enough information to work with, so I asked them each to choose a series of eight photographs and to pair each of their photos with a song, anything available online. It could be anything, but the idea was to create a mood through sight and sound, something I could follow. When they sent me their photo series and song lists, each day, I looked at one photo, listened to the accompanying song, and then I spent the morning sketching whatever came to mind, wherever that image/song led.
Keep in mind these were just sketches, what I was writing, and very crude. But it proved a productive process, and the sketches ranged anywhere from 600 words to 3,000 on any given day. Within four months time, working that way with artists, I wrote close to a 1,000 pages of sketches.
Wow, 1000 pages of sketches! Was it difficult to pare that down into one book? Or are some of the sketches going towards the second/third books, too?
Looking ahead, I don’t have any plans to use that writing. I want to write entirely new scenes for the next book, and I don’t know if the process will yield 1,000 pages ever again, but I feel pretty confident I won’t lack for material.
Thea’s voice is very striking—it feels very authentic, like how a real teenager talks/thinks. Was it difficult getting into that mindset? (And how’d you do it so thoroughly?)
If I can’t hear a character, I can’t write a word. I want to read a voice that’s as clear as a song on the radio. For me, it’s the entire foundation of story, whether that voice is first-person or third-. So, needless to say, it takes a lot of work to get to the point where I hear their voice in my head, not to mention a lot of awkwardness along the way. Seriously, try striking up a conversation with an imaginary character who doesn’t even exist yet, lots of awkward silences.
I knew Thea would have to have a distinct voice, if there was an hope of me ever finishing three books with her serving as narrator. But since the book will span over three years of her life, this also gives me chance to watch and listen as her voice changes, as her experiences changes her outlook, her thinking, her self-expression. Listen to a fifteen-year-old and listen to that same person three, four years later.
Are any of the characters based on real people? Thea, I’ve noticed, has shades of yourself! She loves art, you went to art school, etc.
Yes and no. I started with the things I knew I could personally relate to, it’s true. By sharing those things, albeit projecting them on her, admittedly, to be able to communicate with her in order to understand her, to learn about her, everything I didn’t know, given that I had everything to learn, to build a bridge that would surpass age and/or generational issues. Art always offers that bridge.
So you definitely identified a few things we share in common, but beyond those similarities, we’re very different. For one thing, Thea Denny’s much braver than I was at her age, and on a lot of levels. Brave with her work, brave with her feelings, her integrity. Also, she’s far more talented than I am, hands down.
The only other character in the book who is based on an actual person, well, an actor, but close enough, is Knox. The actor Dominic West, who played Detective Jimmy McNulty on The Wire, which was what I was watching when I started the book. I always imagined Knox as being a pretty handsome in a way, but compensated for West’s good looks with dad jeans. Very handsome, yes, but completely de-sexualized by his dad jeans, because he and Thea already have a complicated enough relationship as is.
Stylistically, Ghost Time is very different from most other YA books (the closest match I can think of is Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series). Did you have any worries about finding the right audience?
No, but I do now. Two months since publication, I definitely worry about this book finding an audience. But during the course of writing the book, no, I didn’t think about that issue at all. Because I was much more concerned about creating a character and a story that could go the distance, that’s got to come first if you’re going to have any chance of reaching anyone.
In terms of the structure, though, the book opens with the last time Thea and her boyfriend Cam see each other. From that moment on, each subsequent scene moves alternately forward and backward in time. One step forward, one step back. And that’s the structure I intend to use for the next two books as well.
Can you give us any hints about what’s going to be in the second book?
Yes. Actually, yes and no, sorry. I mean, I can tell you that the working title of the second book is Bone-White, which comes from a Marguerite Duras quote that I read on Flickr, of all places. It’s a quote that was posted by a photographer I follow, Wayne Mackeson, he’s a Portland-based photographer who has allowed me to share his photographs on Saccades Project’s Facebook page. A few months ago, checking out his photostream, I happened to catch this quote he posted, and it completely stunned me: “All that remains of that minute is time in all its purity, bone-white time.” With that in mind, maybe the best hint I can give is to share some of the actual imagery I’m working with right now, various artists of all ages, from all over the world, who are contributing to the next book, and who are definitely inspiring the direction the story is taking. (Note: Pictures shown throughout post and below. Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)
Thanks so much for doing this interview with me, Courtney!
And now, I bet you’re super excited and want to read Ghost Time for yourself, right? Today’s your lucky day, because I have FIVE (5) SIGNED COPIES to give away, courtesy of CE/Amazon. Yay!
- Win one (1) of five (5) signed hardcover copies of GHOST TIME. Yay!
- US only. Sorry, international peoples. Shipping is expensive, yo!
- Books were provided by Courtney Eldridge/Amazon (her publisher) but I’m shipping them myself. Books will be sent media mail rate!
Good luck to those who enter!