Melina Marchetta speaks exclusively to Hypable about her newly released novel Quintana of Charyn, the difficulties of redeeming characters, and her next book.
Quintana of Charyn, the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles, was released in America this week. Be sure to read part 1 to hear Marchetta’s thoughts on winning the Printz Award, how she deals with bad reviews, and much more.
Warning: This interview contains spoilers for The Lumatere Chronicles, and a trigger warning for discussions of rape.
Did you know The Lumatere chronicles would be a trilogy when you began writing Finnikin of the Rock?
No, I wrote Finnikin and finished Finnikin. I was happy with it. Certainly a character like Froi did stick in my head, but when I started writing Finnikin and Froi came into the story, Froi was only going to be used as a tool to show how crafty Evanjalin is. I didn’t really care about him. It’s why he does what he does, which is kind of a regret for me, but I had to live with that regret and do something about it because it is a pretty bad way of introducing a character to a story.
Then I had to cheat in Finnikin of the Rock – I had to convey a lot of crazy information in one chapter. I didn’t know how to do that through Finnikin’s point of view because Finnikin is very pragmatic, and he would have questioned everything that happened, so I cheated, and I gave Froi the chapter. I gave the chapter to an unreliable narrator. But I wrote it, and I fell in love with his voice and him as a character.
That still doesn’t mean that I was going to write a novel about him. A story had to come to me that was as powerful as I felt Finnikin and Evanjalin’s story was, and so I just waited. When I started writing Froi, it was going to be one novel, but because there’s a pregnancy in it, I realized that I was up to her fifth month of the pregnancy, and I was 500 pages into the story.
“It was a really difficult decision. I remember contacting both of my publishers, here and in the U.S., to say to them it’s going to be two books.
I was pretty upset – they weren’t.”
I didn’t realize a trilogy means something completely different to a publisher. And it was really good because the third novel gave me a chance not to quickly solve problems, and I was grateful for that time. What surprised me too was, I thought it was going to be simple, because I knew what was going to happen in the story.
I was going to finish Froi, and what happens the next day, just start it from there – and I probably had a delay of about two months where I had no idea how to begin Quintana. Then, like a lot of things, the first line of Quintana is “There’s a baby in my belly” and as soon as I heard that, I just started writing, and I realized that she was the first voice of the novel, and it was going to be almost like a multi-narrated novel.
In The Lumatere Chronicles you frequently shift perspectives. Do you find it difficult changing characters, particularly between different genders, and how is your approach to each character different?
In The Lumatere Chronicles not as much. The way it was told was not with the same voice, but the same style. I don’t know if it is obvious that I had so much fun with Lucien of the Monts. His circumstances are still quite tragic, he is a grief-stricken young man, he doesn’t know how to lead, he is constantly failing. But I really really enjoyed doing his point of view, and I knew that I could write it in a bit more of an exaggerated, ridiculous, stream of consciousness ramble, where the reader can actually see through his words and go “Oh my god Lucien, you’re walking towards a minefield there.”
Whereas Quintana was the classic example of not knowing what to do with her. How do I differentiate someone like Quintana from Phaedra, or Evanjalin or Isaboe? So I just cheated. Well, I didn’t really cheat – I always knew her voice would be first person, but I had to have a reason for that, and that is because she is talking to Froi through the whole thing. And I gave her a beat. I kind of had this beat in my head, where there’s 12 beats in “There’s a baby in my belly that whispers the valley.”
I actually find Isaboe/Evanjalin very difficult to get into her head, she is a very cagey character, so if you notice I don’t get into her head often. I was never going to in Finnikin, it wouldn’t make sense because then she would give the reader all the answers, so she had to stay out of it. She scares me as a character, so I leave her as a mystery because I’ve worked her out, but I don’t want to get into her head because I don’t want to see what’s in there.
I always find it’s interesting sometimes to see a character through someone elses eyes, rather than their own; I don’t think the real person comes through, and I’m afraid with someone like Evanjalin, who I think is my favourite in all the books, if we saw her through her eyes, the reader would be even more resentful of her. They are the decisions I have to make, whether I’m going to get into the head of a character, or whether I am going to allow someone else to sell her to the world.
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