Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Interview with VOICELESS Author - Caroline Wissing

Caroline Wissing, with Canadian author Wayson Choy.

I recently finished reading and reviewing a new Canadian Young Adult novel, VOICELESS, by CAROLINE WISSING (Thistledown Press). I loved it! I thought I would ask the author for an interview, so I could further share her with my TTBOFS readers.

Voiceless was a compelling read for several reasons, but what really drew me to it was the fact that the narrator did not speak. I was eager to see how the author would conquer this challenge. After reading Voiceless, I do believe Wissing nailed it.

Voiceless is a story about overcoming our less than stellar beginnings. Annabel (Ghost), the non-speaking narrator, will leave a solid impression on you. You can check out my review HERE.

Please continue on to read my interview with the author, CAROLINE WISSING.

KC: Whatever made you come up with the idea of having a non-speaking narrator for your debut YA novel VOICELESS?

CW: Wow, that’s a good question. Temporary insanity, maybe? I love quirky characters; normal is boring, and I delight in giving my characters challenges and obstacles to overcome. I don’t recall the exact moment when I decided to make Ghost non-verbal, so I can’t tell you my thought process. Maybe she just came to me that way. Sometimes characters seem to appear fully formed and there isn’t a lot a writer can do about it.

KC: That’s very true! Did you find that narrating through Annabel (Ghost) was challenging? Was there ever a time when you thought to yourself, “What am I doing?”

CW: Yes and yes. My narrative choices for Voiceless were sometimes limiting but, I found, also very rewarding. I fell in love with Ghost’s voice and really enjoyed living inside her head for the duration of the novel. She has a super heart and a lot of courage, and exploring that made for a great journey. I also love how she sees the world and observes the people in it.

KC: Voiceless is, essentially, a story about lost children. I sensed a passion for the underdog in its pages. There are so many lost children in today’s society. I will be including some Kid’s Help info at the end of this post. Did you explore this theme out of a personal empathy for kids in this position? Do you have any words for teens who are suffering right now? Teens who may not be orphaned or homeless, but just having a hard time?

CW: I dislike social injustice in all its forms, and find social injustice crops up as a theme in a lot of my writing. Homelessness is a national shame and should be everyone’s concern. In terms of teens, I was one and I remember how difficult it was to manage my emotions. I’m now parenting a teen and a preteen and I see how much they struggle with the pressures and choices that they have to make. I find teens need a parent, or at least a positive role model, more at this age than they did when they were younger, although they don’t seem to know it.

Without a stable a home, teenagers are terribly vulnerable. I think they want the same thing we all want: to feel safe. I’m not qualified to give advice to struggling teens, but it helps to remind them that these are probably the toughest years of their lives, of anyone’s life. Anyone who tells a teen that these are their best years is doing more harm than good.

KC: Wonderful response. Your passion definitely comes through in the pages of Voiceless. Whenever I discover a new writer, I become quite curious about the things that brought them to the point in their journey in which they happen to be at that moment. So, this question has a few parts to it. I like to know what an author’s favourite things are. Caroline, do you mind answering the following favourites list?

Who are your favourite authors now? And who were your favourite children’s authors when you were growing up?

CW: As an adult, I love writers who inspire me to be a better writer. Miriam Toews’ writing blows me away. I had the character from A Complicated Kindness, 16-year-old Nomi, in my mind a lot as I wrote Voiceless. I enjoy novels that combine humour and pathos. It’s a delicate balance, but when it works, it really works. A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving is another contemporary favourite of mine.

I was a big reader as a kid. I was shy and introverted and books let me escape into more interesting lives than my own. Not surprisingly (and if you’ve read Voiceless you understand what I mean) I loved horse stories. I read and re-read The Black Stallion series, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka and Man o’War. But the novel that really “got” me was Marian L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I got it from the school library and it completely blew my mind. I’d never read anything like it in my life. I checked it out and read it so many times that I was worried they’d ban me from checking it out again.

KC: What are your favourite movies?

CW: I love movies! I like films with smart writing and quirky characters, so the Coen brothers’ films are big hits with me. Fargo is such a complex study of human strength and human failings, coupled with that wonderful dark humour, it’s definitely a favourite of mine. I also like classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Paper Moon. I could go on and on.

KC: Your favourite quote from a novel?

CW: I love the idea behind Dr. Seuss’s line in Horton Hears a Who: “Don’t give up! I believe in you all. A person’s a person, no matter how small!” Every one of us can make a positive difference to someone, and, no matter how insignificant it might seem, it counts.

KC: Do you have a favourite writing place? A place you escape to, to let the muse run wild?

CW: I write mainly on the computer, only rarely jotting things in notebooks when inspired, so my space is wherever my laptop is. I also like to write in silence, so my home office is the peaceful, dedicated spot I need for my writing.

KC: What 3 books would you take with you to a deserted island?

CW: This is a tough one. So, I’m going to cheat and say the Harry Potter series, the Riverside Shakespeare (complete works), and The Norton Anthology of English Literature. There are so many great books to read out there that I don’t tend to re-read books, even if I love them. My answer serves to maximize the reading material (and provides great reading too!).

KC: Pantser or Plotter? Do you like to outline your novels, or do you just write off the cuff? OR, do you do a bit of both?

CW: I’m definitely a pantser. When I first started writing novels, I’d heard about writers using outlines and thought I was doing it wrong, so I tried to force myself to outline. It was a disaster. For me, everything flows much better when I allow myself to make it all up as I go along (although I always know the ending). Every writer should use the process that works best for her, not what works best for someone else.

KC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What is your first memory of actually sitting down and writing?

CW: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I was a precocious reader (thanks to my diligent stay-at-home mother) and don’t remember ever not being able to read. Reading and writing have always been part of me. I was that weird kid in high school who couldn’t wait to get her essay back from the teacher. One of the stories I wrote in kindergarten ended up getting published in the school yearbook. It was about a pair of kittens and their adventures. I clearly remember writing that story at age 5.

KC: That’s awesome! I think that makes you the youngest published writer I know! Can you walk us through the journey you took from concept to finished book with VOICELESS?

CW: As a pantser, my process is very fluid. I know only where I’m starting and where I want to end up. The general concept for the novel came from a book I read about a woman in the States who rescues abandoned, abused and unwanted horses and gives them a place to live out the end of their lives in peace. Yes, there are generous, big-hearted people out there who do this. I was moved by her stories. And then I thought: what if those rescued horses were teenagers? So I made them human, gave them a past and a personality (and those quirks I love) and put obstacles in their way. The story grew from there.

KC: Do you have any other writing projects in the hopper?

CW: I’ve written five novels to date and am working on number six. Voiceless was the second novel I wrote. I’m hoping to interest my current publisher in at least one of those completed projects. Otherwise, I’m off to pound the pavement wearing a mortarboard advertising my wares!

KC: I, for one, can’t wait to read more! I wish Caroline Wissing the best of success with the rest of her writing journey. In Ghost, she certainly gave me a character I will cherish for a long time to come. Thank you, Caroline!

As promised, here is the contact for Kids Help Phone Canada & Kids Help Line


  1. Great interview and review. Well done to both of you. I've inched this book closer to the top of my TBR list after reading this. I can't wait to read this story!

  2. I flew through this novel in less than 2 days. My gf did the same. 5 novels?! I want to read them all! Actually, I'd be interested to know if they were all YA books.
    Great interview, Kevin.