Today, we bring you the first part of our two-part interview with Invisible Fault Lines author Kristen-Paige Madonia. Plus, don’t miss today’s code word for your chance to earn FIVE MORE ENTRIES in our week-long contest!
Your first book, FINGERPRINTS OF YOU, and INVISIBLE FAULT LINES both deal with young women without fathers. Can you tell us why you are so drawn to this theme in your books? And how do you tackle this theme differently in each novel?
I’m often drawn to themes about family dynamics, and, in this case, about teenagers in the midst of seeing their parents for the first time as real people in their own right, as not just parents. I think there’s something interesting about the realization that our parents have their own stories and secrets and lives outside of our relationship with them. Parents have complicated backstories, and their children don’t necessarily know all the details. I’ve always been curious about the belief that it’s impossible to really know another person, and I think that idea often finds its way into my fiction. With these two books, that concept, perhaps, is manifested in the missing fathers. In Fingerprints of You, the central character is trying to piece together her mother’s past in hopes of using the information to help map out her own future as she copes with an unplanned pregnancy. And in Invisible Fault Lines, Callie is desperately clinging to the hope that her father, who has disappeared, wasn’t harboring any real secrets, that he didn’t chose to leave her and her mother, as the police assume, and that he was who she believed he was – a good father and a good person.
Both books also take place (for the most part, anyway) in San Francisco. But you live in Virginia! What’s your connection to the city and why set your books there?
I lived in California for six years after college, and I still feel extremely connected to both the location and that time in my life. My central characters are in high school, but, just as I was when I lived in California, they’re seeing the world in a new way as a result of confronting some kind of loss or tragedy. In terms of the San Francisco setting for Invisible Fault Lines, I think as authors there are lots of decisions that we get to make – we chose which point of view to use depending on what will serve the story best, we choose how many subplots to add or how important of a role the love interest will play, for example. But I’m of the mindset that a story starts with setting, so for me I never picked San Francisco; it was always an integral part of the original idea. In general, when I write I can’t imagine the characters or the events if I don’t know the location first. From the beginning, I knew the Great Earthquake of 1906 would provide an opportunity for my characters to explore the idea of the impossible being possible, so the story always belonged in San Francisco. The book is primarily set in 2006, which was the 100th anniversary of the earthquake, and I was living in the city during that time. There was a specific kind of energy then – a heightened awareness of how much the city had survived, how well it had been rebuilt and had thrived, but also an awareness of our vulnerability. There were all kinds of memorials and events commemorating the earthquake during the 100th anniversary, so if you lived there, you were always partly thinking of what had happened before — of the history and how, in a sense, it could happen again at any time. When a traumatic event of that scale occurs, I believe the people who live in the area are forever linked to it, and I wanted to use that to fuel my writing.
I always begin with a character experiencing some kind of event -– a loss or a change, a challenge or a choice to make -– after which nothing will ever be the same. I’m interested in writing about the ways we cope with loss, about first love and also about family dynamics. I’m also interested in the ways that our past will always belong to us. Who we are when we are teenagers will inevitably be a part of who we are as adults, but, of course, won’t exclusively define our adult selves. So I tend to write about unanticipated circumstances that change my characters as they move from teenagers into adulthood. To be honest, this is a difficult question because I don’t actively think about themes when I begin a project –- it’s an intuitive process, and the themes tend to emerge organically as I write forward and revise. The themes accumulate as the book grows sentence by sentence by sentence. I never walk into a story with a mission or overriding statement in mind.
You also teach creative writing! How does teaching inspire your own writing, and what uncommon tidbit of advice would you want to share with young, aspiring writers?
It’s such a double-edged sword, teaching creative writing. On the one hand, I find a great deal of inspiration from working with smart students who are dedicated to the study of literature and creative writing. There’s something unbelievably rewarding about introducing a student to a new author or a novel that will ultimately change the way they see the world. On the other hand, every moment I spend teaching and prepping and grading is a moment that I’m not writing. It’s also difficult because my job, as a professor, is to discuss the tools of the craft and to help students acquire a certain vocabulary for workshop, to help them become stronger readers and writers. But, as I said, my own writing process is often intuitive.
I talk to my students about writing with the door closed and writing with the door open, a piece of advice I believe I stole from Stephen King’s book On Writing, though I’ve adapted it a bit. When you’re writing a first draft, I recommend taking all the voices, shoving them out of the room, and closing the door. “The voices” being all the critics, the writing rules and lessons from class, the fears and anxiety and, this is especially important, thoughts of the publishing world – don’t allow them to enter into the process of drafting. The less you think, the better. Watch and listen and allow your characters to play on the page. Follow your instincts. And then, when you’ve taken some time away from the manuscript and are ready to begin revising, gradually open the door. Think more intentionally about the tools we have as authors. Ask the difficult questions: What is the story really about? Are you using the most useful point of view to create urgency and emotional texture? Have you developed a clear and authentic voice for your central character? Is this or that moment best revealed in scene or summary? Have you created a balance between the external and internal conflicts? Only in the later drafts should you consider issues such as theme. And always, always, always wait as long as possible to think about the industry. Always focus on the art before you begin worrying about the business.
About Invisible Fault Lines:
“My father disappeared on a Tuesday that should’ve been like any Tuesday, but eventually became the Tuesday my father disappeared.”
Tired of living in limbo, Callie finally decides to investigate her father’s disappearance for herself. Maybe there was an accident at the construction site that he oversaw? Maybe he doesn’t remember who he is and is lost wandering somewhere? But after seeing a familiar face in a photo from the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, she wonders if the answer is something else entirely.
Hailed by Judy Blume as a “remarkable young novelist,” Kristen-Paige Madonia, author of Fingerprints of You, explores how to rebuild a life after everything seems lost.
The contest runs through midnight (PT) on Sunday, May 1st. U.S. only. The winner will receive a signed finished copy of Invisible Fault Lines, a bookmark, and a sticker! Check out every post this week for your chance to earn more entries!
TODAY’S CODE WORD: EARTHQUAKE