That title is from Raziel Reid's recent uproar of a young adult book, which is in turn a line from the Goo Goo Dolls' 1998 song, "Iris" (remember that, fellow 1990s kids?). I'm not a constant reader of YA fiction, though I often like what I do read, and I sometimes teach a Children's Literature class, which I love. Last year, I defended Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the local CBC after a parent demanded it be removed from the high-school curriculum. Confession time: I read it in a galloping hurry the morning of the interview. But it stayed with me.
Why? It wasn't the teenage sex or mental health breakdowns or relationship anguish. (Another confession: I haven't seen the film version . . . I haven't seen much beyond Planes II since my children were born, alas.) I think it was the voice--and that's what seems to be getting Reid's When Everything Feels Like the Movies a lot of critical attention, beyond the scandal. The sense that an actual person is speaking the story. It really isn't easy to pull off, even if a writer is in or just beyond the teenage years himself or herself. We all end up ventriloquists, even if the story is basically our own.
I struggled a lot with voice when I was writing All True Not a Lie In It, as I've said before, because it isn't my own story. It isn't even my gender. It ended up being a first-person account in Daniel's own words, which was a pretty daunting act to take on. What compounded the problem was Dan's age; he goes from seven to forty-four over the novel, and his voice has to change with him. So like one of the YA authors listed, I had to conjure up a believable young speaker growing up into adult life.
I also didn't want it to feel like the movies--any writer now can't help but be influenced by film, whether it's Planes II or Cronenburg. Movie structure is in the genes of so many books, and so is movie voice, I think--it's easy to hear a narrator as a voice-over act sometimes. I tried hard to make Dan speak like a human, not just spooling off the events of his life, but feeling them as they go.
Who would be Dan in my fantasy movie version of the story? I have a few actors in mind. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jon Hamm are certainly on the try-out list. But if I had any say, the casting decision would have to be made on voice. On who could sound as if the story were happening to him alone, for the first time.
I'm the author of My Name is a Knife, All True Not a Lie In It, and The Old Familiar.