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LITERATURE: Vendela Vida

Vida discusses her writing style and latest literary effort with the Gazette’s Paul Wilner.

You reportedly set a goal of writing 500 words a day. How do you deal, if at all, with writer’s block?

I do set a word count every day — it keeps me honest. I used to tell myself I was going to work for, say, five hours and I’d find a novel tangentially related to my own project, spend five hours reading, and pretend that I’d accomplished a day’s work. So word counts are important. It doesn’t mean that I end up keeping every word I write — I often end up editing out a week or a month’s work — but the important thing is to keep yourself in the story.

Vendela Vida

How do you block out distractions like social media to get into the state of mind necessary to write?

I write really early in the morning (4:30 a.m.), before any doubt can set in or I get distracted by an email or a phone call — and while I’m still in a dreamlike state and closer to my subconscious. I do have other rituals, too. I always start by writing a book by hand until I understand the rhythm of the sentences, and lately I’ve been lighting a candle by my desk. It reminds me of being in Sweden, where during the dark winters they have candles flickering at the breakfast table. The candle in my office wards off the smell of my cats, too, who have wretched morning breath.

We Run the Tides (Ecco/HarperCollins): Vendela Vida’s new novel portrays Sea Cliff eighth graders at a posh SF girls school who run into conflicts when one of them makes up a story about a strange man approaching the group from his car. When her best friend refuses to back her up, trouble ensues for the friend — and the group.

The book mixes social satire — the fake Valentine’s Day cards the girls send out and the pretentious, Salinger-loving English teacher — and serious, suspenseful themes as your protagonist Eulabee deals with death and betrayal. Was it difficult to navigate the two styles?

The book is about young girls who are 13 and 14, and I wanted to encapsulate all the contradictions of that age. I didn’t think of it as writing two styles, but rather as trying to be true to what being a girl that age is like. Teenagers are shape-shifters. They’re constantly trying on new adult identities, but at the same time they haven’t fully shed their childhood.

Eulabee’s best friend, Maria Fabiola, is a chronic liar — a fabulist. Did you have that in mind when you named her?

I knew I wanted Maria Fabiola’s character to have a very long name that is rarely shortened, and I wanted her to have a name that the boys would change to something else — in the book they call her Maria Fabulous. “Fabulous” was the association I had in mind most of the time. To be honest, I didn’t think of the “fabulist” association until later, and it was dumb luck that it worked on that level, too. But in a way, all the girls in the novel, especially Maria Fabiola and the narrator, Eulabee, are fabulists. They invent epic stories about their lives because they haven’t lived much yet.

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