Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thief Origin Story

Though I'm not one to usually start at the beginning a story, I will make an exception here and relate to you all how the idea for this book came about. Thief is nearly a direct response from fan reaction to its companion book Tomorrow, Maybe

I'd been working with interconnected characters for three books prior to Thief.  There's direct character links from Tomorrow, Maybe-to-Perfect World-to-Dirty Liar. Thief continues this idea by returning to Elizabeth, the younger girl in Tomorrow, Maybe. Elizabeth had always been one of my favorite characters. In Tomorrow, Maybe, I had expected readers to care for her the way the main character did. In the pivotal plot moment of that book, I thought readers would be heartbroken by Elizabeth's actions. And though most readers who wrote to me were saddened to an extent, they were more angry at Elizabeth than anything else. As the writer, it was such an interesting response. It was completely unexpected. 

I started to feel like I'd done Elizabeth an injustice. Like most writers, I feel a sort of fatherly obligation to my characters. I'm responsible for putting them in these situations and responsible for their reactions to them...all the while trying to create a desired perception of her at the outcome. I felt like I'd failed Elizabeth in that sense. So the idea of telling her story was born.

To redeem her, I had to somehow find a way to get her off the hook. Many readers blamed her character for the concluding events in Tomorrow, Maybe. That had never been my intention. But nevertheless, I needed to repair a trust between her character and any reader that read Tomorrow, Maybe

As I mentioned, I'd already been playing with interconnected characters and overlapping events told from different perspectives. As I began working on Thief, I started thinking about the role first person perspective plays in this process. I realized that readers had felt so close to the narrator of Tomorrow, Maybe that they couldn't help but choose sides and dislike Elizabeth by the end. Then I started thinking...what if that character was wrong? What if things didn't really happen the way she related them or perceived them?

When we read a first person narrative told from a character we like and trust, we naturally begin to accept their version of events as indisputable fact. Though, as all of us know, our version of what happens in our lives is never exact and very skewed. That was the starting point in the conception of Thief's plot. If the main character of Tomorrow, Maybe was wrong, then suddenly Elizabeth becomes the victim. She is the one who was wronged. In the end, I think the outcome was very powerful. The resentment readers may have felt for her suddenly shifts toward guilt that perhaps they judged her too quickly. In a strange way, I think some readers will feel as though they had let her down too. 

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