Today, I’m delighted to be interviewing novelist and poet Christine Potter. Enjoy the interview and be sure to pick up a copy of Time Runs Away With Her, her new Young Adult novel.
1. Tell us about your book.
I’d been a poet since dinosaurs were thumping their scaly tails and had published a lot of poems in small presses and little magazines, online and off. Even got lucky enough to have two poetry collections accepted and published. But I was—am, always have been—fascinated with time travel to the extent that I often dream about what places I love would have looked like 100 or 300 years in the past.
I also have strong, fond memories of what reading felt like when I was a teenager, how enveloping it was. I’d grown a bit weary of the serious literary wars. I wanted to have fun. So I wrote Time Runs Away With Her, set it in 1970 (so I wouldn’t have technology competing with magic), and invented Bean Donohue, who can slip back in time the way I wish I could. She visits the 1880s and the 1940s. Except it’s a problem for her, because she’s 16, and she can’t control when she slips backwards. The book’s a coming-of-age story, too—and a love story AND a ghost story. And it’s about mothers and daughters. I hope my readers have a great ride and hug their moms and their boy and girlfriends afterwards.
1.What stories, themes, motivations do you find yourself drawn to in your work and in the works you read?
I write about family in all my work—poetry and prose. And I found myself doing the same here. This book is about 16-year-old Bean’s amazing curse of a gift, but it’s also about her bitter but loving single mom. And I love music, so there’s a ton of music in this book. Bean wants to be a folk-rock musician. She has a band. The boy she becomes involved with in the book is a major music fan (we all were in 1970). There’s a Grateful Dead show at the Fillmore East in the book that was incredible fun to write. And because I’m someone who believes in all sorts of spiritual possibility, there’s even a somewhat puzzled radical priest. I loved how Madeleine L’Engle incorporated science and God in her Time Quintet, so I guess I get it from there. And I really, really love my home in the Hudson River Valley, so this is a very Hudson River book. It’s set in a Dobbs Ferry or Briarcliff sort of town called Stormkill. Loving Lucy Maud Montgomery (I’m an Anne of Green Gables fan) made me want LOTS of local color in my book.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I DJ rock and roll on Area24radio.com, which is a little internet music station my vinyl-loving friends and I set up as a release valve from daily life. I also sing in my husband’s choir, and I still play guitar and dulcimer. I’m a retired (recovering) English teacher, and I teach the occasional workshop.
4. What made you believe you could write a book? How did you dispel doubt as you wrote?
I didn’t really believe I could write a book, but I did it anyway. Funny that I didn’t regard my two poetry collections as “books.” Those I guess I thought of as patchwork quilts or something—stitched together one piece at a time. My desire to tell Bean’s story was bigger than my doubt about my abilities as a novelist. Stephen King has said that you know you have a good narrative when you think about it as you fall asleep at night. That kept happening. So I kept at it. And I really loved my characters. I felt like I owed it to them to keep working and revising.
5. Describe the first 2-3 steps of your process in writing your book.
I’m a big believer in the magic that happens when you just start writing. So I trust that. I knew I wanted Time Runs Away With Her to begin with Bean getting thrown out of the house by her mom into a snowstorm and going to her almost-boyfriend’s house. I knew I wanted it to end in the spring somewhere after the murders at Kent State in May 1970, and the uprising in the schools that took place after that. And I knew I wanted there to be a haunted mansion. And time travel. And music. So I just started out. Every day when I sat down to write, I rewrote the last two or three pages I’d done the day before to get into the groove. I did get help from a writing group at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island off Washington State, and I’m proud to say that Karen Joy Fowler read a very early draft of the book because she was leading my group. I was super-lucky to have her input. I wouldn’t have a book otherwise. I also used Ellen Roberts, a freelance editor who has worked on a bunch of YA, as I prepared the book for submissions. Ellen was also terrific. Editors are WAY important.
6. How do you balance what will sell with what you want to say?
Boy, I hope this sells. It was a five-year-epic. I wrote poems and tended to my family and lost my dad and put up and took down Christmas trees while I was writing and revising and submitting this book. Madeleine L’Engle has said not to underestimate your audience and not to write down to them. So I just wrote the story. I trusted my editors to let me know what wouldn’t fly, and I had good editors—both before and during publication. My acquiring editor and my line editor at Evernight Teen were both superb.
7. Which is more difficult – drafting or revising? Why?
I don’t think either is harder. In fact, I love both of them. I just love to write. The hardest thing is finishing!
8. When you write, who do you imagine as your reader?
I imagine my reader to be a young woman, I think, although I’ve had a number of men read and really like my book. A gay male reader let me know that he got a crush on my heroine’s boyfriend, Zak! This is a YA novel, and I do hope that the kids I used to teach would love it—but I think it would also appeal to someone my own age, a boomer. Almost half of all YA is bought and enjoyed by OA’s (my own term for Old Adults). True fact!
9. What are a few of your favorite books of all time?
I love to read. I also write poetry, so a lot of my favorite books are poetry books. I love a not-well-known Robert Bly collection called Morning Poems, which are poems he wrote before he got out of bed for the day! They are plain-spoken and deeply imagined. I love everything by Mark Doty and pretty much everything by Anne Sexton. In YA, I like the classics: Madeleine L’Engle, especially the original A Wrinkle in Time, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, especially the Emily books. And with my last name, I have to love the Harry Potters, although I fear Rowling’s editors let her get adverb-happy sometimes. But the power of her imagination is a force of nature. I’m also a huge John Irving fan, and I very much admire everything Sarah Waters (a British novelist, mostly historical fiction) has written. Her book The Night Watch is just jaw-dropping. I have a speaking tube in Time Runs Away With Her because she used one to such good effect in The Little Stranger. Reading her keeps me from getting too big for my britches!
Christine Potter is a writer and poet who lives in a very old (haunted!) house on a creek in Rockland County with her organist/choirmaster husband and two spoiled tom cats. Evernight Teen has just released Time Runs Away With Her, Christine’s YA novel. Her two poetry collections are Zero Degrees at First Light (2006) and Sheltering in Place (2013). You can learn more about Christine’s work at her website.