Tuesdays with Morzant:
Getting to Know an Author
MORZANT: Zulko, humans. Today I’m interviewing Kelly Bingham, author of the young adult novel SHARK GIRL (Candlewick).
KELLY BINGHAM: Hi everyone!
MORZANT: Kelly, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I understand you have been friends with Bigfoot for several years. He speaks highly of you and of your choice in footwear.
KB: Well, I do love a good slipper. And I'm pleased to meet you, too, Morzant.
MORZANT: I recently read your novel SHARK GIRL. I have many questions regarding it as well as the methods you employed to write it.
KB: Fire away! (That's an earthly expression which means, "go ahead.")
MORZANT: It’s a good thing you clarified that. The meaning on Zeenton is completely different.
Contemporary Zeentonian writers tend to favor differential equations when constructing fiction, whereas ancient Zeentonian authors relied heavily on axiomatic geometry. You can imagine why our youngsters loathe studying the classics! I consider myself an accomplished mathematician, but I admit I cannot detect what formula you base your writing on. Please enlighten me.
KB: Um…well, we on earth don't usually use math, or formulas, when creating fictional stories. We use our imagination. We may also experience inspiration, which can be found through true stories, poetry, songs, art, or people we know.
In my case, SHARK GIRL came to me (via imagination and inspiration) after a summer many years ago that was dubbed by the media as The Summer of The Shark. They called it that because there was quite a rash of shark attacks taking place around the country. Normally shark attacks are rare in the United States, but that year, there were many.
I began wondering what it would be like to be a shark attack victim…would you ever be known for anything else in your life? Would that story stick with you forever? What would it be like to recover? And what if your story made national news, as most shark attacks do—what would that be like?
So…I began writing.
MORZANT: That is utterly fascinating. I would never have believed such random methodology could yield anything, let alone an entire book.
I’m just beginning to study Earth fiction. Yours is the first novel I have read that is written mostly in a form I have been told is called “poetry.” Tell me, was your decision to write in this format influenced at all by the color of socks you happened to be wearing at the time? Or perhaps it had something to do with the brand of peanut butter you use.
KB: Well,…………no. Oddly, those things had nothing to do with it. What happened is, I started writing the book in the 'regular' way, but found I had a hard time finding my story and making my characters real. I could not connect to the emotions and thoughts and feelings of Jane (my main character) in the way I wanted. After a long time of trying to make it work, my friend Andrew Auseon* suggested I try writing the book in poetry form. I knew right away it was a fantastic idea. I began writing in poetry and found that my problems were solved…the format allowed me to really get into Jane's head and share what she was going through, how she felt, and what she thought. I was able to get at the heart of my story much more effectively by writing through poetry form. I also found the immediacy of poetry lent itself very well to the intense conflict that Jane was going through, moment by moment and day by day.
MORZANT: This friend of yours, Andrew Auseon, is uncommonly wise. Is he Zeentonian?
KB: You know, I'm not sure where Andy was born, so it is entirely possible. But you'd have to ask him to be sure.
MORZANT: I hope he is. It’s always nice to talk to someone from back home.
In SHARK GIRL, an adolescent female deals with a personal tragedy—she loses her arm. It is a sad story, but also an inspirational one. Since you say that you did not use a mathematical equation to plot your story, did you find it difficult to plot a trajectory whereby your main character could find her way to a hopeful state of mind?
KB: Yes, I did find it difficult to write SHARK GIRL, which is maybe why it took three years to complete. Understandably, my main character Jane finds herself heartbroken and lost, and very unsure what her life will be like now that she has been forever changed and, (in her eyes) disfigured. It was easy to imagine how sad she'd be, and all the reasons she would have for feeling frustrated, but it was harder to find reasons that she would feel positive emotions like happiness.
But in the process of drafting the book I got to know Jane very well, and I began to see the small things that gave Jane hope, and gave her encouragement. I wrote scenes about those things and those moments, not knowing if I'd use them in the final book or not, but it was helpful to me to explore the notes of hope as well as the moments of sorrow or frustration. I found that Jane leaned heavily on her friends and family, but ultimately found a lot of strength within herself. She did not give up on learning how to do things with one arm; things that mattered to her…like drawing and painting, (which was hard for her, as she had lost her right arm) cooking, taking care of herself, and having fun with her loved ones. She also finds a lot of hope and comfort in her new friend Justin, who she meets at the hospital. What Jane wanted most of all was to resume her life, because she was very happy with her life just the way it was. The hard part was figuring out how to do that.
MORZANT: Our resident psychic, Briar, had a premonition recently that there is going to be a sequel to SHARK GIRL. Is she corrrect?
KB: I would like to meet this Briar. I need to get with her on some lottery numbers. But actually, YES. A sequel is in the works, largely due to my readers, who regularly write to me asking for one.
MORZANT: To my knowledge, Briar has never been mistaken in any of her predictions. I have never asked her about lottery numbers. But now that you mention it, she does eat filet mignon out of a platinum bowl for every meal.
I wonder, is it difficult to pick up where you left off, or in some ways does it help that you already have an established cast of characters? Would you consider adding a new character? Perhaps a pleasant visitor from Zeenton who offers meaningful insights that are beyond the capabilities of the human characters? If so, I would be happy to help you with your research.
KB: Well, thank you for the offer. I'll keep that in mind. You know, it's not difficult to pick up where I left off, and yes, it does help to have an established cast of characters. You know what else helps? Having readers write to me, as they do, and tell me the characters they like, and want to see more of, and to ask me questions they'd like answered about the characters and their lives. It gives me ideas on what to write about. The hardest part of writing this sequel? Figuring out what to leave out! It's tempting to go back to each individual character and write a long storyline for everybody, wrapping up each person's story with a neat, detailed ending and all questions answered. But that would make for a very long, and very dull book. So I have to edit myself. And I have to keep in mind what my readers want to know, what I'm willing to answer, and what I'd like to leave open.
As for a visitor from Zeenton……I will keep that in mind, of course. It could prove very……interesting. However, maybe the visitor from Zeenton needs his OWN book. What do you think, Morzant?
MORZANT: Without a doubt such a book would be a universal best seller.
I’ve noticed that many humans participate in activities called “hobbies” when they are not busy with their everyday work. Which of these hobbies do you engage in when you are not writing: collecting cigar labels, carving chipmunk figurines out of bar soap, or pruning bonsai trees?
KB: Um…none? Although I actually DID carve animals from soap, when I was twelve. I’m a little bit older now, and I have different hobbies. One thing I love to do is READ, which is why I enjoy Bigfoot's blog so much. I also like photography. My husband and I have our own photography business and it's a lot of fun, though we have not managed to get a photo of Bigfoot yet. I also enjoy making things, like scrapbooks for my kids, drawings and paintings, and needlepoint pictures. I enjoy watching wildlife too, and have lots of that where I live……all kinds of birds, foxes, bobcat, and many, many deer! We even have a resident bear that visits us once in a while.
MORZANT: Does the bear happen to wear a yellow hat and blue coat?
KB: I've actually only seen it in the dark, so I guess I can't give you a definitive answer on that. According to the shape of the bear, there is no hat on his head. But a coat…maybe a blue one…is a possibility. He was not, however, carrying a suitcase.
MORZANT: Back to our hobby discussion. Have you ever tried an activity just so that you would be able to write more convincingly about it?
KB: Not really. The one thing I did do when writing Shark Girl was practice breaking open eggs with my left hand, because Jane does this in the book and I wanted to know, realistically, how many tries it would take to get it done. It was quite difficult.
I did break my right wrist once, and spent eight weeks in a cast, which was an experience I called on heavily when I wrote about Jane trying to comb her hair or get dressed or draw or cook with her left arm, which of course is hard to do when you are right-handed.
Morzant—I should probably mention that breaking my arm was accidental, not something I did for research.
MORZANT: I want the whole “Earth experience” and would like to try a hobby myself. Can you recommended any that you think I would be especially suited for?
KB: You'd like chess, I bet. (It's a game.) And I know someone who could teach you to knit socks. Have you thought about photography? I bet YOU could get a picture of Bigfoot, which would make you very popular.
But I have a feeling you'd like something more unusual…like making ships in bottles.
MORZANT: Those all sound fun, especially knitting socks. It’s hard to find store-bought socks that fit me.
It’s strange that you should mention Bigfoot’s current obsession, photography. Despite the fact that every one of his photographs turns out blurry, he refuses to give up the hobby. Perhaps he would benefit, on several counts, if I convinced him to abandon photography in favor of learning to knit socks.
But, I must say, his inability to produce a clear photograph is most interesting, as is the failure of others to get a clear picture of him. Mortimer and I have constructed a hypothesis to study whether Bigfoot is physiologically prone to taking poor photographs—that, in effect, something in Bigfoot’s own body chemistry interferes with the workings of both film and digital cameras. If we determine that to be the case, we will then want to discover when the interference occurs. We anticipate it will be difficult to determine the “when” because deterioration in the emulsion suggests that the distortion may be happening before the shutter opens which is in direct opposition to what seems to be suggested by the pixel distortion in the digital shots—oh, dear. Please excuse me. What were we talking about?
KB: I don't remember. Oh, wait. We were talking about me. And my book, SHARK GIRL. The photography problem of Bigfoot IS interesting, but……do you have any more questions for me, Morzant?
MORZANT: Yes, I do. My apologies for getting distracted.
You live in the United States of America, in the state of Georgia. How many peach trees do you own?
KB: 312. Just kidding. None, actually. But we do have dogwoods.
MORZANT: How many pet scorpions do you keep and what are their names? Have you ever considered writing about them?
KB: We don't have any pet scorpions. We do have scorpions here, but when we see one in the house, we kill it.
MORZANT: Oh, dear. In that case, it’s probably for the best that you don’t name them.
While we do have fiction on Zeenton, most of our books are non-fiction. Have you ever considered writing non-fiction? Maybe a non-fiction book about your wooden dogs or the best methods for killing scorpions?
KB: Well, no. I never have thought of that. Hmm………
MORZANT: I have another suggestion you are definitely going to want to use. Earth suffers from a conspicuous lack of books, especially for younger readers, on velocity as it relates to gastropods. Publishers would be certain to snatch up such a manuscript faster than a Zeentonian Sea Slug can catch a cold. (Zeentonian gastropods are speedy, unlike their counterparts on Earth, and are quite susceptible to viral infections.) I would write the book myself, but I’m not much of a writer. Also, Mortimer and I are busy with our research into Bigfoot’s photography problem. I feel strongly that this would be a great project for you. I only ask that you remember me in the dedication.
(Some writers express frustration when topics about which to write are suggested to them. I trust that you are not one of those writers.)
KB: I am not one of those writers. But you know, Morzant, I think it takes a special person to write about gastropods. I'm not sure I'm that person. It's a wonderful idea and I'm sure there are……dozens of people……who'd like to read a book about gastropods and velocity. I would suggest you broach this idea to as many authors as possible until you find just the right one.
MORZANT: I’m surprised that you're passing on this opportunity, but I’m sure I’ll be able to convince some writer to fill this literary void.
Let me thank you again, Kelly, for taking the time to answer my questions. There’s just one more thing that I am curious about. As you are no doubt aware, many humans scoff at the notion of extraterrestrial life forms, or even Bigfoot for that matter. Why do you suppose the inhabitants of your planet—people who love to read stories that are not true—are reluctant to believe in beings like me when I clearly do exist?
KB: That's a good question. I think humans like parameters and rules, personally. We like to read fiction because we KNOW it's fiction. But maybe we're reluctant to admit we believe in Bigfoot…or Penny…or Morzant…because for most of us, we cannot state that we KNOW Bigfoot exists, or you either. You could be real…or you could be fiction…and if you're real, then a whole set of rules has to be thrown out or re-evaluated. That kind of thing shakes people up. So I think we do what people tend to do at times…we deny. Denial is popular here on earth.
Thank you for the interview, Morzant! I had a great time and it was lovely to meet you.
MORZANT: I enjoyed myself as well. Perhaps we could get together for a game of chess after I figure out what it is and how to play. I should warn you, though, that I can be a sore loser. Fortunately for my opponents, I rarely lose.
Good-bye for now, humans. If you haven’t read SHARK GIRL yet, I highly recommend you rush out and find a copy as soon as possible. It’s available in hardcover or paperback. I read both versions. It would seem that, while the cover thickness is different, the story and punctuation remain the same. I could find no release date for the telepathically transmitted edition.
* Andrew Auseon is the author of the young adult novels FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY (Harcourt), JO-JO AND THE FIENDISH LOT (HarperTeen-HarperCollins), and FREAK MAGNET (HarperTeen-HarperCollins); co-author the middle grade novel ALIENATED (Aladdin-Simon & Schuster); and the possible future author of FASTER THAN A SPEEDING GASTROPOD (publisher to be determined).