Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Suanne Laqueur, author of Give Me Your Answer True
FQ: First off, let me give you a heartfelt thank you for the privilege of reading Give Me Your Answer True! In the aftermath of the parting of ways between Daisy and Fish, did it feel as though you were navigating open wounds with the telling of Daisy’s story?
LAQUEUR: I am so glad you read me again, Diane, it’s a privilege for me too!
I had no intention of writing this alternate-POV story at all. I was forging ahead with a true sequel, writing Daisy and Erik in their new reunited life together. My method of writing is to sloppily blitz for a few months, flinging down as much material as possible in any order and in any way it comes to mind. We call this “vomiting on the page” in the writing world. Write now, clean up later. (Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober,” which also works well.)
So I was filling up the funnel with scenes. Most of which were conversations because I love dialogue, it’s my home base. And a lot of conversations were Erik listening to Daisy talk about the years apart. Everything that had happened to her. He wanted to know everything. “What happened, Dais?” and she’d tell a story. These scenes kept getting more and more involved and I was writing more and more backstory instead of writing into the future. Every time I tried to move forward, it seemed Daisy was tapping my shoulder and pointing back. She had so much to say. She had been in such agony those years. And I realized in order to go forward, I had to explore her past and get to know her as intimately as I knew Erik. Otherwise they would only be half a couple.
FQ: Your characters are so very rich and believable. Now that Daisy’s story has been told and it is in the hands of your audience, how difficult was it for you to let go?
LAQUEUR: Not difficult at all. Just the opposite in fact. In contrast to the launch of The Man I Love when I was a nervous wreck and clinging to the work, I couldn’t wait to get Give Me Your Answer True out there. I think partly because I was really proud of the book, and also because it had been keeping me from writing the sequel. Now it was done and both Daisy and I were relieved. It didn’t feel like the end of something, rather the beginning to a whole new life and a whole new story.
FQ: In line with question 2, is that it? Will there be more to tell?
LAQUEUR: Oh yes, there is much more to tell and I am writing it as we speak. Like I said, the end is only the beginning. Erik can’t just resign by phone and tell his landlord to have a garage sale and boom, he’s living in Canada. There’s a thousand details around the decision. Getting them back together is easy but getting them back together in one place is going to be...a story.
FQ: Daisy is the conduit for an extremely harmful self-infliction of cutting. As she struggled through her darkness, I could feel her pain thanks to your superb word placement. To write with such passion and emotion, did you seek out subjects and glean some of their inner turmoil?
LAQUEUR: I also have a teenage daughter who has watched several friends deal with issues of self-harm and her perspective was invaluable and helped me make Daisy’s voice authentic through the ordeal. Her rituals around cutting came from real-life experiences, as did her conflicted feelings toward the scars fading. I took some poetic license because self-harm awareness simply wasn’t present at the time Daisy was going through it. In the mid-nineties she most likely would have been treated as any other suicidal patient, rather than be classified with self-injurious behaviors indicating a “suicidal ideation with no defined plan.” I’m fortunate to have a good friend, Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, who is an adolescent psychologist. She was incredibly generous with her time and when I asked for pointers on getting Daisy admitted, she said, “I’ll do it. I’ll write her up. No problem.” And in the book, Daisy’s statement of admission to the psychiatric hospital is Jennifer’s doing.
FQ: You used a beautiful metaphor of wolves mating for life and equate this to the insistence of Daisy and Fish doing the same. What inspired you to use this?
LAQUEUR: Well, at first, wolves were the enemy. I went to a support group for anxiety many, many years ago, I think I was in my mid-twenties. It was all women, all much older than me and I felt slightly out of place and awkward. Then one of the women started talking about when her anxieties would come in the early morning hours. And she said, “I call it four AM when the wolves come, do you know what I mean?” And I burst into tears because I knew exactly what she meant. It’s such a vulnerable hour and the anxiety can feel like a hunting beast coming to tear you apart.
The notion of this predator wolf actually being a lifetime companion and helpmate came when I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and fell in love with the concept of a daemon: a manifestation of one’s soul as an animal companion. And I looked at wolves and realized they were vicious and brutal hunters…yet they mated for life. And maybe my “anxiety wolf” wasn’t coming in the dawn because it wanted to hurt me. But rather because it needed me. It needed my attention. It was such a revelation and so important to me personally, I had to give it to Daisy. Actually I gave it to Lucky to give to Daisy, because Lucky often comes out of left field with beautiful truths.
FQ: I’ve seen your style develop further from The Man I Love to Give Me Your Answer True. Where do you think you experienced the most maturity in laying down your story from the first book to its sequel, and why?
LAQUEUR: I think the writing started in a much higher place, no question. I was so fortunate that my editor, Becky Dickson, is also a superb (and tough) writing coach. So I began with a whole lot of bad habits kicked. And I also think as a writer, I pleasure-read with a different eye, aware of beautiful prose and always collecting unique metaphors and turns of phrase. It’s tempting to flat-out copy, but really the idea is to say, “That. I want to write like that. But as me.”
Also I noticed the skeleton of the book was constructed much more quickly than with The Man I Love. I go back to early drafts of TMIL and it’s nothing like the final version. With GMYAT, the skeleton was built and pretty much stayed the same as I polished it down to the final draft.
FQ: I enjoy the sublime covers you depict in both books. In The Man I Love Fish is the dark silhouette ‘on top’ and in Give Me Your Answer True, the imagery is inverted. Could you tell us a little about the process of designing your covers?
LAQUEUR: My cover designer Tracy Kopsachilis is my treasure. I really lucked out finding her when I crowdsourced the cover of The Man I Love on 99Designs.com. Right away she pulled to the front with her designs and we developed a rapport that was so easy. She just seemed to know what I want. She put those two silhouettes on red at first, with the woman’s profile at the top. I said, “Well, it’s written from the man’s point of view. What if you turned them over?” She did and said, “How about blue instead of red, I feel like the red is trying too hard.” She made it blue, we fiddled the text around a little, and that was it. Done. I had no doubt I’d work with her again and we made the cover for Give Me Your Answer True in literally six hours and ten emails. It was done before I even had the first draft finished.
FQ: Titles are vital in supporting the story that lies within. With both of your titles, they relate to theatre tunes. Given your own dance background, how much of an ‘inspirational fuel’ were the titles in breathing more zest into the story?
LAQUEUR: I didn’t choose the title for The Man I Love until well into the second draft. My editor said the title was somewhere in the manuscript and not to stress. It would show itself. And with very little thought one day, I added a cover page to the front of the manuscript and my fingers just typed, The Man I Love. So many layers within it—not just the song, which is playing when the shooting occurs. But also Erik being the man Daisy loves, and the man Will and David and Kees love, too. It has an echo of his missing father and the metaphor of him going from boy to man within the arc of the novel.
For the second book, the idea of using the lyric from Daisy Bell came pretty quickly. Like the cover, it was in place before a draft was finished. Daisy’s father sang it to her when she was little. It was always her song. I put the twist of mishearing the lyric “answer, do” as “answer true” which suited the purpose of the story: to give Daisy the chance to truthfully answer all the questions both Erik and a reader might have at the end of the first book.
FQ: Your bio tells me you have two children. Do either of your children show signs of the ‘writer within’? How do you encourage the process?
LAQUEUR: My daughter has an incredible voice but is a much better verbal storyteller. She’s an artist and she journals quite a bit. My son definitely likes to write and possesses the same kind of “ear” that I have. In other words, he’s learning how to write the kinds of things he likes to read.
FQ: Once again, I cannot express what a pleasure it was to read Give Me Your Answer True. Please tell me you are working on your next novel and if so, are you able to give a tease or two?
LAQUEUR: My next book will be a novella called Here To Stay. It’s Daisy and Erik in the first five years of their life together. In the midst of their joy in reconciling, they will have challenges to face such as the bureaucratic hassle and stress of Erik moving to Canada and trying to find work. Erik also has to mend a lot of hurt with Will and there’s twelve years of emotion he and Daisy have to catch up on and allow themselves to feel. Not everything goes with fairytale smoothness, but little by little he and Daisy build on the foundations already laid and create a new life together. They’re a very loving, connected couple and extremely bonded with Will and Lucky. “The four of us need each other,” Will says. “Don’t tell me in the fifty-thousand year history of the human race, this has never happened before. We’re not weird. In the statistical scheme of things, we’re probably typical.”
At the same time, Erik begins to make contact with some cousins on his father’s side. He slowly begins to build relationships and learn a little family history. His father gains dimension when relatives tell Erik stories. He learns more about the charms on his necklace. Being a “Fish” takes on new significance. And these new relationships will be of tremendous importance to him when he faces one of the greatest challenges of his life as a son, a husband and a father.