Hello! Welcome to our new feature World of Word Craft, our resource for writers and aspiring writers! This week, the spotlight shines on Courtney Summers!
Courtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. To date, she has authored five novels. Her first novel, Cracked Up to Be, was published when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBILS award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more books. They are 2011 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honor book, Some Girls Are, 2012 YALSA Quick Pick, Fall for Anything, 2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honour book, This is Not a Test, and most recently, Please Remain Calm (an e-novella sequel to This is Not a Test) and All the Rage. All the Rage was an Official Tumblr Reblog Book Club pick and named a Best Book of 2015 by Bustle, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library and the B&N Teen Blog. — [X]
The first chapter of All the Rage was one of the most powerful ones I’ve ever read. Over the course of the novel, you do such interesting things with the Before/After format, creating tension and relief at such unexpected turns. Did you start off knowing exactly how the novel opened and where it would leave off? Or did it involve a fair bit of reorganizing events on a timeline?
Thank you so much! All the Rage went through a lot of drafts and each one was significantly different from the last, but mostly all of them always started with Romy on the road before moving to an earlier point in time. From that point on, the placement of the timeline shifts/flashbacks happened pretty organically. I’d have a feeling of where they should go and then refine and clarify them in revision.
Was there ever a point when your story seemed to lose direction? What do you do when this happens?
As I mentioned, All the Rage went through multiple drafts before it turned into the novel that’s on shelves today—I think maybe five or six? I can’t emphasize the importance of getting an extra pair of eyes (or four or six!) to look at your work when you’re so deep in a manuscript you can’t see the forest for the trees. In addition to having the help of my editor, I also had my agent, critique partners and a few outside reads. This helped me find my footing with my book again, when I was feeling lost. If you’re unable to get a second read, and you have the time, I think it’s always beneficial to step back from the manuscript and take a break from the writing.
All the Rage could have ended in so many different ways. How did you decide where exactly to end Romy’s story? Or, to be more precise, how did you know that this—out of the many possible endings—was the best one for the novel? Or, was it more a question of which ending would be best for the characters as well as the readers?
I start a book with an idea of the note I want to end it on emotionally. I can’t always name the specifics—who is at the end with the main character, where they are, what exact plot points led them to that place—but I have a pretty clear idea of the emotional growth (or negative growth, depending on the character), that needs to take place. So in that case, it’s really what is best for the character. Sometimes that’s not always the ending the reader wants, though.
Both All the Rage and Some Girls Are deal with rape, rape culture, and some amount of substance abuse—none of which are easy topics to discuss. How do you approach writing topics where too much detail (or too little) could so easily alter the novel’s impact on its readers?
It’s important to me that my books be as honest as possible. That means being respectful of the subject matter without being gratuitous or exploitative, and being truthful in execution without holding back. Figuring out where the line is will always depend on what you’re writing about. Sometimes your instincts will guide you and sometimes they won’t—sometimes you’ll see where you haven’t been doing the subject matter justice in revision, sometimes other people will need to tell you. Whatever I write about, I always make sure I’m approaching it carefully. My books are often part of larger conversations about bullying, depression, rape culture, and I don’t want my contribution to undermine those conversations.
What is the worst thing your inner critic has ever told you? How did you stop that voice from getting louder?
“You can’t do this.” And the only way to stop that voice is by responding to it—by writing. :)
Thank you so much for your time, Courtney! <3