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DarcieB
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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Mr. O'Nan -
Thanks so much for participating in First Look and allowing us to discover this book! I really enjoyed it and like some of the questions that have already been asked would really like to know what your thoughts are on what happened to Kim (please don't feel the need to answer it again if you already have I will find it in the other posts).  Like so many missing people I am sure the families are left with a lot of questions, which I thought was very accurate in the portrayal of this book.  But as a reader it is driving me crazy! :smileyhappy: 
 
I thought that the book was very insightful as to the family experiences.  There were some things I would never have thought of with the family, but after your portrayal it makes perfect sense! 
Darcie
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onecunninggirl
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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Mr. O'Nan, this has been an amazing opportunity to look at a book that I normally wouldn't have picked up.  I never really connected to this book, which really bothered me.  As a parent, I thought I would be able to feel the mother's pain, but I just couldn't.  That being said, why didn't we get to hear more from Lindsay?  Every time there was a Lindsay chapter, I was ready for there to be so much more than there was.  Again thank you for this opportunity!
 
Karla
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streamsong
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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Thank you for being here.
 
At times I loved the book, at times I was frustrated, at times I had to put it down or skip forward a bit. I will certainly never look at the stories of missing people the same way again, without thinking about their families and this book. I will also be looking for more of your books.
 
Two questions for you: I'm intrigued by your mysterious acknowledgement--"Deepest thanks to Trudy, Caitlin and Stephen for dealing with this nightmare come true. My apologies for the scare."
 
And my curiosity--Did you read our other discussion threads? What did you think of them?
 
 
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Stewart_ONan
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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Hey Karen, thanks for moderating.  I think the biggest influence my being a husband and father had on writing Songs was that I'm at that age when--like the Larsens--our children are leaving home.  So, just naturally, I miss them.


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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



BookSavage wrote:
Thanks so much for joining us in this discussion.  I will admit off the top that I did not enjoy this book at all.  I hope that does not keep you from answering my question though.  I have many questions about the way you wrote this book, but I will confine it to one for right now.  Why did you choose to not include more about JP?  I really liked his character and wanted to become connected, but felt like he never developed and participated enough in the story to allow me to do so.  Thanks again for joining us in this discussion.


Thanks for reading the book.  Sorry you didn't like it better.
 
J.P.'s relationship with Kim is the least intense, in that he's already kind of lost her before she disappears.  Their understanding is that they'll split after the summer, and he's been wounded by this, and so he's been holding himself apart from her.  Her disappearance changes this, perversely, to a closer (idealized, guilty) relationship, but eventually he drifts away from her (and from himself, it seems) after learning about Wooze and surrendering to his helpless crush on Nina.  So in a way his development is negative, falling away from her and away from the center of the book, though Kim's place in his life will be indelible.  So naturally, toward the end, he gets fewer pages, proportionally, than Lindsay or Fran or Ed or even Nina, whose feeling grow deeper and stronger with time.


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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



dhaupt wrote:
Mr. O'Nan,
Thank you so much for being part of the First Look book club. I don't really have a question I just wanted to make a statement.
I really enjoyed your book very much, I found the characters very real and memorable, and the story line while haunting and very emotional reminded me more of a work of non-fiction with the great details and the heroics and blundering that really goes on in one of these situations.
I will be singing your praises to everyone I know to read this book. This was my first opportunity to read one of your books, but I will be looking for more to read.
Thank you again.

Message Edited by dhaupt on 06-13-2008 12:39 PM

Thanks for reading the book and for liking it.  That's interesting what you say--the heroics and the blundering reminding you of a nonfiction work.  My idea was to stick with how these events would really happen and how it would really feel to these people, in this place, at this time.  So there's a nonfiction component to the book, in that I'm trying to get that world across to the reader.  


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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Tarri wrote:
Thank you for sharing Songs for the Missing with the First Look bookclub, it was an incredibly insightful looking into the aftermath of a family with a missing child.  I don't know if you discussed the feelings a family goes through as hope wanes with a family who has gone through it, but your words brought the Larsen's emotions into sharp focus for me.  At times, I had to set my book aside and do something other than read.
 
Why did you decide to have the murderer commit suicide as opposed to having the family go through a trial?
 
I look forward to reading more of your books.


Thank you for reading the book.  The reason I had the murderer commit suicide in prison before divulging where Kim was was because that actually happened in the case I based the back half of the novel on, and that extra uncertainty was even more excruciating for the family (and for me, reading about it).  The terror of the book is the not-knowing, and the motivation for the parents is always them trying to find out what happened and where she is, and this choice added to that drama.


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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Carmenere_lady wrote:
Welcome Stewart.  What a pleasure it has been to be introduced to you through First Look.  While waiting for Songs to arrive I read The Good Wife and Last Night and the Lobster.  They offered me a peak into what to expect with Songs for the Missing.  I believe, you stayed true to your writing style.  Although the times are not always pretty, you capture periods of time and people in the 21st century perfectly.  I've begun calling you the Norman Rockwell of literature. 
Anyway, as a Northern Ohio resident forever, I feel you captured the area quite well.  It is amazing how through your photos you are able to create a story. 
I've just begun reading Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio to see if there is any comparison.  Have you read it and what is your opinion?  In the intro to Winesburg  it states that Anderson was not interested in telling conventional folk tales, those in which events are more important than emotions.  Considering Songs it seems that Kims abduction is an important event however it is the emotions afterward that fill most of your book.  Would you say that Andersons objective is similar to your style?
 
Thanks again and I look forward to reading your past and future novels.




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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Carmenere_lady wrote:
Welcome Stewart.  What a pleasure it has been to be introduced to you through First Look.  While waiting for Songs to arrive I read The Good Wife and Last Night and the Lobster.  They offered me a peak into what to expect with Songs for the Missing.  I believe, you stayed true to your writing style.  Although the times are not always pretty, you capture periods of time and people in the 21st century perfectly.  I've begun calling you the Norman Rockwell of literature. 
Anyway, as a Northern Ohio resident forever, I feel you captured the area quite well.  It is amazing how through your photos you are able to create a story. 
I've just begun reading Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio to see if there is any comparison.  Have you read it and what is your opinion?  In the intro to Winesburg  it states that Anderson was not interested in telling conventional folk tales, those in which events are more important than emotions.  Considering Songs it seems that Kims abduction is an important event however it is the emotions afterward that fill most of your book.  Would you say that Andersons objective is similar to your style?
 
Thanks for reading all of those books of mine.  Very generous of you.  I've never been compared to Norman Rockwell before--Edward Hopper, yes, David Lynch, even, but never Norman Rockwell.  It's an honor.
 
Sherwood Anderson is one of my favorite writers, and in fact while I was working on Songs I had a quote from one of his letters on my bulletin board.  The quote's packed away with all the other bulletin board stuff, but it was basically about telling the truth your own way.  A shame I don't have it at hand, cause it's a brilliant, inspiring quote.
 
Emotions ARE drama.  In writing Songs, I was interested in how Kim's disappearance and the subsequent search for her changes the people closest to her, and in that I think I'm doing very much what Anderson did--looking at how life changes or forms us
 




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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Linda10 wrote:
Dear Mr. O'Nan:
 
I don't know why this thought popped into my head; but it did.
 
Is Stewart O'Nan your real name?  Or is it a pen name?
 
 


it's my real name.


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abbyg7 wrote:
Mr. O'Nan
Thanks so much to you and Barnes and Noble for this opportunity to read Songs for the Missing and for joining the discussion.  I enjoyed this book very much and just could not put it down.  I have a few questions.  First, was there a significance to the key being broken off in the door of Kim's car?  Secondly, there has been some speculation as to whether Kim ran out of gas or if her abducter caused an accident to get her to stop, do you have an answer to that or is that left to us to decide?  I'm also wondering if someone close to you has been in an abduction situation?  You seem to be able to show us the different emotions and ways of dealing with the situation the various characters had, so I'm just wondering if you've been through a similar situation..  I was lucky enough to find copies of A Prayer for the Dying and The Circus Fire and  I'm looking forward to reading them.  Thank you again.
 
Thanks for your kind words on Songs.  Much appreciated.
 
The key being broken off in the door affects Ed deeply, partly, I think, because it implies abuse or physical damage.  I have my own answer for what happened to Kim, but I think it's more effective for readers to be in the position of Fran and Ed and Nina and JP and have to come up with their own scenarios.  Because in the end, the characters will never really know, and that's what partly what the book's about.  Someone close to me had someone they love go missing.
 
Thanks for trying A Prayer for the Dying and The Circus Fire.




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bentley wrote:
Stewart, thank you for spending some time with us. I asked Josh these same questions but I thought I would like to gain your perspective on them. Josh was great btw and I think that your writing style and this book is quietly powerful.

The first question dealt with the chapter titled "The Killer Next Door". This chapter troubled me for a variety or reasons. It was confusing because the killer was not in their neighborhood or next door; the abruptness of the chapter, the lack of details or of details which added up. I think I felt similarly to the Mimi character and how a sparkie and her dog found Kim. These pieces did not feel right to me in terms of integration with the flow of the book. However, I dealt with them and allowed myself to continue with the story which I felt was indeed a very powerful one told eloquently.

This first question was:

I have enjoyed this book very much and actually learned a lot. One chapter which was a pivotal and important chapter was the one titled The Killer Next Door. For me, there was not enough transition made for this chapter and for its revelations. It left me with a lot of questions. Had Kim run out of gas after she left her home on her way to her job? We know that she was running low because Fran had made her feel guilty about taking her sister out to practice driving. Did she think she had enough, ran out and sought help from a random wrong older man? At first, I thought you were referring to someone in Kim's neighborhood where she lived which made me think that she had come home to change and someone waylaid her while she was inside. Lindsay saw Kim's bathing suit hanging up so I assumed she got home. I found the chapter a bolt out of the blue, for such an important chapter lacking in details with the chapter title being a little misleading. I am wondering if you have heard any other comments about this chapter etc.

The second question dealt with the First Look experience. I was wondering how you felt about this kind of advance reading and what were your objectives for participating in this pre-read and what did you hope to gain from the experience. Will the input in any way change any element, paragraph, or chapter in the book or was this simply from your perspective a way to increase readership of some of your other novels? I am always curious about process and the reason for a decision such as this one.

Mr. O'Nan, this is the first book of yours which I have read; but I want you to know it will not be my last. I enjoyed the experience very much.

Bentley

Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.  Josh is an amazing reader and editor, and I'm very lucky to have him.
 
The Killer Next Door is a reference to how the media represents James Wade (and serial killers in general).  The speed with which these revelations come stuns the Larsens.  They have no idea what to make of them, just as they have no idea what to make of Mimi's obsession, success and instant celebrity.  They feel left out, as if all of this is happening out of their reach--which it is.  They can't integrate the details of the discovery into their lives, so while the details are absolutely, indisputably true, they feel false, and wrong.
 
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I want the reader to speculate as to what might have happened but never know for sure--just as Ed and Fran and Nina and JP do.
 
By participating in the First Look program, I hope to have more readers meet and spend time with Fran and Ed and Lindsay and Nina and JP.


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detailmuse wrote:
Welcome, Stewart, and thanks for making your novel and yourself available in this great reading experience!
 
I'm wondering: in general, how do you choose characters' names?
 
Then I'm wondering about these specific names:
Ed -- was his name inspired by the real-life Ed Smart?
Detective Ronald Holloway -- inspired by the real-life Natalee Holloway?
Nina and Dana -- why such similar names for the sisters' best friends?
Jared -- were you winking at readers? ... a Quiznos employee named after the Subway spokesperson?? :smileyvery-happy:
 
Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.  I guess I choose my characters' names just by feel.  I think of their age and station in life, their personalities, and try to find a name that fits.  Fran and Ed are pretty regular midwestern folks in their late 40s.  And no--I'm actually kind of surprised that Mr. Smart's name is Ed.  Yikes.  Same thing with Detective Holloway (I mention Natalee Holloway in the book explicitly but never made the mental connection.)  And now that you mention Jared working at a Quizno's, I see the irony, but it's entirely unintentional.




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Peppermill
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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Mr. O'Nan -- thank you for sharing your book and for your time with us. I have been quite fascinated with your writing style in SFTM, even though I don't know the technical literary terms to describe it.

Your cover letter to us rather implied that you struggled with this plot line to get access to the stories of the people closest to Kim. As you know from the discussions here, as readers we have had a fairly wide range of reactions to what you have provided us -- in fact that some of us have had divergent reactions to various characters or to the same character at different points in the novel.

My question is what authors (writings) and teachers have most influenced your portrayals of characters and how do you characterize those influences? (The word play is unintended, but a substitute word like "describe" doesn't seem right either.) What is at the top of your reading pile for further self-development of your skills in writing characters?

A third question -- how do you describe your own journey in writing characters -- both within the context of SFTM and across your years of writing?

Please know that this is a book whose characters I am highly likely to remember -- both for your portrayals and for the discussions they have generated here.
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Redhead525 wrote:
Mr. O'Nan, thank you for sharing Songs for the Missing with us through this First Look opportunity.  I have to admit that I typically avoid this genre and was wondering how I would respond to your book.  I both enjoyed it and was frustrated by it.  The frustration comes from what I saw as many loose ends.  I have several questions.
First, it seems as if Kim's friends are clearly significant characters in the book, but they aren't very well developed - we know so little about JP and Nina.  Then this Wooze guy turns up and Kim obviously had some significant (perhaps destructive) connections to him but we really don't know anything about that, and at the end it seems he could have been omitted and it wouldn't have made a significant difference.  Why have so many characters who play significant roles who we know so little about?
Second, I didn't appreciate you having the killer kill himself before he provided any information about Kim.  I can understand not needing the book to go all the way through a trial - I don't think that was necessary to the story you were telling which was more about the family, friends and community.  However, a little more information would have been appreciated. We don't understand how he managed to get Kim, how the car got to Sandusky or why the key was broken off.   Why did you decide to leave so many things about the crime or the search unresolved?
Third, early in your description of the gas station where Kim and Nina worked you talked about men like "Fat Joe Bob" who came in and bought condoms.  When I got to the end of the book, I wondered if one of them had been her killer and went back and re-read that portion.  It doesn't seem that was the case, but I'm wondering whether you used that as a device to create a scenario where her killer could have first seen her and decided to abduct her.
 
Thanks for reading the book, and sorry it was frustrating.  I know it won't be much of a comfort, but it's that way on purpose.  I wrote the story the way I did to put the reader in the position of the major characters, who also don't know everything they wish they knew.  They end up having to speculate as to exactly what happened, though that speculation is terribly painful and often not useful.  That's the essence of their experience--not knowing how much hope they should have, but having no real choice in the matter.  They're changed by an experience they have no control over, in which several of the main actors are unknown to them, and offstage.
 
But yes, her job at the Conoco exposes Kim to many people who could have possibly done her harm.


Message Edited by Redhead525 on 06-14-2008 10:25 AM



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thefamilymanager wrote:
Mr. O'Nan,
 
Thank you so much for sharing this book with us.  I wanted to comment that I enjoyed this book immensely and somehow felt that I was almost intruding on the characters as I was reading.  I felt the characters were extremely real and the story really drew the reader into that world.
 
What was your inspiration for the story?  Have you had life experience with a missing child?
 
Sincerely,
 
Lisa
 
Thanks so much for reading the book, and for your comments.  I do hope it's an intimate book, so that you do feel as if you're with the characters in their most private moments.  My first inspiration for the story was the disappearance of Katie Poirier from a convenience store in Minnesota.
 




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tigger27 wrote:
Mr. O'Nan,
 
Thank you for joining us!  I like to read but haven't come across your books before.  I'm now scrambling to read the rest of your books. 
 
I found when reading this book that I wasn't always inside the character's head thinking of how they were thinking but more on the side watching from behind a tree or from a doorway in the ajoining room, almost like it was a movie.  Is it more difficult writing that way instead of being inside the character's head? 
 
Thanks again!
Shelly
Thanks for reading the book and spending time with my characters.  In the third-person subjective, the author can both get inside a character's head and stand outside of him or her.  In this book, I wanted lots of scenes where the reader spends time alone with the characters in their most intimate moments.  I wanted there to be a chance for the reader to move about the rooms of the Larsen's house, or around the empty summer streets of Kingsville.  I don't know if it's harder to write that way, but you do have to trust the reader a lot more, because they have to do at least half of the work.




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Luvstoread wrote:
Hi Mr. O'Nan:
First I want to thank you for letting us read your book.  I must admit that I have never heard of you before.  I really enjoyed Songs for the Missing and I have purchased two of your other books as well.  I will definitely keep you on my list for authors to watch for.  Thanks again.
Norma


Thanks for reading the book, and for your kind words.  I hope you like the other two (and thank you for the support!).  The ones I generally send folks to who've never read my stuff is the first novel, Snow Angels.


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vivico1 wrote:
Hi,
I have a question or two and comment or two. First, thank you for being with us, its always so nice to be able to talk to the authors. I have to say up front, I knew this was not going to be a mystery thriller, or something like that, but instead a character story about those left behind after a girl goes missing, and I was excited to read it done this way. However, as the story goes on, it seemed to me to be an emotional story, told unemotional, or from a distance, like a news story would talk about the emotions or thoughts of those involved and I became disappointed about midway through the book. Some have said, well they are tired of the hysterical parents type of book, but when I say emotional, thats not what I mean. I never felt like I was really let inside the characters to know any of what they really thought or felt and so I began to not care about them. I think you have a great cast of characters, but their emotions seemed to just be touched from the periphery. I know there were quite a few of us that felt that disconnect, but i know there were many who felt it was emotion. I felt the story idea, the idea of a missing girl, a family member and friend was emotional, but not the telling of it. I did connect some to Lindsay, I felt you let us see how this affected her the most and so since I was not getting that insight from the story being told in the third person (where so much more about every character could have been explored), then I thought this might have been a great book told from Lindsay's point of view and threw it out there in the discussions to see how others felt. There was a lot of agreement on that, so I guess my first question is, did you ever consider telling it from a first person narrative point of view, with third person on the others or was third person always the way you saw writing it? I think third person would have been the best way to go, if we got to be inside the characters more, so we could not only sympathize with them, as we do anytime we hear something like this, but also empathize with them, from the inside out.

Also, this may just be me, but the "secret", it was very intriguing what it was and why the family had turned against the friends, especially JP. I thought, man they must know something more about what happened to her that day then they are saying. Is the "secret" just that she had been hanging out with Wooze, (the sex and drugs)? I do not mean to take this lightly, its not. But at the same time, its often one of those things you find out about someone after they die and it may hurt and shock you and I can understand why they could be upset about the kids not mentioning this sooner, but once they did, why ostracize the kids and why JP in particularly? Did I miss something? The kids worried it might mean something, they told what they probably never would have, if this hadn't happened, but now that they have, and you know they are worried too, why the reaction and as I said especially to JP? I didn't get that part at all.

I do want to say tho, that the beginning of the book, the description of the kids, their hangouts and things were very well done and I enjoyed reading that. Also, and this may sound strange, but when Ed gets back to work and is looking at the house he is going to try to sell, all those thoughts and feelings he had about it, had me more drawn into him than the tragedy going on. I found your description of things very interesting, but the emotional side fell flat for me, and I just wound up with some questions and characters I really didnt care about because I was only getting the tip of anything going on inside them in a really emotionally charged crisis, and again, I am not saying, make them hysterical, just help me know more about them as you wrote them, but from the inside.

Thanks again for being here with us to discuss your book and thanks in advance for your replies.
 
Thanks for reading the book.  Sorry you didn't like it better. 
 
I chose the third-person from the very beginning, since I think it's a much more flexible point of view, and I knew that the story wasn't just one person's but belonged to all those people closest to Kim.  I tried to use a light touch throughout, stressing allusion, impingement, gesture and understatement, leaving room and then trusting the reader to make the connections rather than telling them what to feel.
 
Likewise, with Kim's and Kim's friends' secrets, and her parents' (especially her mother's) overreaction, I let the individual readers come up with their own interpretations of them.



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Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



EbonyAngel wrote:
No question, I just want to say thank you for allowing me to read an advance copy of your book.  I enjoyed the story even though it did not seem to start off as fast paced as the back cover led me to believe.


Thanks very much for reading the book, and for your comments.


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