|Skylar Dorset, author of BREATHLESS|
Hi Skylar, thanks so much for joining me for a conversation. Your description on Goodreads for BREATHLESS makes me want to buy it immediately. But mostly it sounds like it's chock full of super fun characters (love the description of the aunts!). Can you tell us about a couple of your favorites? Who was the most fun to write?
THAT IS LIKE ASKING ME TO CHOOSE MY FAVORITE CHILD! (Disclosure: I don’t have children. But I *imagine* that’s what it’s like.)
I had a blast writing all of the characters, but I was in Selkie’s head, and I came to really love it there: She is lost and bewildered sometimes—because crazy things happen to her—but she never stops being stubborn and fierce about who she is, inside, underneath all the outside craziness. And I love that about her, because I think it’s something we can all relate to. Or I can, anyway. Sometimes life throws stuff at you that you totally didn’t expect and you have to deal with it the best you can. And Selkie deals with it pretty awesomely. And she’s funny on top of it, which I like. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in someone’s head, you hope that she makes you laugh!
Ben, who is the main male character of the story, is another of my favorites, and not just because I was in Selkie’s head and Selkie is in love with him. Ben is charming and wry and adorable—okay, that *does* make me sound like I’m in love with him. But! There are other awesome things about Ben! He is not just constantly sweeping Selkie off her feet! Actually, he spends a great deal of time not doing any sort of sweeping off of feet. And he is not afraid to be vulnerable. Much like Selkie, Ben doesn’t have all the answers and is just sort of muddling through, and he’s willing to admit that. And he’s willing to admit it cheerfully, which is pretty irresistible. Cheerfulness can be a rare commodity when unaccompanied by chocolate, and Ben manages to be frequently cheerful *without* chocolate!
As much as I love both Ben and Selkie, populating the canvas with the other more secondary characters was also a delight. My favorite might have been Will, who’s a Salem wizard who thinks of himself as the voice of reason in the face of Selkie’s determination. Will views himself as being constantly put-upon by the insane people all around him, and I love his world-weary sighing, and the fact that he never quite grasps that he is the source of just as much insanity!
I love my MC's too, but secondary characters are so fun to write. Who are some of your favorite secondary characters in books you didn't write?
Oh, gosh, that is such a hard question! There are so many! Some of my absolute favorites that are standing out to me right now as I think about this:
(1) Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series: Okay, possibly my favorite secondary character of all time, I have to admit. I just loved Sirius. Rowling was a genius at all secondary characters and I feel like there are a million I could have put here and been proud of, but Sirius really appealed to me. I loved the tragedy of his story, and I loved that he got to redeem himself, and I loved that he developed into a father figure for Harry, but that he wasn’t perfect, and you never really forgot that he wasn’t perfect. I loved that, despite the fact that he was a secondary character, you had a very real sense of him as a whole person, not just him in relation to Harry (which is a hallmark of all of Rowling’s characters). I thought he had a sense of humor (which is a recurring theme of what I like in a character!) and I also thought that he was very sweet and clearly loved the people who were important to him in his life a great deal (another recurring theme of what I like in a character!). There are a lot of deaths to mourn in Harry Potter, but his was the one that cut me the most (is that still a spoiler?).
(2) Marmee in “Little Woman”: Speaking of parental figures, Marmee is the literal parent in “Little Women,” holding a family together through trying times, with a husband at war and children going through various crises, and she never wavers. She is always there, supportive, loving, and to me she is the glue that holds all of “Little Women” together as a narrative: You know that Marmee is going to be there.
(3) Cinna from the Hunger Games series: He’s clever and witty and kind and courageous and incredibly creative, and his death is crushing. In fact, let’s move on from that…
(4) Mrs. Rachel Lynde in the Anne of Green Gables series: Initially an abrasive woman who turns out to have a heart of gold, and whose support of Anne always means so much more because she started out opposed to the idea of her, I love Mrs. Rachel Lynde. Matthew and Marilla are, of course, lovely and wonderful secondary characters, but Mrs. Rachel Lynde is so vividly rendered in the role of the town gossip who nevertheless means well and remains likeable. She’s a tricky character, and could easily devolve into a stereotype that we all love to hate, and she never does, and I love that about her.
(5) Reepicheep from the Narnia series: I was always so excited whenever Reepicheep showed up on the page. Dashing and courageous, Reepicheep never shies away from adventure, and there is a way in which he has the most perfect character arc in the entire Narnia series, heading out into the vast unknown to keep adventuring and discovering for as long as we wish to imagine him doing so. Plus, HE’S A BIG MOUSE WITH A RAPIER. WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE.
Wonderful characters. I have to say it was Hedwig and Snape that cut me the most in the HP series (and no, I don't think that can be a spoiler anymore!). And I loved what you said about Mrs. Rachel Lynde in Anne of the Green Gables. It is so easy to slip into stereotype with side characters. How do you avoid it in your own writing?
I think I try never to think of anyone as a “side character.” I like to think that every character I write could be the star of a book. Maybe not *this* book, but *a* book. And, in fact, I’ve thought about what each of their books would be about. So I think that helps to make them feel less like just The Best Friend, The Love Interest, etc., and more like characters who are starring in their own life movies but also making cameos in the one I’m writing, so to speak.
And this seems to be the perfect place to ask about what's next after BREATHLESS. Any of these "not side" side characters making appearances? Or books you want to write?
I have seven million ideas for books, and a few of those actually do involve some of the characters in BREATHLESS. I’d love to explore a bit more the Salem wizard who plays a role in helping Selkie out. In my book, he’s been around Boston a long time—since its founding—and I would love to delve a bit more into what it was like to be a young, reckless wizard in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are also a couple of other side characters—goblins and such—who I think have really interesting stories to tell. I’m flirting with the idea of their stories being historic, too. Like, wouldn’t it be fun to see what Boston was like around the time it was deciding to install its first subway? I think that would be really interesting!
As for other books I want to write, oh, gosh, the terrain of my brain is a very crowded one!! I would love to try something with time travel (apparently I’m really into the idea of writing something historic). I would also love to do something Mardi-Gras-related. I lived in New Orleans for a few years and I’d love to incorporate that experience into a future book.
Oh those sound great! All of them! Get to work, lady! (I'm with you on the Mardi Gras thing. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama which has an old and active Mardi Gras of which my family is a part of - but shhhh, those things are SEKRET!)
It's been so great talking to you and getting to know you and your book a little bit better! Thanks so much for chatting. But now is the time I'll ask you to add a line to our Exquisite Corpse story.
Oh, and Mobile has the oldest Mardi Gras event, right? Believe it or not, New Orleans is very sensitive about that! Added my sentence below!
Yesterday, at the asylum, Johnny got lost in a hole. One moment he was occupying stall #6 of the third floor boy's restroom, the next he was gone, nothing but a flush and a startled scream in his wake. Briefly, he wondered how he'd talk himself out of this mess when they found him...if they found him. But a howling sound suddenly echoed through the surrounding darkness and he knew; there wasn’t time to worry. He'd landed on his hands and knees on a stone floor covered with a foul-smelling, slimy liquid that made him glad he'd skipped lunch. When the howling sounded again--this time much closer--Johnny scrambled to his feet.
He felt a blast of hot wind. No, not wind. Breath. He turned slowly, hoping that he was wrong, but he knew what he would find, what he's always been warned about but never believed truly lived in these dark recesses. A pair of eyes emerged from the tunnel, dark and somewhat bulgy. The beast snorted. It's tongue hung from the corner of its mouth. It was the biggest WerePug he had ever seen, and worse, it looked hungry.
Everyone knew that WerePugs couldn't see too well - their bulgy eyes found it difficult to focus on anything, so they relied on quick movement combined with sound from whatever object they were chasing. Johnny knew there was only once way out. Taking a deep breath and holding it inside puffed cheeks, he slowly got down on his belly and began to push himself, using the stinky, slimy liquid to slick his way, under the beast's heaving belly and out the other side. Unfortunately, once he got out the other side, he realized it was a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, because on the other side of the WerePugs was…WerePuppies.
And, sadly, this concludes our Exquisite corpse segment, though the conversations will continue! It was a scheduling issue problem - so the saga of Johnny and the Were pugs is complete. Be sure and stop in next week when I'll be chatting with Adrianne Strickland, author of WORDLESS.