Wednesday, 20 May 2015

exclusive Q&A with the debut author of This One Time, Alex van Tonder!

Q: Your Novel deals a lot with pop culture, mostly the dark side of it. Would you say that Jacob Lynch's cynical view of 'fame whores' and social media is your way of commenting on pop culture.

A: I think I wanted Jacob to be true to the character that he was and I think that when you are in that world, you live a dual life. You live this life where firstly on the one hand you're pretending to be something, your putting on a show, but you're constantly aware of it. So he would have been jaded. The fame industry is a show, the kind of people who work in it and who are attracted to it want attention, and their driven by that attention. Over time you'd have to be a very special optimistic kind of person to not get jaded about it. I think that there is a good side to it because it is the entertainment industry. But you can get cynical about it especially if you are living a double life like he is.

Q: This One Time's protagonist can be seen as a sort of anti hero was it at all difficult for you to write from his point of view, especially when it comes to his views of women?

A: It was very difficult. I call it coming to terms with the character, you have an idea about what you want to write about and the story you want to tell but then in order for it to be true and for it to make sense to the reader and to make sense  to you, you kind of have to come to terms with the fact that if it's going to play out like this he probably isn't a very nice person and he probably has some negative views. It was difficult to write on the one hand because I am a feminist and I believe in equality for men and women and I'm very aware of the weird white male thing happening on the internet at the moment but, in a way it was also quite therapeutic to write because you kind of realize that he is a product of society. It's not actually weird that he is this way he is because he has just taken something that was already there and now he's riding the crest of it.

Q: Which character did you have the hardest time portraying. Your characters are quite complex considering Alicia's questionable 'mental state' and the divide between Jacob and Brodie. How did you get into their brains in order to portray them so well?

A: I call it  listening to character. I had an idea of who I wanted them to be and in order for them to really play off of each other and for the dynamics to play out they started becoming worse and worse versions of themselves. I Think the hardest to write was Alicia without a doubt. She really is insane and she has problems. It's tough to write a character with problems because you naturally want to work everything out logically, to be able to label it as something or to put it in some box but, also to be true to the story. She's kind of a product to her circumstances as well. But it was tough to write her, it wasn't easy. I had to clean her and neaten her up a few times.

Q: As a blogger and a copywriter, you have always been writing. Would you say that completing a novel was more fulfilling for you?

A: Definitely! You know copy writing, blogging and advertisement... these are short bursts of activity and the shorter you can make your advertising writing the better. I've been trained the other way and with this you kind of have to get loose again. It's like running a marathon, you are going to be doing this for a looong time. But it's a lot more freedom. I'm the client, I get to choose what story I'm telling which is not the case in my day job. So yes, a million times more rewarding and fulfilling and just so much fun. Not counting the parts where you're crying over your computer, we don't talk about that.

Q: When did you start writing the novel and where did you get the inspiration from?

A: I started writing it at the beginning of 2012 and it took about six months to do the first draft. The whole revenge porn and this weird world of white men online taking liberties with women's bodies had been going on for a while. At the time there was no recourse and there still isn't. You still can't sue people for posting nude photos of you online or get them convicted of anything. There was a prosecution last year  which was the first of its kind in California, now there are bills that are starting to become passed but at that point there was nothing you could do and I was reading these stories of women whose lives had been  ruined by this kind of thing and these men are just getting away with it and making money off of it as well. So in my mind there was this thing boiling, this female revenge. I just thought to myself, at some point someone is going to not take it anymore. A very well known revenge blogger Hunter Moore ended up  getting physically attacked and stabbed by a woman whose pictures he had posted online. So I thought what if someone said enough, I'm not going to deal with it anymore. And the other  reason I wanted to write it which was more a setting thing is the fact that I got really into Alaska. And I just had this idea of this story set in Alaska. It seemed horrifying. With the setting in ,mind and the revenge in mind I thought it would make a great story.

Q: In terms of writing the novel, what was the hardest part and the best part in terms of researching and actually sitting down and doing the writing.

A:  Well, not having been to Alaska and New York was maybe one of the tough parts I'll admit that. But I write fiction to get away from myself and my life so it was actually so much fun to research. I did everything from downloading documentaries to looking up owners of B&B's in Alaska, I found them on Facebook and I stalked them in a really non creepy way and I even google street viewed the national parks highway and I walked down google street view for like 6 miles just to try and get a sense of what it's like in Alaska.Next time hopefully I'll go there but that was actually really fun, super challenging but also really nice to emerge yourself in a world that isn't like Kloof Street. The best part of the book were the parts where my twists were working, because they don't always. When you get to that point where you're like okay this could be plausible then that's just amazing.

Q: Is there any advice that you would like to give to aspiring South African writers especially and what would you have liked to know when you started that you know now.

A: Look, I did have someone be very honest with me about how tough it is here because we don't have a huge reader market and that was a bit discouraging but I would say the same thing, but because this isn't the UK and this isn't the US there's not nearly the volume of writers submitting so there is a good chance that your voice could stand out. I don't think books are either good or bad, it's about whether your voice is relevant at this time. So you really just have to take the chance and keep taking the chance. I was rejected twice before this and this is the third book. It always stings when you send your stuff out and everyone is like "hmm NO". "SO GREAT KEEP IT UP BUT NO." (laughs) But, I just said to myself I'm just going to keep writing books until one sticks and that's the advice I'd give. Do not stop.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future in terms of writing, do you think you will continue writing thrillers or would you like to work on different types of genres?

A: I'm Not committed to thrillers but I am committed to the dark side. I do love the twists and the turns of the thriller and I do have another one that I need to give to my publishers on the first of December that will probably also be a thriller but it's the digital dark era that I'm interested in. The weird ways in which social media affects our lives.

Q: Do You have a writing mantra or a quote you always go to when you feel blocked or unmotivated?

A: When I'm getting stuck, when I've lost perspective and when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing I just go back to this one thing  which is "write the book you want to read". Nothing else matters.

Q: Is there a message in your novel that you would like readers to grasp?

A: I guess, be careful what you create is a message. It's just so easy for us to put our ideas out there online, tweet something in an instant and it can literally change your life. You don't have ownership over your tweets and stuff once it's in the public domain, so just be careful.

Q: How important was family and support throughout your writing process? Was there someone who pushed you through your slumps and when you started doubting yourself?

A: It's so so important. At the time I was fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who was such a jock, he was a sports coach and he got me to take it seriously. He really got me to focus. One night he was like, set aside these nights and do your thing. You're only a good friend of mine if I have blown you off like 50 times because I'm writing my book. And I've done that over ten years now so people who understand that are totally amazing.But not everyone does, so sometimes you kind of end up making sacrifices.

Q: What book do you wish you could have written and why?

A: At the moment and also round about the time I wrote my book, it was Frankenstein by Marry Shelley. She was 19 and it was written over a hundred years ago and it has never been more relevant. The whole idea of something you created coming back to destroy you.

Q: If you could cast your character in a Hollywood movie adaptation, who would it be?

A: I have actually thought about this before (laughs). I think Rhyan Gosling could do an amazing job. He could do the play boy and he could do the dark and twisted stuff very well and I also think Mathew Mcconaughey would do a great job as well.


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  2. Brilliant book - meticulously written and fascinating insight into dangers of creating an online fictional brand/character. All leads to a stunning ending so well worth reading with attention to detail. Wow! What an innovative story!