Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The In Character Interview with Liane Shaw

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Liane Shaw

Friendship isn't something that has come easily for Frederick, so when his one and only friend, Angel, goes missing, his world is completely changed. He's tried to keep his life orderly with a series of rules, but there are no rules telling him how to react now — especially because Angel asked him to keep a secret for her, and now he is unsure whether he should break his promise and tell. Frederick's experiences as a person with Asperger’s have made his life very different than many of his peers', but as he deals with Angel's disappearance, his anxiety and confusion are universal.

Don't Tell, Don't Tell, Don't Tell (Second Story Press) by Liane Shaw is told in both Frederick's and Angel's voices, and is a fascinating glimpse into two very different, but very compelling, characters.

Today we're talking to Liane as part of our In Character interview series. She tells us about how Frederick came to be, how losing control can lead to authenticity and about crafting dialogue through performance.

Open Book:

Tell us about the main character in your new book.

Liane Shaw:

There are two characters sharing the narration duties in Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. The story starts off with Frederick, a teenaged boy with Asperger’s syndrome who is sitting in a police station trying to figure out how making a new friend landed him in so much trouble. Frederick has a very literal mind with a strict sense of order. He’s quite happy living inside of that mind and isn’t thrilled when Angel tries to force her way into his life. Since he never really wanted friends in the first place, he is quite appalled at the idea that he is actually in trouble because of someone who arrived without an invitation. Angel, the young lady who landed him there, takes over the narration mid novel and shares both her perceptions of Frederick and of her own messed up life as both teens struggle with deciding what they should and shouldn’t be telling the adults in their lives.


Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?


I do agree with that statement. I often find myself speaking about the characters in my books as if they are real people. I comment on things they say and do as if I am an observer rather than the creator. I find that if I don’t get to the stage where that starts to happen, I feel that I haven’t really found the voice of the character. Because I choose to write in the first person, finding a voice that feels authentic is essential to the writing process. For me, authenticity comes when I start to feel like I have actually lost some control over the character.


How do you choose names for your characters?


Virtually all of my character names come from past students I have taught or friends of my children. I have trouble remembering last names though. My editors are always finding that characters have mysteriously changed their last names at different points in the early drafts of my manuscripts.


What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?


I say everything out loud before I write it down so that I can hear the voices of the characters. I subject my poor husband to endless dramatic presentations of the dialogue heavy sections of my book. I verbally act out every scene so that I can hear the exclamation points and question marks. I watch teen friendly TV shows so that I’m keeping up with current expressions and mannerisms. I check in regularly with my daughters, who are now older than most of my characters but still much closer to their age than I am.

When teaching dialogue to my students, I always emphasized the importance of keeping speech natural. I encouraged them to read their writing out loud to make sure it sounded like someone actually talking. I taught them to avoid showing off their descriptive language skills in dialogue passages if it led to characters sounding more like English teachers or Shakespearian actors than everyday people.


Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?


Frederick is a very literal thinker with strict personal rules that are very different from the rules society tries to impose on him. While I see myself as quite a logical person, my mind is much more fluid than Frederick’s and I am very much a follower of the rules of society. I really like Frederick and, honestly, I wish I could be more like him! Angel is more impulsive than I have ever been, but at the same time shares some of the self-image issues I had to deal with as a teenager. The incident that serves as the catalyst for her running away was based on an actual event in my own past, so much of Angel’s efforts to deal with her feelings are very much a reflection of my own thought processes as a younger person.


Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?


I have always been a massive fan of Anne Shirley. Lucy Maud Montgomery created an incredibly strong personality in Anne that continues to resonate after more than a hundred years. Another character I’ve always enjoyed is Gilly, from The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson. A new favourite is Enzo, the dog who narrates The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein…you have to love a dog who spouts philosophy with such ease and who believes that the only thing stopping dogs from taking over the world is the lack of a thumb!


What are you working on now?


I’m writing a new YA novel about a romance between a teen girl who has been injured in a skiing accident and a young man with Cerebral Palsy. The young man is also a writer of Graphic novels, and I’m enlisting my artist daughter’s help with creating some illustrations to include in the novel, which is something I haven’t tried before so I’m really looking forward to seeing if I can make it work. At the same time, I’m working through the early phases of my first effort at writing fiction for the adult audience, a multi-generational look at a family of women.

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens including, Fostergirls and The Color of Silence, as well as a work of non-fiction called Time Out: A teacher's year of reading, fighting, and four-letter words. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years, both in the classroom and as a special education resource teacher. Now retired from teaching, Liane lives with her family in the Ottawa Valley.

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