OK, this is the most uncanny thing . . . this book actually feels blue. The words, the tone, somehow infuse the book with blue and it just becomes blue. I don’t know how to explain it — you really have to read this book and experience it for yourself. I am in awe!
Kathy: Can you tell us how this book came to be published?
Valerie: THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE is my first novel to be published. It is not the first novel I’ve written. This book has been published because Sarah Davies, founding agent of Greenhouse Literary, saw potential in it and worked with me before submission. It’s also published because editor Jennifer Wingertzahn at Clarion Books saw something in Cyan’s story that touched her. Before either Sarah or Jennifer saw the book, however, my critique group offered suggestions, and my writing class at Hollins University also saw the raw early chapters. While I wouldn’t say writing takes a village, I would say publishing certainly does.
Kathy: I agree. Tell us why we should buy this book.
Valerie: If you’ve ever been frustrated by a parent, you may appreciate exploring the sometimes-difficult mother-daughter relationship between Cyan and her mother.
Kathy: Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
Valerie: Setting, I think, not just the physical landscape but the emotions and stories that grow out of place. I grew up on the Florida panhandle and I think the Gulf of Mexico serves as inspiration. The history of my own family, which settled in the longleaf pinewoods of Florida/Alabama in the 1800s, sparked the idea for a novel.
Kathy: Val, what’s one piece of advice you’d like to give teen readers.
Valerie: Discover what you’re passionate about and don’t let it go. Pursue your dream even if you have to get a “day job.”
Kathy: Good one! What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?
Valerie: That hope matters.
Kathy: And why did you write this book?
Valerie: The inspiration for THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE comes from my artistic yearnings, the desire to be able to translate the natural world onto canvas. But I am completely ungifted as a visual artist. I’ve admired my mother’s artwork and my sister-in-law’s. I’d even say the most intense envy I ever felt involved another person’s talent in drawing botanical illustrations. That yearning combined with loss somehow translated into this novel, which is about coming to terms not only with other people in our lives—with all their foibles and faults—but our own sense of purpose and meaning.
Kathy: Generally speaking, why do you write?
Valerie: I write to understand, and I identify with Melanie Rae Thon when she said:
“In our desire to understand, in the constant movement between ourselves and others, we may find redemption.” Melanie Rae Thon, as quoted in Letters to a Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Busch.
Kathy: When do you write?
Valerie: Not often enough! Seriously, when I’m working intensely and at my best, I work in the evenings after my “day job” and on weekends. That constant writing also means that my subconscious is writing even when I’m away from the keyboard, and that aspect is critical. It’s amazing how much writing you get done away from the keyboard. Not that that fact is an excuse to avoid butt-in-chair, the best advice a writer can absorb.
Kathy: Where do you write?
Valerie: I write best at my computer in my home office, without distraction. But often being there is a luxury, as I have a full-time outside job. So I write longhand in snatches—airplanes are good for that.
Kathy: What helps you write?
Valerie: Coming to the computer knowing what I am going to work on is crucial for me to avoid blanking out. Caffeine is added comfort, I confess. If things are going rough, popcorn helps, too. J
Kathy: I’m with you on the caffeine! How do your ideas come to you?
Valerie: Sometimes an opening line in a particular voice that is not my own comes to me, and I start writing to see where it takes me. Sometimes I start a book with the final scene in mind, and I’m essentially writing to see how the characters end up at that point.
Kathy: How long have you been writing?
Valerie: I’ve been writing on and off since I was in elementary school. During law school and the five or so years after I graduated and began my career, I didn’t write creatively. But I found I could not abandon writing, and I gradually regained my creative life.
Kathy: How much of your book is autobiographical?
Valerie: Of THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE, not much, frankly, except a love of the sea and art. My mother and I never had the type of relationship Cyan and her mother had. Even so, I think the mother-daughter relationship is often difficult, and sometimes we don’t know the other person, not really. That’s one thing about fiction that speaks to people—it truly allows you to understand another person intimately, even if that person is fictitious.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?
Valerie: It’s a quote my friend Ellen introduced me to: “Chance favors the prepared mind,” by Louis Pasteur.
Kathy: Nice choice, Val (and Ellen!). So, what’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling?
Valerie: I turn purple when I speak in public. There, I’ve said it.
Kathy: Thank you, we will all look for that. (Kidding!) Is there a sequel?
Valerie: No. The book I’m working on now is completely different.
Kathy: What are you working on now?
Valerie: My current work-in-progress is about the intense friendships we make in adolescence and how they often substitute for family ties. And, just maybe, they end up making those family ties stronger later, if not immediately.
Kathy: Tell us, why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
Valerie: Because no other medium—perhaps except prayer—can reach you so deeply inside. Wherever you are, whatever your background, books at once can set you free and help you understand your world and yourself. I believe the very best fiction speaks a universal truth to each of us.
Kathy: Beautifully said. Thank you, Val, and thanks for this wonderful book. THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE — in bookstores and online now!
Here’s Val’s website: www.valerieopatterson.com and Val will be speaking on a panel at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference next month in Arlington, VA.