Author Interview with Patrick Carman


Patrick Carman is the author of the fabulous interactive novel, Skeleton Creek. He took some time out of his busy tour schedule this week to talk with us about his book.

Firstly, I want to say that I love the concept – very innovative indeed. What came first, the idea of incorporating video and novel together, or Sarah and Ryan’s story?

Skeleton Creek is a case of two ideas coalescing unexpectedly. Having different ideas come together is not an uncommon event in the development of my stories. With Atherton, it was climate change and Frankenstein, two ideas I’d been exploring separately that became the story of a mad scientist creating a new planet in a dystopian future. For Skeleton Creek, the format had been on my mind for quite a while. At the same time I had long wanted to write a mystery / ghost story but couldn’t settle on a location or a thread that would hold things together. When I visited the dredge in Oregon, everything merged together pretty much overnight. Sometimes a location or a character will do that for me. When I walked into the dredge and saw the massive gears and conveyer belts, then heard about a legendary ghost story, well, that was it for me. The idea of shooting video inside this place at night was very appealing. The story of two teens, one who wrote and one who filmed, felt right for the setting. After that things started to really move.

You’ve said previously that it took three years to make. That’s an awfully long time! Why did it take so long?

I visited the dredge multiple times to do research, shoot preliminary video, and take a lot of pictures. Then I wrote the book and the screenplay, which saw many revisions. I had to get Scholastic to buy the idea, which involved sample footage and the development of a production plan. Then I had to go out and find a team of about 20 people, which was very time consuming. I needed a director, cinematographer, crew, actors, an editor. Finding the main actress took months and included casting calls in Los Angeles and all over Washington. I switched directors in mid-stream and had to start over. Needless to say, not only did Skeleton Creek take three years to develop, it also burned through quite a bit more than my advance on the book. But I was in with both feet and there was no turning back. Thankfully, the second book was faster and less expensive….I figured some things out on the first project.

Which character came first for you, Ryan or Sarah?

They were simultaneous, really. I knew for this particular story to work I would need one character who loved to write and one who loved to film. In a sense, Ryan and Sarah are trying to prove their storytelling format is the better of the two. Sarah never writes, Ryan never films (unless Sarah makes him hold the camera). And, importantly, their storytelling methods match their personalities. Ryan would rather write a ghost story than be in one. He’s perfectly happy to stay in his room and write all day, especially if it means staying out of difficult situations in the real world. Sarah couldn’t be more different. She will take her camera anywhere, film in the middle of the night, and secretly record conversations with people. For Sarah, the camera is her escape from a boring life in a dead end town.

Do you have a preference for either character?

I like them both for different reasons. Ryan is way more paranoid than I would ever be, but he’s also the voice of reason in the relationship. And I love the way he over thinks everything like the passwords and the situations Sarah might be getting into. He’s also a good storyteller, which I admire and enjoy. I like Sarah because she’s reckless, and reckless is always fun to write. She makes the story interesting. She is the eyes and ears for the reader (and for Ryan), showing us things we don’t necessarily want to see, taking us to places we’re at once curious about and afraid of. I think Ryan is secretly happy he’s got a friend that is willing to go places he won’t go and risk things he won’t risk. Sarah stretches Ryan, and he needs that.

Did you write Ryan’s journal before any footage was filmed?

I wrote everything – the journal and the screenplay – before anything was shot.

I’m interested in how much you were involved with the production of the videos. What kind of involvement did you have in casting/directing and all that jazz?

I was involved in every part of the production. Choosing the production team and the actors, selecting the locations, being there for the long nights of shooting, changing the script on the fly, editing the final nine segments. No part of this project escaped my attention, because I had a very clear vision of what I wanted. That said, the team that worked on Skeleton Creek was world class. The director and editor, the cinematographer, the actors and everyone else on the project worked extremely hard to create a solid piece of storytelling.

Was the footage filmed at the dredge a real building, or a set? It is very realistic!

(I’d just like to interrupt here and say that I’m aware that Patrick kind of, sort of, already answered this question previously but he’s also talked about some other stuff that I thought was interesting, so i’m going to leave it in.)

We spent two weeks on the actual dredge, filming primarily from dusk until dawn. Very long nights where we filmed every scene dozens of times. We also had sets for Sarah’s room, the town of Skeleton Creek, her car, alleyways, that sort of thing. The secret room was particularly difficult to film and involved a lot of set pieces. Overall we built a lot more items than readers would imagine.

What was your favourite part of the writing/creative process?

This was the first time I was able to collaborate on a story with a large group….I am officially addicted. Working with the key three or four people was particularly enjoyable. Meetings where you sit around for hours talking about how you’re going to make certain scenes work was very energizing. And I love movies, so the idea of blending a movie and a book was fascinating. Developing the second book was even more enjoyable, because I learned so much on the first go around.

Do you have any rituals when you sit down to write? Any quirky habits that you have when you write that we might be interested in?

I have a hard time getting started! Writing is difficult, solitary work. I have to will myself into the chair. The strange thing is, once I’m sitting down, I love the process of writing. I’m one of those writers who, once I finally get started, I can’t stop. Six hours later I look up and I’ve written 5000 words and I’m like….what just happened?

Have you always been into ghost stories? What is your favourite creepy book/movie?

I don’t even like ghost stories, generally speaking. I’m a chicken. Plus I generally don’t buy into the whole ghostly thing, which made the experience interesting. I do enjoy the classic gothic novels – Turn of the Screw, Frankenstein, Edgar Allen Poe – those are more the model I’m trying to work from. Those old stories are grounded in the narrator, the setting, the mood they create, great storytelling – the ghost or the monster is (in my opinion) beside the point with a lot of classic gothic writing. It’s the feeling they create – dread and fear – that interests me about doing a story like this. On the movie side of things I’m a fan of Alfred Hitchcock (note the stairway scene in Skeleton Creek!), and the Japanese filmmakers doing things like The Ring, where mood trumps monsters.

What scares you more than anything else in the world?

I’m not good at being home alone in the middle of the night. Dark + Alone + Home = Terrified. I can’t seem to shake the idea that someone is in the house with me, possibly even watching me, intent on doing me harm. This never happens when my family is at home, only when I’m alone (very rare). Read The Cask Of Amontillado for a general idea of how this might feel (also a wonderful Vincent Price reading of that short story widely available online). Other things I fear are being on the front line in a war, drowning, guns (I generally can’t stand any kind of gun), and a healthy fear of the almighty.

As a YA author, what is your fave YA novel (besides your own, of course).

Catcher in the Rye tops my list. Also A Separate Peace (for similar reasons). New YA is often too profane for my taste, but I do like the occasional Scott Westerfeld, John Greene, or David Levithan book. Middle grade is dicier, because I hardly ever read it. I mostly read adult fiction. Favorites there include Steinbeck, Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Robertson Davies, David James Duncan (fiction only – don’t like the non-fiction as much), Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, T.H. White, Robert Frost (I’m not into poetry, but him I like), Tolkien, a few others. Top 5 favorite books (these are ever changing): The Grapes of Wrath, The Brothers K (David James Duncan), The Brothers Karamotsov, Frankenstein, and Fifth Business.

Finally, for those who are not aware, there is a sequel to Skeleton Creek coming in the American summer of 09. Will this be the last of the Skeleton Creek books?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. We shot two endings, one that brings the story to a close, and one that allows for a third instalment. My feeling right now is that two will do it, even if the series becomes wildly popular. I say this primarily because we’re already in development on a totally different story in this new format, and getting back to Skeleton Creek might be tough. But I never say never with things like this. If a story is there and a lot of fans want to hear it, than a third book is certainly something I’ll think seriously about.

We here at yaReads really loved Skeleton Creek and we’d just like to thank Patrick for sitting down with us. He’s a very busy man!

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