April 23, 2012

Facing the Mountain: Interview with Wendy Orr

I'm pleased to welcome Wendy Orr, author of Facing the Mountain, to the blog today for an interview! First, a bit about the book and its author:

From the Scholastic Canada website:

"A gripping wilderness adventure by the author of Nim’s Island.

Raven is hiking in the Rockies with her family. But when she gets to the top of her first mountain, the world tilts. She finds herself falling, riding a wave of rocks. Her sister and stepfather are trapped by the avalanche. Now Raven faces wild animals and treacherous terrain as she goes for help. Can she survive long enough to save her family?"

From Wendy's blog: "I'm a Canadian born Australian author, mostly of books for children and young adults. My books include: Nim's Island (the book that the film was based on), Nim at Sea, Peeling the Onion, Ark in the Park, The Princess and her Panther and Raven's Mountain."

And now for the questions...

1.) You've written numerous books for children and young adults. Do you feel the writing experience for Facing the Mountain was different from others? If so, how? Has your writing process changed over the years?

Every time I think I’ve worked out how I write books, I start a new one and all the rules change again. One thing that has changed over the years is simply that when I started I could concentrate on one book and there were very few other demands (except for the outside job, small children, farm… I guess I mean very little else to share the writing head-space.) Now there are always other books in different stages: promotion, proof reading, copy editing, so I have to make the switch back and forth from the intensely internal creative world of the early drafts, to the more external or logical demands of proofing and study guides, etc. For the first year of writing Facing the Mountain I deliberately cleared some of this by postponing other deadlines, but this book had the challenge of following the adrenalin rush and continuing publicity following the release of the Nim’s Island movie. I combated this by using meditation in a more focused way during the first drafts.

I think one thing that has changed, or developed over the years I’ve been writing, is that I’ve become less averse to planning. I still feel that a chapter plan before I start would kill the story for me, but I think I’ve also developed a better feel for the overall shape of the story, and am able to look at structure a little more rigorously after the first draft. This book went through several rigorous restructurings in the first six drafts: in the first draft the story was told alternately between Raven and her older sister Lily. I always think it would be great to be someone who could do chapter plans, follow them, and still have the story come to life, but I seem to have to take the slow way.

However one way that I do structure quite strictly is with maps. For this one I drew several maps of the mountain: an overall view of the mountain including the road in, around the lake, and the mountain top. I also made a salt dough model of the peak. That was on the back of my office door so I could easily check if the waterfall was east or west of the track, etc.

2.) It sounds like Raven has to overcome some major obstacles and face her fears. What are your top three fears? Have you been forced to face them?

Isn’t that interesting: I’m not sure what my top three fears are. I’ve had a phobia about seeing doctors ever since I broke my neck and other bones in a terrible car accident, but that’s a bit different. And of course as a mother you get a bunch of fears delivered with your first baby.

But in this sense… Probably fear of failure. Which means facing it every day, because you can’t write if you’re too afraid of failing. Writing means putting your soul out there for the world to see, all the time. And, depending on your definition, failing an awful lot of the time!

3.) Facing the Mountain is set in Alberta and British Columbia. What’s your favourite location in Western Canada, and why?

A tough question in a different way. A lot of places have that childhood nostalgia overlay, like the beach my grandparents lived by on Vancouver Island and my aunt’s on Salt Spring Island. They’re probably my favourite places in the world: that combination of rocks, trees and sea seems just perfect to me. But the feelings that started this book drew a lot on the camp I went to when I was 8 or 9, Camp Kananaskis in Alberta. There was a clearing that may have been an outdoor chapel, or I may remember it as that because I felt it was a holy place… but what I remember clearly was a conscious awareness of the beauty, the moss on the stumps, the light coming through the trees…. (But then I had to throw out a lot of that feeling, realizing that Raven, a prairie child, did not have the same feelings for mountains that I did. For her feelings I drew more on a Red Deer friend’s reactions when she came out to Vancouver Island with us on holidays, when we were 11 or 12. She found the mountains and trees claustrophobic and overwhelming.)

4.) I read on your website that you had the fairy tale of Rose White and Rose Red in mind when you wrote this novel. I’m a fan of fairy tales so I’d love to know more. Can you elaborate a bit? How did this fairy tale influence the storyline or characters of Facing the Mountain?

I realized I was thinking of the fairy tale as the story was growing in my head. I waited till the characters were fairly fully formed before reading it, so that it reinforced rather than instructed their development. Rose White and Rose Red are very different from each other, but, unusually for a fairy tale, not because one is good and one bad, or one clever and one stupid. They are both good, just different – and that’s how I saw Lily and Raven. And of course there’s the bear in it too…

5.) Stories often ask questions of the reader. What do you feel is the most important question your book asks?

I think it’s something about finding who you are when all the normal rules are stripped away – not sure how to put that into a neat question.

6.) What’s next for you, writing-wise?

In the next few months I’ll have copy editing and proofing to do on the last two Rainbow Street Shelter series (Henry Holt, US). I think the fourth, ABANDONED! A Lion Called Kiki, which comes out in July, is all done, but it might have one more lot of proof reading edits.  I’ve also been working on a picture book. And I’ve got started a new book that would really like me to do nothing but live in its world for a while. It’s still at that wonderful secret bubble stage, totally different from anything else I’ve done, and I haven’t even discussed it with my editors or agents yet. So we’ll see. 

Thanks for dropping by and answering my questions, Wendy! It's always a pleasure to find new children's books set in Canada. (There aren't enough of them out there!)


1 comment:

  1. An author who challenges herself by exploring different approaches to writing. Love it!! And I can imagine that exploring your fully formed character must be an important aspect to understanding them.

    Fantastic interview. Thanks for sharing.


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