Author Interview: N. Griffin
By Cordelia Jensen
Hi there! I want to start by saying THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE (Atheneum, 2013) is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The mood lingered with me for days after I read it, and the characters sat around and kept chatting with me long after I put the book down. Dinah and Skint both have such endearing and distinct voices.
Thank you so much for saying such nice things! I am so glad the book made you feel that way.
What was your inspiration for the book?
So many ideas and loves joined forces to make this book, but here are three:
1. Tons of teens I know who care about the world and the people in it the way Dinah and Skint do. I am well sick of people acting like teens are only concerned about their jeans and themselves. This is patently untrue and makes the blood in my writerly veins boil.
2. Winter. I love winter and wanted to write a book that feels like the spare gray of that season.
3. This concert I went to one time. It was the world’s worst. At one point, the choir sang a lament as if it were some kind of rageful testimony to a crazed despot. So unnerving. I tracked down the actual song and the deep grief of it made me want to write a book that felt like that, too.
But don’t worry. There are funny bits in the book, too. :)
How did you decide to use multiple narrators? And, when you made this decision, how did you decide to have Dinah's narrations be dominant while Skint's be much smaller? Do you see the story as predominantly her story? If so, why is it important to hear his voice?
I don’t know that I actually decided to write in multiple viewpoints, but I may have. I have a terrible memory. :) I do know that I wanted to use an omniscient third person in the book, both for the freedom it allows in terms of getting inside a character’s head as well as its ability to travel outside that head to put that character’s point of view in some kind of perspective. Writing in both Skint’s and Dinah’s voices also helped me (and hopefully will help the reader as well) see that there are things going on in Skint’s life that Dinah is not privy to that make Skint feel and behave in certain ways. And Dinah’s ignorance of those things affects her actions, too, if you see what I mean. I wanted to create that dynamic partly because relationships are always like that, at least somewhat. We can never know, not all the way, what someone else’s experience is, but our experience always informs what we say and do. And that is heartbreaking but also lovely and necessary.
Not to spoil the book for readers, but the ending is not your typical Hollywood ending. Did you play with other endings?
Nope. :) That was the ending that was true, and any other would have felt wrong to me.
I actually read most of this book in Colorado in the mountains. This helped me feel the cold that is such an essential part of the story and almost operates like its own character. Did you do free-writing around weather and weather as a narrative force?
Oh, I love that you read it in the cold! As I said above, the feeling of winter was central me in writing the book. I didn’t free-write around it, but I did imagine myself all the way into winter, and all the way into Skint and Dinah, so the feel of the season was never not present in me as I was writing about those two kids in the cold of February.
What comes to you first when you start a story: character, plot point, image, setting? Or something else entirely?
Character, always. I love thinking about people and the way they talk and interact. That comes first. Then I have a deeper bunch of thinking to do, about why they talk and act like that; who they are; what their lives are like; what they love. Some of that is conscious, hard-work thinking, but the best of it comes in waves of realization that wash over me and feel wonderful and like the truth. It's my favorite part of writing. Then, when I know who everybody is and how they feel, I can think about what that would make them DO, and that becomes the plot.
Are you working on any new projects?
Yep. I am working on a new YA right now but it messes me up to talk about it so I can’t. I am sorry! :) I do have another finished book coming out with Candlewick in fall of 2014. That one doesn’t have a title yet, but it is a cheerful middle grade mystery, also about a pair of best friends, as it turns out. I like pairs of best friends.
Do you have any rituals around writing? Anything that gets you "in the zone"?
Tons of green tea. Earplugs. The wonderful pictures and paintings (not done by me, I hasten to say) that I have all over my office. They make me feel happy and like the inside of my mind but more snuggly.
And now for our "3 for 3":
3 Favorite Books as a child/adolescent:
Hard to pick just three because I read constantly as a kid. To the point of addiction, really. There are so many I loved I feel like I am being wrong and mean not to list every one. I am sorry, books! I love you all! But here are three of the my favorites. Two are series so that is more books but ha ha I am putting them on the list anyway:
1. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Pivotal! It exploded my understanding about what you could do in a book. I could not give it more of an A+.
2. All of the Melendy family books by Elizabeth Enright. Her writing is perfection and I still want to be friends with all those characters and live in their house with the cupola on top.
3. All of the Moomin books by Tove Janssen. They are works of absolute genius on par with all the geniuses. Moomins in November, in particular, is breathtaking.
3 Books you've Read Recently That Surprised You:
1. Arcadia by Lauren Groff. Unbelievable. When I was reading it, I kept turning to my beau because I felt like I had met someone I needed him to know about, but it turned out to be Bit, the protagonist of Arcadia, every time. THAT is writing.
2. I just finished Jaclyn Moriarty’s new book, A Corner of White. I was very surprised it was fantasy, as I am so used to her more realistic work, and I loved it! It boils about like the best of Diana Wynne Jones, and has the same wonderful characterization and pacing as The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, which is my favorite of her books.
3. This is not a book but I read National Geographic magazine from cover to cover every month and I love it desperately and am always surprised by at least three things in there.
3 Books that Influence Your Writing:
Well, I would feel presumptuous to say that these writers have affected my writing for the better, but I can safely say I love them hugely:
1. Jane Gardam. She is perfect.
2. Toni Morrison. She is also perfect and intimidatingly out of reach but my lord what she can do and has done.
3. Tom Stoppard. I still think about his play, also named Arcadia, at least five times a week.
No, thank *you*! And I can’t wait to read your book!
N. Griffin is the author of The Whole Stupid Way We Are (Atheneum 2013), as well as an as-yet-untitled middle-grade mystery to be released in the fall of 2014 (Candlewick). She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives outside of Boston with her beau and their dogs. You can learn more about her at http://ngriffin.com/
Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia at 551 Carpenter Lane.
In a few weeks, Jen will be interviewing debut Middle Grade author Kit Grindstaff, so check back soon!