Friday, May 15, 2009
Posted by Liane Gentry Skye
LIANE: Good morning, Deidre, and thanks for visiting us at Writer's Gone Wild. I have to tell you, I loved reading Butterfly Tattoo, and I'm thrilled you could stop by today to tell us a little about where your mind and muse were when you created this beautiful, heart-rending story. So get ready to spill it, babe! :)
LIANE: For those of our readers who haven't yet had the pleasure of reading Butterfly Tattoo, can you give us a brief blurb of the book?
DEIDRE: Sure, I would love to. I like to refer to Butterfly as an unconventional “starting over story.” The hero, Michael Warner, is a widower who lost his partner of twelve years to a drunk driver. This same car accident left their daughter, Andrea, alive but emotionally scarred. The heroine, Rebecca O’Neill, bears her own scars, and not all of them are visible. She is a former sitcom actress who was attacked by a psychotic fan. The brutal assault left her permanently scarred, despite several plastic surgeries, thereby ended her acting career. She now makes her living at the same studio where the sitcom was shot, but works as a development exec. That’s where she meets Michael, on the lot, because he works there in the electrical construction department. These three characters—Michael, Rebecca, and Andrea, come together and find healing, love, and a new chance where none of them imagined they might discover it.
LIANE: Your story blurb promises an emotional read, and Butterfly Tattoo certainly delivered on its three hankie read warning! As an author, you made some unconventional choices in creating Butterfly Tattoo. One was your decision to use the first person, present voice to tell Michael, Rebecca and Andrea's and Alex's story. Was this a conscious decision during the creative process, or did you always "hear" the story in present POV. How did you ultimately decide that the viewpoints should be limited to Michael and Rebecca's POV's?
DEIDRE: The story literally came to me in first person, present-tense. There was such an urgent, painful immediacy to putting it in their real-time voices, that I never could have written the novel any other way.. The first voice I heard, interestingly enough, was that of a character who didn’t ultimately have her own POV: little Andrea. I caught a glimpse of her in the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror, seeing how unkempt her red hair appeared. I knew that she felt invisible because of Michael’s grief. That she felt he no longer noticed her, and that’s what she talked about in that first little snippet that I wrote for the novel.
But much as it might have been interesting to get into Andrea’s head, there were a few reasons I didn’t tackle her POV. One, in the end, this is ultimately a spin on the he said/she said tale, just written more lyrically and literarily (I hope!) Also, it was tough enough to pull offrotating first person POV for two characters, especially without losing or annoying readers. Equally hard was working to maintain Michael and Rebecca’s voices, making them as clear and authentic as possible.
Beyond that, I think a huge part of Michael’s story is the fact that his daughter has intentionally shut herself off to him. He doesn’t know what she’s thinking, and that agonizes him, so really, I don’t think we the reader should know, either. We should be in his shoes, struggling to unlock Andrea’s voice and her heart and mind.
LIANE: Wow. You’re giving me chills here! I’m loving that you’re allowing me to dig so deeply into your creative process. So let’s dig a little deeper. What do you think would have happened if you introduced other character voices into the story?
Deidre: I am adoring these questions! You are really making me contemplate my own work, and that’s a wonderful treat. Well, if I’d included more voices, part of the problem would have been what I mention above about Andrea. Because she would have been such a natural choice for a third POV, but that would have robbed us of experiencing her journey, of watching her open up again. Instead, we observe Andrea through Michael and Rebecca’s eyes. We watch those petals slowly unfurl, sometimes fold back again, but then ultimately she blooms completely.. Hearing that process in her own words, well, I fear we would have been robbed of its power,and ultimately would have stolen some of the story’s mystery. We know who Michael and Alex are to her, what their roles are, because of what she says to the other characters—but we’re not in her head, so is she being truthful? Can we rely on what she says? For instance, early in the story she tells Rebecca that Michael is her stepfather. She tells the characters what she needs to believe, and Michael, in his pain, only corroborates her statements. At least for a while. .
LIANE: The first line of Butterfly Tattoo is both gripping and chilling. I imagine before long we’ll be seeing it cited on some lists of “best first lines ever.” I believe I asked you this same question on your author board, but since many of our readers are also aspiring writers, I'd love them to hear how you settled on your opening line and when it found you.
DEIDRE: Wow, girl! You know how to make an author’s day. Best lines ever? Amazing. I’ll just float on away now, not finish the interview. Except…that’s not fair to you, so I’ll continue.
Since I did tackle this particular topic on the message board, I’m pasting in the response from the board, if that’s okay. Also, I hope readers and friends will check out the butterfly discussion thread because there’s so much we can talk about related to this incredible interview, actually! Deidre Knight's Yuku Board. Here’s what I said:
I actually had to work on that opening a LOT. I honestly don't remember how many iterations it went through, or even—not totally—how the story began in early revisions. It always started at the studio, I remember that. But there was a point that came to me after the book was almost done when I realized that opening line was the opening…when I understood that by causing a collision between her working life and her past in that script meeting, that it could really show us her exact state of mind. It seems that, prior to that realization, we had Michael show up a little sooner. But his arrival lacked the powerful context that it needed because we didn’t yet understand how wounded Rebecca truly was. How vulnerable.
LIANE: Just goes to show that it’s really true that many stories are born during the revision process! Your bio mentions that you spent some time in the film industry, I’m assuming in California. How much of that life came into play during the story's telling? Did your story begin while you were working there, or did it find you later on? Do you think Butterfly Tattoo would have played out in a setting/world less obsessed with looks/image?
DEIDRE: Actually, I am a rarity among those who work or have worked in the film industry—I did my time in Georgia. I know, that probably seems bizarre, but during my years working in production, Georgia had a very well-developed film industry. I worked freelanced on movies, videos, and commercials, then was hugely blessed to join the crew of the NBC/MGM show In the Heat of the Night with Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins. Talk about working with some amazing talent! Carroll was a legend and Howard had won an Oscar for A SOLDIER’S STORY not long before. Working on that crew changed my life in so many ways, and I’m grateful for that time. As for how it impacted BUTTERFLY, I will definitely say that knowing how television worked, about how shows are shot added authenticity (that scene with the buzzer and the soundstage came straight from my own life.)
At the same time, probably more of the story’s background originated in my agenting life, where I also work with film producers, development executives, film agents, and the like. I haven’t visited L.A. recently, but have definitely been on most of the lots in my agenting capacity. In fact, the old bungalow where Rebecca works was directly based on one that I visited that had been an old screening room back in the day. But, much like Rebecca says in the book’s opening, (I’m paraphrasing here): “When you work with writers like I do, life is an herb garden and you pluck a few ripe things here and there to use…” You reinterpret. This book isn’t biographical, not by a long shot, but at the same time there’s a great deal of me that I poured into it. Probably the biggest part of me resides in the grief that these characters are processing because I was at a time of great loss in my life. Writing the book was in many ways about finding my own healing.
LIANE: So at least with the setting/world of Butterfly Tattoo, you really did write what you knew! And what a perfect, poignant backdrop for Rebecca’s struggle to move on as an imperfect version of her former self. Rebecca truly is an unusual heroine. She is physically scarred and emotionally vulnerable. She's not fully recovered from the emotional or physical after-effects of the attack she suffered. In spite of the horrors she's faced, she shows an inner strength in her determination to rebuild her life. As a result, to some degree, she is able to enter Michael's world with more ease that one would first think. Why do you think this happened? Was the bond Rebecca shared with Andrea through their scars the only reason she could enter Michael's world with relative ease? What qualities did you choose for Michael that made this the *right* man for Rebecca to reach out to? Did his bisexuality come into play as you created their relationship? In the beginning, do you think it was it safer for Rebecca to face possible rebuttal from a bisexual man, or did this come into play at all in your original vision of her story arc? You don't have to answer all of these questions, but while I’ve got you right here in front of me, I’m milking this moment for all it’s worth.
DEIDRE: Wow, what great questions. I’ll begin by quoting a favorite movie of mine, Jerry Maguire (yeah, the agent loves the movie about the agent, go figure.). There’s a scene with Rod Tidwell and Jerry where they’re talking about dating a single mother. Rod says something like, “You see, with a single mom, she’s already been to the puppet show and she’s seen behind the curtain.” In a way, I think in terms of the grief she’s carrying, that’s who Rebecca is at the outset of the story. Remember, Michael is at the one year anniversary of losing Alex, but Rebecca has had three years to work her way to this point of healing. Although still broken, although most broken of all in some ways, , she is in a sense the “wise guide” to Michael and Andrea. She’s had to navigate to a certain place in her healing that they haven’t reached—the only problem is she’s gotten stuck. She hit a plateau at some point, and that’s where Michael comes in. That’s where the essence of what true love accomplishes comes in …he becomes her wise guide even as she’s his. They challenge and provoke each other, and it’s Rebecca’s healing that takes Michael past that plateau where Rebecca got stuck, allowing him to reach back and guide her farther on. They switch roles. She starts as the guide, but eventually he assumes that mantle and provokes her to continue her journey. There’s a back and forth in that relationship where neither one has all the secrets or keys to moving on, but each has a piece—and together those pieces make a whole. A whole person, whole family, whole relationship. All the fractured parts form into a unity that none of them ever would have imagined at the outset.
The bisexuality topic is probably a whole visit unto itself, to be honest, but in short, the book’s greatest theme is that love, family, belonging often come where we least expect them. Michael loves by his heart, and because of how Rebecca feels about her appearance he is at once the most threatening man to potentially love, but also the most freeing. On one hand, she is haunted by the fear that she can’t ever measure up—she’s not a man, she’s scarred. On the other, she can ultimately find reassurance in the fact that Michael Warner “goes with his heart.” In this novel, I wanted very much to show that love is a mystery, that is our highest calling as humans who walk this earth—to give love and to give it unconditionally. That we receive it in turn, is the second part of that mystery. Had Michael’s past been traditional, I think it would have cheapened their story and what that story says love truly means.
LIANE: Rebecca has a way of referring to her attacker by name—suggesting a certain twisted intimacy b/t victim and attacker as opposed to the raw anger Michael expresses toward the drunk driver responsible for the accident that killed his life partner, Alex. Was this an intentional part of your creative process, or one of those wonderful bits that emerges during the creation of story. Or, am I reading something into the story that others haven't remarked on?
DEIDRE: You’re a genius, that’s what.
LIANE: Buttering up the interviewer never hurts. ;)
DEIDRE: Nah, I just love you, babe. And you are a genius, so there, because I absolutely did intend to convey Rebecca as feeling an intimacy to Ben (her attacker. )To her, they are linked, and she bears that evidence on her body same as if he’d tattooed her with that body tattoo he wears of her. No, Ben is definitely not a nameless person, or a random force of nature, and you notice in the book that not even the people closest to her understand that fact.
Not only that, but she feels a strange sense of compassion for him, which comes out in that scene with her mother at the mall. She’s worked to get to that point of forgiveness over the past three years. Shehe could have become embittered—she has every reason to have done so. Instead, she’s found freedom and healing in choosing to forgive Ben. At the same time, she feels that their destinies merged somehow, that it truly was personal. That he wasn’t just “that crazed man” or a faceless stranger. When Ben stepped out of the shadows and changed her life, he linked them together for the rest of her life. Ben, in a sense, is her tattoo, even more than the scars he left on her body.
8) Face it. The lovin' in this story was wayyyy hot. I see roots of the later Deidre here. Is this where you discovered your talents as a more traditional romance author, or did you always aspire to write commercial romance?
DEIDRE: Hee. You know, I’d written some unpublished romances before BUTTERFLY. Nuff said.
LIANE: Wow. So much for the theory that agents who write don’t suffer rejections! But back to the discussion that wicked hot pen of yours that just got you named an honorary Writer Gone Wild!
DEIDRE: I’m an honorary Writer Gone Wild? For real? I’m so stoked! Oh, and by the way< this book was rejected more than thirty times. Yes, I totally understand the pain of rejection. As for the romantic “lovin’” in this book...it was honestly a tough one to call. Michael and Rebecca were so hungry for each other, but each so frightened, so blocked, and the complications of both their pasts made trust a tender thing. I worked hard to strike that balance, and I have a great editor who helped push me to go farther when I needed to, but also pulled me back if I went too far.
LIANE: Alex. Alex. Alex. I feel like I know him, could sense him looking on as Michael struggles to accept Alex's death and his own redefined role in their daughter, Andrea's, life. While subtle, Alex had a character arc of his own. Did you intend for this to happen? If so, what choices did you make in creating Butterfly Tattoo that defined Alex, not as a dead man, but as a fully realized character essential to the resolution of the story?
DEIDRE: Alex was, and remains, as vital and alive to me as any of the characters who are directly on the canvas. That was the mandate I gave myself as a writer from the beginning with the book: that I make Alex breathe. That I make him so alive that readers would love and connect with him as if he truly were alive at the story’s outset. I accomplished that, or so I’m told, and I’m grateful. Part of how he worked as a “living” character, I think, is that I utilized almost photographic snapshots of who he was as a person. Images that linger for the characters, like Michael’s memory of Alex calling him to hear the bells of St. Patrick’s in New York. In that scene we actually get Alex’s dialogue, we experience firsthand his true love of life, even in its smaller moments. Or when Michael recalls how, when he and Alex were first together, Alex told him maybe he just didn’t need to over-think things so much.
The memories that the different characters hold of Alex, the way they ARE his living legacy, that’s how I wanted to make him real. Each character who knew him gives a different snapshot—his mother, Laurel, Andrea…and then ultimately, Rebecca herself carries Alex away in her own heart as someone she has truly known. He speaks to her from Andrea’s dream, after all. I imagine that as the years go by, Rebecca feels a lot of intimacy and love for Alex, the more she encounters him—the things he said, his belongings, his letters—and maybe even has a few dreams of her own that he enters.
LIANE: Butterfly Tattoo is an unusual story by anyone's definition. You tackled subject matter that many would shy away from for the fear of appearing (at first glance) politically incorrect. Was the worry that the book would be judged without considering the story in its entirety a concern as you created the story? Did that concern ever play into your creative process? How about the publisher's editing process?
DEIDRE: I never worried that it was politically incorrect because this is definitely not a “conversion” story where a bisexual guy realizes he was never gay. But it was a very tough sell because at the time in New York publishing, I think that there was less receptivity to bisexuality, to gay themes, period—I just don’t think they could figure out how to market what I was doing with the book. Samhain was and is the perfect publisher for this unconventional story precisely because they’re a digital publisher that can push the envelope and take risks. I think digital publishing is a very exciting world right now, and have utmost respect for everyone at Samhain, all the more because they took a gamble on this novel.
LIANE: Aside from the more obvious role Alex's sister introduced into the story, she contributed significantly to Rebecca's emotional arc. This secondary (at first glance) character plays some pivotal roles in your story. I'm dying to know how many tries it took you to get those very difficult relationships right---between Alex and Laurel, Laurel and Andrea and Laurel and Rebecca.
DEIDRE: Laurel was a tricky one, let me tell you. She was vividly clear to me, but I had to be sure that she could be both the antagonist (or one of them), while remaining painfully sympathetic. That middle portion of the book was some of the slowest that I wrote, and I can definitely recall a point when I was stuck for WEEKS writing the Laurel sections. That was probably the worst block I had in the whole thing, so very perceptive of you to notice that it was quite the magic show to bring it all together.
A confession, too: I still hurt for Laurel a little bit. She went through a lot of pain that she doesn’t even talk about in the book, like losing Andrea’s twin while pregnant. I know a lot about Laurel because I started a book for her after finishing Butterfly, and I know that she has big commitment issues (that is mentioned in Butterfly) that ultimately cause her a lot of pain. Those kinds of issues aren’t exactly helped when your twin is killed unexpectedly.
LIANE: Is there the chance of our seeing Laurel’s story in print? Because if so, then I’ll be the first in line to snap that one up, as I’m sure will many of our readers! Now here's the question for Deidre the agent. Butterfly Tattoo tells a rare, wonderful, love story, a true redemption journey. The story has a haunting quality that lingers long after the last page is turned. I've talked to you enough to know that this was truly the book of your heart. I also know you have a talent for nurturing stories other agents might have turned their backs on. So, if Butterfly Tattoo fell on your desk today, how would your instincts as an agent come into play? I know there are a thousand wild women reading this right now who are dying to know.
DEIDRE: I’m not sure about Laurel. I have a chunk of her story written, but she’s a defiant woman and actually telling her story has been tough for me. But you never know. As for what I’d do if BUTTERFLY came across my desk? Honestly? I’d sign it on in a heartbeat. Because it has everything I’d want in a book—that’s what I tried to pour into it, at least. All the elements that I most wanted to read. I love books that defy boundaries, and even more? Love proving the market wrong!
LIANE: (wicked grin!) Prepare for the onslaught of quirky, left field manuscripts, mine included. Seriously, Deidre, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your charm and candor in discussing the process that led you to the story of your heart. But, being that we are Writers Gone Wild, we need the obligatory beefcake donation. :) I know you have a steamy new title coming out in June. Why don't you be the lovely tease I know you are and set our readers on fire with a sneak preview of Red Kiss? ;)
DEIDRE: Absolutely! I’m thrilled that RED KISS, the second in my Gods of Midnight series, comes out in only two more weeks! Here’s a link to an excerpt that features River, the hero, with Emma Lowery, the heroine. They’re smokin’ hot, let me tell you. This is just a little peek; the book steams a lot hotter! LOL!
LIANE: Fabulous! I can’t wait to read it. I do hope you’ll pay us another visit here at Writers Gone Wild so we can help you celebrate your next release in a style befitting an honorary Writer Gone Wild. Thank you, Deidre, for stopping by Writers Gone Wild. Even more, thank you for writing Butterfly Tattoo. I’m so glad this story found a home at Samhain Publishing. I can't remember the last time I was both thrilled with a story and surprised by it at the same time. Well done. I believe our readers will all agree that you give great hero. :) As a token of our appreciation, we're going send you an official Writers Gone Wild feather boa and some free reads from the authors here at Writers Gone Wild.
DEIDRE: Okay, that’s just too much fun! I’d love to come back and talk about RED KISS! In fact, I’d love to join you anytime! I am humbled and grateful that you invited me—and that you challenged me with such penetrating, thoughtful questions. Thank you so much for having me!