Friday, August 10, 2007

Q&A with Vanessa Craft, author of Out of Character

I have to start by saying that I'm super envious of Vanessa's last name. I mean, Craft? And her website is Too cute.

Anyway... I read her debut novel, Out of Character a few months ago. If you haven't read it, it's well worth the read. But who cares what I think! Here's what Vanessa had to say about the book.

Q. How did you come up with the title for Out of Character?

VC: The title came from a brainstorming session with my agent. Acting "out of character" is something that definitely happens to the heroine Emma; Emma is obsessed with the characters in every book she reads; the book explores the true nature, or character of people, and how it is defined. It's a triple threat title.

Q. What inspired the "dancer" aspect to the story?

VC: I knew a ballet dancer who began working the London clubs to make ends meet. I went to visit her at work one night and was blown away by the atmosphere I've always been fascinated by themes of identity and how they play themselves out in different settings. There is constant media attention on pole dancing these days, but most of it fails to explore the true nature of how identity is affected by power, money and sex, in particular in those environments. Also, I loved the idea of a woman becoming "addicted" to a character she has created. I'm fascinated - absolutely fascinated- by identity and the role it plays within our lives, especially when under the influence of family, or when it is corrupted by power or sex.

Q. You went undercover as a dancer yourself in a strip club. At what point in the writing process did you decide to do so, and what made you decide to do so?

VC: I had gone in to several clubs as an observer, but that was all that I was - an observer. To write a story like I wanted to write, it had to be truly authentic for it to work, and I wasn't getting a behind the scenes view of the dressing room, of the inner workings of the club, of the power games. I spoke to many girls, but no one was sharing their secrets with me. My friend suggested I come in to audition one night and even though the situation was beyond scary, my imagination and journalistic curiosity took over. I was really intrigued.

Q. How long did you work?

VC: On and off for about 3-4 months.

Q. What surprised you most?

VC. I was surprised by how many celebrities and high powered businessmen go to these places - it's like window shopping for them and they have no intention of 'buying' anything. Clubs like Platinum are very tame (women in full length dresses, no touching, no full nudity etc), and many of the men are just there to trump each other - who can spend the most, who can have the most expensive bottle of champagne, the best looking dancers at their table - that sort of thing. I was also quite surprised when I was asked to do a dance for a very famous British supermodel who has been in the press alot lately ;)I would say that like most women, I had a very real fear of strip club environments, and a hefty amount of judgement towards the women that work there. It was very freeing for me to embrace something I was so afraid of, and to discover the truths about the role sex plays in our psyche.I loved the idea of "disappearing" into a secret world, and got a real kick out of having this secret - meeting people at dinner parties or at social events and them having no idea about my pole skills! Another plus was learning how to carry myself with all the dancer secrets of body positioning, how to mask your physical flaws, and how to never take no for an answer. Very handy skills to have! At the same time, this was also the worst part about the experience - the secrecy, the judgement from others... I was ultimately in there as a tourist, so it's easy for me to pop in, look around and move on because I have other options. I think that world makes it very hard to have a 'normal' relationship with a man, and it is so hard to shake that lifestyle once you're in it.

Q. What made you decide to write a novel?

VC: I've been writing since i was a child and come from a family of writers. A novel was always on the cards as soon as I could get organised and focussed enough to do it!

Q. Why did you go undercover as a dancer rather than just imagining it for the story?

VC: I feel that certain emotions are transferable to all of us - we all know what it is like to love, to be betrayed, to hope for something - I didn't need to go outside of my own head for those things. But to have such a unique setting to play those emotions and themes out, when I had no idea about pole dancers would have been impossible. I guess I've always been a person who jumps into things with two feet and never looks back. I moved to London when I was a teenager, on my own with no family or friends, for example - it's my nature to be so nosy and curious about places and things I've never seen that I get myself into trouble!

Q. Emma has a unique relationship with her father, Jack. Is this based on any relationships you have?

VC: Jack is an amalgamation of the many Investment Bankers I met whilst selling my soul in office jobs as a starving artist. I found those men fascinating - they would literally give up 10+ years of their life to guarantee wealth and power. I always was curious as to what made them tick - didn't they have dreams once other than that? So, I wanted to write a character who defined himself through his earning power and match him up with the most challenging relationship he could have, with a daughter who didn't value those choices.


Q. Did you ever -- like Emma -- consider giving up writing the book and just working as a dancer instead?

VC: I was in my late twenties when I was in the club, and that is definitely a young woman's game! Not to mention, I was very focussed on my writing and I never truly was able to disconnect the 'real' me from the situation - plus I think Emma was in a precarious position to begin with - abandoned by her mother and father, uninspired, an outcast - she was ripe for an experience that would make her feel like she belonged, no matter how inappropriate that experience was. I do think many of us fantasize about "escaping" our lives sometimes, though, but few do. This was the opportunity that presented itself for Emma, and she was "desperate for a life worth writing about."

Since it's Freebie Friday, I've got one copy of Vanessa Craft's first novel, Out of Character, to give away! If you want to win it (with a personalized autograph from Vanessa), email me at chantel (at) chantelsimmons (dot) com and tell me a story about a time you pretended to be someone (or some age) you weren't. It could be the time when you were 10 and lied to the cute 15-year-old paperboy about your age so that he'd like you back. Or the time you pretended you actually had waitressing experience to get a job at Denny's when really, your only experience was clearing the meatloaf off the Sunday night dinner table at home. Or maybe you're super honest and have never pretended to be anything but yourself. In that case, just make something up to win the book!

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