by Clayton Wehner - September 24th, 2009
Why did you use a metafictive style (calling attention to the constructedness of the story)? For example, Micah is an unreliable narrator, Micah addresses the reader …
Direct address is one of the oldest forms of storytelling. ‘Here, let me tell you a story …’ Many early novels are told that way. It’s really only in the 19th-century that you see it begin to fade away. I see Liar as a return to older storytelling. Unreliable narrators are also a fairly old device though I was a lot more upfront about Micah’s unreliablity than say Dickens is about his unreliable narrators. The book is called Liar and on the first page of the book Micah announces that she’s a liar. Can’t be clearer than that. You don’t have to figure it out the way you have to with Pip in Great Expectations.
Where did your over-arching theme of lies and truth spring from?
I think the very act of writing stories means you have to deal with what’s true and what’s not and with the many different levels of truth. My book is very true to what it’s like to deal with the death of someone you loved, what it’s like to come from a family that does not function normally, what it’s like to grow up having to keep secrets, to live in fear that you might not be sane.
You use the term ‘verisimilitude’ in the book, referring to details that give something the appearance of being real. Your use of verisimilitude is masterful. Can you give any clues as to how you used this device?
Thank you. I’m not sure I would call it a device. I think the aim of many novelists is for the world they write to feel as real as possible. Whether you write crime or romance or science-fiction or lit-fic or whatever, your story is more likely to come alive if readers don’t feel like the characters are walking around on empty sound stages.
The structure is innovative and strategic, with sections based on ‘After’ and ‘Before’ and other parts. Why have you chosen this structure?
The story is told in three threads. The first is the ‘After’ sections which all take place after Micah’s part-time boyfriend, Zach, is murdered. The ‘Before’ sections, obviously, take place before Zach’s murder. The third thread, with titles like ‘History of Me’, consists of Micah’s reflections on herself, her family, her school, her world. Liar is as much a jigsaw puzzle as a novel, but one where those pieces could go together in many different ways. Writing it was a puzzle, too. I wrote it back to front and inside out. Not from start to finish, but scene by scene. As I wrote I shuffled scenes around, rewriting them with every move. I think it would be interesting to see what readers made of it if they read it out of order too. It would be interesting to read it backwards. I have a feeling that might even work.
There was a groundswell of opposition to the US cover. What is the issue here?
I wrote a book about a black girl and my US publisher put an image of a white girl on the cover. When people started to read the advance copies of the book that disjunction made some readers start questioning whether Micah was lying about her race (she’s not) and others to be angry about the whitewashing. The subsequent opposition caused my US publisher to change the cover to an image that is closer to what Micah looks like. In Australia my publisher, Allen & Unwin, came up with a cover that evokes the book–it’s a psychological thriller, which is also in its way a murder mystery–without using a face, which was the approach I always wanted. I love the Australian cover of Liar. With the rejacketing of the US cover I’m now happy with both the Oz and US covers of Liar.
What are you working on next?
I prefer not to talk about books until I have at least a first draft. I fear it will jinx them. Though sometime when I’m really immersed in a book I kind of can’t help myself. I am not at that stage.
Tags: fictional jigsaw