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Today I'm talking to Kyle V. Hiller, author of The Recital. Kyle is a West Philadelphia native. He attended Temple University's Tyler School of Art, with discipline in English and Filmmaking. The Recital is his debut novel, and his inspirations include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Harriet the Spy, Stargirl, Age of Miracles, and anything by Haruki Murakami and Hayao Miyazaki.
Q1 The Recital is an enticing blend of magic and reality, but how would you best describe your genre and style?
I'd like to think of it as a magical realism novel, if that's a genre. I call it Young Adult because that's the easy answer. But if I really had to describe the genre and style, I think of the term "mono no aware." It's a Japanese term, which doesn't really translate into English very well. It can mean "the pathos of things," "an empathy towards things," and "a sensitivity to ephemera." It describes the awareness of impermanence, which is one of those things from Buddhism that talks about how nothing is constant or forever. I was raised on Japanese literature and TV and films and video games, and that "feeling" of mono no aware was something I was subconsciously aware of since I first thrust myself into the culture the summer before third grade. The feeling is like a melancholic nostalgia: you remember something, and how everyone must have felt, and how that moment will never exist again in real time, but it's still a memory, but even that is not forever. It sounds morbid, but it actually gives me joy. Life is fleeting, which is what makes it so important. That's why the little things are important. And that's why I focus more on the realism versus the magic in The Recital.
Q2 Can you tell us where the idea for the novel came from?
I had a dream back in 2005. I wrote it as a short story that I never finished. In 2011, I was in a really unhealthy relationship, and it was finally coming towards its end. I revisited the short story as a means of therapy. It became a short film script that blew up to a web series that I produced independently. We only finished two episodes before realizing, hey, filmmaking is really expensive and we're all pretty broke. We shopped it around, but no production companies bit. So, in 2013, the story was still itching to get out (despite it being a very problematic script). I decided to turn all those characters into middle schoolers and began writing the story as a novel. And then, here we are!
Q3 How difficult was it for you as an author to get into the mind of a 12 year old girl? What made you choose Edith for your main character?
It wasn't difficult at all, actually. I feel like I've only ever been good at writing female characters. I suck writing dudes. I think women have so much more at stake, and their arcs are nine times out of ten more interesting. Also, being raised by my mom, sister, and grandmom (dad was never really around) and having many women as my closest friends, I've had plenty of exposure to the female perspective. I'm also adamant about keeping in touch with my nostalgia--I remember my childhood very well.
Deep down, I'm really just a 14-year old girl. I mean, I'm watching Gilmore Girls as I'm writing this.
Edith is an interesting character for me, and I have a complex relationship with her. Much of her is derivative of who I am: introverted, always wanting to help but prone to making things much worse, too smart for her own good, and conflicted about what she wants to believe. She's also the friend I always wished I had in elementary school. She's weird, she's compassionate, she's alone by choice but yearns for that one friend she's really, really close to.
Q4 The Recital uses first person narrative to tell the story; was there a reason you chose this point of view?
The Recital is a personal story. It's so much of a reflection of my perspective when I was Edith's age. I wanted readers to have that perspective, but only that perspective. To see the entire world and how it was working would diminish the urgency of Edith's story. She's experiencing all this for the first time: her parents' divorce, her sexual awakening, her righting something very wrong that she did, and her awakening as a witch--and trying desperately to make sense of all this.
I also think that preteens are incredibly intelligent and we adults tend to underestimate them. They have so much pulling at them from opposite sides: trying to be a child and trying to be a teenager/young adult all at once, and figuring out what that all means. We don't give them (and our own preteen selves from once upon a time) enough credit. Her voice is a reflection of that underrated preteen sensibility.
Q5 What advice would you offer to authors who wish to use first person narrative in YA fiction?
If you want to use first person, you're going to struggle with voice. It's like recording yourself and listening to your own voice for the first time. It's going to be weird hearing yourself. And not just the first time. But the first few dozen times at least. It might take you a few dozen chapters and chapter rewrites before you finally have that breakthrough moment when you discover that voice. Be patient, because just like it takes time to get used to hearing your own voice, it's going to take as much time for your protagonist to get used to her voice.
Q6 Can you tell us about your writing process? What is an average writing day like for you?
On a good day, I'm up at 6am and I spend about 2-4 hours writing. I rarely spend more than that, though I make great effort to write at least five days a week. One thousand words can be exhausting, only because I'm pouring out so much energy and thought. I also like to leave room for opportunity: something I'll discover over the course of my other activities during the day might inspire me, especially if I didn't have a good writing session earlier in the morning. With that in mind, I never force it. If I can only write 250 words, then so be it. 500 or more is an average day. Anything more than 1,000 is a great day. I think my record in one day is 4,500, at night after a nervous breakdown. Go figure.
Q7 What are you working on right now?
I'm working on my next novel, Project Anjou. I don't think I have much of a pitch right now, but think of it as a teen cyberpunk mystery drama. It's The Fault in Our Stars meets Ready Player One meets Neuromancer. I talk about it a little bit at length on my website, if anyone is curious.
Q8 The Recital contains diverse characters; what are your thoughts on diversity in YA books, and what advice would you give to other authors on this subject?
Diversity in YA is so important. I can't emphasize that enough. As a kid, I didn't read much. I didn't know why I struggled with books so much until I hit my mid-20s and became aware of more diverse authors. Growing up pre-internet, finding a book that represented me, a black kid from an urban American city was hard. Finding something that wasn't simply "black fiction" that still had diverse characters was even more difficult. I didn't know that was a thing until I discovered Octavia Butler late in high school. Hate to say it, but I felt like books never wanted to include me. Being a person of color in America, there's a huge desire to feel included.
I hope I inspire an aspiring writer someday to just write. Write your experiences, don't be ashamed of them, and don't feel like you need to water-down your truths for the sake of getting published or making sales. The Recital has a diverse cast of characters of all colors and orientation. That's a truth of my upbringing, and I'm proud of that and I want to share it with everyone, regardless of their background.
Yes, it may be about writing what you know. But take the time to get to know people that are different from you. That will make you and your fiction so much more well-rounded and interesting to different people. Everyone is different, and no one should feel left out, limited, or unspoken for because of it. Writers have a responsibility to represent the bigger picture.