Can You Answer The Question?

Cover of "The Help"

Cover of The Help

As writers we are supposed to write what we know. I imagine if I spend years on a book and it gets published I would be able to answer any question a person may have in regards to my writing process, why I wrote what I wrote, any resources I used and so on. But this didn’t really seem to be the case with author Kathryn Stockett. Her now famed book “The Help” is a bestseller and soon to be a movie by Dreamworks.

Based on one of the most talked about books in years and a #1 New York Times best-selling phenomenon, “The Help” stars Emma Stone (“Easy A”) as Skeeter, Academy Award nominated Viola Davis (“Doubt”) as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny – three very different, extraordinary women in Mississippi during 1960’s who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed – even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with the changing times.

I was invited to attend an event hosted by Rainy Day Books here in the Kansas City Metro, which featured author Kathryn Stockett. She spoke about her book and how it came to be. Apparently, she grew up in the south and was privileged enough to have a maid. She considered her maid to be family but was naive in that, the help didn’t have the same privileges that she did. It was interesting to listen to her very passive-aggressive tone. Vivien Jennings, the owner of Rainy Day Books, asked very in depth questions and the responses a lot of times from Kathryn were “I don’t know.”

Kathryn brought up interesting feedback as to how she wrote the book. Most of which was a lot or research for the era in which her book takes place. But when asked if she interviewed any African Americans that were there during the time she hadn’t. I would have thought this would be a necessary thing to do. Apparently, the topic is touchy and it was avoided or she didn’t think she would get a positive reaction approaching people and asking them to drudge up old feelings. It’s somewhat understandable.

But, it wasn’t just that. She seemed to be void of a lot of answers to questions, even those that had to do with her experiences in college and topics she had been quoted commenting on. The interview was good, don’t get me wrong, but it left me wondering if we as writers would forget the whole experience of writing our book. I would hope that I would be able to remember every detail when asked. According to Kathryn she spent 6 years and had 61 rejections. Would you be able to answer questions if your book became center stage?

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14 comments on “Can You Answer The Question?

  1. Thanks Greg for stopping by. I think you are correct in regards to authors being scrutinized. I do believe in her case her work does stand alone. She is having a movie made out of her book. Kudoos for her.

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  2. I hope that I would be able to answer any questions about my work, or to give a satisfactory answer for why I couldn’t answer. I guess I won’t know until someone thinks I’m worthy of being interviewed in a public setting. 🙂

    There are a lot of variables to consider: the circumstances of the moment–being “on the spot” in a public place with an audience lapping up or scrutinizing every word said — can affect an author’s responses. As a teacher, I always hope I’m prepared for any questions my students ask, but sometimes they throw me.

    I wouldn’t read much into Stockett’s responses, or lack thereof, so long as her work stands on its own.

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  3. Hi Marvin. It did seem to be personal since the main character is from her maids experiences. But still, be prepared at an interview. Thanks.

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  4. Hi Lisa. You are absolutely correct. As many interviews that she’s had you would think she would have it all rehearsed. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. I also agree with Lisa. However, I wonder if there is something deeper that is going on. I wonder if it was too personal. Perhaps cathartic even. Maybe she simply doesn’t want to relive the experience. Just my two cents. Although, if I were doing an interview I would explain why I couldn’t answer the question, or would I? I don’t know.

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  6. I wonder if it might depend on what she has written in the meantime… By that I mean it can take years between writing a book and when it comes to print, let alone when it catches the public’s attention. It may simply be that it slipped into the recesses of her mind, behind other more current works. Now, don’t get me wrong, if I were her, I’d certainly dig out the details as best I could before an interview!

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  7. I love to go to events and listen to the authors, but i was amazed at how much she didn’t remember. Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. I definitely would! Granted my mom and I wrote a novel about a lot of our own family and growing up issues as used fiction as a shield, but I’d like to think if you are passionate enough to write about something, it is forever etched in your memory. Especially a subject as riveting as The Help. Crazy!

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