We have a special treat for the blog today: a Q&A between Lindsey Lane, author of Evidence of Things Not Seen, and her editor Joy Peskin.
Evidence of Things Not Seen follows the story of Tommy Smythe, a gifted, slightly-odd teenager, who goes missing one day, and the story is told in a series of first-person narratives from people who knew him.
In this Q& A, Lane, a debut YA author, discusses her transition to the genre as well as what excites her about young adult audiences. The conversation also delves into Lane’s knack for developing distinct character voices and how setting, specifically landmarks, plays an important part in her book.
Joy Peskin, editor of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN: How did this book start for you? What inspired you to write about Tommy’s disappearance?
Lindsey Lane, author of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN: The book started when I woke up from a dream. I saw a boy standing in the middle of this pull-out by the side of the road. I remember waking up and thinking, “Who are you and what are you doing there?” The answer became the chapter called “Comic Book.” While I was writing it, I started exploring this weird roadside dirt patch. Bit by bit, I came to know and understand the highway, the high school, the Whip In, the ranch right next to the pull-out, and that other characters stopped at the pull-out, too: to kiss, to sleep, to sell watermelons. Everyone had a story. Eventually, I wrote a story about a socially awkward genius boy named Tommy who went missing one day. When I got ahold of this thread, I knew it could weave through all the stories because, however loosely connected, an event like a missing boy and the speculation of what happened would pull the tapestry together.
JP: You’re a playwright—did it ever occur to you to write this story as a play rather than a book?
LL: No, I can’t say it did, but I definitely heard the first-person voices as monologues in my head. I could hear the different ways each of them talked. I could see the characters talking to the sheriff. I definitely think my background in theater helped me make their voices distinct and their stories clear.
JP: This is your debut young adult novel. What drew you to writing for young adults?
LL: What I love about writing for young adults is that everything is possible. The characters in young adult books are trying out their own cosmology. They’re self-involved and idealistic and myopic and visionary all at the same time. They have the energy of their whole lives in front of them and very little context for failure, so they try things. They roll the dice. They have high hopes and wild dreams. So does the young adult audience. Those characters are the audience.
JP: Your ear for characters’ voices is incredible. How did you manage to write from so many different characters’ perspectives so convincingly? How did you keep each character’s voice distinct and unique?
LL: I fell in love with every one of my characters. I longed for each of their longings. I felt their frustrations and disappointments. If I didn’t love them, I couldn’t portray their three-dimensionality. I knew Alvin’s love and hatred of his father. I understood Leann’s inability to love someone because of the betrayals in her family. I resonated with Izzy’s harebrained idea. I ached for Mrs. Smythe. Yeah, I walked their paths. They’re not me. But they are in me.
JP: A major theme in this book is the existence of all possibilities. Do you believe, as Tommy does, that “all possibilities exist”?
LL: I remember when I was a teenager. Everything was possible. Everything. It’s tougher to stay awake and alive to every possibility as you get older but it’s possible. Think about it. The sun rises. You have a day planned and a knock comes at your door. Whoosh, something unexpected. Are you going to let that possibility in? It exists. It just knocked on your door.
JP: Karla’s story is probably the most dramatic one in the book. Speaking of possibilities, did other possibilities exist for Karla? Do you think her life could have worked out differently if, as Kimmie Jo says on p. 8, “Like something might have changed if we’d done one thing different before.”
LL: Omygosh, Karla Ray. This is a tragedy beyond measure. If her father hadn’t left . . . If her mother had the skills to have a stable job . . . If Karla had been born into a family that allowed her to be a kid . . . If she had met someone who loved her, who didn’t lie to her, whom she could trust, oh my, her life could have turned out so differently. Yes, one little twist of fate can change so much.
JP: This book is set in a border town in Texas, and you address issues relating to immigration. What made you want to include a character like Maricela, a teenage migrant worker, in this book?
LL: I included Maricela’s story because the migrant population in Texas is woven into the fabric of the workforce and “sewn” into the landscape. They don’t have easy lives, but they work hard trying to make a home. Sometimes after migrant workers start families here, the adults can get deported but their children are left with friends or relatives. It’s a difficult and incomplete existence for those kids. People watch over them, sort of. They carry on with their parents’ dream, sort of. Protecting Nino gives Maricela the kind of family she needs; it makes her feel stronger.
JP: Something readers may take from this book is a greater appreciation of the ways in which we are all connected. What connects these specific characters, other than their relationships with Tommy and the things he left behind? I guess what I’m wondering is, what drew you to their specific narratives. What unites them for you?
LL: At first, it was the pull-out—this roadside patch of dirt—that connected them. It’s halfway between two towns. People stop there all the time but it’s a kind of no-man’s-land. And yet very specific things happen there. Life changing events for some. Simple encounters for others. It is the epiphanies of these characters which unite them.
JP: On p. 218, Tommy writes, “Some people have found that you can’t describe feelings because of what’s known as the specious present. As soon as you observe the exact moment you are in, it is gone.” Given that, how do you think Tommy would feel, or would have felt, to learn the extent to which so many cared about him and were touched by his life and disappearance?
LL: When I was ten years old, I was making a fort in a forest of pine trees near my house. While I was in there, it started snowing. A lot. Little did I know but my parents were freaking out. I finally heard everyone calling for me and wandered out of my pine fortress. I was really surprised and curious by their upset because I wasn’t lost. I knew right where I was and I wasn’t worried. In a way, Tommy would be surprised and curious as well. Like being found wouldn’t have this sense of relief for him because he knows where he is. As for learning how other people felt about him being missing, he would feel awkward. All the upset. All the emotions. It would be overwhelming for Tommy.
JP: You chose not to give the reader any easy answers when it came to what happened to Tommy. Why? Do you know where he went?
LL: I chose not to give an easy answer about what happened to Tommy because, really, I believe life is a mystery. Life doesn’t give us easy answers. It’s more important to look at the “why” of things. As for where Tommy went, some days I think Tommy is in Switzerland working on the Large Hadron Collider. Some days, he is badgering some guy at a bus station to give him a ticket back to Texas because he was kidnapped and dumped someplace in Chicago. Some days, I think he died of thirst looking up at the stars. Some days, I wonder if he ever existed. Perhaps he is a metaphor for that lost feeling we all have in our lives.
Lindsey Lane received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the award-winning picture book Snuggle Mountain (Clarion, 2003). A playwright, Lindsey lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.
Evidence of Things Not Seen comes out on September 16, 2014.