Saturday, August 21, 2021

Zoje Stage

Zoje Stage's debut novel, Baby Teeth (2018), was a USA Today and international bestseller. It was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, and was optioned for film by Village Roadshow/Valparaiso Pictures. Her second "mind-bending" (NY Times) novel, Wonderland (2020), was one of Book Riot's Best Horror Books of 2020, and one of Overdrive's Best Audio Books of 2020.

Stage's new novel is Getaway, described as "stunning" in a starred review from Booklist. A former filmmaker with a penchant for the dark and suspenseful, she lives in Pittsburgh.

My Q&A with the author:

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

I submitted the book to my agents (and then my editor) under a different working title, but I always knew I'd be asked to change it (it was a little too artsy). As standard practice I prepare a list of alternate titles, and Getaway was the first one I suggested. I like a title that works on multiple levels, and the story involves a group of friends on a "getaway" who then need to "get away" from the situation they find themselves in.

What's in a name?

Naming characters is both tricky and fun. I try to pick names that suit the characters and their background, and are memorable in some way. Since Getaway involves three main female characters, I wanted to pick three names that were very different from each other—Imogen, Beck, Tilda—so it would be easy to learn who's who. And perhaps because my own name causes pronunciation confusion, I endeavor to pick names that are easy to pronounce.

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

Honestly, those are the two parts of a book that I change the least. It can be hard to figure out where a book should begin, but it's a crucial decision and impacts the trajectory of the story so I don't start writing until I'm pretty confident about the opening scene. And though my writing process is very intuitive, I keep an image in my mind of a general ending and write my first draft toward that image (I call myself a "directional pantser"). Once I'm deep enough into the story a more detailed conclusion comes into focus, and I've never changed the endings of any of my books.

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

Sometimes I think all of my characters contain slivers of me (and that's probably true to some degree)—things I've thought about, or saw/read/experienced. But I share some fairly concrete similarities with Imogen, the protagonist of Getaway: we're both reclusive novelists who live in Pittsburgh, who have an older sister and a best friend from high school, and did a fair amount of theatre and backpacking in our teens and twenties. It's interesting to me to see how even a character I share things with becomes completely her own person, by way of living a story that is unique to her.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Perhaps because of my background in film, I think very visually. I see every scene I write as part of a movie in my head. I had a very definite idea of what kinds of films I dreamed of making (back in the day): character-driven stories that relied on realism in spite of an unusual/odd plot element (like Let the Right One In). And that has become the framework for my novels as well, exploring how an ordinary person would process—physically, emotionally, spiritually—some sort of strange and difficult situation.
Visit Zoje Stage's website.

--Marshal Zeringue