Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



bookhunter wrote:
Mr. O'Nan, thank you for participating in the First Look Club.  While I don't think I can use the word "enjoy" to describe my reading experience with this book, I will say that it impacted me deeply.  It hits a little to close to home for this mom of teenagers!
 
As the "god of the pen," do YOU know all the details of Kim's abduction and death?  I was wondering if as part of the writing process you wrote out exactly what happened to Kim?  If so, did you do it for your own reference, or did you ever think to include the account in the book?
 
Not including the account fits with my perception of the book as the story of those left behind--not Kim's story.  Her friends and family do not get to know what happened, exactly, so neither does the reader.  But since the beginning chapter was told from Kim's perspective, I thought we could have  seen her abduction from her pov at the end of the novel.
 
Thanks again,
Ann, bookhunter


Thanks very much for reading the book, and for your kind words.  I do know all the details of Kim's abduction and death.  Occasionally I was tempted to deliver them in full, knowing most readers would want them, but, as you say, in the end I decided the book would be stronger if I left the reader in the position of the Larsens and those closest to Kim.  They have to speculate, but they'll never really know.  And of course, Kim's not around at the end to tell us.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Contributor
vcgosox
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎04-14-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Mr. O'Nan
 
I enjoyed the book. It left me wanting more answers about the family and especially the abduction of Kim. Did you intend this to show how these events impact the families of missing persons?
 
Go Red Sox!
Vicky
Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Jeanie0522 wrote:
Dear Mr. O'Nan:
 
A friend of mine recommended your books to me some time ago.  When I learned you were sharing Songs with First Look, I quickly ran out and purchased The Night Country, The Good Wife, A Prayer for the Dying and Speed Queen.  I couldn't believe what great reads I had been missing out on!  I was also surprised to see that Speed Queen didn't have a review on the B&N site (until I posted mine).  Your writing style is so unique.  If one of your objectives in doing First Look was to find some new fans, you were successful!
 
My question is who are the authors that have inspired you?  Oh, and did Stephen King like Speed Queen? 
 
Thanks for the opportunity to read your new novel before it is offerred to the general public.  It was excellent and right on the mark.  Very human characters living through one of our worst fears.  Very realistic and well written. 
 
Thank you!  -Jeanie


Thanks so much for searching out those earlier books, and for your kind words.  The authors who've inspired me often hover over the books.  The Good Wife owes a lot to Alice Munro and Chekhov, William Maxwell and Larry Woiwode, while The Night Country is drenched in Ray Bradbury.  The Speed Queen relies on the Ramones' sense of humor, also comic books and Quentin Tarantino, and A Prayer for the Dying leans more toward Cormac McCarthy and George A. Romero.
 
And yes, Steve liked Speed Queen very much.  I figured he would.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Librarian wrote:
Hi Stewart--------I enjoyed Last Night at the Lobster. Thank you for participating with us in First Look for Songs for the Missing. Did you meet the real Blizzard, a white shepherd search and rescue dog, that I had the delight to meet in a school presentation? Or did you make up that name for Songs for the Missing?
Librarian


Thanks for liking the Lobster, and for reading Songs.  I think I took Blizzard from an Ohio search-and-rescue dog website, so if you're in Ohio, you might have met the real Blizzard.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



mwinasu wrote:
Dear Sir,
    
     I would like to apologize for not taking you seriously. I never really thought about what I was reading.  Part of that comes from a deep desire to  avoid emotional pain and part of it stems from the fact that I am a Book Snob. You are not responsible for either of these things. 
     You said in your letter that you had a hard time figuring out how to tell Kim's story.  I know why it would be hard for me, why was it hard for you?
    


Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.  It's hard to tell anyone's story, but this story is so well-known--we're inundated with missing persons cases, from bad TV shows to the daily newspaper--that I had to figure out a different way to tell it.


mwinasu wrote:
Dear Sir,
    
     I would like to apologize for not taking you seriously. I never really thought about what I was reading.  Part of that comes from a deep desire to  avoid emotional pain and part of it stems from the fact that I am a Book Snob. You are not responsible for either of these things. 
     You said in your letter that you had a hard time figuring out how to tell Kim's story.  I know why it would be hard for me, why was it hard for you?
    




Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



DarcieB wrote:
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


Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.  I left the reader with many of the questions the Larsens had to face, since their experience is really what the book is trying to deliver.  The way they all change because of Kim disappearing is the important thing, I think.  Sorry for driving you crazy!


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



onecunninggirl wrote:
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


Thanks for reading the book.  Sorry you didn't like it better.
 
I tried to give equal or at least proportional weight to the five point-of-view characters.  I think Lindsay's fascinating, but of course I think they all are.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



streamsong wrote:
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?
 
 


Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.
 
During the writing of the book, we lost touch with our daughter Caitlin, who was off at college.  She didn't call home one weekend like she was supposed to, and then when we tried to call her, her voicemail was full.  None of her friends had seen her, and she hadn't been to class or to work.  She hadn't used her bank account in two weeks, or her cell phone.  Eventually we had to call the police, who went to her dorm room, where she was sleeping, having been sick in bed for two weeks with the flu. 
 
It's typical--writing fiction is always about convincing yourself of the actuality of an imaginary world (so the reader will be convinced), and I'd convinced myself so much that the real world seemed to take on the qualities of the fictional one.
 
Haven't read the other threads.  It's only my first day.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Scribe
vivico1
Posts: 3,456
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan


Stewart_ONan wrote:


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.





hmm. I understand not wanting to tell a reader what to feel, I wouldnt want to be told what to feel. But at the same time, I wanted to know what these characters were feeling and thinking, as you say, in their most intimate moments. To say, I leave the interpretations up to the reader, isn't that a bit like saying, heck, I don't know what they are feeling or thinking, you figure it out? I do believe that as you have done and said, third person is the way to go with this, but so you can move freely from one character to the other and really share that part of them with us, let us inside them and whatever they are feeling or thinking, then we can decide how we feel about them. Sometimes knowing what is inside a character's head really gives you strong feelings about them one way or the other, even when you know whats going on that they don't because you are reading a third person narrative. I just felt like being lead to the trough and then hearing, well thats all I got for ya, now you work with it. I feel a bit cheated overall. I expected to not know a lot of what happened to Kim and realizing that that is how a lot of these families have to go through for real, and so I don't need to know that, that I need to put my own emotions and experiences to. But what I was hoping from this book, that I can't get but in either a very very vivid autobiography that would have to be more truthful than probably most people would be, or from a novel like this, is what a writer, using third person omniscience could give me, what your characters were feeling and thinking. This is the only place you can get inside another's head that way, through a really well written novel, there really is no other way in life you can. This is what would have made me truly empathize with them, instead of just sympathizing with the story as we do with all the stories like this we hear on the news.

I know this may sound like I am bashing you or something, and I truly don't mean it that way, but I know that in posts and emails and messanging, that people can't see your face or hear your tone and so when you tell them something that is a negative or at least your own feelings about something, it can sometimes come off wrong. I am not here to trash but gee, I just wished we had been let in more and it does sound like an easy out to say, put your own feelings there. We have to do that in real life about these things because we can't go where an author can, right inside their hearts and minds, and take us with them.
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Peppermill wrote:
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.

Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.  The point of view I'm using in Songs is the third-person limited.  It can mimic omniscience, but it tries mostly to stay close to one character at a time.  I've tried to portray each of the major characters by their actions and gestures, their daily routines and overall hopes, relying on allusion and concrete detail (their selective apprehension of the world) rather than overtly telling the reader how to feel about them.  I try to leave room for the reader and supply shared details so they can add their own memories from their own experiences in similar situations.  It's a risky strategy, in that I'm trusting the reader to help create the character incrementally, detail by detail (clue by clue), sentence by sentence, scene by scene, but the payoff is that if the reader does this, they become a participant in the book and feel it that much more deeply.  Some of the writers who do this well are Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, William Maxwell, Larry Woiwode and Alice Munro.  It's a patient approach, and not for everyone, but it seemed to fit this particular situation, and these people.  Right now I'm re-reading all of William Maxwell.
 
In terms of my journey of writing characters, I guess I see that people in most situations have things that they have to do (inevitabilities), that they most likely will do (probabilities), and that they could do (possibilities).  Then I ask myself, knowing what I know so far about this person, what they would REALLY do, and try to answer as honestly as I can.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



vcgosox wrote:
Mr. O'Nan
 
I enjoyed the book. It left me wanting more answers about the family and especially the abduction of Kim. Did you intend this to show how these events impact the families of missing persons?
 
Go Red Sox!


Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.
 
Yes, I wanted to put the reader in the position of the family and friends, to feel what they feel.
 
Go Bartolo!


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



vivico1 wrote:

Stewart_ONan wrote:


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.





hmm. I understand not wanting to tell a reader what to feel, I wouldnt want to be told what to feel. But at the same time, I wanted to know what these characters were feeling and thinking, as you say, in their most intimate moments. To say, I leave the interpretations up to the reader, isn't that a bit like saying, heck, I don't know what they are feeling or thinking, you figure it out? I do believe that as you have done and said, third person is the way to go with this, but so you can move freely from one character to the other and really share that part of them with us, let us inside them and whatever they are feeling or thinking, then we can decide how we feel about them. Sometimes knowing what is inside a character's head really gives you strong feelings about them one way or the other, even when you know whats going on that they don't because you are reading a third person narrative. I just felt like being lead to the trough and then hearing, well thats all I got for ya, now you work with it. I feel a bit cheated overall. I expected to not know a lot of what happened to Kim and realizing that that is how a lot of these families have to go through for real, and so I don't need to know that, that I need to put my own emotions and experiences to. But what I was hoping from this book, that I can't get but in either a very very vivid autobiography that would have to be more truthful than probably most people would be, or from a novel like this, is what a writer, using third person omniscience could give me, what your characters were feeling and thinking. This is the only place you can get inside another's head that way, through a really well written novel, there really is no other way in life you can. This is what would have made me truly empathize with them, instead of just sympathizing with the story as we do with all the stories like this we hear on the news.

I know this may sound like I am bashing you or something, and I truly don't mean it that way, but I know that in posts and emails and messanging, that people can't see your face or hear your tone and so when you tell them something that is a negative or at least your own feelings about something, it can sometimes come off wrong. I am not here to trash but gee, I just wished we had been let in more and it does sound like an easy out to say, put your own feelings there. We have to do that in real life about these things because we can't go where an author can, right inside their hearts and minds, and take us with them.

Thanks for the comments.  It may just be a matter of taste, the amount of allusiveness or indirection a reader enjoys--how much or how little they like to participate in the one-on-one creation of the novel.  I tend to be an active reader, so I do my best to give my reader enough clues or material without being too blatant or explicit.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Contributor
Amber_R
Posts: 15
Registered: ‎04-14-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Mr. O'Nan
I just wanted to thank you for allowing us to read your book early. I thought it was a very interesting twist to this kind of story. I read all types of genres but tend to read more mystery novels, which usually tell what happened to the victim in detail, etc. But, I thought your take on this kind of abduction story was very fresh and written in such a way that it felt very natural and real. I agree, that at times, it was frustrating, but only because I could understand the parents frustration (not your writing). I will definitely check out Snow Angels (as you suggested in an earlier post).
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Stewart_ONan wrote: 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.

Thanks for that answer. I, like the poster who asked the question, found this resolution/non-resolution of the book frustrating. I can see your point, though since the book was fiction and not non-fiction, I still want (and think I deserve!) to know.

But this raises a follow-up question. Did you lay out in your own mind how Kim was abducted and killed, so you "knew" the facts yourself and (for the reason given above) decided not to share them with the reader? Or did you leave this all unresolved in your own mind, so that with the murderer dead nobody, not even you, will ever know what really happened to Kim?
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Stewart_ONan wrote: ... 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.

I love this discussion format because that comment very much struck home. I really enjoyed the first third or so of the book because there was information, things happening, people doing things, activity to observe. Where I would have stopped if I had been following one of the discussion formats I didn't because I was too engrossed in the story. But then I found the book dragging, little activity, little character development, much less interest, and I found myself skimming to get to the denouement, which (intentionally, as you have explained elsewhere) was less than satisfying. But with your comment, I have a better idea of what you were trying to accomplish, and the realization that my dissatisfaction may have been because I was not the trustworthy reader you were writing for.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Stewart_ONan wrote:I do know all the details of Kim's abduction and death. Occasionally I was tempted to deliver them in full, knowing most readers would want them, but, as you say, in the end I decided the book would be stronger if I left the reader in the position of the Larsens and those closest to Kim.

I should have finished reading your posts before asking that same question myself.

But a follow-up question -- now that we have finished the book, will you tell us what really happened if we promise not to divulge it to anybody outside this group? :smileyhappy:

P.S. You should get Barnes and Noble to put the apostrophe in your screen name!
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

A few general questions on how your write, if I may.

1. Do you work out a detailed outline in advance before you start to write, do you have an outline of the major elements fully worked out but create details as you go along, or do you leave major plot elements to develop for themselves as the writing proceeds? Or something other than these?

2. How fully formed are your characters in your mind before you start to write? I'm thinking specifically of Elizabeth George's book Write Away where she recommends developing a detailed outline of each major character before starting to write. Do you follow this general concept? If not, how do your characters develop?

3. Do you set yourself a goal of a certain amount of time to spend writing or a specific number of pages to write every day? If not, how does your writing schedule work?
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan

Where did the idea of Mimi come in. Was that something that really happened in the case you loosely based Songs on? Or in some other case? Or did you invent her basically out of thin air? She seems a bit deus-ex-machina.

And isn't it usual in a case that gets this much publicity for there to be at least one false confession? (And indeed, Wade's may be.) Did you consider and reject the idea of including a false confessor for some reason (perhaps because it would distract from the close focus on the family and intimate friends), or did you not consider that possibility as a plot element?
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Frequent Contributor
bentley
Posts: 2,509
Registered: ‎01-31-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan


Stewart_ONan wrote:


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.





Hello Stewart,

Thank you for your cryptic response; but you have been gracious with your time and we appreciate that. I think we are used to authors sharing a little about their thinking process for the novel and tying up some of the loose ends for us.

I am referring to some of your other responses to questions that I also had but didn't ask because someone had already posed them to you.

I wish you would share with us what you thought did happen to Kim; why the broken off key? I think she ran out of gas and unfortunately at that point in time; her so called good samaritan was jack the ripper. But what troubled me a tad is your response about why you are participating in the First Look program. Any reader of your book would spend time with your characters. Why First Look? It is odd because out of the three first looks that I have participated in; this is the first time that I have seen that response. So my understanding is then that the book will be brought out in the same format and with few if any modifications; this was just a first peek to gauge reaction to the subject matter, etc.

We will just keep guessing then about the plausible scenarios. I can understand that you do not want to give away your underlining plot details but since the elements that we are asking about are not devulged in the novel at all; I am not sure that I see the risk in that. Most readers will come away most likely with the feelings we all had. By the way, I completely understand that the novel is really not about Kim; but about the event's impact upon the people, family and friends left behind.

I like so many here was hoping to catch a glimpse into the understanding you had of what went wrong for Kim. I do not understand at all why the car was damaged or what the broken key was all about. Did he force Kim to drive the car and did she try to cause an accident to draw attention to her plight. So many questions; so few answers.

The reader is left up in the air and yes we experience the same feelings that Fran and Ed had but we are the readers and our expectations are that we should have been let in on somewhat more.

Thank you for your time; I thought the book was good and it was a satisfying read where I learned a great deal about the process that comes into play during a missing person's search and the emotional roller coaster that the loved ones go through.

Bentley
Author
Stewart_ONan
Posts: 119
Registered: ‎05-20-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Questions for Stewart O'Nan



Amber_R wrote:
Mr. O'Nan
I just wanted to thank you for allowing us to read your book early. I thought it was a very interesting twist to this kind of story. I read all types of genres but tend to read more mystery novels, which usually tell what happened to the victim in detail, etc. But, I thought your take on this kind of abduction story was very fresh and written in such a way that it felt very natural and real. I agree, that at times, it was frustrating, but only because I could understand the parents frustration (not your writing). I will definitely check out Snow Angels (as you suggested in an earlier post).

Thanks for reading the book, and for your comments.  Much appreciated.


Learn more about Songs for the Missing.

Discover all Stewart O'Nan titles.


Top Kudoed Authors
User Kudos Count
1
Users Online
Currently online: 5 members 580 guests
Please welcome our newest community members: