The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An Interview with Kelley Eskridge

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Kelly Eskridge, author of one of the most unique sci-fi books I've read in a while, Solitaire, decided to stop by The Daily Monocle for a quick interview. Enjoy!

Firstly, I'd like to welcome you to The Daily Monocle, Kelley. Thank you so much for joining us today.

It's my pleasure! Thanks very much for inviting me.

Alright to start things off, how about a fun question? Can you describe yourself in three words or less?

Resistant to limitations.

And now I must take more words to explain, or risk being labeled snarky and uncooperative (which certainly describe me in moments, but not, I hope, in general). I have spent so much time trying to expand – in my life, in my work – that I find it hard to be reductive, even in jest. In my house, I am known as the Option Queen.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Not that long after I started reading: I fell in love with story as soon as I could read Clifford, the Big Red Dog to myself, and I've never looked back. I wrote poems as a child, and a few stories along the way. I got serious about writing when I was in my mid-twenties. I attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in 1988, and made my first professional sale a couple of years later.

About how long did it take you to finish Solitaire?

A long time. I was working full-time, and found it hard to switch my brain from corporate mode to fiction mode. That's a challenge for a lot of writers, and I never found an easy way to meet it. It just takes some of us longer, and that can be hard. But it takes as long as it takes.

It's also hard to put a number of years on the completion, because I started thinking about the ideas in Solitaire long before I ever wrote a word of it. That thinking, that accretion of story, is an essential part of the writing process. All told, I'd say about eight years.

Are you an author who outlines, or one who just wings it?

Solitaire is definitely a product of the "just wing it" school of writing. I worked it out a little bit at a time, and was always pretty much on my own bow wave in terms of knowing where the story was going.

I do not recommend this as an approach. I ended up having to discard an 11,000 word section of the story – a year's work – because I had taken a wrong turn and wasn't willing to admit it to myself for a while. If I'd done more story work up front (even on a section-by-section basis), I would have saved myself one Very Bad Night and a lot of re-work.

These days, I try to be a little more of a planner. I will probably never be a major fan of detailed outlining for fiction, but I certainly do much more conscious structure/story work now, and more importantly, I am constantly assessing the story as I explore/write it. I very rarely fool myself these days: if something isn't working, I recognize it pretty quickly, and I stop and do the work to get the story back on track.

I write screenplays as well as fiction, and I'm definitely falling more into the "get the story right before I write it" approach. It's a different kind of writing, more rigorous in some regards, and even easier (for me) to wander down a false trail.

Although, having said all this, there's no way to nail the story the first time in either fiction or screenplay. There are always surprises, and things always change. The perfect first draft is a fantasy.

Who was your favorite character to write?

Hah. Do you know, no one's ever asked me this?

I love all my characters, every single one, even the creepy and unpleasant ones. I lived in Jackal's head and heart for all those years, and that makes her special. But pound for pound, Crichton was the most fun.

Were there any scenes for you that were particularly hard to put on paper?

Yes. The videophone conversation between Jackal and Snow before Jackal goes into virtual confinement was brutal to write.

I also had a hard time with the opening of the last section, when Jackal is released from confinement (those 11,000 words…). That wasn't because it was emotionally difficult to write, but because it took a while to find the truth of what it would be like for Jackal.

Did you do any sort of research before writing Solitaire?

I did some research on the operational principles and philosophy of the penal system, and on people's experience of both solitary confinement and voluntary solitude. I also did enough scientific research to find the basis for the Garbo technology.

What was your reaction when Small Beer Press wanted to re-issue Solitaire?

I was thrilled. Small Beer is a great publisher with an enormous presence in the literary and fantastic fiction landscape. They get a lot of choice about what to publish, and I'm honored they think so highly of Solitaire.

Other than the new cover art (which is fantastic, by the way), were there any changes made to the new edition?

I love the new cover. Frances Lassor is the designer, and did a brilliant job.

There are no content changes to the book. Unfortunately, there was a text flow issue and there are some rogue italics in this first printing that will be corrected in the next. Those aren't editorial or authorial changes, just vagaries of technology.

I hear Solitaire is being made into a film! What are your thoughts on this? Any news to share?

I am delighted! Although I should clarify that the screen story bears very little resemblance to the book story in terms of the particulars. Virtual confinement is a part of the movie, as are other features of the technology, and the protagonist is called Ren. Apart from that…. well, there's very little similarity in story terms, although a great deal of thematic similarity.

I'm completely fine with this. Better than fine, since I'm now the lead screenwriter on the project and am stone in love with these characters and their story. But if the movie is made, I'll have a lot of explaining to do to reset reader's expectations!

No news to share. Always in motion, is the movie business. I'm learning a lot and enjoying it immensely. Screenwriting is some of the most challenging, terrifying and exhilarating work I've ever done.

If you could choose, who would cast to play your main character, Jackal?

Since the Ren of the movie is really not the Jackal of the book, it makes it even more tricky to think about. Thank goodness they don't pay me to make casting decisions! The thing about actors is that the good ones can make you believe they are anyone, and the bad ones can look perfect for a role and still be deeply unconvincing. So I will be happy with a good actor and intensely interested to see what she does with the role.

And who would you choose to score the movie?

Trent Reznor, Eddie Vedder, David Bowie or maybe The Crystal Method. The playlist for most of the writing included all these guys plus Duran Duran, Simple Minds, Suzanne Vega, Madrugada, Madreblu, Paul Oakenfold and Gotye.

One of Solitaire's main themes is that of isolation and desperate loneliness. Why did you choose to write about this?

I wrote Solitaire in part to explore the ideas of being alone and being lonely, because I don't think they are the same thing, although our culture tends to equate them. I also wanted to think about the individual and the community, and when they are good or bad for each other.

Isolation is one obvious way to explore these topics – take a person whose identity is all about community, and then isolate her completely from community of any sort. What happens? Who are we when we have only ourselves for community? Is being alone only terrible, or is there also joy to be found there? How do we create a community for ourselves when we are strangers? How do we warp ourselves in order to be part of a community, and what are the benefits of that trade off?

I think that times of desperate loneliness are part of the experience of every human life: at least, I've never met anyone who hasn't felt it at some point. Connection is also an essential experience, and one that most of us seek. But not all connection is good for us, and not all alone-ness is bad.

For those who are interested, I've written in more depth about this aspect of the book as part of The Big Idea series at Whatever.

If you were isolated for a long period of time, do you would handle the seclusion in the same way as your main character? Why or why not?

I don't know what I would do. I spent a great deal of time alone as a child and young adult, until my very late twenties, and I am quite comfortable in my own company. But that's not the same thing as the kind of isolation that Jackal experiences in virtual confinement.

I wouldn't want to spend six years without any human contact. I think it would damage me in ways that would be hard to bear. I also think that it might transform me in ways that I can hardly imagine, some of which might be joyful or even ecstatic. Does Jackal end up damaged, or crazy, or has she found a way to be even more fully herself? Or all of the above? Has she been reduced or expanded by her experience? These are some of the questions of Solitaire.

Are you working on any projects right now? Care to share?

I am working on a couple of new screenplays (at various stages of development) and the early stages of a YA novel.

Thank you so much!

It's been a pleasure! Thanks for the interesting questions and the chance to have this conversation.

Be sure to check out the author's website here, and buy Solitaire for your summer reading lists! :D


Jennifer D said...

Great interview - some interesting questions/answers.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about some of the ideas in Solitaire. It is one of my all time favorite books.

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