Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.
This is the fourteenth post in the series. The author is Molly D. Campbell and the book is Keep the Ends Loose. It's available in Kindle, and in paperback as of today. (Hooray, book birthdays!)
Me: Molly, please tell my readers, in your own words, a little about your novel.
Molly: Keep the Ends Loose started as a character study of a woman who lived alone, happy in her little cottage. But it ran away with me as I began, and it morphed into a book about family secrets, the wisdom of youth, and the idea of forgiveness—what is it, really, and how do actual people deal with forgiving those whom they feel have wronged them. I wrote it in first person, through the eyes of a very precocious fifteen year old girl. Mandy Heath is an amalgam of all of the youthful protagonists I have read and loved through the years, especially Anne Shirley, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, and Flavia De Luce. Mandy is able to talk about her family crisis as a member not directly “hit over the head” with the debacle, but as a somewhat objective observer. And, of course, the book has a humorous and ironic tone, as I am a humor writer at heart.
Me: I first planned to ask you for a little bit more of a plot synopsis. But then it hit me that your book is very character-driven. There’s plot there, but it’s the quirkiness of the characters that’s really your stylistic signature. So instead would you please tell my readers a little about your major characters and what makes them each such individuals?
Molly: I have always been more interested in characterization than plot. When a book has both fascinating characters and a brilliant plot, I am amazed. Here are the people that drive Keep the Ends Loose:
Mandy Heath is fifteen, very smart, and a wry observer. She sees herself as boringly average, and when she compares herself to her mother, Winnie, Mandy feels a bit inferior. Mandy clings tenaciously to childhood, because she fears all the things that adulthood offers: college, career choices, leaving home, and of course, sex. Mandy has no idea how mature and competent she really is. She has a keen sense of irony, and her story telling ability is what sets Keep the Ends Loose apart from other novels about teens. I have always been drawn to precocious narrators, since I read Anne of Green Gables as a child and completely identified with Anne Shirley.
Barley Crowder is Mandy’s best friend. Barley and Mandy are complete opposites. Where Mandy plods, Barley glides. Mandy is overwhelmingly average. Barley is a junior-high superstar. Barley has gleaming blonde hair, a perfect complexion and figure, and she is wildly popular at school. Mandy enjoys life safely in Barley’s shadow. Barley is a take-charge type who is the catalyst for much of the plot resolution—she is a lot like Winnie, actually.
Roy Heath is the kind and gentle pharmacist who is Mandy’s dad. Mandy sees him as saintly, in compared to her mother. I modeled Roy on my husband, who is the definition of unconditional love.
Adam Heath is a typical teenaged boy. Mandy’s older brother is, of course, portrayed through her lens, and so we see him as very one-dimensional: the way most siblings view one another. He is annoying, stupid, and monosyllabic. Until he isn’t.
Iris Heath is Mandy’s aunt. She is another complete opposite--of her sister Winnie. She is willowy, beautiful, musical, and graceful. But, as Mandy reports, there just isn’t much in there…Iris is bland. I invented this bland woman around whom the entire plot revolves, because once again, I like the contrast between the two sisters, and I also wanted to focus the plot around Mandy and her immediate family without too much complication from Iris. Iris, of course, is not what she seems, because once again, she is portrayed only as Mandy sees her. As the plot unfolds, Iris gains dimension, and we see how Mandy’s view of her aunt, and actually her entire family, evolves as the book progresses and as Mandy matures.
Winnie Heath is the chubby dynamo about whom Keep the Ends Loose swirls. She is determined, bossy, and she doesn't have one bit of impulse control once she has made her mind up to do something. The book is in large part about forgiveness, and in Winnie, we see a woman who is obsessed with "tying up that one loose end" that has hounded her for years. That is all I can say without spoilers, but I have often wished I had a little more of her dogged determination!
Mandy is able to tell the story of her family’s debacle through a wry and slightly detached lens. She is really me—I have always been a watcher. I wanted to tell this story through a humorous and slightly innocent viewpoint, and this is how Mandy is. She can be both upset and hilarious at the same time.
Me: You’ve done something unusual with Winnie. You’ve made her a big woman—that is, overweight—but also attractive and sexy, someone who has never had trouble getting men’s interest. That’s unusual. In most books, big characters seem purposely placed as tragic and unfulfilled figures. I like it better your way. What inspired you to break that (unusually moldy) mold?
Molly: I had a good friend in high school who was very popular with boys. I could never understand it, because she wasn’t really pretty. She was a little overweight-- extremely confident, however, and seemed to think of herself as a siren. And it worked. I thought of her as I created Winnie—and I loved the idea of a chubby woman as a mankiller. I like to tweak stereotypes.
Me: What’s your ideal target audience for this book? Your main character is a teen, of course, so Young Adult seems to go without saying. But did you write this fairly exclusively for young adults, or are you hoping to appeal to a variety of ages? Who is/are your ideal readers?
Molly: I wrote it for adult readers, but then halfway through, I realized that it would have appeal to young adult readers as well. I am very comfortable writing as a young girl, because I actually feel as if I am still a teenager inside.
Me: You called yourself a humor writer at heart. Talk to us a little about your background as a writer. Is this a debut novel, or is there a rich body of work behind it? And once you’ve told us a little more about your history, please tell us why your heart is drawn to comedy.
Molly: I have always been “funny.” I initially wanted to be an actress, and comedy was my forte. I have always loved quirky people, and I am drawn to comedy. I think that pain is often very well expressed via comedy, and heartbreak often has a funny flip side. I love words as well, and I like to mix things up. For instance, in Keep the Ends Loose, Mandy calls her father “a cross between a genius and a stuffed animal.” This is just the way I think, I guess!
In terms of a rich body of work, yes. I spent an entire year making up character names and then writing a character sketch for each one. I self-published many of them in my first book, Characters in Search of a Novel. I have always wondered how a name might influence a person’s life: wouldn’t John Smith have a much less eventful life than Rollie Sidebottom? And then about a year ago, I downloaded a drawing app, and I discovered how much I like to draw the faces of my characters. This opened up a whole new world of fun for me!
I also have blogged weekly for about nine years. Practice, practice.
Me: What’s next for you?
Molly: I am writing a book about a lonely woman who makes her living writing erotic fiction, and the friendship she makes with an eleven-year-old girl. They save one another. Wait—this sounds like a Catherine Ryan Hyde novel!
Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.
Molly: If you could have great talent in another area, what would you choose to do?
I would love to be an animal rescuer. I have always loved animals, and one of my goals in life is to hold a baby lion. This will never happen. I would also like to hug a baby beaver. Again, no way. Because I could never actually be a rescuer—I would end up trying to keep all the animals I rescued. I would be a complete failure. I know this, as I have five cats sitting in my kitchen at this very moment. Catherine, thank you so much for having me!