“True Grit” and pearls…
As the result of a highly scientific Twitter poll, it’s back to the Young Adult genre with ‘Grit of Berth and Stone’ by Lisa Dunn. Lisa was kind enough to submit to an interview!
An interesting part of the interview is that Lisa mentions Suzanne Collins as one of her author heroes because ‘Grit of Berth and Stone’ struck me as a cross between Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress.’ The main character, Grit, has reached her 16th birthday which is “celebrated” (if you can call it that) with a ceremonial branding and the command to elude “hunters” in the woods. In the midst of a fight to survive, Grit meets with a mysterious quest.
Without further ado, the interview with Lisa Dunn:
Jenn: How did your journey as a writer begin?
Lisa: Accidentally, actually. I’d often toyed with the idea of writing a novel. I even started one in my mid-twenties. (Thankfully, that melodramatic heap of words was lost in a computer crash.) I was about 3/4 of the way through the first draft of GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE when I realized I might have something worth sharing with others. Thankfully, I found a publisher who agreed.
J: Who do you consider your author “heroes?”
L: That’s a hard one. My list of favorite authors is ridiculously long and rather niche in some respects. I think I’m the only person alive today who fan-girls over A SEPARATE PEACE, for example. A contemporary author for whom I have a ton of respect is Suzanne Collins. She’s most famous for THE HUNGER GAMES, but her middle-grade UNDERLAND CHRONICLES has unexpected depth, and her ability to write A BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES from the point-of-view of the most despised character in THE HUNGER GAMES in such a way that the reader sees the “protagonist’s” descent into evil and kind of wishes it could have turned out differently, but knows it couldn’t have because Coriolanus has to be Coriolanus… Reading that book was kind of like watching a slow-motion train wreck, but major points to Collins for making an unlikeable character so fascinating without ever presenting him as the victim. Genius storytelling, if you ask me.
J: How did ‘Grit of Berth and Stone’ come to be?
L: The idea for Threshan/Chasmarian culture came from a conversation with friends about what the world would be like without love. I took the conversation home, asking myself what a society without love would look like and what would happen if love crashed into it. The difficulty I ran into, and which you might have noticed as you read, is that human beings have an innate capacity to love. So, even if we tried to build a world without love, love would breakthrough, as it does in some of Berth’s counsel to [her daughter] Grit and in her actions toward the end of the book.
J: The title itself was so clever once I finally caught on to what it meant! How did you decide on the name “Grit” for your main character?
L: I can’t remember exactly how “Grit” came to mind, but she never went by any other name, and I don’t think I could find a better name for her if I spent the rest of my life browsing baby naming websites. It was obvious from the beginning that Grit had a special relationship with her father [Stone], but I wrote the trilogy a little by the seat of my pants, and it was surprising, even to me, to see how Grit’s story circled back to Berth. I’m talking about Berth a lot today… but I think there’s something in that whole idea of growing to value the very parts of ourselves—whether that be flaws, failures, or fractured relationships–we once despised.
J: And speaking of “grit,” pearls serve as a beautiful symbol in the book. Do you mind explaining the decision to use them as a precious commodity with a deeper meaning?
L: I love symbolism, so I felt it was important for Grit to have something tangible to hold as she learned to let go of the life she had known and strive for the future Kinsmon laid out before her. The pearl flowed naturally from Grit’s name and, paired with the contrast between Berth’s and Kinsmon’s explanation of her name, emphasized her transformation from a mouthy brat senselessly inflicting pain and suffering into a bearer of truth, goodness, and beauty to a people who had never known those things. What happens with her pearl at the end of the book (Sorry, no spoilers!) shows that truth, goodness, and beauty aren’t meant to be kept to oneself and are never lost in the giving.
J: What do you hope readers will come away with after reading Grit’s tale?
L: I hope and expect the takeaways will be different for each reader, depending on what they need to hear. I don’t want to say what that should be for any given reader, but I’ll share one change I noticed in myself. As I wrote this series, carefully crafting each character and moving Grit ever so slowly toward accepting her role in Chasmaria’s restoration, I began to look at the people in my life just a little differently. Strangers walking down the street became precious beings created with care and purpose, with stories all their own. I began to think less of how others could serve me and more of how I could serve them. I’m an introvert. I like staying home and keeping to myself. I didn’t go out and volunteer at every community service organization in town or anything super inspirational, but I stopped expecting every exchange to be mutually beneficial. I’m called to love, not to keep score. It’s a subtle change, and I certainly have my cranky days and interpersonal conflicts, but I’m more aware of the reality that I have been set in this time and in this place to love these people.
J: What are you working on now?
L: I’m currently seeking a literary agent for some Contemporary Young Adult novels I’ve written—a four-book series and a standalone epistolary novel—and bouncing back and forth between story ideas that have been on the back burner for a long time. One is a Chasmaria prequel telling the story of Ezekiel of the Southern Sea. Another is a mash-up of fables and fairy tales that hopes to explore the power of story. Both of these are projects I have to get just right, so I’ve been really nervous about jumping into them full force. Writing is one scary act of faith, my friends!
J: What are you reading now?
L: I recently finished Kate Moore’s THE WOMAN THEY COULD NOT SILENCE (highly recommend) and have James Joyce’s DUBLINERS on standby. We’ll see how that one goes…
J: Are there any other independent authors who you’d like to plug?
L: Absolutely! After publishing three books with Anaiah Press, I joined the other side of the table, taking on a Senior Editor position. I work primarily with YA Christian Fiction and have had the privilege of working with Sean McMurray, Chrissy Dennis, Kara Leigh Miller, and Joiya Morrison-Efemini. I can’t speak highly enough of any of these authors. They made me laugh and cry in all the right places! You can find their books here. (If anyone’s wondering, I’ve already been paid for my editorial services, so I don’t profit by promoting these books.)
Okay, that’s all for now. Be sure to check out ‘Grit of Berth and Stone’ along with all of the Chasmaria Chronicles. Have a wonderful day, everyone!