Saturday, June 19, 2010
Random. If you think life makes sense, do not read this book. A novel by Lesley Choyce
What triggered this story for you?
I had heard so many people using the word “random” in recent years although the very meaning of it had become, well, random. And I was, yet again, trying to sort out whether my own life made sense, whether there was a true purpose that we all have or if the events of our lives are haphazard and hence random.
So I came up with Joey and his own personal dilemma. His was, I admit, a bit deeper and darker than my own. I wanted a different kind of narrative, one that was fragmented and yet compelling which is the way most of us think. That’s why I used the digital diary idea. Once Joey got going with his DD, of course, he took over and all I had to do was hang on and follow his random thoughts and struggles to prove there is no meaning or purpose to life while being gobsmacked over and over with indications that it does all add up to something. Something of great significance.
The young men in your young adult novels are intelligent, sensitive, well-read. It's refreshing to find books which set aside some of the common misconceptions about teenaged boys. Can you comment on that?
Everyone I have ever known is unique and eccentric in their own way. I wanted Joey and my other male teen characters to exemplify teenagers boys who have very complex emotional and intellectual lives. I was certainly not ever normal in my teen years. No one is. Most teenage guys are actually quite sensitive, intelligent and fragile. The young macho stuff is just a facade in almost all cases. The massive force of social conditioning that comes today mostly from commercialism and pop culture deprives many teens from exploring their own unique identity. So it is my hope that my quirky characters resonate for both guys and girls and encourages them to be who they want to be. I’ve received enough emails from readers of my books to know that, for some, these novels do connect and help liberate the spirit of those struggling to figure out who they are, those suffering from “being different,” those who feel alienated and isolated.
When you first named your protagonist Joe Campbell, did you know you were going to reveal to him the book by the other Joseph Campbell?
That was a fluke. All I knew was that his name was Joe, then Joey. At first, I wanted to usher in some Scottish history of all things. I had been reading about the feuds and warfare between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. And then it occurred to me that Joey’s formal name was Joseph Campbell, whose books I had read in university. I had an aha moment or two over that and when I did a bit more research into the life and work of Joseph Campbell, I realized there were some extremely interesting connections to my character and his dilemma. It was then that I was reminded of the fact that there were some rather significant forces of creative energy outside of me that were helping to shape this book.
Joe begins as a boy who is profoundly confused about the purpose of life - because of what has happened to him. But would you agree that this is a condition that applies to most teens at some point in their lives? And is it a handicap for them?
Hey, not just teens. I am still profoundly befuddled and confused about many things. And yet the confusion and uncertainty, I’ve found, is really the wellspring of my curiosity and creativity. I don’t know if I have a purpose in life and if I was certain of it, I would be a very different person. I live by my hunches and I think Joey is doing that too. When he discovers a hunch of his is wrong, he gets a bit more confused but then absorbs the new information and moves on or at least tries to. And thus he grows, matures. But there is no final absolute solution to his problem or an ultimate answer.
If you were to ask me what my own hunches are about what I’m doing on this planet, why I am here, I’d say this. I’m supposed to be creative and to write. I need to be kind and compassionate to everyone around me (including my enemies if I have any) as often as I can. I must absolutely give back more than I take. I must try my best to be honest with myself and with everyone around me even when it is difficult. I need to be daring and take chances (but not all the time). And I need to remain passionate about what I do and how I live. And I need to have some degree of fun while doing all the above.
Joe, Gloria and Dean are outsiders in their world. You seem to write a lot about outsiders in your young adult novels. What special qualities do such people have that make them interesting characters to build a story around?
When we are totally comfortable in our lives, our families, our jobs and our communities, we feel safe and secure. We are comfortable insiders – inside such a nice, cozy (but almost always temporary) womb. It’s a wonderful place to be; it’s just that it doesn’t work out that way all of the time. So then we become outsiders.
When you are young, you feel like an outsider because you are not fully fledged as an adult. You are simply too young. Then you become an adult and realize that you are still an outsider on a lot of levels. Outsiders are edgy, nervous, problematic and interesting. They often don’t know who they are but they know who they are not. Outsiders are still searching for identity and meaning and that makes them more interesting to write about.
As you develop a story for teenagers, setting doesn't seem to be of prime significance for you; the stories - and Random is an example - could take place anywhere in North America. Is this a deliberate approach?
I’ve written a number of novels that are very precisely set in Halifax and on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia where I live. Other novels, like Random, could be a random suburban community just about anywhere in North America. I think this makes it easy for many readers to simply imagine that the story is set in the town where they live. But then within that framework, the world of the narrator, Joey in this case, is fairly precise. Yet it’s primarily the landscape of his interior geography that is most important and that’s where the reader should be. Travelling around inside Joey’s head with him and living his life vicariously.
Random is a novel that focuses largely on the main character's thinking through his situation, rather than working out his problem with lively action. This demonstrates your respect for the reader, I think. Could you comment on this?
I think that most of us live our primary lives inside our heads. We work out most of our problems and make our discoveries internally although they may be triggered by external factors. The wonderful illusion of good first-person fiction is that you, the reader, become the character while you are reading. That is intended to be my “gift” to the reader. You pick up my book about a character who has never existed and events that have never happened. You accept the psychological game that I’ve created – the contract between reader and writer which is the agreement that the fiction is real, at least while you are reading the book. I can’t waste the reader’s time... or mine. So I owe the reader the best possible world I can give him or her. Sometimes that is a daunting task. Fortunately for me, I let Joey take over the novel quite early on and all I had to do was follow his lead.