I wondered what a kid like Billy would have to do to turn his reputation around. What would be necessary to make the people who have judged him harshly all his life drop all that?
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
The scenes that are hardest to write are usually those that don’t make it to the final edit of the book. At least that’s my experience. I struggled with various scenes, usually because buried in the scene was some detail I was trying to find. An example is a huge scene about Billy working at a downtown outdoor market, selling fish. I wrote this elaborate ten-page scene, a whole chapter, pretty much because I was searching for an idea about what Billy might do to try to make some more money. Finally, though, Billy just having the idea of selling things at the market was all the story needed. But to realize that, I had to write the whole big scene.
My favorite: I think the scene that I like the most is when he is at the abandoned buildings and then back in his room, having his final revelations about all the things he has found and seen. (Two scenes, true, but to me they read like a single, extended moment.) There is something so soul-searching and mysterious, and even though he does not say it, he knows he is approaching a life and death struggle. I feel the scene captures his having been up all night and all his desperation, and sets just the right tone for the finale.
How long did you work on ASK THE DARK?
That’s a funny question. It’s really impossible to answer. The simple, clear-cut response is about seven months to get to a usable first draft. After that came an equal amount of time editing. But the real truth? I thought of Billy Zeets and wrote my first little story about him when I was fourteen. So he’s been on my mind for quite some time. Writing is all about thoughts germinating, percolating, getting ready. And then, they come.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
About writing: How to write speech so that it tells a concise story.
About myself: That I believe there really are Billys in the world.
What do you hope readers will take away from ASK THE DARK?
The belief that there really are Billys in the world.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
Are we talking this lifetime, or should we include reincarnation?
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
There are moments in the first chapter which caused the whole story to just spring up to life before me, to unroll like a road I could see to the horizon and which I knew it was possible to follow. Such moments are, I think, the ones every writer craves.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I’ve tried to make it pretty open. Home, coffee shops – quiet places, noisy places. It’s all the same to me – or at least I try to make it so. Having a family, I can’t really sequester myself away in total solitude as I used to – and to be honest, my writing has improved since I stopped doing so.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Don’t give up. Learn to revise.
What are you working on now?
I’m revising a novel about Billy’s friend Sam Tate.
ABOUT THE BOOKAsk the Dark by Henry Turner
Billy Zeets has a story to tell.
About being a vandal and petty thief.
About missing boys and an elusive killer.
And about what happens if a boy who breaks all the rules is the only person who can piece together the truth.
Gripping and powerful, this masterful debut novel comes to vivid life through the unique voice of a hero as unlikely as he is unforgettable.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Originally from Baltimore, award-winning independent filmmaker and journalist Henry Turner now lives in Southern California. Ask the Dark is his first novel.
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