Vengeance and Vulnerability: Joy Interviews Author Courtney Summers

I have been a fan of Courtney Summers’ work for awhile now. She is a fearless, hard-hitting YA writer, not afraid of putting on the page the issues that teenage girls face: sexual violence and poverty being just two. Her newest YA novel, Sadie, is simply brilliant -- the story of a girl seeking revenge for the brutal murder of her younger sister alternating with the transcript of a podcast about that same girl’s POV. This allows for a creative and fascinating deep dive into the novel and into the mystery of both the murder and the fate of Sadie herself as she searches for her sister’s murderer.

I was fortunate to meet Courtney in person at Children’s Institute this summer and even more delighted when she said that yes, of course, she’d love to do an interview around publication time.

SADIE will be out on September 4th and trust me when I say it is a tour de force that you won’t want to miss. Until then, here’s what Courtney had to say about the novel and more:

JOY: You are certainly no stranger to writing tough, gritty narratives about young women. But Sadie is a structural departure for you, and I can definitely say it works for me! I was hooked by page one and certainly after the line, “And it begins, as all good stories do, with a dead girl.” What drew you to incorporate a podcast that alternates with Sadie’s own first person narrative? How tricky was this to balance and intertwine as you wrote? (Let me add that I love that by the time we get to the end, there are still some loose threads, regardless of this dual point of view).

COURTNEY: Thank you so much! With Sadie, I really wanted to explore the way we consume acts of violence against women and girls as a form of entertainment. This cultivates the dangerous idea that female pain is only valuable to us as long as we’re being entertained by it. The conceit of the podcast allowed me to examine how well we’re serving the narratives of people who are often no longer around to tell their own stories and what our responsibility to them as an audience might be.

Alternating between Sadie’s traditional first person perspective and West’s podcast transcripts was challenging because I had to make sure each propelled the other’s narrative forward but I’m fortunate to work with a really great editor and together we achieved a balance I’m really proud of.

JP: You’ve been talking some online (and I assume you’ll continue this conversation once the book is out) about society’s long-standing fascination, often to the point of voyeurism, with true crime stories as a form of entertainment. Obviously exploring this was part of what inspired Sadie. So let’s dig into that a bit, and how using this device affects Sadie’s story as she goes to track down the murderer of her baby sister. Why do you feel we are so hooked on true crime stories, perhaps even more lately with series such as Netflix’s documentary MAKING OF A MURDERER? I did a quick Google search just now and there’s an astonishing number of them! Obviously they influence how we see the particular crime and those who committed it…

CS: I think introducing true crime to extremely bingeable formats such as podcasts and documentary series has definitely increased the category’s popularity. I’m a fan of it myself—I love listening to and tuning into these shows. It’s hard to speak too broadly about what compels us to them, because we all enter into these stories on our own terms, but for me, I’m fascinated by the sheer puzzle of them, the why behind these brutal crimes. They so often shine a light on the darkest parts of human nature and how very capable we are of hurting and destroying ourselves and each other. As an author, there’s a lot to mine there . . .

JP: Definitely. So much food for thought there about our unfortunate capacity for self-destruction, how puzzling and often brutal we humans can be.

And speaking of our darker natures, I have always been a huge fan of your work, not only your writing in general but how unflinching you are in dealing with the very tough issues that teen girls face. Whether it’s sexual assault or mental illness or poverty or sexism or as in Sadie, murder and desire for revenge, you don’t hold back. Can you talk a little about what draws you to your subject matter?

CS: I really appreciate that—thank you. It’s a cruel, harsh world out there (it’s also a kind and beautiful one) and I think it’s important to confront that reality on the page. I also feel writing these kind of topics presents a challenge of sorts to its readers in that I’m saying, here’s something ugly and true, what are we going to do about it? We can always do something, we can always fight against those harsher realities and put something positive forward. Asking the question is the first step.

JP: Agreed.

Without giving too much away, could you tell those who haven’t read yet, a few things about the character of West McCray, who hosts the fictional THE GIRLS podcast that intertwines with Sadie’s own narrative? You always keep this Sadie’s story, but obviously he plays a huge role here.

CS: West represents the larger questions that drive the book—how well are we telling the stories of people who aren’t around to tell us themselves, especially when the purpose of the end product is to entertain? West is initially dismissive of Sadie’s story, feeling that “another missing girl” has nothing of value to offer an audience. He couldn’t be more wrong and his arc explores the cost of that.

JP: And tell us about Sadie. Did anything in particular inform your writing of her character, your creation of her voice?

CS: Sadie is so singularly focused on avenging her sister’s murder and every choice she makes in the novel serves that purpose. At the same time, she had to be fully realized outside of that objective. Figuring out how to bring out her vulnerability and heartbreak through other characters and the situations she found herself in was constantly on my mind.

JP: Interesting. I’m always so fascinated by process, which is different for every author, so thank you for this answer.

Finally, your bio on your website says that starting at age 14, you ‘pursued your education independently’. Your first book came out when you were 22. And you live in Canada. But what else would you like readers to know about Courtney Summers?

CS: That’s about it! I’m a lot less interesting than the characters I write about. ☺

Thanks so much Courtney! We can hardly wait for Sadie! You can pre-order Sadie below. Plus, find out more about Courtney here, including how to subscribe to the SADIE podcast!

Sadie: A Novel By Courtney Summers Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250105714
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Wednesday Books - September 4th, 2018

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