Toronto-based writer and actress, Adrienne Kress, has a passion for words, performance, and children. In this interview, Adrienne discusses the young male voice in her novel, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate and connecting with kids.
In your book, Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, you employed a male protagonist. As a female author, what challenges did you face when creating a believable male character? How did you overcome them?
I actually didn't face a challenge in writing a believable male character. There were many other challenges, probably the greatest was writing a main character in an adventure story who had no interest in going on an adventure. But the fact that Timothy was a boy never struck me as something I ought to be concerned about. After all, I'm not a pirate, nor an Extremely Ginormous Octopus, nor a dragon trapped in human form, but I managed to write about each of those. I have always felt that there are more differences between individuals than there are between the genders. My focus was to create a believable character with believable motivations.
As an adult female author, how did you ensure you created and sustained a believable young male voice throughout your books?
It's about getting into the head of your characters. I recommend a chainsaw. For some reason, I've always been able to relate to kids. I think maybe because I very clearly remember what it was like to be one, and I remember the thought processes I had as one. When I go back to ten-year-old Adrienne and the thoughts she had, I find it remarkable how in that mindset, I feel no different than grown-up Adrienne. I feel just as reasonable and just as competent. What I lack is knowledge that comes from living on the planet for a while, but my core values are the same. As is my drive and passion. So I don't really write kids as something that is "other" than adults. They are people too. They reason through things and have strong opinions. I create personalities that I can relate to, and then I add that desire to figure out the world and couple it with a need to be taken seriously.
In terms of writing children’s literature, what is the best advice you have ever received?
I'm not sure I've ever really received writing advice directly related to Children's Lit. But the best advice I ever got, which wasn't even from a person but from a movie (GALAXY QUEST), was "Never give up, never surrender!"
Any tips for female authors planning novels that employ a male protagonist?
Don't approach the novel as a female author writing about a male protagonist. Approach your writing as an author writing about a character. Take gender out of the equation. Create a believable person with three dimensions. However, if you really feel stumped by gender and it is important to you, watch people of the gender you intend to write. Watch real people, watch characters on television, etc. But truly, the best way to avoid stereotyping and to stay true to your vision, is just to create three-dimensional characters. Give your characters, regardless of gender, strengths and weaknesses. Treat them, first and foremost, as people. You should be just fine.
Your debut YA novel, The Friday Society, is about three clever women who work as assistants to three powerful men in Edwardian London. While both the setting and characters are vastly different from Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate, were there any surprising similarities? What kinds of discoveries did you make when creating both male and female voices?
Well I suppose my fondness for all things British is definitely a similarity. While TIMOTHY takes place in a non-place, a combo of Canada, USA, and England, there is always that British flavour to whatever I write. Now, THE FRIDAY SOCIETY is my first novel actually set in England, not merely hinted at. It was kind of freeing actually, to set a book in a real place for the first time. Which is odd, as I imagine most would think it constraining compared with a world where you can pretty much do whatever you want.
What was interesting was writing men versus women within THE FRIDAY SOCIETY itself. You see, the whole point of the book is to give a voice to women in a time when they only had a few options for themselves. These are all very bright assistants to powerful men in London society, who have as much talent as their bosses. The male characters are free to just be themselves, but the three main girls always have to hold back in public, can't quite be who they would like to be. That was an interesting dynamic to play with.
"But I am, as may be plainly obvious to you, a Chinese dragon. . . Eastern dragons take human form all the time. It makes going to the movies a little less awkward."
- Mr. Shen, The Sixth Chapter, Timothy and the Dragon's Gate
For more about Adrienne and her novels, visit her website.