Thursday, June 15, 2006
Interview with Travis Thrasher--Part 1
OK, Travis, I gotta ask. How much of Jake's character in Admission is autobiographical? I'm talking about the college age, party drunk, I-can't-remember-what-I-just-did Jake?
The character of Jake in Admission is very much me when I was in college. I became a Christian at a young age but drifted away from God, especially during college. I did attend a small, Christian college. The pivotal event that takes place in Admission--Jake getting beaten up at his apartment by two other college students--happened to me in pretty much the exact way it took place in the novel. I just slipped on my author cap and asked the question "What if?". Some of Jake's friends were based on my friends, especially the character of Alec who plays a pivotal part in the book.
The reason I write is to try and make sense of the world around me and the experiences I've gone through or seen others gone through. Sure, I love to tell an entertaining story. But I also love to take incidents and expand them or relive them in order to gain some sort of understanding about them. Admission was a book I wanted to write five years after college, but I was too close to my college experience. So I am glad I was able to write it a decade after I graduated. It was both an emotional and spiritual journey writing about my past and looking back on it through the eyes of someone older and (hopefully!) wiser.
That’s interesting, because you’ve used the same two periods of your life in the book. There’s the story of Jake in college, and the current story eleven years later. Telling those two stories, you used two different POVs, which I found fascinating. Jake's current story is in first person, while his past story is in third. How did you decide to do that, and why?
I never randomly choose a point of view. I like to try different things, but there is always a reason why I choose to do what I do. I wanted Admission to be told from Jake's viewpoint, but I wanted to separate the past story from the present story. I decided to make the past story third person to create more of a distance between that story and the reader (and Jake). I wanted to show the difference between Jake in college and Jake in the present day, but I wanted this change to be subtle. I wanted Jake to feel like his college story was almost another person, another life. In a way, it was, since he was a nonbeliever in college and didn't have hope, and he's found this years later.
I wrote the past story for Admission all the way through, then I wrote the present day story. Weaving the two stories together was easier than I thought it would be. There were times when one chapter flowed into the next in a way I didn't intend but that worked well. Sometimes those things happen when you're working on a novel.
What was the hardest part about writing Admission? Why?
The hardest part was simply distancing myself from the story it's based on and my own college experiences and telling the story that ended up being the novel. I started writing it five years after college, but only got halfway through it. It just didn't feel right for some reason. Now I know I was too close to the story and couldn't tell what I wanted to write about. I've done that with other stories. One story I've been working on for years is a story about my family living in South Carolina. I've done multiple drafts for that, but have never been able to nail it because I've been too close to the story. For Admission, the time was right for me to look back on my college days and tell this story. I enjoyed doing so even though it was sometimes a bittersweet experience. I have both great memories of college and also painful ones. But I knew I needed to write this before too much time passed and my college days would be distant memories.
Your characterization in Admission (and all your novels) is particularly good. Where did you learn this aspect of writing? What process do you use for discovering your characters?
Thanks for the nice compliment. I appreciate you saying that. To be honest, I'm not sure where I learned any of my writing from. I never really paid attention in English classes and was always goofing off in college. I think I learned from reading a lot and from writing a lot. I think I love getting into the hearts, minds and souls of people. I actually like writing a scene where a character is struggling internally but doing nothing verses a scene where a character is holding another up by gunpoint. I like characters full of angst (something I have a lot of too). Of course, you need action and suspense to move a story along. But I like characters with flaws and seeing them through a journey. Hopefully, some of them find hope.
As far as a process goes, it really depends. I'm not a big fan of writing long, detailed character sketches when working on a book. At the same time, I have to write out character sketches because I can't keep everything in my head. I make notes and discovers characters as I go along. For Gun Lake, which had many characters in it, I really had to have every character detailed in an organized way. Sometimes, for a book like Admission, the characters are easy because they're people who have been in my life (or I'm writing a main character who is very much me). Sometimes I have to work at one or two characters. I might write something and the editor makes me work on one or two characters who need more fleshing out.
Another of the strengths in Admission is the dialogue. Very fresh. Unpredictable. It pops. It just feels right. How did you learn the art of good dialogue?
I talk a lot. :) Again, I'm not sure exactly where I picked up the skill to write dialogue. I do know some of the skills I need to work on--things like description, for instance. I'm far better writing dialogue.
When I was young, I used to imagine scenes in my mind. Sometimes I imagined myself in these scenes. (Okay, many times these involved girls I had a crush on but was too shy to talk to!). I always acted out the scenes using dialogue. Most people know me as an extrovert (which I am now), but growing up I was a shy kid with a speech impediment. Writing was a form of being able say the things I wanted to say in just the right way I wanted to say them.
I like listening to people talk and engaging in conversations with people. Some people notice details of life--the textures and colors and the smells and all that. But I listen and I pay attention to people. Maybe that's why things like characterization and dialogue come easier to me than description and setting. I love people and relationships--that's what makes life tick, right?
Yes, especially for us novelists. So tell me, how’d you get here anyway? Why are you writing fiction for the Christian market?
Wait, I'm writing for the Christian market? So THAT'S why they keep taking out the profanity and sex scenes from my books! :) Okay, just kidding. The honest answer is that I work for a Christian publisher that also published my first two novels. That doesn't mean I haven't tried getting published in the general market. My first seven novels were dark, heavy, ambitious novels written for the general market. So far, those doors haven't opened up yet. I still long to write in both markets.
I don't view myself as a Christian novelist. I always say that I'm a novelist that happens to be a Christian. If Oprah or Katie Couric ever interviewed me, that's what I would say. I'd tell them that every single author has a worldview, and mine happens to be a Christian worldview. I don't view my writing as a ministry, either. I have always written, and have always dreamed of having books published. I try to make sense of the world around me, so of course my novels are going to have issues of faith intertwined in them. But when I'm doing a booksigning, I don't introduce myself as having written Christian fiction. I'm not ashamed of it. It's just a tag that brings a lot of connotations, and I want my writing to be judged on whether or not I can tell a good story (something I'm still growing at).
How does the spiritual arc within your stories develop?
It really depends on the story. For my novel The Second Thief, this was about one man's journey toward faith. So, of course, its all about the spiritual arc. But for a book like Admission, I deliberately made it more subtle. I tried to show the difference between Jake in college and the older Jake. But the older Jake is a new Christian, so he still doesn't have things figured out (and who does anyway?). I wanted it to be more subtle because I wrote it with some of my college friends in mind. I try to show hope and redemption in the best way possible depending on the story. But it always depends on the story. In Blinded, the novel coming out this August, the spiritual element comes in more at the end when the character is crying out to God for both forgiveness and for hope. In the end, there is only one source of hope in this world. I really try to work on both sharing my worldview but also not preaching. But for some people, it will always be too much or too little. So I do the best job I know I'm capable of doing and accept criticism if it comes (and ultimately, this is the fate of every writer putting their babies out there for the world to look at).
Tomorrow, Part 2, in which I razz Travis about his next book, Blinded (of which I've read an excerpt): "Travis, man, have you gone INSANE?"