Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Katie Tallo

Katie Tallo has been an award-winning screenwriter and director for more than two decades. In 2012, Tallo was inspired to begin writing novels. Dark August is her debut novel. Tallo has a daughter and lives with her husband in Ottawa, Ontario.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

At first my novel was called Gracie’s Kiss. The story was based on a screenplay of the same name that I’d written two decades earlier. As the story evolved, the focus shifted away from the character of Gracie and the meaning of that kiss changed. It also became a much darker thriller and so my editor and I agreed that Gracie’s Kiss was no longer a fit. It sounded a bit too romantic. I came up with Dark August and immediately it resonated. The story is set in the summer and many of the flashbacks harken back to a dark time in August when the lead character’s mother is killed. The lead’s name is Augusta which also makes the title a fun nod to her. August just happens to be my favourite month and my birth month. Mostly though, August to me represents the dead of summer when cicadas buzz, heat ripples off pavement, humidity thickens the air, and the setting sun burns the evening sky red — hence the cover of Dark August.

What's in a name?

I finally landed on the name for my lead character after quite a few tries - Andi, Lily, Charlie. Something about these names wasn’t resonating for me. I kept writing but always felt there was a better name for her. Names are important to me. A name can truly help me as a writer get into that character’s skin and energy and sense of self. Dark August is a story very much about family and so I took a step back and started with her parents. I named her mother Shannon and decided I liked Charlie for her father instead of her. And so I began by first figuring out who Shannon and Charlie Monet were. Once I worked out where they grew up, what they loved and how they died, I knew what they would name their daughter. You see Charlie loved The Masters golf tournament. He'd loved it his whole life and when he died days before their daughter was born, Augusta’s mother knew what name would honour him. The home of the green jacket is Augusta, Georgia. And so Augusta Monet was born. Nicknamed Gus. I loved it! And from then on, her character blossomed. Gus fit her skin perfectly. It’s also a little nod to my husband who’s also a huge fan of The Masters.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would have devoured this novel and would not have been the least surprised that it came from my/her brain. Although she and I are still both amazed and grateful that it got published. I was always someone with a penchant for dark and twisty stories like Dark August. My sensibilities were more macabre than syrupy, preferring mystery stories over romance. But because it’s a novel about a young person who hasn’t quite grown up, doesn’t have a job, eats sugary cereal for dinner, drinks cream soda by the bucketload, and doesn’t really know what she’s doing most of the time, yet manages to stumble across cash when she needs it — my teenage self would have absolutely loved that.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find it much harder to write beginnings because they are always there, looming, begging to be reworked. But moving forward is the only way to get that first draft done so you have to dig your way out of those beginning pages and keep going. The beginning also sets the tone and if it’s off, then the whole novel can be off. But endings are great fun. Once the beginning and middle have been worked out, suddenly the wind catches your sails and you’re soaring across the page. Endings for some reason pour out of me. I think it’s because I know where I’m headed and I can’t wait to get there. Although, it’s never a direct route. There is something big that happens at the end of Dark August that wasn’t there until later drafts and it caught me by surprise, like a giant wave that you have to head towards or you’ll get thrown overboard. So I just hung on and wrote. It’s one of the creepiest moments in the entire novel. I love that about endings. They can twist and turn you in all kinds of directions.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I think my lead character, Augusta, comes out of that common experience that many of us feel of not fitting in or making sense in the world. Gus is clueless when it comes to social media; retreats from the present into the past; and hibernates. Separateness is her natural state, or maybe it feels like a safer state of being. That sense of disconnectedness is something I’ve explored before in my writing. Ultimately, Gus is a loner who longs for connection and a place to call home. I'm something of a loner myself and friendships haven’t always come easily to me. My daughter has become my best friend. She is a lovely and soft-hearted soul who has come into my life and changed it profoundly, and so I think there are parts of her and me that inspired this character. She’s definitely the reason I write.
Visit Katie Tallo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dark August.

--Marshal Zeringue