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 stuck.

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.

Reviews and more…

Yellow Mini Teacher’s Guide.

Saskatoon Public Library’s Poetry in Motion’s 2012 list

Amy’s Marathon of Books Review

CM Magazine Review

Cathy Ostlere’s The Canadian Verse Novel