WriterGirl Interview with Alice Kuipers, author of Life on the Refrigerator Door

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): All Tomorrow's Parties by Icehouse.

Hello again everyone! I'm very excited to present the follow-up interview to yesterday's review of Life on the Refrigerator Door. As a debut author, I'm doubly excited to welcome the wonderful Alice Kuipers to The Secret Adventures of WriterGirl.

[Me]: As a story about the relationship between a mother and daughter, do you recommend leaving notes on the refrigerator door as a viable means of developing a relationship? ;)

[AK]:I think communication is really important in any relationship. Lots of times we forget how important it is to communicate well with those around us that we love. I know that I often don't make time to talk with people who matter to me. Whether we use notes, emails, text messages, letters, or, even better, make the time to talk face to face, I think any relationship benefits from those sorts of efforts.

[Me]: How come neither of them had cell phones? I was very curious on that fact.

[AK]: Claire has a cell phone, it never gets mentioned in the notes because she never answers it when her mum calls or she forgets to turn it on. I think her mum has one too, she just keeps forgetting it at home. Mainly, they just happen to be in the habit of leaving each other notes. I've had lots of letters from readers who say they've kept a note their mum left them, sometimes from years before... there's something concrete about the written word that perhaps gets lost with cell phones and the internet.

[Me]: What made you think of using just notes to tell an entire story? It’s quite brilliant, I think, and very difficult, too. Were you worried about the reception it would receive, being so short?

[AK]: Thanks. I came up with the idea when I read a note my boyfriend left me. I'd been writing for many years but never had the right story to tell. Suddenly, I wondered if I only let myself tell a story using notes what could I create on the page between two people? As with the note my boyfriend left me if someone else had read it they would have known something intimate about our relationship. As a writer, that was interesting to me - could I reveal the intimacy between two people with very few words?

As for whether I was worried about the reception it would get, no, I wasn't worried. I didn't really think about who might read the book, I just loved writing it. It's been very surprising to me that it's ended up being published in 29 countries and won prizes and met so many readers. Maybe if I'd imagined that, I might have been more worried!

[Me]: It must have been hard to write with that format. What was the hardest for you, writing it that way? Any unexpected constrictions?

[AK]: It wasn't very hard to write because it was deeply enjoyable. Challenging at times, but never in a way that wasn't thrilling. One difficulty was making sure I said enough without saying too much. A friend read an early draft and was confused by what Peter was. I thought just the name Peter (like Peter rabbit) would be enough for a reader to know he was a rabbit, but after her feedback, I mentioned twice that he's a rabbit (once on the first page) which I think helps readers.

[Me]: Now I have to ask, what is your favorite scene, personally?

[AK]: I like the final scene. I remember thinking of it and knowing suddenly that the book was finished. It was sad because I'd enjoyed writing it so much, but also a good moment because everything came together on the page.

[Me]: I loved the fragmentation that came with some of the scenes. Like, there would be a fight that was suddenly mentioned in a new note with no reference in the previous one (obviously). That made it so real for me. How did you accomplish that? Did you ever mess up when writing those scenes?

[AK]: Thanks, again. When I wrote the book, Claire and Elizabeth (her mum) felt entirely real to me. The fragmentation you talk about came without me thinking about it very much. I had the two characters in my head and I could picture everything that was happening to them around them leaving each other notes - I could really see them. Maybe that's strange, but I suspect it happens to lots of writers. It probably happens to you when you're writing something you really enjoy working on.

[Me]: What were the challenges (writing, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing this to life?

[AK]: There was lots of research to get the tone right, and to make sure I understood breast cancer well enough to make the story real. Some of that research was very sad and sometimes very hard to incorporate well.

The main challenge was not to finish the book! I wanted to write it forever and letting it go was really difficult because I knew I'd never write a book like it again.

[Me]: This is such a unique idea and execution so different. What was the spark that ignited it to life?

[AK]: A friend of mine lost her mother to breast cancer. The circumstances were entirely different but the emotion was raw and moving. As a writer, I wanted to explore that loss in a respectful way, in a way that would honour my friend. I hope I achieved that.

[Me]: Did you have to cut out anything you didn’t want to cut out? (editors or otherwise?)

[AK]: There were lots of edits and cuts and reorganising scenes that, again, I enjoyed. Normally you editor won't make you cut out anything you don't want to. They usually ask you questions that make you think, hmmmm, could I do this better? The answer is normally, yes! Then you end up making cuts that they probably thought should be made but were clever enough to make you think you'd come up with the idea.

[Me]: When did you know you had to write this story? When did it become more than just an idea in your head into something that was real?

[AK]: I write all the time, every day. My problem is choosing which story to work on, which to finish, which to abandon. Life on the Refrigerator Door kept me interested and in love with the story from beginning to end. Like I said, I just didn't want to finish it when I knew it was finished, so letting it go was hard. Bringing it to life was totally consuming.

[Me]: Is there anything new in the pipeline? Please tell me there is, this was a great read.

[AK]: Thanks. Yes, my next novel is coming out in May 2010. I've finished it and am doing the copy edits now. I have yet to give it a title, though. I'll let you know once I chose one!

[Me]: Finally, do you have a website, or another way for readers to contact you?

[AK]: www.refrigeratordoor.ca

Thanks so much Alice. I really loved this book. Please keep up the fantastic work.

And thank you, Heather. Thanks for your great questions and your interest. Your blog is really great. And keep going with the writing. I remember wanting to be a writer and may main advice to anyone like you who wants to be a writer is to write, write, write and then write a little more. Good luck with Ransom The Dawn.


Vivian Mahoney said...

Nice interview!

Unknown said...

I love how she mentioned how she knows people who have kept notes.

Because I have a note I kept.

When I was in high school, my grandmother came to visit. I often took advantage of these visits--she only lived 2 hours away, so she often came for overnight visits, about every other month or so. Anyway, when she was leaving, I didn't wake up to say goodbye, but stayed in bed until noon like a typical teenager. She'd written a note on the back of a business card; basically, just saying she loved me and didn't want to wake me and goodbye. She put it on the pillow, and it was the first thing I saw when I woke up.

Because it was handwritten, I couldn't throw it away (I always keep letters). I kept it for years, just thrown in the bottom of my dresser drawer. Now that she's died, I keep that little business card note in a special place in my jewelry box--but I don't look at it. I don't have to--I've got everything about it memorized.

Notes are very special! I cannot wait to read this book even more!!

PJ Hoover said...

I'm even more excited to read this now after reading the awesome interview!
Such a cool idea!

Heather Zundel said...

Beth, that is the sweetest story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I've told Alice about the interview and your wonderful comments. She'll read them for herself soon. And I'm so glad my first review/interview was so well received! (that's always encouraging). :)

Alice Kuipers said...

Yes, Beth, it's a wonderful story. Thanks for letting us know about your grandmother's note.

And thanks, Heather, for doing such a good job.

Ali (ce Kuipers)