Page 20 - Real Style Spring 2020
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a narrative over the course of 400 pages, and that as an adult, I often struggled to carve out writing time while working various day jobs. It was going back to school for a PhD in creative writing that allowed me to finally have the time, space, and support to complete the novel.
RS: How hard was it to write the novel from Va- nessa’s perspective?
KER: It was difficult in that at times I struggled to keep my own voice out of the narrative. Particular- ly in the sections featuring teenage Vanessa, I had to stop myself from including signals to the reader that, as the author, I knew this relationship was abu- sive and that Vanessa was behaving in self-destruc- tive ways. Mostly it came down to trust: trusting Vanessa’s voice and trusting the reader to navigate the morals of the novel on their own.
RS: Was it always your intention to make Strane a character that your readers would feel such a wide range of emotions towards?
KER: Strane went through many changes. As an
Kate Elizabeth Russell couldn’t have picked a better time to release her debut novel, My Dark Vanessa. The novel follows the story of a naïve teenage girl named Vanessa who falls in love with her manipulative teacher named Strane and starts an affair with him, even though she’s just fifteen years old. The novel tells her story from the beginning of the affair, up until 17 years later when accusations of sexual abuse start to pile up against him.
Real Style: It took you a long time to write this novel, why was that?
Kate Elizabeth Russell: I think there were a number of factors that contributed to it having a long gestation: how young I was when I started writing it, how much I had to learn as a writer before understanding how to maintain
MFA student, I was encouraged by professors and class- mates to write from his perspective, and the result was a very flawed but ultimately sympathetic man who fell in love with the wrong person. Later, as a doctoral stu- dent, when I committed to writing from Vanessa’s first- person perspective, Strane became much more menac- ing, at times almost cartoonish. To a certain extent, it felt easier to flatten him into a one-dimensional monster, but eventually I sort of begrudgingly realized that by sacri- ficing his humanity, I was cheating Vanessa out of hers. I needed readers to understand why she’s so drawn to him, even while seeing his abuse and manipulation for what they are.
RS: What kind of research did you do for the novel? KER: Beginning when I was an undergraduate, I read every text I could that dealt with sexual abuse, and by
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