Sunday, August 23, 2020

Kylie Schachte

Kylie Schachte is a graduate from Sarah Lawrence College and an active member of the Pitch Wars online community as both an alum & mentor. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, cat, and giant dog.

Schachte applied the Page 69 Test to You're Next, her first novel, and reported the following:

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

I love You’re Next as a title, because it gets straight to the heart of the book with such a simple, economical phrase. This book is a heart-pounding, edge of your seat kind of thriller, where you truly don’t know if any of the characters you love will survive to see a happy ending. The title is a reference to a specific plot point, but it’s also a theme of the book as a whole. Anyone could be killed. Anyone could get hurt--even you, the reader, as the story crushes your heart into a bloody pulp.

I think having a big, in-your-face title was really important, because the first chapter is pretty mellow compared to the rest of the book. Flora Calhoun, the main character, experienced devastating trauma in her past, but at the start of the story she’s found an uneasy stasis or status quo. If you opened to that chapter without seeing the title, you might think this was a more conventional high school story. But in Chapter 2, that tentative peace gets shattered, and the rest of the book is a dark & vicious ride. My hope is that the title helps people to know what they’re in for.

What's in a name?

I am quite particular about character names, but I’m not the type of author who chooses them based on symbolism. The initial idea for You’re Next, was just a loose character concept of a teenage girl detective who would emulate those hard-boiled noir detectives, but also have to go to math class and stuff like that. I had no idea what her name was. I started looking through name lists, and as soon as I saw “Flora” I just knew it was the one. It felt like her.

So I didn’t go in search of any particular meaning, but “Flora” does have symbolic resonance. It’s such a soft, pretty name, but Flora’s a hard, angry character. It fits well with that dichotomy between the hardboiled detective & the teenage girl. And that duality ultimately became one of the big thematic questions of the book: what does criminal justice mean when it’s placed in the hands of a teenage girl--someone that society has deemed weak, fragile, vulnerable?

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

Honestly, not that surprised! I have been a writer pretty much since I could pick up a pencil, and I’m still very much a teenager at heart, so a lot of what I genuinely enjoy to read myself is in this book. I don’t think teenage me could have imagined how wonderful & supportive the writing community would be--that’s been the real surprise.

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

Definitely endings. Beginnings come pretty easily to me--when I first get an idea, I can usually roughly map out the first 25% of the story within a couple days. But where to go from there...that’s much harder, and I’ve had a lot of stories stall out at the end of Act One.

You’re Next went through so many total rewrites it’s hard to even say what has changed more, but probably the beginning because it can really make or break your book. The ending is super critical, but people might never read your book at all if they can’t get past the beginning. Once I figured out the ending, it mostly stayed as it was with some light touch-ups. But I was fiddling with Chapter 1 pretty much until we went to print. One thing I know for sure, though: way harder than either beginnings or endings are middles. The worst!

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

On the surface, Flora and I appear to be very different, but there’s quite a lot of me in her. Some things I drew upon intentionally, such as Flora’s outsider status at school. I moved around a lot when I was young, and by high school I was the lone new kid in a tiny school, in a tiny town, where everything appeared perfect on the surface, but dark secrets lurked underneath.

And sometimes it worked in the opposite direction, where Flora actually gave me things. I knew from the moment I started writing the book that Flora was bisexual. As I worked to understand that part of her identity, I learned a lot about myself, and ultimately came out as queer/bisexual in the middle of the drafting process.

I think when you tell a story--of any kind--it is always going to be imbued with parts of you, whether you intend it or not. That’s why it’s so vulnerable-making to put it out into the world.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Half of my family works in the film industry, and so everything I write is very cinematic. When I’m planning scenes, I will often sit there with my eyes closed and imagine them like scenes from a movie. The action, the lighting, the expressions on the faces of the “actors.”

When you read the book, it’s pretty clear that I borrowed a lot of sensibilities from film noir--both the classics, like The Big Sleep, but also more modern updates to the noir genre, like Brick, Nightcrawler, and even parodies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Because You’re Next is a twist on noir--I mean, it’s set in a high school with a sixteen-year-old detective--I wanted to know the tropes & visual language of the genre backwards and forwards. That way, I could both “play it straight,” so to speak, when I wanted to lend gravity & weight to a scene, as well as subvert or parody those tropes when I wanted to be more playful.
Visit Kylie Schachte's website.

My Book, The Movie: You're Next.

The Page 69 Test: You're Next.

--Marshal Zeringue