Interview With An Author: Zoje Stage
What inspired you to write Baby Teeth?
The original concept was based on a screenplay I’d written many years ago, and while certain elements remain, the process of really developing the characters—and writing it in dual POV—changed the focus and impact of the story. By fleshing out Suzette’s experience with motherhood simultaneous to delving into Hanna’s perspective, I was able to make them each the protagonist of their own narrative and the antagonist of the other’s. I was also inspired by witnessing how mothers are the most constantly—and unfairly—judged members of society, as well as my own memories of feeling misunderstood as a child. And obviously there is a nod to the “bad seed” trope, but it is handled in a very realistic way: what would a family do if they started to believe their child was a psychopath?
What is your writing process?
I call myself a “directional pantser”—so while I mostly write “by the seat of my pants” (as opposed to outlining) I always know something that happens near the end of the story, so I write toward that. When I am working on a first draft I make myself a bit insane because I try to write every day until it’s finished. I write an imperfect first draft in about three months, and then ideally I like to set it aside for a couple of months and return to it with fresh eyes.
When did you first develop a passion for writing?
I started writing poetry when I was about five or six, and I still consider poetry my creative foundation. In my teens and twenties I started writing screenplays, stage plays, essays. For a while I tried short fiction, but I don’t think it’s my strength. I’d been intimidated about writing a novel for a long time, and it was only when I decided to move away from my film interests that I gave it a serious go. Writing novels turned out to be the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done, and not—as some may think—because it led to some professional success, but because I got to experience the tangible improvement of my work in a way I never had before, which was extremely gratifying.
Baby Teeth is your first novel. What are your favourite debut novels?
So many good ones to choose from! The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan, In the Woods by Tana French, Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey (coming Aug. 2018), The Martian by Andy Weir, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein (technically short stories, but they are connected).
To what extent did your background in film and theatre influence Baby Teeth?
During my film years I wrote dozens of screenplays, which means by the time I came to novels I had a long-established writing process that worked for me, as well as an understanding of making a story a visual experience. My years of doing theatre and film are ingrained in my creative process at this point, and I learned many valuable things that ultimately helped my storytelling: acting, pacing, directing, staging a scene. Writing a novel is very different, of course, than creating a stage play or a film, but much of my personal style and storytelling interests evolved from my background of wearing many hats while in pursuit of engaging an audience.
Do you think Baby Teeth could be adapted to a film or play?
I may be biased, but I think it would make a great film. Because of my background I still see in “scenes” as I write, often as if it’s playing on a screen, so in a way I’ve already seen the whole film in my head. A play would be a bit trickier only because of the need for a very young actor, which could pose some challenges. A film is broken up into very small pieces, which would be more manageable for a child’s schedule and attention span, but perhaps a stage play could work if they cast a slightly older girl.
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
It’s okay to experiment, and switch gears, until you find the outlet or genre that best suits you. Developing a process can take time, so don’t be hard on yourself: give yourself smaller daily writing goals—even a few sentences!—so that you gain a sense of victory rather than defeat. And most importantly: finish what you start. This is crucial! Even crappy work can be fine-tuned with revisions, but if you don’t finish what you start you will never feel confident in your process, or have any work that might move you forward with your goals.
Emily Pullen, WHSmith Australia
Content supplied with the assistance of Penguin Books Australia