Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blog Tour Kick Off Redux

SPLIT -- in paperback, with a brand new, beautiful cover. (Thank you, Knopf marketers!)  I'll confess:  I LOVE IT!

And to celebrate its release and to honor the upcoming National Teen Dating Violence Month, I'm going to re-post the 2010 October Blog Tour for SPLIT in paperback ... uh... electronic... uh... a different (?) format.  Which is to say, it will all be here on my website, instead of elsewhere in the world.

Note: I'm skipping the first post because it was all about October and the attached fundraiser / auction.

Hope you enjoy.

A Place Called Character
by Swati Avasthi

See, there are these things called issues and there are these things called novels and, according to
plenty of people, the two should never go together. Otherwise you are treading into after-school-
special zone. No one wants preaching disguised as fiction.

That was drilled into me. If not through conversations and lessons, then through my own
experiences while I winced, embarrassed for writers who would blatantly hammer in the moral
of the story. And the morals were always so self-evident: If Ugh hit wife, then Ugh baaad. No
hit wife, Ugh.

And yet, both as a writer and as a reader, I found myself drawn to issue narratives, pulled to the
serious and heavy one-word title books: Speak, Godless, Twisted. They would jump out at me
and I’d devour them. Plenty, plenty, plenty of writers have written great issue novels. Look at
Chris Crutcher or Jay Asher or Laurie Halse Anderson.

But I was still afraid to write them, especially afraid because I came to Split with a history of
working with survivors of domestic violence. (I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic for
three years and spoke to thousands of survivors.) I came to Split after giving lectures about the
cycle of abuse; I came to Split with statistics that clattered around in my head, and stories that I
couldn’t shake loose from my brain. So, I was worried that if I wrote about domestic violence, I
would pull out the soapbox that kills a good story.

But, to get onto a soapbox, you must have answers. And I only had questions: what would it
be like to grow up watching your dad hit your mom? What if you loved your dad anyway and
looked up to him the way that every kid does?

I had left the clinic almost ten years before I sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer and
a 16-year-old boy in my head. The deeper I dug the more muddled I became, uncovering more
questions. But somehow, I didn’t feel like I was the one asking the questions anymore. My
narrator, Jace, was. And the nature of the questions were slightly altered and the stakes much
higher. Instead of “What would happen if you loved your dad anyway?” my questions became
more specific and were asked in Jace’s voice: “Why, in the name of all that is holy, do I still
admire my creep-of-a-father? WTF is wrong with me?”

I had no more worries about my soapbox. All I worried about was whether I could get my story
right and what would happen to Jace. The challenge became not to flinch when the story got
hard, how to be honest now matter what. The story stole the soapbox’s spot.

Much later, after the ARC came out but before the novel was printed and we were deep into
copyedits, a friend read the book and commented that she was upset with something I’d written
– something minor, but valid – about culture. And I suddenly was so tempted to use Jace as a
mouthpiece. I struggled for two days, trying to find a way to make the idea work. My friend
was astonished and wondered why I could “make Jace” argue with Mirriam about issues, but
couldn’t find a way to “make him say this.” I told her I could never “make Jace say” anything.

About a year after I wrote Split, a colleague of mine was working on an issue novel. In her fear
that she would preach, her novel ended up saying nothing and she asked, “how do you write an
issue novel without preaching?”

So, I could tell her: See, there are things called issues and these things called novels. And they
should go together right through the juncture of a place called character.

This was originally posted at:  Karen's For What It's Worth blog.  Which is a spectacular blog, run by a spectacular lady.  After drumming up comments and donations for the October fundraiser for SPLIT, she did another great push for Doctors without Borders.  Subscribe and find her on twitter @teamsheltie.  


  1. I love your novel! I was inspired by your novel and gorgeous writing to add more intense and violent specific scenes to a verse novel I wrote also dealing with abuse. I completely agree...its all about character...a character going through an issue and how he/she comes out the end. That's where true story its found.

    1. Thank you! What a kind comment. Yep, we have to let our characters drive the action or it becomes inauthentic, right? Good luck with your writing!