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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

GUEST INTERVIEW WITH DAVE LADEROUTE, YA AUTHOR OF 'OUT OF TIME'

Cover Artist: Jeff Minkevics
A SHORT TIME AGO, I FEATURED DAVE LADEROUTE on Suzenyms. Dave wrote a guest post for me on the challenges of writing YA, which, if you haven't read it, you can review here. His post has been one of my most visited. Today, I interview him about his YA debut novel, Out of Time, which is published through Five Rivers Publishing.  

1. TO START OFF, DAVE, PLEASE GIVE US A SHORT DESCRIPTION of Out of Time. How would you describe the book in terms of genre? Is it a sub-genre? A blended genre? Out of Time is the story of two fourteen year-old boys—Riley Corbeau, a modern kid living in a small community on the rugged Canadian shore of Lake Superior, and Peetwonikwot, Gathering Cloud, an Ojibway boy from pre-European contact North America who lives in the same area, just hundreds of years earlier. Gathering Cloud—called just 'Cloud' in the book—is on his vision quest, a solitary, four-day vigil in which he seeks the spirit-inspired vision that will guide him through his life. His vision quest happens to see him holding vigil on a remote cobble beach on Superior's shore, and it is here, on this beach, that he and Riley will meet under circumstances that transcend time. Initially wary and suspicious of each other—they each find it hard to believe that the other boy could possibly even exist—they soon find that they must work together to deal with a dangerous spirit, the Wendigo, who threatens them first in Cloud's world, the past, and then in Riley's world of today.While it's obviously a fantasy novel, it's also targeted at young adults—kids not too different in age from Riley and Cloud. I guess in that sense, then, it's a 'blended, genre, a 'young adult fantasy'.

2. What was your inspiration (or inspirations) for writing Out of Time? First of all, I've lived most of my own life on or near Lake Superior. The big lake (and it really is big, as in huge; if you'd never seen it before, you'd find it hard to believe you're not looking at an ocean) has occupied a central place in my own life, so it only seemed natural to set a story around it. Some of my own childhood experiences—for instance, spending a summer when I was nine years old with relatives in a small town on Superior—definitely shaped and inspired Riley's part of the book. As for Cloud, his world is inspired by my long-held interest in the Aboriginal people of the Great Lakes region. I've had occasion, in my past work as a geologist and economic development specialist, to work closely with many First Nations people from the region and have developed close friendships with more than a few of them. That prompted me to learn more about them, and that led me to explore their pre-European contact history. That the distant, hunter-gatherer ancestors of today's First Nations people could not only survive, but actually thrive in the rugged wilderness around Superior has always deeply impressed me. The Ojibway also have a rich and complex culture, replete with a very spiritual way of viewing and understanding the world. It was this combination of an admiration for the people and a fascination with their cultural heritage that led me to develop Cloud into the character he became. The story that links the two boys was the final piece; I knew that I wanted to explore the coming of age of these two boys, and the story that resulted was inspired by a short story I'd actually written—and abandoned—quite a few years before. 

3. When did you start to write the book, and how long did it take you to finish it? Okay, so about that short story. What eventually became Out of Time began as a short piece about ten years ago, about a boy being forced to spend a summer 'stuck' in a small, remote town on Superior with his grandparents. He was going to encounter ghosts of people who had lived and died in the area, interact with them, learn from them, have some adventures, and grow as a character. But it didn't work. I couldn't get the story to come in for a 'soft landing', so I finally gave up and stuck the story in the proverbial drawer. Seven years passed, then I happened to rediscover the old story. It hit me immediately what was wrong—what I was trying to jam into a short story was actually a novel. So, two years ago, I launched into writing it—and got stuck again. This time, though, I knew why. Despite the longer format, I was still trying to do too much with the story. I went back and started again, only this time, I focused on only one of the 'ghosts' from the past—that of an Ojibway boy who'd died on his vision quest. It was about half-way through the first draft that it hit me—the Ojibway boy would be much more compelling if he was alive, not a ghost, and so the 'time travel' element of the story was born. That was about two and a half years ago. It took me another year to get the story to the point at which I was happy enough with it to start submitting it. So, I guess the quick answer to the question is, it took me a little over a year to write the book. The longer answer is that it took me about nine years, from its very first incarnation to a finished manuscript. 

4. How long did it take you to find a publisher? I was fortunate. I submitted Out of Time to two publishers in the U.S., and got two quick, but very encouraging rejections. I sent it to a third publisher and, despite repeated enquiries, never heard anything back. This happened over about six months. My fourth try was Five Rivers Publishing, and the time from initial submission, to being asked for the full manuscript, to acceptance, was just a few weeks. So, I guess it was about seven months in total, which is pretty remarkable, I guess, especially for a debut novel. 

5. What were your most difficult moments when writing the book? What were your best? As I mentioned, actually getting the story to make the transition from a short story that didn't work, to a novel that did, was tough—it happened pretty much organically over seven years. But as for the book itself, the hardest moment for me was writing the scenes leading up to Riley and Cloud parting for the final time, and then their actual goodbyes. For reasons that are pretty clear if you read the book, the friendship between these two boys can't possibly last; I became very fond of both of them, though, and really wished I could have found a way to let them continue being friends and learn more about each other's lives and worlds. But I couldn't. I had to have them part ways, and it was actually pretty tough for me to write that, because they'd become such good friends to one another and, I have to admit, to me. 

Conversely, I think the most enjoyable parts to write were those when they were getting to know each other. They start out pretty wary of one another, and it was a lot of fun to have them each realize that the other was not only quite 'real', but then to begin getting to know one another. As it turned out, the two boys turned out to have a lot more in common than they did in terms of differences. And that was really a function of the characters coming to life for me, and telling me how similar they really were. It's a pretty special moment for a writer when his characters start to tell him their stories. 

6. I found many wonderful things about Out of Time, the story itself of course, but also aspects of First Nations spirituality, including the animal spirits of Raven, Turtle, Thunderbird, and Sturgeon, as well as the evil spirit, Wendigo. What drew you to include these spirit characters in Out of Time? What and/or who were your sources? Once I'd decided to incorporate Ojibway spiritual beliefs into the story, it was only natural to include some of the spirits themselves as characters. The main issue here was one of respect. The Ojibway beliefs are as deserving of being treated respectfully as those of any other culture, so I wanted to ensure that I portrayed the spirits in ways that were interesting for the reader, but also recognized the important role they play in the folklore. I wanted Turtle to be wise, but also a little ponderous as befits his nature as…well, a turtle, and also a little inscrutable. Part of that is because he's the messenger across time and space so, as he says himself in the book, he can see the past and the future generally, but he can't see details very well. Part of it, though, is to give the reader the impression that Turtle may actually know more than he lets on, and wants Cloud and Riley to figure things out for themselves. Thunderbird, on the other hand, is powerful, and a little arrogant about it, as befits such a mighty (and showy) spirit. And so on. To ensure I got things right, I drew on some internet sources, but most of all I relied on the works of Basil Johnston, an Ojibway elder, scholar, folklorist and linguist. His books Ojibway Folklore and The Manitous (Manitou is Ojibway for "spirit") were beside my keyboard pretty much the whole time I wrote and revised Out of Time. 

7. There is a 200 year time displacement in your novel, where both Riley and Gathering Cloud visit each other’s time and come to each other’s assistance. You never explain why this occurs, what the overall mechanism is for this connection. Care to share your thoughts on that with us? Actually, it's probably more like 600 years. That said, I'm going to be a little coy about this one. Although I never explain exactly why it occurs, there are some clues in the story as to how it comes about. I'll give you a hint—I've actually already mentioned it in my answers above. That said, there was a specific reason I didn't get, well, specific about the mechanics of the time travel in the story. For one, it's not really important to the plot. For another, it's a mystery to Cloud and Riley, so I wanted it to be a mystery to the reader, as well. I wanted to maintain an enigmatic, supernatural air to the story and, in particular, the workings of the spirits. They, and their world, are supposed to be strange and unknowable, so I thought that keeping the time travel aspect of the story essentially just there and not explaining it would help do that. 

8. Theme plays a very strong part in Out of Time. Among other things, it is certainly a coming-of-age novel for both Riley and Gathering Cloud, where both boys come to terms with what it means to be  adults. I would also suggest that the book explores other themes as well - what it is to be a good friend, what it means to be strong, what it means to have courage, even when you’re afraid. Did you set out to write a YA novel with these themes in mind? What other themes do you explore in the novel? And what advice might you give to writers (YA or otherwise), about handling theme well? I don't think I sat down to overtly have Out of Time address any particular theme. As a YA novel, certain themes lend themselves to the writing because they're timeless and very appropriate; coming-of-age is definitely one of them. Both boys are on the cusp of manhood—Cloud is actually on his vision quest, the very thing that represents his transition from boy to man and that will guide him on his journey through life. Riley's a little more complicated. In Cloud's world, kids can't stay kids for long; in a hunter-gatherer culture, you simply can't afford to have unproductive mouths to feed. A child only gets to be a child until about their passage through puberty, and then they have to become productive members of their society.

Riley, living in our modern world, is naturally still a kid at 14 and would be expected to remain a kid for a few years yet; our technologically-advanced society allows us the luxury of letting our kids stay kids much longer. That said, the ordeals to which I subject Riley are intended to make him grow up and push him into the coming-of-age situation. To put it another way, at the start of the story, Cloud is a young man with some kid left him, while Riley is a kid with a few flashes of the man he'll become. By the end of the story, both have definitely progressed and become much more mature. 

I guess this ties in with the themes of strength, bravery and loyalty. These are compelling themes for me anyway, having spent so many years in the army. I've seen both ends of the strength and bravery spectrum from soldiers, and have pondered at length what it really means to be strong, brave, and loyal. It's particularly interesting to me when people are put unwillingly and unexpectedly into situations where these qualities are being tested. To take a modern example, what sort of strength and courage did it take from Edward Snowden, for him to have blown the whistle on what the NSA was up to in the United States? Was fleeing the country into an uncertain future in Hong Kong or Russia a brave thing or a cowardly thing? I know there are as many answers to this as there are people offering them, but it's a great example of the sort of testing of these qualities that I mean. Riley and Cloud are both plunged into a pretty terrible situation, so I get to explore some of these questions and my own answers to them. I think that's one of the big things a writer gets out of writing—a chance to play with the world, bend it a bit, and see how it responds (or how he thinks it should respond!) 

I think the other theme I try to examine is that of evil. This may be somewhat more remote from the immediate narrative, but Wendigo, the main antagonist for the boys, is a bit of an exploration of evil. He gets called evil, but really, he isn't any more evil than people allow him to be. Turtle explains that Wendigo is really just an expression of human qualities like greed, lust, and excess, and that he can't be destroyed, only driven out of one's life. Although the boys both confront Wendigo directly and physically, I'm hoping that the reader picks up on the fact that perhaps their strongest weapon against Wendigo is their loyalty to one another, their willingness to make sacrifices for each other, and for the other characters in the story. This ties back into the other themes above, but it also tries to push the reader into thinking more about what Wendigo really is. His behavior is certainly evil, but it follows from his nature, and the role he plays in Ojibway folklore. Wendigo is the dangerous spirit that causes starving people to turn to cannibalism, a not-uncommon thing among hunter-gatherer peoples forced to live long stretches of winter with only whatever food they can stockpile, along with whatever they can eke out of the frozen wilderness. But is he really evil? Is human excess evil? Sometimes, perhaps it is. Sometimes, though, perhaps it isn't. This is what made Wendigo an interesting character to write in his own right—he's not just a 'bad guy'. I hope the reader will find his motivations just as understandable as any other character's in the book, even if he is a huge jerk about it. 

Theme-wise advice for other writers? I think that the most important is, don't get too hung up on the theme of your writing! To put it another way, it's fine to have a theme in mind, and to use it as a general, high-level sort of guidance while you're writing—but far more important is simply telling a good story that someone will want to read through to its end. So, if your theme is coming-of-age, say, then as you write your YA story, use that to guide your story as it evolves. At a macro scale, the actions of the characters and in the plot should be generally directed toward exploring how those characters are growing up, or not growing up. But don't dwell on it, or worry about making every single aspect of the story reflect it. You can think of it as a road-trip. If you plan on driving to, say, Chicago, then your route, and your stops, and your general approach to your trip, should all be about getting you to Chicago. Getting to Chicago is your theme. The actual trip, though, will consist of the details of driving your car, where you pull over, what you buy for snacks along the way, other drivers you encounter, the traffic, the weather, where you spend the night—these things all make up the story itself, the details of its characters and its plot. If you suddenly make a side-trip to Kansas City, then you're off-theme. That’s okay, though, as long the detour serves the story and ultimately makes it a more enjoyable experience…remembering that you still eventually want to get to Chicago. 

9. You also handle pacing very well, in that you allow yourself time to develop your characters, (giving the reader a vivid interior view of who Riley and Gathering Cloud are), yet we never feel bogged down by that; the pace moves along. How do you sustain dramatic tension, while presenting character depth? This is a tough one. I've had to think about this for a while, actually. The easy answer is, I don't know, I just do. The question forces me to examine my writing process more closely, though, which is a good thing. What I don't do is a lot of detailed outlining before I start writing; I just establish some key points of action/conflict/decisions, with each one being a little higher on the dramatic tension scale than the one before. Each becomes a pivotal scene in the story. The final, and highest, is the climax. This gives me a rough roadmap for the story, which will move from key scene to key scene. The 'space' between these key scenes is my opportunity to do the quieter things, like developing character. I'd hasten to add, though, that I always try to ensure everything I write either develops character, moves the story forward or, ideally, does both.  In any case, by following this scheme of rising points of action interspersed with 'quieter' sections, I think I have a pretty good format for keeping the pace going while also exploring the characters. 

To be fair, one of the editor's (this would be Lorina, from Five Rivers) main criticisms about the story after she accepted it was that I did a far better job of getting inside Riley's head than I did Cloud's. And she was right. Riley was a pretty well-rounded, believable kid; Cloud was a bit of a caricature, a 'noble savage'. I had to go back and rework Cloud, doing a better job of bringing him and his world to life. He might be from a very different culture, but he's also a fourteen year-old boy. One of the things that is true about these two boys is that, no matter how different they are, what's more important is how they're the same. I'd lost sight of that, so even having a 'scheme' like the one I described above isn't a guarantee that it's going to work perfectly. Of course, what this does do is underscore just how important a good editor is! 

I should also point out that I had some great assistance along the way to make sure it was all coming together. There was Lorina, of course, but also my wife, Jackie. She was my first reader and main editor (before Lorina bought the story) and I lean heavily on her for her criticism and revision of all my work. For Out of Time, I also had the critical eye of two good and trusted friends, Andrea Jacobsen and Tristan Maclaurin. Tristan was particularly helpful because he's a teenager himself, so he gave me a much-needed reality check on how I'd portrayed Riley, and generally how the story appealed to someone his age. It demonstrates that, no matter how solitary it feels, writing really is a collaborative process. I'd urge anyone who wants to write to ensure that they have some trusted readers, who can, and aren't afraid to, offer good, solid criticism, to help make sure you're getting things right. Schemes can only go so far! 

10. Out of Time is an enjoyable and satisfying stand-alone novel. What are you working on now, Dave? Do you have plans for a sequel? I’d enjoy seeing another book that brings Riley and Gathering Cloud together again. I've actually got two other, major works underway. The Great Sky is another young adult fantasy, again with Ojibway protagonists. It's a little grittier and harder, though, and targeted at an older audience than Out of Time—probably late teens. Your readers can check it out, if they wish, on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/7819139-the-great-sky) where I've posted it as an experiment in building readership. The Great Sky is actually the first in what will be a two, and possibly a three book series which I'm hoping to sell as a series. My other big work, The Children's Crusade, also has young protagonists, but it's an adult, urban, contemporary fantasy. The story is quite violent and explicit and the whole tone of the piece, which revolves around an ongoing war between Heaven and Hell fought by proxy among street kids in a large, modern city, is quite dark. I'm currently looking for a  home for that one. Finally, I've returned to doing some short pieces, which I'm submitting to some anthologies. I think novel-length stuff will remain my favourite medium, though. I actually find it easier to write a novel than a short story—go figure! 

As for Riley and Cloud, well, I've certainly thought about revisiting them. The trouble is that their story is, to me, 'done'. I was sad to see them part ways (and hope the reader feels a little bit of that, too), which tells me that they should probably stay apart, each living his own life in his own time. "Always leave them wanting more", as they say. I'd be afraid that if I reunite them somehow, that I might dilute the impact of their shared experiences in Out of Time or maybe just not do them justice. That said, who knows? If a story occurs to me that would seem to work for them, I might give it a shot. That's something else they say, right—"never say never"! 

(Thanks, Dave - great interview and excellent advice for those of us who are writing YA.) 

Dave's Bio: Dave Laderoute and his wife, Jackie, live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, along with their three kids, Andrew, Mark, and Sarah, and their obligatory writer's cats. Dave has a Master of Science degree in Geology, has worked extensively in the mining and geoscience sectors, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the Canadian Army Reserves. He's been writing off-and-on since 1990, and has had several short stories appear in various small press publications. He's also written extensively for role-playing games, particularly The Legend of the Five Rings product line. Dave's debut novel Out of Time was recently published by Five Rivers Publishing. If you're interested in reading Out of Time, you can preview (or purchase) it from Amazon, Five Rivers Publishing, and elsewhere. 

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