Friday, August 26, 2011

Simbarashe Talks About Warsongs

At the end of Veronasongs, we see that battle lines have been drawn. Donica has taken a stand again Lauren, and from here on out she pays the price. Join me as Simbarashe and I discuss the sequel to Veronasongs. In Warsongs, the battle is played over a week of drama and change, and we end the story believing that none of the kids in Verona will ever be the same...

So we can’t finish discussing Veronasongs without talking about Warsongs. You mentioned that you wrote this novel first. Tell us a little bit about your writing process for this novel.

I had written the story for Warsongs first, in several different formats over the years, but the actual book as it has been published was written after Veronasongs. Still, I rewrote it 3 times over the course of a year and a half. It was extremely difficult to write because when I originally created this story as a teenager, much of it was fueled from a very dark place. Fourteen years later I’m trying to essentially rewrite this emotional bomb as an adult, contented person. The timeline and the general plot points were easy, but I just couldn’t recreate the tone that I originally had because I didn’t have those demons anymore. My editor suggested after two other efforts to shorten the span of time in the book from two weeks to one, giving it a greater sense of urgency. I think the urgent nature of inevitable tragedy makes up for and adequately replaces negative emotion that was originally there so many years ago.

Warsongs differs from Veronasongs as far as writing style. You mentioned that you were reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez (amazing writer, by the way), so was that intentional for you, a sign of your progression as a writer, or something that just happened due to the story?

Yeah, they’re completely different. Veronasongs was inspired by Marquez. The style of writing for Warsongs is largely unchanged from the original manuscript (Everybody Hates Donica Pine) that I completed back in 2004. In that version, the characters who are being interviewed [in Warsongs] simply take turns narrating the story in first person. Christian and Sara also narrated, but they of course are not interviewed in Warsongs, for a particular reason. I didn’t read so much when I first wrote Donica Pine. I thought that was an innovated way to tell a story back then, but of course I was completely naive in this thought processes. I decided to go back to 3rd person, but from a general 1st person perspective because the original format wasn’t working the way I needed it to work. The interviews were actually the idea of one of my brothers. He’d read the last screenplay I’d written for Donica Pine in 2007 and suggested I use the interviews as a way to insert true 1st person perspective in throughout the events.

Well, I found it a great plot twist, actually. It really helped to show the changes in the character’s lives. Very well done!
Also as you mentioned, Warsongs brings some of the minor characters from Veronasongs into a brighter spotlight. Do you plan to continue that trend in Book 3?

Yes. The third book begins the summer after Warsongs, so there are seniors who graduate and move away, and a couple of younger students step up. A couple of students are dead, obviously. There’s a big section about the soccer player Gina Sloan and her senior season. Christian’s sister Olivia will be a freshman.

Ralph Mills is introduced in Warsongs. He appears to be caught in his own personal battles, but it struck me that he also notices and dislikes what is happening in Verona. Will he take a greater stance in Book 3?

Actually, Ralph Mills was introduced in Veronasongs—he’s the player who embarrasses Verona in their basketball home-opener against Lakeview (the game where Bad Things Happen with Donica in the girls restroom). I can’t spoil anything with Book 3 per se, but his physical role isn’t bigger. There is a working partnership and trust with Daniel Hope that continues to build since Ethan and Marcus and Trae have all moved on. I can tell you though that Ralph Mills represents the social shift that is fast approaching Verona. There’s definitely a distinction with residents in regards to who sees it coming and who doesn’t.

I do remember that scene! I was getting the feeling at the end of Warsongs that Ralph was thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ but was too caught up with his own personal problem to really explore things.

I think everyone in the book suffers with that problem; but Ralph Mills has a slightly different perspective from the others.

Loes is also introduced, and though she doesn’t speak much, she seems to observe what’s happening. She also appears pretty bright. Will she return in Book 3, and if so be more vocal?

Real-Life “Loes” was brilliant. But she’s just a foreign exchange student, so unfortunately her stay in Verona was quite temporary. Does she come back to visit? I haven’t written that far into Book 3 yet, but I’ll find out soon . . .

Ah, the teaser J… At the same time, now I wonder if she fulfilled her need to draw Christian out of his melancholy?

That's a good question. Throughout the book I don't think Christian was melancholy when Loes was around. It was just a matter of taking that next step, out into admitted vulnerability. She was good for him.

Backing up now to Donica, we discussed how she would have regretted what happened that day in the cafeteria in Veronasongs. However, I wonder if things would have changed anyway. Lauren did have to deal with what she saw at Donica’s house, right? It seems only natural that things would have ended up the way they did. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t think so. Her motives for becoming a war machine are expressed in the creative writing exercise she wrote to her substitute teacher in Veronasongs. Lauren was bright enough to understand that incident at the house wasn’t Donica’s fault. Would it have been awkward though? Yes, I’m sure. But Lauren went to Donica and basically said, “I’m willing to drop this if you’re on my side.” Donica basically said, “I’m not on your side.”

In Veronasongs, there was a greater focus on the teachers in the school. In Warsongs they are noticeably absent or useless. Tell me a little about your motivation for that twist.

When I wrote the story in high school they were completely absent, save for the opening scene with Mr. Dresner and when Ethan and Donica were dragged into the principal’s office. When I was 16 and living in New Mexico I was perpetually devastated and quietly very angry. All of the adults in my life, save for perhaps my stepfather, were noticeably absent or completely useless. Nobody cared. I put that in all caps when Donica was flipping through television channels on a Saturday morning. This was how I felt every Saturday morning back then.

It can be very difficult to grow up alone, especially during those awkward and momentous years.

Yes. I have heard some people speculate that Facebook and the socialisation of the internet have made things much easier for young people. In the first book Donica used telnet; she was the only student with an email address (though I didn't explicitly say this, tech nerds would've figured that out). By Book 2 the kids are still using pagers. The world was beginning to expand with the internet in the late 90s, but it was still very small, especially to the middle of the country and a place like Kansas City in particular.

One person we haven’t mentioned yet is Donica’s brother, Monty (or Sam). I found him to be a very sympathetic character because he seems to have a good heart; he’s just misguided. Would you agree with my conclusion?

Here’s a clue for you: If you really want to know what happens at the end of Warsongs, all you need to do is revisit his personal story in Book 1. There’s a very out-of-place passage in there that very specifically lays out what’s going to happen. Monty is one of those people who looks so weird that you just stay away. Everyone assumes he’s a goth or a metalhead because he wears all black, but all he does is sit in his room listening to The Smashing Pumpkins. He’s more misunderstood than he is misguided, though to be fair, he is certainly that, too. He’s loyal to his friends, he loves Donica and he hates his mother. His life isn’t that complex. He fought cancer but he doesn’t know how to fight other people. No one asked how he reconciled not coming to Donica’s defence when she was in immediate danger on Saturday. It’s just one of those intended but inexplicable things.

I know you covered this briefly in the very end of the book, but tell me why you took out that final chapter from Warsongs.

Kids die. I’ve been told on a few occasions that people like how the book ends on a cliff and Christian’s serenity throughout that moment. The reality is that a gun is still being pointed to his face. Sara’s breakdown can’t be ignored, and out in the parking lot you have two boys deciding if they should still step inside the school building even with the police on the premises. I mean, it’s a BAD day. When the story was two weeks long, there were several parts of several days where things were calm, peaceful even. When everything happens in a week and there’s no chance to stop or breathe and then people show up on Monday with the intentions that they have, I just thought it was too much. Warsongs is plenty violent without me having to write out was was—essentially—the entire reason why the book exists in the first place. (I just realised how ludicrous that sounds. But it’s true.) So I removed that scene, and I removed the final chapter (the next day) because that entire premise has now become Book 3. I can tell you that Book 3 has some intense moments of violence, but they exist specifically in the dreams of the people who experienced the earlier tragedy. So instead of physical violence, it’s more like psychological torture. That being said, Book 3 will not have the dark tone that Warsongs does. Things are more ominous than physically present. There are entirely new challenges that our friends must learn how to deal with.

The lines that were blacked out. Can you tell us if you will include some of that missing information in Book 3?

Not a chance! Those are sealed records and scenes I don’t want to get sued over.

Darn, I had to try though J.

We'll work it out.

Another thing I cannot fail to mention is how so many people do not agree with what happening to Donica, but none stand up and speak for her. Can you say whether or not is has something to do with her obvious anger? Is she perhaps making people afraid of her in Warsongs, or is it more their fear of Lauren?

You know what it is? This is something that happens to everyone, but kids are more susceptible to: the pack mentality. The reality is that nobody really hates Donica at all, but the perception is that because Lauren seems to hate her and her friends seem to hate her, everybody hates her. It’s a de facto hatred. The only character who vocally promotes a pro-hate against Donica movement is Jon. I don’t know if anybody notices, but Jon is the only major character who doesn’t have any direct physical or social contact with Donica in either of the books. Technically, Lauren doesn’t even campaign against, Donica, it’s just that she can’t seeing Christian or any of her other friends associating with her (which she made perfectly clear in the first book when she and Donica broke down over the table invitation). So the great irony is that the only kid who hates this girl for real is also the only kid who’s never spoken to her. Perceived hatred happens all the time. Donica is angry because she’s one of the only two people who understand what’s going on—Sara being the other, and because of Christian they’ll never be friends.

Christian finally begins to make a stand in the end of Warsongs. Is that a hint of what’s to come in Book 3?

That depends on how you think the end of Warsongs really shakes out J

Book 3 is still a work in progress. Any tentative information as to when you might have it ready for release?

It’s almost complete and chunks of it have been going to my editor already so with any luck, next summer.

I can’t wait!

Any teasers about Book 3 that you would like to include?

In keeping tradition with the difference in presentation and writing styles of the first two books, Book 3 will also be different. I can tell you that it is a journal that is written over the course of the next school year. It begins 5 months after Warsongs ends. I can tell you that one of the main three characters that survives will enter into a relationship for the very first time. And I can tell you that the opening passage of Warsongs is an actual passage in Book 3 (the opening passage of Veronasongs was an actually passage in Warsongs, too). Finally, I can tell you that many of the characters have gone through very dramatic personal changes in the 5 months between Warsongs and Book 3.

Well that’s more than I had hoped for. Thank you!

I'm happy to oblige.

Anything else that you would like to add?

I hope that people read Warsongs and choose to share it with others. Specifically, that it opens a new dialogue about the things that tend to torment young people. Bullying, dramatic social changes, the lack of trust that exists between teenagers and adults. The adults are missing from Warsongs because teenagers in generally either feel invincible or helpless. Help itself is generally missing in each instance.

I agree completely. It should be mandatory reading for teens (and parents) everywhere! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Simbarashe. I can’t wait to read Book 3, and I wish you all the greatest success!

And again, here is my review for Warsongs:

After reading Veronasongs, I immediately began the sequel. This story is a gripping, emotional and faster paced read, and it left me with a lump in my throat so large that I couldn't stop speaking about it all evening.

Like the title, this story picks up where Veronasongs left off. However, this time the story is gritty, to the point, and abrupt. The writing itself shows how the attitudes of the characters have changed over the winter break. No longer seeing life through whimsical eyes, Donica, Christian, and the others have now been sucked into a battle worthy of Biblical times. It's an epic and heart-wrenching time in everyone's lives. There are those who see what's going on but do not speak. There are those that are victims of the taunts and cruelties and do not speak, and finally there are those who do speak up and are punished for doing so. From there a bubbling maelstrom of violence begins to overflow and spill over.

While at the end of Veronasongs I was cheering Donica for her actions, I saw what resulted in Warsongs and felt her pain. She is the tragic hero, so misunderstood and unjustifiably despised just because she is who she is. I wanted to scream at the other kids as I went through every page and beg them to put a stop to this, and the administrators of the school are noticeably lacking in this story. When they do appear, they are not helpful. Several times I choked up, and at the end of the story I did bring out the tissues. I had hoped something would happen to prevent it, but as in life sometimes things don't always work out that way.

The story does not just focus on Donica. As others mentioned, there is the second battle in the story, where Ralph has been transferred over. He too picks up a lead spot as someone who has to try to fit in with the white kids, and though he doesn't have a choice either he pays the price for his defection. The story is a hard look at how young kids interrelate and judge one another at a time when hormones can outweigh rational thought. It's a difficult time for many, and this is a good read for all ages - especially for bullies - to perhaps explain why some kids do what they do and how their actions impact others.


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Twitter: @simbarashey



Jenny said...

Awesome!!! I can't wait to read this!

Collette said...

Thank you Jenny! He did do a beautifu job describing his writing and giving more analysis to the book. They are great stories - a must read for all ages. :0)

Simbarashe said...

Thank you Jenny! I truly hope you enjoy the book!