Running On Empty Q&A with the Author
Running On Empty’s main character, Ethan, is anything but saintly, and this is not unusual for your young adult fiction. You seem to be able to nail the contemporary teen male mindset and voice. How do you do that?
This novel seems to have more profanity and sexual references than your earlier novels—don't get me wrong, it fits Ethan's character to a T, but I'm wondering if this reflects a change in editorial policy or something else.
What was the inspiration for the novel?
This is a contemporary story and the setting is where you live, but the scenes are so very detailed and the characters feel real. How did you do the research?
The statement “Writers write best when they write about what they know” may sound cliché, but it’s absolutely true—I can’t write realistically about a place I’ve never seen and spent time in. For example, when I realized that my novel The Space Between had to be set in Mexico, I arranged to spend some time there so I could record details about the places and the people, details that later made their way into the book. I never intentionally choose a setting because I think it will appeal to readers. I’m more concerned with creating strong characters that my readers can relate to, and those characters tell me where their stories need to take place. From the very beginning, I knew Ethan’s story had to unfold in Halifax, and the fact that I know the city so well was only part of the reason—the rest had to do with the escalation of violent crime that has occurred in Halifax in recent years. It seems as though every time I pick up a newspaper, I’m seeing stories of yet another beating or stabbing or shooting in that city, something that was rare a decade ago. Knowing that an act of violence would figure prominently in Running on Empty, I immediately envisioned it happening on a Halifax street. Regarding the creation of my characters, I like beginning with a “foundation” that I’m comfortable with, so I often use people I’ve known as models that I build my characters around. Eventually, as my story begins to take shape, each character evolves into so much more, stepping away from the model and becoming someone else entirely. It’s only as I’m writing the narrative that I truly understand my characters, discovering their backstories, adding flesh to their frames. For example, when I began Running on Empty, I knew that Ethan and his dad would have an uneasy relationship, but I didn’t know why. This was something I had to figure out as I watched them interact with each other on the page.