Today Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light, visits The Hiding Spot to answer a few questions about herself and her book! Check out the interview to learn why writing about characters with anorexia was a challenge, how three books in particular influenced Lois as a writer, and why “odd” is her favorite word.
Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?
There was something I was aware of the entire time I was writing A Trick of the Light (over what turned out to be almost ten years) — a whole culture out there that glamorizes anorexia, complete with web sites that proudly call themselves “pro-Ana.” One of my characters, Amber, is someone who sees anorexia as “a lifestyle, a choice” and not a disease. Writing Amber was tricky. I didn’t want her to be a “trigger” (something that sets off an eating disorder in people). I wanted readers to find her sad and lost, certainly not a role model. I omitted particular details about anorexia for fear that readers would copy them. That balancing act was the hardest thing — being true to Amber as a character and letting her be herself, while not making anything she does appear desirable.
Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?
The original title was Stop Motion, and that was its title for many years. The main character, Mike Welles, and his best friend are interested in stop-motion animation, particularly the films of Ray Harryhausen. I liked that title because it made Mike sound caught, stuck, unable to break free. Then, while rewriting, the phrase “a trick of the light” began to appear. Mike’s grandmother calls up frantically and says there’s a mouse in her living room; Mike and his mother rush to her place — and there’s no mouse to be found. Mike’s grandmother shrugs it off and says, “It must have been a trick of the light.” Mike knows she’s lying. Later, Mike says the same thing to himself when he clearly sees something (a boy in an eating-disorder wing of a hospital) and convinces himself he’s seen something else (a girl who looks like a boy). That phrase, “a trick of the light,” was truer to what the book was about, deep down.
What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?
There are three books I can directly credit: The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner), Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov), and The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger). What these three have in common is a perfect link of structure, character, and voice, with no false notes anywhere. Each part of The Sound and the Fury has a different narrator, and I particularly like Jason, who tells the third part. Jason starts out furious and he only gets madder. It’s the most sustained burst of anger I’ve ever seen. In Lolita, the foreword, written by a fictional character called in to “edit the manuscript,” basically gives away the whole story but you don’t realize it until you finish, which is both very funny and very sad. And after reading The Catcher in the Rye and listening to Holden Caulfield, you certainly get to know him as well as you ever know anybody.
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?
I’ve had tons of jobs, but the best experience was a five-year stint at The New Yorker Magazine. I was in the typing pool (this was pre-computers); it was called the Walden Pond because the boss was a kind, motherly woman named Harriet Walden. When I typed in editors’ corrections, I learned grammar and punctuation; I saw how the editors fixed something when it didn’t make sense; I listened to the rhythm of the sentences of some of the world’s finest writers; and I acquired an almost-obsessive attention to detail (frankly, take out the “almost-“).
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
I’ve always liked the word “odd.” It looks odd. It’s off balance (one “o,” two “d”s). It sounds odd, ending in a thud. It’s only three letters long (two of them the same), but it has a big meaning: differing in nature from what is usual or expected, peculiar, eccentric, fantastic, bizarre, leaving a remainder of 1 when divided by 2 (from Webster’s College Dictionary). For its size, it packs a punch.
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?
Definitely going to the movies. Leave the house, turn off the cell phone; no one can find you, no one can reach you. Just . . . disappear into the story. Also I like riding the subway. I always see something new (though maybe sometimes I wish I hadn’t). It’s a private experience in the midst of strangers. Nothing better for daydreaming.
Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light, was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of three previous novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and Harper’s Bazaar. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and son. Find out more about Lois and her books here and follow her on Facebook!
© 2013 Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light