Welcome back to Snow Country (how appropriate with the WordPress snow). Glad you’re here to join me in welcoming to the blog the fabulous Ingrid Sundberg. Her YA novel, All We Left Behind, debuted on December 1, thanks to the publisher—Simon Pulse.
Ingrid’s agent is Melissa Sarver White at Folio. For a synopsis of All We Left Behind, click on the publisher above. Now let’s talk to Ingrid!
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Ingrid: 1. My natural hair color is light brown.
2. I wore fairy wings at my wedding.
3. I love mint chip ice cream.
4. I grew up in the land of snow and lobsters: Maine.
El Space: What inspired you to write All We Left Behind? It’s very intense. I can’t help thinking about the quote by Akira Kurosawa on your blog: “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” Why is that important to you?
Ingrid: The Akira Kurosawa quote is one of my favorites, because I didn’t “crack the nut” of this book until I was willing to really look at the dark parts of this story. It finally broke open when I was willing to honestly see what Marion and Kurt needed and put my personal discomfort and authorial agenda aside. It’s so easy to pretty things up and not “go there.” But when we avert our eyes, we’re protecting ourselves, rather than looking at the truth.
All We Left Behind is the result of an abandoned screenplay, and an abandoned novel. I lifted the characters from those previous projects and started over. The common link that inspired all of them is Marion’s attempt to navigate her sexual awakening in a culture that views sex in such extremes. Be sexy, but don’t be a slut. Sex is taboo, but it’s also where girls are told to find their worth. Sex is the most intimate experience you can share with someone, but treat it like it’s completely worthless and casual. Those contrasts are fascinating, but they’re also real obstacles that girls have to face today.
El Space: All of your characters are very memorable and vivid. How did you come to create your point of view characters—Kurt and Marion?
Ingrid: Kurt came about as an exercise at Vermont College. In an early draft of this book Kurt was a throw-away character that dumped Marion and then disappeared. As an exercise, my adviser had me write my scenes from the POV of the other characters—not my protagonist. This was really difficult. I realized Kurt was this paper-thin character I was using as a chess piece for my plot. Once I had to develop him into a real person, he came alive. He was so vivid and compelling that I couldn’t stop writing in his voice. He took the book in a whole new direction. A better direction! It was awesome.
Marion on the other hand has been with me for over 10 years. She was the center of a previous screenplay and novel. I’ve spent draft after draft, new direction after new direction, trying to figure out how to write her story and do it justice. She’s haunted me. I’m so happy I finally found the story she wanted me to tell.
El Space: Music plays an important role in this story. What was on your playlist as you wrote this book?
Ingrid: This is going to come as a surprise, but I can’t listen to music when I write. I find it really distracting. Thus, there’s no playlist for this book. In fact, I had to poll my friends to come up with songs my characters would talk about in the book. I’m not a music person at all! I spent three days listening to all the songs my friends suggested on YouTube so I could figure out what Kurt and his mom would be into.
A couple of my favorites were (1) “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake—this is the type of song I see Kurt playing with his mom—(2) “Drifting” by Andy McKee. Watch this YouTube video and you’ll be mesmerized by the physical way Andy McKee plays the guitar. This is how I imagine Kurt’s mom playing her instrument. There’s a little bit of genius and escape in the way she plays.
El Space: You mentioned some characters from fairy tales in the story. How did these familiar stories influence your writing?
Ingrid: I feel like fairy tales create a “dream” for young people, and girls in particular. We’re told that we will one day meet our charming prince and magically live happily ever after. That story is reinforced over and over again in media. In a way, we start to feel entitled to that dream. And then we feel betrayed or like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t find our prince.
This really shows the power of storytelling. How many of us believe that hard work will pay off in the end, or that love will conquer all? But is any of that really true? Or is it a story we’ve heard in books and television? I find I’m interested in the juxtaposition of fairytale themes against the harsh reality of the world we live in.
El Space: A controversial Bustle article gave seven reasons for writing a YA novel. I won’t ask you for seven. But I’d like to know how you came to write for young adults.
Ingrid: I definitely didn’t write a novel I could buy the perfect shoe/dress combo for my book launch on Saturday, Dec 5th (as implied by reason #7 in that article). In fact . . . I have no idea what I will wear.
I actually started out writing dramatic screenplays when I was getting my MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. One of my first screenplays was a college drama called Virgin, and that screenplay was the seed for All We Left Behind. The character of Marion was the star of that film. The path to YA came from learning that Marion’s story was extremely internal and thus hard to communicate visually as a film. We often complain that a movie isn’t as good as the book, but we forget that movies are a very specific form of storytelling that simply can’t communicate in the same way as a novel.
Once I discovered the story was too internal for a film, I switched to novel writing. Hence the second MFA in novel writing from Vermont College. Novels are a whole different beast than screenwriting! I also got a lot of feedback that the story’s themes would be better suited in high school than college. So, I made the leap to YA and I love it!
El Space: Which book authors or screenwriters inspire you?
Ingrid: I love that you asked about screenwriters as well as authors! My few of my favorite screenwriters are Sarah Polley (Away from Her; Take This Waltz), Alex Garland (Sunshine; Never Let Me Go), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), and Aaron Sorkin (West Wing; The Social Network). They all have such different voices, but you can really “feel” their voice in a film.
Sarah Polley and Aaron Sorkin
I’m also really inspired by authors who take risks or are masters of language. The ones that jump to mind are Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeanette Winterson, and Beth Kephart. They all make me fall in love with words over and over again.
El Space: What are you working on now?
Ingrid: I’m working on a few different projects, but none of them are fully formed enough to say exactly what they are. I’ve got a Peter Pan project, a fantasy concept about Greek Muses, and a summer romance with lots of kissing! I don’t really like defining my novels before I know what they are. I’d hate to tell my readers I’m working on XYZ, only to later tell them that project died in the beautiful flames of revision. 🙂
El Space: Thanks Ingrid for being my guest!
Ingrid: Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been a blast!
Looking for Ingrid? Look here:
All We Left Behind is available here:
But comment below to be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of All We Left Behind. Because I will feature another book giveaway this month, I will announce the winner of both books on December 14.
Book covers courtesy of Ingrid Sundberg and Goodreads. Prince from ebay.com. Maine map from ezilon.com. Sarah Polley from imdb.com. Aaron Sorkin from ibtimes.com.