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Hello, all. Recently I got the opportunity to read Heather Duffy-Stone's This Is What I Want to Tell You, which was excellent, and luckily Heather made time to answer some questions about her first novel, which debuted March 1 from Flux.

This Is What I Want to Tell You is a confessional novel told from the alternating perspectives of a pair of fraternal twins, Nadio and Noelle, about the events following Noelle's best friend Keeley's return from England, where she spent her summer. As Nadio and Keeley rediscover each other and fall in love, Noelle looks outward to reorient herself to the world, beginning a confusing but passionate relationship with an older boy.

Okay, on to the interview!

How long have you been working on on This Is What I Want to Tell You?

About seven years ago I wrote a short story that was about a young mother who was sending her children to school for the first time. Watching them climb the steps of the school bus, she started to reminisce about the love affair she’d had with their father… about four years later I was writing an essay about running into someone I used to know and somehow those children on the schoolbus steps grew up into my narrators in This Is What I Want to Tell You and it all sort of came together so… technically, seven years!

I've gleaned from your blog that the book used to be called Permanent Ink. Whose idea was it to change the title, and why? How did you feel about the change?

My editor called me about halfway through edits and said they were having a meeting to discuss titles. At that point I thought Permanent Ink was it. He asked me for some other ideas and I gave him This Is What I Want to Tell You which was something I’d brainstormed early in the process and then abandoned… when he came back to me everyone at Flux loved the title change and that was it. I was really bummed at first but I can’t remember why now—the title is perfect.

This Is What I Want to Tell You has an interesting style, most notably the lack of quotation marks around dialogue and interesting use of spacing. For me, this gave the book an dreamlike quality, because at first it can be hard to discern the difference between a character's thoughts and actual spoken words. What were you trying to achieve by using this unusual style?

As teenagers, everything we feel is so intense, is so raw and so immediate and half the time we’re thinking out loud as we try to navigate our lives. I wanted to try to capture this. Am I thinking? Am I speaking? Is this a secret? Can anyone hear me? I was just interested in how I could convey this emotional life in a stylistic way. Who knows if it worked but it felt right for this story!

I was really excited when we were matched for Debreview, because you have alternating narrators and so do I. I'm curious, what kind of work did you do to make sure that you kept a consistent tone with the narration while giving Nadio and Noelle realistically different voices? Did you find it difficult?

O, it was so hard. I always write out of order so for a while I was writing one voice at a time—Nadio for a few weeks, Noelle for a few weeks. Then I became part of a writing group, and it was impossible for them to read this way. At that point I knew the twins well, though, so it became easier to fall into their voices. Id get into sort of a meditative state, remember where Id left the twin, and just start writing… the harder part was being in the mind of a sixteen year old boy!

My favorite quotation from This Is What I Want to Tell You is "The stories people tell are always about the things we left behind, and about the things we wish we could do again. The real story isn't about what you know, it's about what you wish you knew then." What do you wish you knew when?

This is where the novel came from, really, this line. I wish I knew that I would survive it, whatever it was, that it would make me stronger, that it would all be worth it and that I wouldn’t one day, figure it all out. But I’d figure pieces of it out.

What are you working on now? How's it going so far?

I’m always jealous of people who can jump from one project to the next. It took me a long time to get out of the twins’ head and onto a new project, but in the last two months I’ve really fallen in love with my new book. It’s about a street artist and its about New York and its about getting to know a parent you never knew… I’m really excited about it. And I’ve been writing about art a lot, and these new York streets, both things feel really exhilarating.

Which of your characters do you identify with the most?

I’m a Gemini. And I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the idea that we live every experience with two sides of ourselves. Actually, I was out with a friend of mine, who is a poet and another poet she knows about a year ago. And her friend was talking about a poem he’d just written about souls and he said, very matter-of-factly to me “because you know, your soul is male and my soul is female” and I thought YES. All of this to say I identify with the twins, my narrators, equally.

You say on your blog that This Is What I Want to Tell You is "about falling in love and maybe getting a tattoo." It occurs to me that maybe those two things aren't so different; falling in love leaves an emotional mark on you, a tattoo leaves a physical one, and it seems to me from the former title of your book that you intended that parallel. Can you give us some authorly insight into the meaning of tattoos in the story?

They mean so many things that I can’t always articulate. Tattoos are a way of telling a story. The idea behind Parker, a tattooed character in the book, is that he doesn’t speak very much, he gives very little away, but he’s passionate about his tattoos and the stories they tell. These designs give much more away about him than he ever will. They are a permanent stain, memory, picture, of a particular moment. They don’t go away but they fade or change or you add to them. Really, they were a very necessary part of his character and what he means to Noelle.

Do you have any tattoos?

Other than being a writer, you're a counselor and a teacher. Do you find it hard to balance your writing life with a full-time day job? Do you have any secrets you'd like to share with those of us who are learning to do the same?

YES. Mostly I just find that I never have enough time. I love my full time job so much, but sometimes, most of the time, I wish I had more time to write… I’m happy to hear anyone else’s balancing secrets though.

I'm going to steal this question from Heidi's interview with Saundra Mitchell (Shadowed Summer) because I think it's so good: If there is one take home message from This Is What I Want to Tell You, what would you want it to be?

I think I started to answer this in question five. What I really love about this story, and that I want readers to feel, is that when we come to the end of a moment (or a novel) we don’t have everything figured out, we haven’t necessarily been “fixed” or “healed” but we have changed. The idea of the “bad boy” isn’t always told in truth, because that boy can help us become the person we want to be.

As a debut author, is there any advice you'd like to pass along to the Tenners about how we can best prepare for our own debuts?

Enjoy it! I was on the phone with my brother just last weekend, anxious and rambling about my launch and reviews and finishing my next book and fearing that this one would disappear into oblivion and he said:

 “Heath. Heath! (he had to say my name twice because I was still talking) What have you wanted to do your whole life?”
“Um, write a novel,” meekly.
“Ok.  So can you just stop and breathe and enjoy all of this happening to you?”

So I pass my brother’s advice on to the Tenners… thank you for having me!!!



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
Great interview, Anna and Heather! I smiled at the title story because I also think This Is What I Want To Tell You is so perfect - so intriguing!
Mar. 4th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
Yay, a fellow Fluxian! I'm so excited to read this book - will be devouring it this weekend.

Great interview!
Mar. 4th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you Anna and Tenners!! I can't wait to interview you next year...
Mar. 4th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
Nice interview, both of you! This was a good, meaty interview; I always like those.
Mar. 4th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Wow, this sounds exactly like my kind of book! I can't wait to read it. The title hooked me and the twin thing clinched it.
Mar. 5th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
What a stunning interview. I'm so impressed with the questions and the responses. So thoughtful and well done.


And I can't wait to read Heather's sure-to-be-awesome story. Thanks to you both!
Mar. 5th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
Fantastic interview -- I am so looking forward to treating myself to this book! And the title story made me smile too..."This Is What I Want To Tell You" is such an arresting title -- I love it.
Mar. 5th, 2009 03:11 am (UTC)
Wow, I am totally sold. Well done, both of you!
Mar. 5th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
This is a fantastic interview! I'm definitely putting THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU on my TBR list!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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