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Thursday, October 20, 2016

SDG Reads: A Night with Frances Itani

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Yesterday, I posted my review of Tell by Frances Itani, the 2016 SDG Reads selection.  In the evening’s presentation, the author made comments that touched on some of my observations in the review.

For instance, Itani mentioned that she loves doing research.  For Deafening, she did six years of research.  She even learned American Sign Language!  For Tell, its follow-up, she did an additional two years of research including actually visiting World War I battle sites.  She stated that all of her characters are completely fictional because she needs an empty head which she can fill, but she insists on absolute historical accuracy when depicting a real place.  Her comments about her research tied in with a statement in my review of Tell that some episodes seemed “just to emphasize Itani’s research of the time period.”

My comment that “At times the plot seems more like a series of disjointed anecdotes” fits in with Itani’s comment that she writes thematically.  She said she does not map out a plot; in fact, she claims not to know exactly what “plot” means.

In my review, I also discussed the symbol of the snow wall:  “the snow wall near the rink to keep skaters from venturing unto risky, uncertain ice symbolizes the townspeople’s silence; when Kenan and Am attack that wall, community members become upset.”  Itani obviously uses symbols deliberately; she spoke of the symbolism of the clock tower.  Am spends a great deal of time there; surrounded by four clock faces, he is trapped in time.

Itani revealed that she is now working on the third book of what has accidentally become a trilogy begun with Deafening and followed by Tell.  The third book is tentatively titled That’s My Baby and tells Hanora’s story beginning in March 1939, approximately 2 decades after the ending of Tell.  The theme will be about belonging but the book will also focus on the adoption process and dementia.  The book may be released in 2017.  Itani also mentioned that there is a possibility that Deafening and Tell may be made into a mini television series.

My disappointment with last night’s presentation was that Itani gave little insight into her writing process.  She emphasized writing thematically and not paying any attention to plot.  She also said that she works very hard at trying to have readers experience what characters are feeling.  She said that the best writing advice she ever received was from W. O. Mitchell who told her to “go where it grabs you the most.”  The element of writing novels that she finds most difficult is voice; she spoke of her problems trying to find a voice for Bin Okuma, the Japanese-Canadian male protagonist in Requiem.  On the other hand, Georgie’s voice in Remembering the Bones came very easily.  But, no, she didn’t reveal whether Georgie lives or dies at the end of the book.

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