Tuesday, April 5, 2016

#AuthorApril: D is for Dare Me author, Megan Abbott

Dear Kim,

Can you believe in this whole A to Z lottery I missed out on the letters M and A? Had I been gifted either you know I would have written about my favorite YA author, Megan Abbott. Guess what? Even without the letters M and A in my arsenal, I found a way to write about her. You knew I would!


D is for Dare Me author, Megan Abbott

A little while back I wrote a post about finding mentors for your writing. I spoke of Megan in that post. May I remind you that I wrote about meeting her in person in the near future?


Well, Kim, guess what? That meeting took place just a few days ago in the grand city of New Orleans, LA. Here is the play-by-play.

I left my hotel and turned right onto Royal Street.
I passed this totally awesome hat shop. It was the first of many times last weekend that I thought: I wish Kim and Donna were here. Although, don't be fooled, I wasn't permitted to try on any hats. Maybe it was the crazed look I had in my eyes? The "I'm about to meet Megan Abbott" gaze? Or maybe they could tell the $800 price tags were way out of my bank.
My first attempt to get into the lecture hall happened shortly after the shop lady asked me not to touch the feathers on the hats again. I walked into the courtyard behind the Historic New Orleans Collection only to find that they would not let guests inside an HOUR early. Call me eager. Call me a fangirl. Whatever. I needed a good seat. 

A thirty minute detour to the gallery across the street helped pass the time until...
Megan Abbott began her lecture on Setting Mood. Read on for the highlights.



Megan Abbott, master of dark contemporary fiction for teens, spoke about mood, atmosphere, and style during her Master Class session at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival 2016. Megan knows a thing or two about developing an eerie tone in her work.

Dare Me

“That’s what people never understand: They see us hard little pretty things, brightly lacquered and sequin-studded, and they laugh, they mock, they arouse themselves. They miss everything. You see, these glitters and sparkle dusts and magicks? It’s war paint, it’s feather and claws, it’s blood sacrifice.”

and

“The New Coach. Did she look at us that first week and see past the glossed hair and shiny legs, our glittered brow bones and girl bravado? See past all that to everything beneath, all our miseries, the way we all hated ourselves but much more everyone else?” 

and

“Walking past all the cops, all the detectives, I raise my runner’s shirt a few inches, like I’m shaking it loose from my damp skin. I let them all see my stomach, its tautness. I let everyone see I’m not afraid, and that I’m not anything but a silly cheerleader, a feather-bodied, sixteen-year-old with no more sense than a marshmallow peep. I let them see I’m not anything. Least of all what I am.”

I could go on, with quotes from Dare Me... and The End of Everything... and The Fever... and; I'll stop with the Dare Me quotes above (for now). During the lecture Megan choose a Raymond Chandler piece to highlight her talking points. While Chandler is a master of crime fiction, I prefer to use the quotes above in connection to Megan's lecture for our #AuthorApril post today.

First Megan spoke of setting mood to destabilize the reader; purposefully shifting emotion and perceptions to put your reader on edge. Take the line, "They see us hard little pretty things, brightly lacquered and sequin-studded, and they laugh, they mock, they arouse themselves." Do hard and pretty go together? Should one mock what arouses them? These are purposeful shifts that Abbott uses to stir the unease in her readers. It works.

Hungarian translation

Megan went on to say that a writer must work to find their own style. Reading helps, but more so, for writers, she said, we must write. Millions of words must fall to the page before we can start to see our own voice, our own views, our favorite devices emerge. Megan said, "My style is when the words look weird and strange and mine."

She found first person serves her well because she likes the confessional characteristics of that viewpoint. The character is "whispering in your ear," she said. She also likes to repeat words and phrases throughout a book. Dripping the same phrase as she writes connects the reader to her words. See the "glitter" above? Talk of things that are shiny? Hard? She pulls us from sparkling objects to tough talk. Those words serve her characters (and her writing) well.

Another device Abbott loves to play with is sentence structure and length. She likes. Nay loves. Sentence fragments. (I do too.) Abbott's goal is to be of service to her characters. She said, "Yeah, I have a sixteen year old cheerleader who speaks like Richard III. So what? Go with it. Establish it strong in the beginning and your readers will go with it too." Furthermore Abbott said in Dare Me, Beth needed the stage so Abbott gave the character what she needed thereby thwarting "typical" teen dialogue. 

Lastly Megan spoke about the importance of connecting dark fiction to humanity. She said that genre fiction writers (pulp and crime fiction, horror and thrillers) are charged with setting a breakneck pace in their works; get to the end, solve the crime, find out whodunit. Abbott believes that we must serve this page-turning desire, however we must also find a way to feed our readers emotionally. Abbott said Agatha Christie is a master of balancing pace with real life. She said, "Think about it. You are trying to find out the mystery but she distracts you with such detail that you suddenly feel like you are there, in the drawing room. Christie built a real world." Abbott does too. I think of her descriptions in The Fever




“A few years ago, long after it had been closed, Eli said he saw a girl swimming in it, coming out of the water in a bikini, laughing at her frightened boyfriend, seaweed snaking around her. He said she looked like a mermaid.

Deenie always pictured it like in one of those books of mythology she used to love, a girl rising from the foam gritted with pearls, mussels, the glitter of the sea. 

'It looks beautiful,' her mother had said once when they were driving by at night, its waters opaline. 'It is beautiful. But it makes people sick.'

To Deenie, it was one of many interesting things that adults said would kill you: Easter lilies, jellyfish, copperhead snakes with their diamond heads, tails bright as sulfur. Don't touch, don't taste, don't get too close."


Kim, I couldn't write her lessons quickly enough. I guess I will just have to wait to read her upcoming thriller, You Will Know Methis summer to learn more from Ms. Megan Abbott.

Happy #AuthorApril.
Much Love,
Alison