Thursday, April 10, 2008
Zu Vincent: Getting Down to Brass Tacks
Okay, Zu, let's get down to brass tacks.
Talk to us about vignettes.
Talk to us about The Lucky Place.
Author Jacqueline Woodson notes that your book is written in vignettes. Why did you choose this style?
Zu Vincent: I think the style chose me. After the fact I can say that it works because there’s a theme running through the book about how home movies, in particular, offer us a slice of life. And that theme plays into the style of short, quick scenes which give you glimpse after glimpse of these characters that eventually add up to a complete story. At the same time, each vignette has to stand on its own, as a kind of story within a story. The challenge for me as a writer was to have Cassie’s voice mature through these vignettes as she grew up on the page. And the voice had to, in turn, reflect her emotional growth in the novel.
What’s your favorite part of the book?
Zu Vincent: I think it’s that overall, I was able to write in vignette form, because the voice just took over and came rushing out that way from beginning to end. That was so satisfying. And I love the characters, every one of them. I love River City and the suburbs, which feel like a character as much as Cassie, Jamie, Ellis or Belle.
Cassie’s brother Jamie likes to dance and is teased as being too feminine by his peers. It’s also a source of tension between him and Ellis, Cassie’s stepfather. Can you talk about the role gender plays in the book?
Cassie’s devoted to both her brother and her stepdad, and it’s true that the two have a lot of tension between them, since Ellis, while compassionate, is more of a man’s man. He doesn’t understand Jamie and at the same time Jamie is angry at the loss of his real father, so he resents Ellis.
This is a big source of fear for Cassie. She’s scared Jamie will move away with their dad and Ellis won’t think of her and Jamie as his “real” children somehow. That he’ll be disappointed in them.
But like so many kids, Cassie loves both Ellis and Jamie for who they are, even as the possiblity that her brother is gay creates a lot of pain for him that Cassie shares. This dynamic gave me the opportunity to explore how children feel growing up in the midst of all this conflict. From the inside, Cassie only knows Jamie through her experience of him, just as she only understands Ellis and her father, Sikes, through their humanity.
I think this kind of divided loyalty is tearing up a lot of kids these days who find themselves in broken families, and it can happen in many ways when new, blended families don’t see eye to eye.
This image hung in my studio while I wrote The Lucky Place, and the truck appears in the novel.
Tomorrow: Zu Vincent and the future!