When Dogs Cry vs Getting the Girl

Question: These books seem to both be the third book in the Cameron Wolfe / Underdogs / Wolfe Brothers Series (#WolfeBooks)… Why do they have different titles? Are they the same book?

AnswerWhen Dogs Cry and Getting the Girl are the same book – but they’re not. The third book of the Wolfe trilogy, I called it When Dogs Cry here in Australia, but once it was accepted by an American publisher, changes were requested.

At the time, I was still desperate to be published internationally and agreed to explore one major change in the book. It was a change that would take it on a different course to arrive at almost an identical ending. I also agreed to look at a possible change of title. 

Basically, in When Dogs Cry, Cameron and Ruben Wolfe remain best of friends throughout. In Getting the Girl, they have a falling out. This does take the book in a different direction, but the final chapter, where Cameron carries Rube home, is essentially the same.

As for the title, I do have regrets about the whole episode, but I don’t spend long on them at all. On the whole, it was a great learning curve. The rewrite helped me see how many options there are available to a writer. I also realised that whilst it was a hugely valuable experience, I would try not to let it happen again.

I am the Messenger vs The Messenger (#EdKennedy)

People often ask me why The Messenger is sometimes listed as I am the Messenger.

These two titles are exactly the same book, and the difference came only out of necessity in the USA. The book had already been out in Australia for more than a year, and the problem we had in America was that another book called Messenger was being released at the same time, with the same publisher. The author was Lois Lowry, author of The Giver. At the time, when I was asked to change it, I was pretty haughty (at least in my conjured-up internal conversations) and vowed that I didn’t care if fifty people were putting a book out with the same title. I even considered a more radical change to call it either The Joker or The Gambler. That would have meant a considerable rewrite, though, and that’s something you want to avoid when a book has already been published, as The Messenger was here at home. Still, with about eight years of hindsight, I quite like both titles. That said, if the same thing was to happen now, I’d probably be a bit more obstinate.

As a final piece of trivia, The Messenger was published as Der Joker in Germany. In some countries (Brazil is an example), the publisher used I am the Messenger as the title because they felt it sounded better or more poetic in that particular language.

Why did you use Death to narrate THE BOOK THIEF?

The simple answer is that I thought of the expression that war and death are like best friends, so who better to tell a story set during World War II? After all, Death was everywhere during that time…

The truth, though, is that I stumbled across it, which is usually what happens with our best ideas; the trick is to recognise them as they stare you in the face and not ignore them…This time around I was working in a high school with some kids and we wrote about colour. I wrote about three deaths in that story and realised I’d used Death as the narrator. I immediately thought, ‘Maybe I should use this idea for that book set in Nazi Germany…’ I didn’t ask myself why.

I’ve often said that even in the parts of The Book Thief that embarrass me now, it’s the voice of Death that holds it all together. But it wasn’t as easy as that sounds. There were many problems, like I wrote 200 pages with Death narrating till I realised he was too macabre – he was enjoying his work too much and operated with a sense of sadistic pleasure…So I changed everything so that Liesel herself would narrate – which also didn’t work because it gave me new problems. (Despite my having the experience of a German-Austrian background, Liesel was the most Australian-sounding German girl in the history of all books everywhere)…but that’s the great thing about being writer:

EVERYONE THINKS YOU HAVE A GREAT IMAGINATION – BUT THE TRUTH IS, YOU JUST HAVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS.

The beauty of it is that just as necessity is the mother of all invention, your purest imagination is in solving your problems – to find a way to get it all to work. In the case of Death? I went to a simple 3rd person narration (which was everything I’d been trying to avoid in the first place) until it hit me. I heard the last line of the book in my head and thought, ‘That’s it. Death is haunted by us. He is all powerful but for the fact that he’s tired, and due to seeing humans mostly at their worst, he tells Liesel’s story to remind him that humans can be beautiful and selfless and worthwhile’ – and once I had that voice, I started the book all over again, borrowing from all the so-called failed drafts, and got there, somehow, in the end.

*Photo Credit: Quantity Postcards (www.QPFANS.com)

The Inspiration Behind The Book Thief

Question:  What inspired you to write THE BOOK THIEF?

Answer:  I grew up in Sydney and had a pretty normal childhood with my brother and two sisters. We lived most of our lives in the backyard, doing typical Australian things, but once in a while, it wasn’t Sydney anymore – because our parents told us their stories. That was when a piece of Europe entered our household, and our lives.

It was never an organized thing. My mum and dad never sat us down and said, ‘Now we’re going to tell you where we came from.’ It was spontaneous. Something would happen, usually in the kitchen, and then came a story. We would hear about cities of fire, bombs shaking the ground, and what it was like to emerge from underground to discover that everything had changed.

One evening, I remember my mother telling us about something else she witnessed as a child, which has stayed with me a long time.

She told us of the time she saw Jewish people and other so-called criminals marched through her small town, on their way to Dachau. At the back of the line, an old man, totally emaciated, couldn’t keep up. When a teenage boy saw this, he brought the man a piece of bread and the man fell to his knees and held the boy’s ankles, thanking him…That was when a soldier marched over, tore the bread from the man’s hands and whipped him for taking it. Then, he chased down the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. It was a story of great cruelty and kindness, simultaneously.

I didn’t know it at the time, but almost all of the stories my parents told were full of opposites:  right and wrong, fear and relief, destruction and humanity. The other point I didn’t realize was that these stories became like a second language to me, and when I became a writer, that language was already there – just waiting. It was waiting for me to scratch the surface, reach in and pull it out as the beginnings of a book.

At first, The Book Thief was supposed to be a small novel – only a hundred pages or so – but the more time I spent with it, the more it grew, in every way. As three years of work went by, it changed from a book that meant something to me to a book that meant everything, and I’m very grateful for it. I’m also grateful to every reader who has picked it up and given it a chance. They’ve been more generous to The Book Thief than I could ever have imagined.

LIESEL AND MAX: DO THEY REMAIN TOGETHER

On one hand (and this is the cop-out answer) it’s purely up to the reader, just as characters in every book live on beyond the pages. Nobody can be wrong.

In this case, though, in my own mind, I have at least four reasons why Max and Liesel don’t get married, and I honestly believe it’s more romantic that they don’t.

First, in many ways I felt that the book is about Liesel’s different kind of loves - for Hans, for Rosa, for Rudy and Max, and for books and living in general. She is in the centre and all of these things revolve around her. Max, to me, was a brotherly\sisterly kind of love. There’s at least one allusion to him as a replacement for her own brother.

Second, I could cite an age difference, but that, of course, wouldn’t be insurmountable, but it is there.

Third, I’ve always believed (in my own version of events beyond the pages) that they do keep in contact their whole lives and still have that kindred connection. But I also feel like they needed to start their lives fresh, alone and away from all of that mess.

And lastly (and most romantically, I think), I figure if Rudy couldn’t have Liesel, no-one from that world could. In my mind he was the one who loved her with the greatest intensity in that way, and I feel like it’s only fitting that we have to leave that world for her to find a different life, and all that comes with it.

Still, like I said, for me (and it is only my opinion), Max and Liesel DO stay together, but not necessarily in the way some people think…But of course, I’m still more than happy for readers to believe they do get married and live their lives together. At the end of the day, it’s still up to you, and that’s the beauty of books. In so many ways, they never really end.

Do you follow a set routine when you write?

I’m a believer in routines. I like to wake up knowing what I’m going to do in a day’s work, and that starts by knowing when I start and when I might finish. I also like to have the room right, the desk right – everything – and that starts the night before. I want to turn up and know that I’m prepared.

The only time the routines really change is at the start or end of a book, when Im more likely to work later at night. I cant face starting a book very early in the morning, purely because self-belief levels are at their lowest for me when I wake up. When Im finishing a book, I will stay up longer and work through the night, mainly out of desperation to finally get it done.

Books that Inspired me...

Question:  What books have you enjoyed recently that you wished you would have read as a young adult?

Answer:  I’m grateful for the books I did read as a young adult: The Outsiders and Rumble Fish by S.E Hinton, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

The interesting thing is that I was given Catch-22 as a 16-year-old and couldn’t read it. The point is, it was shown to us by our high school teacher of the time. They knew that a lot of us wouldn’t get through it, but we might later on; we knew it was there. I’m grateful to those teachers for that – for having the courage to give us books we might not like at the time, but would appreciate later on.

My Goals, The Book Thief and I am the Messenger...

Question:  What do you hope to accomplish as a writer? What were your goals when writing The Book Thief and I am the Messenger?

Answer:  Right now I just want to finish my new book, and that will probably always be what I’m trying to accomplish, for whatever it is I’m working on. I’m just trying to get everything right, to make everything fit, and then I hope the rest will take care of itself.

I had that same goal when I wrote both The Book Thief and I am the Messenger.

The only other thing I’d say is that I’m always trying to write a better book than the last one. I want to grow with every book.

How did you come to write I AM THE MESSENGER?

I was sitting in a park one night eating fish and chips and saw a bank with a fifteen minute parking zone out the front. I thought, Fifteen minutes, that’s not very long – every time I go the bank it takes a lot longer than that. I then thought, What if you were in that bank when it was being robbed and your car was out in the fifteen minute parking zone? How would you get out to move your car to avoid getting a fine? That gave me the bungled bank robbery scene that led to everything else in the book.

Do I have any Advice?

Question:  You've said that you knew you wanted to be a writer since you were a teenager. What advice do you have for young people who aspire for the same?

Answer:  I think the main thing is to not be afraid to fail. You’ll be rejected by publishers. You’ll have days of complete lack of faith in your abilities. But you have to keep coming back. That’s when you know you’re a writer – when you take the failures and appear at the desk again, over and over again.

Question:  How have you changed as a writer since your first book was published?

Answer:  I’ve changed in just about every way since I started writing. I’m both less patient and more patient, more and less confident…The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I still end up at the desk somehow. I have a lot of days where I’m plagued by doubt and have trouble with the work, but I always come back. Maybe that’s just because I’m not qualified to do anything else, but I’m not so sure.

Adult vs YA

Question:  You’ve been described as both a YA and Adult writer. In the USA your last book, The Book Thief, was released as a YA book, while in Australia it was Adult and in the UK it was both… What do you consider yourself to be?

Answer:  I try not to think about categories any more. My goal is simply to write a book that will, hopefully, become someone's favourite book. If I fall short it's no disgrace - there are so many great books in the world… To write a book someone might love, seems to be the best ambition to have, I think. My feeling is, you have to trust readers and hope that the book finds itself in the right hands. In my case, with The Book Thief, I've been amazingly lucky. It seems to have found an audience with both.