Thursday, October 15, 2020

Danielle Girard

Danielle Girard is the author of Chasing Darkness, The Rookie Club series, and Exhume, Excise, Expose, and Expire, featuring San Francisco medical examiner Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman. Girard’s books have won the Barry Award and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, and two of her titles have been optioned for movies.

A graduate of Cornell University, Girard received her MFA at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. She, her husband, and their two children split their time between San Francisco and the Northern Rockies.

Girard's new novel is White Out, book one of her Badlands Thriller Series.

My Q&A with the author:

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

For me, titles are the hardest thing about any book. I almost never have a title before I have a completed story and, even then, the title will change multiple times before it’s finalized. My preference is a title that is only a vague indication of what to expect from the book, something that can be interpreted several ways. White Out is a good example. A white out is a snow storm is the obvious definition of the title, but the words also allude to other things. White out is a metaphor for being unable to see clearly, the idea of something hidden or even lost or erased, as in whiting out words on a page. My goal is to make the book do the work of informing the title, not the other way around.

What's in a name?

Unlike titles, a character’s name is firmly rooted from early in the writing process. Just as you probably can’t imagine raising a child without giving him or her a name, the same is true of characters. For example, Lily Baker from White Out. Lily has implications of innocence, as in lily white. The name and image of flower also suggests growth, birth or rebirth, all of which apply to the character in the story. When choosing names, though, it’s more instinct than planning. I don’t consciously write down a bunch of names and chose one. I discover a name more by feel—what resonates, what fits. In that way, it’s not so different from naming children. And then, I find, that the character grows into the name in a way that is similar to how children grow into a name.

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

I think my teenage self always recognized the darkness in her own head. It’s been there forever. I suspect she would be satisfied (and maybe even proud) to see that we have found a way to put all that angst to a constructive use.

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

Beginnings. I’ll rewrite the beginning of a book over and over while writing the book. And then I’ll rewrite it again a few more times while I’m revising. It’s like building a house—the beginning is the foundation on which everything else is built. The end is the windows or the wall paper. It’s easy to change those things out if the foundation is solid. But if the beginning doesn’t work, the windows won’t fit and the wallpaper will hang askew.

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

My characters are infinitely braver than I am. Villains, heroes and protagonists. After all, I spend my days in the basement and they’re out chasing (and being) killers. More than that, they speak the truths that I cannot. But there is a seed of the writer in every character—from the most evil to the most innocent. And I think that’s true of not just the writers but the readers as well. A strong villain pulls at the universalities of each of us, in the same way a strong protagonist does. Characters are manifestations of our best—and worst—instincts as humans. If done well, we can see ourselves in each of them.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’m inspired by all sorts of things when writing my books and few of them literary. That is, I don’t find myself reading other books to inform my writing or plot. Although I do read a ton for pleasure. Instead, ideas come from regular life. The idea for my first book, Savage Art, came from a profile written in the New York Times Magazine. The idea for Expose came from a camping trip with my family. White Out’s premise was drawn from a dream. Our job as writers is to identify a normal thing—even something mundane like driving on a gravel road at a campsite—and shift the perspective so that they become something else entirely. I believe anything can make a story if you find the right light to shine on it. Anything.
Visit Danielle Girard's website.

The Page 69 Test: White Out.

--Marshal Zeringue