Read what Lori has to say about writing Yellow Mini:
First off, I have to share how happy I am that my new publishers allowed
me to keep my original title for this book. This is my sixth novel, and that
has only happened to me twice before. I was braced for a change, but didn’t
know what that change could possibly be. For the five years it took to write
this book, it has been Yellow Mini; I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
It is funny that I now have a book named after a car because I am not a car
person. I grew up in a family that didn’t even own a car until I was 18 and
almost out the door. Even now, I am a huge fan of public transportation and
use it whenever I can. I am not one of those people who notice cars or drool
over makes and models. But I will confess: Minis have always turned my
head, especially yellow ones. How could they not?
I never intended to write a book named after a call, but the car is identified
in the very first poem, spoken by Annabelle. I actually did write that poem
first; it is what got the book started (more on that below) and when I had to
save the text, those two words, Yellow Mini, jumped out at me – and they
Readers often want to know where the idea for a book came from and that
can be a tough question to answer. As a writer, I can identify the moment
when the idea hit me, but not where it came from.
So I will begin with the third floor lounge (title of the first poem). In my high
school, there was such a lounge. And yes, shy and self-conscious me did
hate walking by it. It was full of cool kids, much older than me for the first 3
years of high school (in Quebec high school runs from grade 7 – 11). I felt
gangly and awkward walking by such a suave and sophisticated group of
kids, so I literally would take any detour possible to avoid having to pass this
lounge and spare myself the looks that I was so sure I was getting.
Of course, now I know that those “cool” kids might not even have noticed
me at all and I also know that just because they looked cool, that didn’t
mean that their lives weren’t riddled with issues and insecurities. Life is most
often a matter of perception rather than reality.
I suppose that outburst, if I can call the first poem that, had been lurking in
me for a long time. That feeling of walking through that lounge is still so
strong, I can close my eyes and conjure it. Writing is a matter of tapping in
to deep emotions, to exorcising demons, and that was one of mine. But
suddenly, before I knew it, Annabelle (who I suppose started out as me but
ended up being a very different person) was not alone.
Her ex-best friend Stacey wanted to speak too. I never really knew Stacey
but I do know that in grade eight the girl I had been best friends with in
grade seven transformed over the summer and left me to go hang out with a
whole new group of kids, some of whom had an “in” with the kids in the
third floor lounge. I was dropped like a hot potato. Almost everyone knows
what that feels like and when it happens it really hurts and shakes your
confidence in a profound way. I knew that I was suddenly too nerdy and
innocent for her. Before long, other characters showed up in my book: Mark
and Mary and Christopher – all fabrications, but with touches of someone I
once knew, or knew of.
This was an interesting novel to write. I literally let the voices of the
characters dictate who would “speak” next. Nothing was plot-driven. I’d be
at work, between classes, when suddenly Mark’s voice would pop into my
head and he would begin to rant in his angry, grief-stricken way. Or I’d be
grocery shopping and I’d hear Stacey show off about her new status as the
yellow car princess. Whoever called out to me most strongly received my
attention. And then before I knew it, one voice would lead to the next and
the next. It was kind of like having a medley of speakers in my head.
Now … I realize this makes me sound slightly schizophrenic. When I was in
high school, the book Sybil, wherein the main character has multiple
personalities, was extremely popular. We all read it. The title became a code
word for anyone conflicted or torn: “Quit acting like Sybil, okay” or “I’m in
a Sybil mood today.” I could not help but think about that book and
character as I worked on Yellow Mini.
To say that the voices merely spoke through me makes it sound like I was
just the medium and that I had nothing to do with the creation of the words,
which of course I did. But I quite honestly did try to take a back seat to
these five young people and allow them to let me know who should speak
and what they should say. The how and what of the speaking was a more
conscious act. I tried to give each character a distinct voice and a distinct
way of speaking.
Even the lay out of the poems on the page was carefully constructed to
reflect the characters’ individuality: Christopher’s poems are long and thin,
reflecting his lack of confidence and his shyness, while Mark rambles and
his poems are long and bold.
It was immensely enjoyable to write these poems and to shape the poems
into an actual novel. My first love was poetry and as a teenager I wrote
reams of poetry. Many of my early publications in literary journals were
poems. I consider my prose to be quite poetic in that I use a lot of imagery
and I love extended metaphors and symbolism. Subtext: the spice of a strong
piece of prose.
Writing Yellow Mini allowed me to focus on voice and poetics and to allow
plot, at least in the early drafts, to take a back seat. I tried not to worry
about the actual story line. It was only toward the end of the process, in the
final drafts, that I deliberately tightened the plot and worked on story arcs.
So it was an entirely different creative experience from my other novels, one
that I found very liberating. With more traditional prose, I have to worry
about moving the plot forward and taking my characters from point A to
point B. With Yellow Mini I could just let people speak and explore their
In the end, the book tells the story of five young people who are all trying to
find out who they are and where they fit in. It is about the public face we all
put on and the private desires that are sometimes at odds with those faces. It
is about finding out what one’s passions are. The parents’ voices, which
demanded a strong presence in this book, provide a counterpoint to the teen
voices. Parents have fears too; they are full of insecurities. They have to
learn to let go.
I tried to do without the adult voices at one point but it made the young
characters less multi-dimensional. Kids are shaped by their parents; they
have to assert who they are, in spite of their parents’ desires and fears. I
think the adult voices were needed to show that struggle. Besides, some of
my favourite lines and images came through the parents in the end.
This is my first verse novel. I know it won’t be the last.