Please welcome author C.L. Bledsoe. His Young Adult novel Sunlight just released at Etopia Press.
The sunflower farm was the most boring place on earth. Until weird things started happening…
What’s the most boring place in the world? The farm. After his mother’s death, Sol is sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle, but with no cell service and only an old dinosaur of a computer, Sol’s not sure how he’s going to survive. But his boredom is interrupted by strange sounds at night, the discovery of a mysterious cave, and stuff that starts to sound an awful lot like a bedtime story his mother used to tell him when he was small…that just might be true…
Annie: Sol is a fascinating character. You really capture the feel and flavor, trials and struggles of being young. Was Sol a challenging character to write?
CL Bledsoe: I think one of the best things about teenagers is their joie de vivre—that kind of lust for life that’s a little bit naiveté and a little bit fearlessness. They do impossible things because they don’t know that they’re impossible. Sol has had some tragedies in his life—his mother has died and his relationship with his father is strained—but he is still adventurous. It’s been a long time since I was young, but I am a teacher, so I spend a lot of time around young people. I would like to say that, when I was young, I was as adventurous and clever and Sol, but I wasn’t. My sister was, though. She was a real Tomboy—always climbing trees and trying to pet the calves in the pasture by our house. She never succeeded—they’d just run away when she got close, but she kept trying. I based some of Sol’s energy on her.
Annie: The setting is very vividly realized in Sunlight—the sunflower fields especially. Is this all from research? Did you live or grow up in an area like this?
CL Bledsoe: Thank you. I grew up on a farm in eastern Arkansas, but we didn’t raise sunflowers. We raised rice, soybeans, cattle, and catfish during the winter. Other than that, most of the details in the book are from memory. The book is set in eastern Arkansas, very near where I grew up. It it can be a very boring place to a kid in certain ways—it’s very rural, and you might have to drive close to an hour to get to a town with even a decent mall, but on the other hand, there’s all this natural beauty. And because of the isolation or boredom or whatever, we made our own fun. Instead of hanging out at the mall, we played outside. Of course, some of the things we did were foolhardy and dangerous, but at least we got to be kids, which is something that seems to be disappearing a little bit these days. That’s a real shame.
Annie: Sunlight is a young adult novel. Have you always had an interest in writing YA?
CL Bledsoe: I have. It’s a genre that’s always appealed to me. I hope to continue writing YA. I think YA is undergoing a kind of renaissance right now—there are so many great YA writers out there. It must be great to be a young reader…
Annie: How important is writing momentum to you?
CL Bledsoe: Very. I write quickly. I wrote Sunlight in 5 weeks, I think. This was a couple years ago. I’d say I’m faster, now. This is mostly because I don’t have a lot of time because of my day job. I don’t know what it’s like for other writers, but I usually start really strong and then hit a certain point near the middle where I start to run out of steam. Establishing a routine—writing at the same time every day, writing a set number of words, keeping to a deadline, etc., is very important. It’s the only way I finish anything. I also work from outlines which are fairly detailed. I’ve tried just sitting down with no plan and writing, but I end up wasting a lot of time. I had a professor once who talked about cutting something like 150,000 words from his newest novel, and how good that felt. That’s the equivalent of at least two novels in the trash. Who knows how long that took him to write? I don’t even begin to have that kind of time. I wish I did, but I don’t. I have to be more disciplined. I brainstorm a lot in my outlines—I might sit on an outline for days, months, even. I might have to change things in the draft, and I tend to edit as I write to make things go faster, but having a plan when I sit down to write helps immensely.
Annie: You have two poetry collections published. Do you have a preference for poetry or prose? Has the imagery/symbolism and economy of language in poetry influenced your prose?
CL Bledsoe: I prefer whatever I’m writing. I read more prose than poetry these days. I used to read a lot more poetry because I was writing a lot of reviews of poetry. Most of the readings I do are poetry readings. I would like to think the dedication to language in poetry has influenced my prose. But writing poetry, for me, is a different animal than writing prose. With prose, I’m thinking more ‘big picture’.
Annie: Do poets see the world differently than other people? Other writers?
CL Bledsoe: I don’t know if that’s poets or writers in general, but I think so. Poets definitely are more aware of the fact that what we/they do isn’t necessarily commercially viable. I remember, in college, getting into an argument with a novelist about small press publishing. He said, mockingly, that a small press book might come out in a run of 2000-3000 copies. I thought that sounded really good. And it does, for a poetry collection. Or for a small press book. But this means we’re more focused on the work.
I think, for whatever reasons, writers see the world differently. We pay attention. We are watchers, and we see relevance in things that don’t have obvious relevance in a day-to-day world. Poetry won’t help anyone get the laundry done, per se, but it can help bring a little bit of that joie de vivre to tasks like this. I’m not saying we’re the only ones who pay attention, but we do pay attention.
Annie: Do you try to capture the rhythm of poetry in your prose? Is there a certain economy of language that must be sacrificed in fiction?
CL Bledsoe: There are different kinds of economy in prose than in poetry. Dialogue, for example—a few lines of dialogue can do the work of maybe half a page of exposition. Attention to detail—one good detail can do the work of pages of description. When we talk about economy of language, we’re talking about trusting the reader—having a little faith that we don’t have to explicitly spell out every detail as though talking to a child or a mentally damaged person. I try to have faith in my reader.
Annie: Do you like your sunflower seeds with or without the shells? 🙂
CL Bledsoe: I don’t actually eat sunflower seeds very often, but my wife likes them without.
Thanks, C.L.! Readers can buy his YA here: http://www.etopia-press.net/shopping/pgm-more_information.php?id=19&=SID