Tag Team Interview, Part 3
Today you will be able to see the third portion of the Tag Team conversation between Mary DeMuth and Brad Whittington. They’ll tell us more about the process of creating their novels. If you missed the first two parts, here’s part one and here’s part two.
Before we dive into the interview, let’s learn about two more books from these authors.
Mary DeMuth’s first novel will be published in March called Watching The Limbs (NavPress) With a haunting writing style reminiscent of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mary DeMuth releases Watching the Tree Limbs. DeMuth tells the achingly painful and beautiful story of Mara Weatherall, a nine-year-old girl repeatedly raped by a neighborhood boy. With no memory of a father and only a vague recollection of a woman and a green porch swing for her mother, Mara desparately wishes for the security of parents. Yet even the precarious shelter of a dismissive aunt is ripped away from Mara and she is sent to live in a run-down mansion on the wrong side of town. Things work out differently here. Textbooks are years out of date, the playground equipment needed to be replaced a decade ago, and her face is the only white one in a sea of ebony skin.
It’s been said that Christian fiction rarely acknowledges the true evils of society or depths of emotion in characters. Debut novelist Mary DeMuth absolutely shatters those notions with her March 2006 release, Watching the Tree Limbs. This book should come with a warning: It will change your heart and view of this world forever.
Here’s what Publisher's Weekly wrote about Living With Fred: In this sequel to the Christy Award–winning Welcome to Fred, Whittington improves on his earlier novel with a more cohesive, confidently written story set in the early 1970s, in which 16-year-old preacher’s kid Mark Cloud finds a book in his church library that asks the now clichéd but then fresh question, “What would Jesus do?”
From that point on, via Mark’s first-person narration, Whittington entertainingly and poignantly takes readers on a tour of Mark's last two years of high school. During that time, Mark and several other residents of the titular East Texas town attempt, in their own difficult situations, to do what they believe Jesus would do. Parker Walker, for example, whose alcoholism and abusiveness led to unspeakable tragedy in the first Fred novel, endeavors to emulate Jesus in a desperate search for redemption. Vernon Crowley, an alcoholic and a bootlegger, does as he believes Jesus would do when he stands trial for a murder he did not commit. And Mark, the enormously appealing, literate, self-deprecating young hero, also makes his own repeated attempts to be Christlike, often in situations that are simultaneously humorous and deadly. Whittington does an impressive job of focusing the novel thematically while letting its plot meander delightfully, and in doing so paints a satisfying, authentic portrait of late adolescence.
MaryD: Let’s talk about saying goodbye to Fred. How does it feel to be done with
BradW: I haven’t thought of it in those terms.
MaryD: I ask because I got sad when I finished writing my first novel, like I’d miss my characters.
BradW: I wrote what I needed to write about it, and then I was done.
MaryD: You’re so man-ish. Compartmentalize it.
BradW: Oops, I guess I am. I had that experience in the middle of Welcome to Fred. Mark moves from
MaryD: Moving stinks.
BradW: I was really upset about having to abandon the character. But, hey, the contract was for a kid growing up in
MaryD: Yes, that’s true! That Gary Terashita’s a real stickler.
BradW: Heck yeah! Speaking of sticklers, have you received any editorial feedback that you strongly disagreed with?
MaryD: The first book, no. For the novel, Watching the Tree Limbs, I received 22 pages of edits. Single-spaced. Most of what she said was right. A few things I didn’t agree with, so I nicely argued my point.
BradW: How did that turn out?
MaryD: They accepted my take on it.
BradW: So there wasn’t strong resistance.
MaryD: There were some things I could’ve pressed but didn’t. I think there wasn’t strong resistance because I was trying to be Suzie-Christian-Sweet-Author person, trying to be easy to work with, so when I did deviate, they seemed pretty open.
BradW: Well, there you go. I haven’t taken that route.
MaryD: So, you weren’t Suzie-Christian-Sweet-Author person?
BradW: I’m not sure the folks at B&H would describe me as “easy to work with.” Or maybe they would. Who knows?
MaryD: Oh yeah, he’s working with my-agent-formerly-known-as-chip.
BradW: Gary and I went around a few times on Living with Fred.
MaryD: How did that go?
BradW: I had to rewrite the last chapter twice. But before I did it, I forced him to admit the first version worked for the story. It just didn’t work for the publisher. In the original, Mark bought the beer for the graduation party.
MaryD: Mark! That dog! In
BradW: I moved the scene to the middle of Escape from Fred where it worked even better.
MaryD: My editor nixed a few scenes from Tree Limbs that appear in the second book. That’s the glory of a series.
BradW: Yes, there’s always another chance to resurrect your slain darlings.
MaryD: Where do you see your novels?
BradW: What I’ve written so far, the Fred books and the Matt Cooper books, they’re solidly CBA in that the Christian content is very up front. And I use a lot of Christian fiction clichés in the first two Fred books. Which I like to think I transcended. The clichés, I mean.
MaryD: Good. Clichés are bad. Unless you transcend them.
BradW: Exactly. Sting has written some incredible songs starting with clichés. I have a back burner project to do a series of whodunits. It will be
MaryD: But not CIA.
BradW: No, more FBI.
MaryD: I know you haggled on your cover for the third Fredski book. How did you resolve the great chicken cover caper?
BradW: One thing about the Fred books is they have incredibly great covers. Which the author has no control over, of course.
MaryD: I know. But do tell. This is an expose’, you know.
BradW: On the first two covers, I had minor comments, some of which they heeded and some of which they didn’t. For example, on Living with Fred they had a newer Coke can with the tab that stays on. I pointed out that in the 70s the tabs came off. So they changed it.
MaryD: Oh, good one. I remember getting all those warnings about peeling off the tab and putting it in your can. Good catch.
BradW: On the other hand, I complained many times about the pink sky on that cover, thinking it looked too girly and romance-novel-ish. They didn’t change that, as you can see.
MaryD: Ah, but Brad, now you’re in touch with your feminine side.
BradW: Let’s just say you shouldn’t ask me to choose your wallpaper. So, Escape from Fred came along and they sent me the cover they were all in love with. I absolutely hated it.
MaryD: The chicken cover? As in, why did the chicken cross the gravelly road?
BradW: Yes, as in “Why did the chicken leave Fred?” I violently and vehemently hated it.
MaryD: OOOOOH. You must. Using two adverbs like that.
BradW: I’m completely out of control on the subject. They thought it was very clever. Everybody there loved it.
BradW: Yes. They tried their best to talk me into it. I threw a fit. It became the one hill I was willing to die on. They said, “We have this other cover, but everyone likes the chicken better.” And they sent me a wonderful cover that I loved instantly. I said, “This is perfect.” And they said, “We still like the chicken.”
MaryD: So, it appears you were at an impasse. (To loosely quote the Princess Bride.)
BradW: Oh yeah. So, Paul Mikos, then Marketing VP at Broadman & Holman, came up with a great idea. Have an online survey and let the Fred readers pick the cover. Their decision, whatever it was, to be final.
MaryD: Did you pad the vote?
BradW: Shocking! How could you suggest such a thing? (Also, the automated system prevented a person from voting more than once, the devils.)
MaryD: Well, you’re someone who says doodah. What else could I think?
BradW: Broadman & Holman put up a web page where people could vote and I sent out an email to my FredNotes list telling folks they had a chance to pick the cover of the next book. And, if you must know, I didn’t say anything about the covers or which I preferred.
MaryD: You’re very democratic!
BradW: I am. Absolutely.
MaryD: And the winner was....
BradW: My confidence in my readers was not misplaced. They picked the car 2-to-1 over the chicken.
BradW: The chicken cover can be seen by mousing over the car cover at www.fredtexas.com.
MaryD: I like the feet-out-the-window cover better. Much better.
BradW: But, I must point out that Broadman and Holman didn’t have to accommodate me on the cover.
MaryD: This is true. I’m glad they did.
BradW: It is to their credit that they went to those lengths to come to a resolution that was agreeable to the author.
MaryD: Because they LOOOOOOVVVVEEEED you.
BradW: Oh yeah. They love me, baby.
MaryD: Because you’re not difficult, right?
BradW: Not, I.
Ok, that’s the conclusion of part three of this tag team interview. I hope you like seeing the type of diplomacy these authors used with their editors—yet also their persistence in talking with them about their concerns. There is nothing worse than an author who takes every interview to talk about how they dislike their cover (yes, I’ve seen it happen). Publishers understand the author is passionate about their topic and intimately acquainted with the content of their book. It’s a delicate balance to be pro-active and not become high maintenance.
Tomorrow will mark the conclusion of this series.