What if the characters in a book had lives of their own, after the cover was closed? What if the act of reading was just these characters performing a play, over and over…but those characters still had dreams, hopes, wishes, and aspirations beyond the roles they acted out on a daily basis for the reader? And what if one of those characters desperately wanted get out of his book? We started by brainstorming the characters.
Sammy immediately named the prince after our dog, Oliver; and his committed teenager reader became Delilah, after one of our miniature donkeys. We came up with names of fairies, of trolls, of villains. Then we began to write the fairytale from which Oliver wanted to escape. We argued over the tone of the fairytale — I wanted it to be tongue-in-cheek; Sammy preferred it to be classic, and we compromised.
It was Sammy who suggested that the prince in the fairytale be afraid of battle because his father had died fighting. She had very clear visions for the fairies like mean girls in school, she suggested and the mermaids anorectic and very, very creepy.
The scene where Oliver uses logic riddles to outsmart the trolls, the body-image-challenged steed Socks, and the climactic scene in the fairytale — where Prince Oliver surprises the villain by cross-dressing in princess clothes — were my contributions. When we needed to figure out why a teenager like Delilah who should be reading The Hunger Games was obsessed with a fairytale, I suggested having her feel a kinship with Oliver over his lack of a dad. Ducharme, a nod to Prince Charming, because she so badly wants a fairytale ending for her mom.
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But we had far more fun creating the modern-day sections, where Oliver gets to be himself and where Delilah gets to crush on him. Having a real, live teenager at the writing table was an attribute, when it came to creating Delilah and her motivations. It was like creating a soap opera made of fairytale characters. What would happen if a character manifested itself in the real world — would he be like Flat Stanley?
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Six inches tall? Would Oliver have a working knowledge of things like television, high school, swim meets…or was he a victim of the time period into which he was created? We also talked about the metaphysical nature of a story — to whom does it belong? The writer — or the reader? Sammy and I took two years to write this book because I insisted that we be sitting together at the computer, taking turns typing, and literally speaking every sentence out loud.
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I would say one line, then Sammy would jump in with the next. Sometimes we were motivated and on a roll. Other times, Sammy would just stare at me in frustration. I think the reality of writing something as big as a novel hit home for her, when we spend weekends, school vacations, and summers slaving away in front of an iMac. When we began to write the scene that has the unicorn meadow in it, and I described the waving silver grass in the field, Sammy told me it sounded like Oliver was having a bad drug trip.
The coolest moments were when, as collaborators, we truly began to think alike. The hardest part of the experience was the editorial phase. Sammy and I spent an entire summer addressing their concerns, which were particularly difficult, because pulling out one thread of plot led to unraveling of narrative throughout the entire book. As a result of all that hard work, though, some of the best characters and scenes became part of the story. Sammy had this vision of an element called Pandemonium bouncing off the walls and the ceiling and destroying everything in its midst — and accidentally breaking an unbreakable curse upon Frump.
Most fun, though, was rewriting the fairy tale to make it darker and creepier — in particular, the mermaid scene. When Sammy called me on book tour two years ago with her idea, I thought it was a great one. Fairytales were meant, historically, to be morality lessons, and to illustrate the darkness of the world beyond childhood that one steps into when growing up. Likewise, Delilah is in an uncharted territory — and yet, it may seem awfully familiar to you. There is a scene where Oliver, who after all is a fairy-tale trope, proposes to Delilah, and she freaks out.
The only people who get married at fifteen, she tells him, are pregnant and on MTV. What she wants is to be an ordinary teenager, with a boyfriend.
To go to prom. To go on a date. To hold hands. Between the Lines started simply as a daydream. It was toward the end of the school year, and I was in one of my last remaining eighth grade French classes. Yes, I should have been paying attention to Madame C. I started to consider what might happen when the book is closed; whether the characters could see us; what it felt like for them, as we read. Through the rest of French class, I tossed around the idea of what would later become our book. That day, my mom was on her spring book tour. My mom was interested and intrigued by the plot and began adding her opinions and thoughts.
For the next few months, we made lists of characters and summarized the plot. When you dream at night, your brain creates a world for you -- every last detail, down to each strand of grass beneath your feet. The characters and voices and scenes pop into my mind, fully thought out, and ready to be written down. Often this meant that I was…well…maybe a little unfocused.
I knew that being a writer meant you had to have imagination and perseverance, but I learned that you also have to have patience. My mom would set a goal of twenty pages per day, and sometimes as we approached the third hour of work, I was ready to burst through the window just to remember what walking felt like. At other times, though, writing completely inspired me.
Writing a great scene makes me feel like I just won a race or climbed Mount Everest. It was sometimes like we were in the middle of the same dream.
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I started talking about mermaids with wild hair and shimmering tails. These crazy, rushed moments of creativity were intense and exciting and sometimes painful — but that only made the moments when we knew we had written a perfect scene that much more fulfilling. Collaborating with another person may sound challenging -- two minds and conflicting ideas -- but the truth is writing Between the Lines was one of the best experiences I will ever have.
By teaching me how to work toward a goal, my mom made a simple daydream grow into a remarkable book, and turned me from a writer into an author. Most teenage daughters enjoy their five-minute discussions about their school day with their mothers, and are set for the whole week. Not me. I love my mom. To all you readers, I hope you enjoy reading Between the Lines as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Sammy: I was daydreaming in French class I know, I should have been focusing… when I started to wonder what happens when a book is closed. Can they see us? What does it feel like for them, when we read? Through the rest of that period, I tossed around the idea of what would become our book. When I went home I called my mom, who was on book tour, and told her I had an idea for a story.
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She was intrigued and started adding her opinions — and suggested we write the book together. EVERY line. Just ask Sammy — I refused to work on the book unless she was there. Sammy: When it came to editing, we were again sitting at the computer together, going through the editorial letter to figure out what needed to be fixed. There was a lot of brainstorming involved in the editing process since we had to add characters and change existing ones, and if we changed one scene it sometimes changed others later on in the book.