Friday, October 29, 2010

Tyger Tyger: Kersten Hamilton on Character Viewpoint, Aristotelian memes and Multiple Story Arcs

Kersten Hamilton's new YA novel, Tyger Tyger has been praised by Kirkus Reviews as "Laced with humor, packed with surprises and driven by suspense." Here's an interview with Kersten on her main character, on viewpoint, memes we may owe to Aristotle, and more. Here's a 2008 interview on Cynsations.

[Uma] From ape poop to baby hedgehogs, it's clear from the start that Teagan is an eccentric character in her own right and therefore highly likely to attract improbable happenings. Tell me how you went about constructing the layers of your protagonist's character.

[Kersten] I stepped outside the Western tradition in creating Teagan’s character. I wanted Tea to be different, to feel a little alien to my readers. To accomplish this, I tried to strip myself of the influence of Aristotle, specifically these (paraphrased) ideas:
1. The male is better and more divine (godlike) than the female.
2. A female is a deformed male.
3. Since the male is by nature superior, he must rule and the woman be ruled.

It isn’t easy to get away from these memes in Western culture, even when we think we have. For instance, many of our ‘kick-butt’ female characters in YA literature and movies are simply reactions to Aristotle’s concept that women are deformed males—we truly believe the male form is better, and so we write Rambo with breasts.

But fighting skills and the ability to kill are not the only way to be strong, or even the best way. I love female characters like Hayao Miyazaki’s Chihiro in Spirited Away who succeeds not because she is like a boy, but because she is a strong, courageous girl.

[Uma] You have chosen to write Tyger Tyger in a writerly third person voice rather than the more common (and sometimes stereotypically angst-ridden) teen first person. Can you talk about this choice and what effect it has on the story?

[Kersten] You can tell a brilliant story in first person, but you do lose the subtlety of inference and empathy, and the ability to play off of more than one character at a time. Third person is more difficult to write – you must ‘show’ what the characters feel, rather than ‘telling’ through internal dialog. But it’s fun because it has so many sub categories to pick and choose from, to mix and match.

I chose third person limited with a quarter twist toward third person subjective. Teagan’s feelings about situations and characters definitely play a role in the story, and occasionally we even know her thoughts—because I actually find it more transparent—I as the writer can disappear completely, allowing a skilled reader to experience the story in a much more intimate way.

[Uma] What a great way to say it, the viewpoint with a quarter twist! It's true that many people think of viewpoint as an immutable construct and in reality it's so much more complex than just defining whose head we're in! It's a malleable part of the narrative and I loved being able to feel that.

Moving onto setting: I also loved the positioning of St. Drogo's as the counterpoint to the goblin world, and Abby's role in making sure that we're reminded of this. Why did you choose to overlap layers of geography and myth in this way, so that the stories swirl out from freegans foraging in trash dumpsters in Chicago to the ancient Ireland of the Finnian cycle and back again? And how did that melding of geographies play out in the process of writing this novel?

[Kersten] I overlapped geography and myth in this way because it reflects real life. Everyone I know has a slightly different and wonderful mythology that influences their actions. All of my friends hold hands across those differences. I love listening to them talk worldviews.

 All of us are spreading nets, trying to figure out the important questions of life – and the geography behind us has a great deal to do with how our nets are woven, and what we catch.

 [Uma] As I understand it there will be a follow-up to this Goblin Wars book. A trilogy? How much of the events of this larger story do you know at this time? Talk about how you are approaching the writing of a sequel.

[Kersten] It is going to be at least a trilogy. I always know the first scene and the last, and have to plunge into the maelstrom of creation to find out what happens in between. It is wonderful and scary and painful and exciting. I enjoy the chaos of writing much more than I enjoy the rest of having written. That’s why multiple book story arcs are so wonderful to me. They are so huge, and so impossible! I approach each new book in fear and trembling—and with great joy.

[Uma] Thank you Kersten. I'm cheering at your comment about the chaos of writing! Thanks for talking to me, and best wishes for those books to come.


  1. Makes me even more eager to read the book!

    Shirley Raye Redmond