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Q+A with Girl Fight author Faye Harnest

January 5th, 2012 by Carrie Gleason

Fayegirl fight 

Q: One reviewer had this to say about Girl Fight: "This book hits timely topics, and hits them hard. The rawness of the language and emotion make it a difficult read, but an important one." (Resource Links Volume 17, Number 2) Why was it important for you to write this story?

A: I wanted to write about a girl who is tough, smart, and funny, and I wanted to write a character who questions what people expect from a “girl” and questions what a “strong girl” looks like. This character became Zadie, the protagonist of Girl Fight.

I thought I’d be too lazy to actually write this novel but sentences from the first chapter kept materializing while I was trying to sleep. For two weeks, 6 a.m. would come and I would realize that the entire night was over and these sentences had kept me awake. I got to the point where it was easier to write the book than not.

 

Q: The subject of this book is girl-on-girl violence and bullying, but your approach is unique. For many girls, even those who have never hit another person, there must at one time or another been the desire to. Yet fighting is something more commonly expected from teenage boys rather than girls. There are obvious gender expectations at work here. Why did you choose to write about the girls and violence like you did?

A: I was disturbed by some of the media’s comments on recent reports of violent physical fighting between girls. They [the media] seemed shocked that girls were capable of physical power and that girls could possess the instinct or desire to fight. They couldn’t see a girl in any role except for that of the victim. I wasn’t comfortable with that and thought I could give teen readers a character that is more complicated and more like the girls I know.

I also wanted to touch on different ways that violence can be perpetrated. I had researched cyberbullying for another project and was hyper-aware of how inescapable it is and how frightened Zadie would feel when targeted in this way.

Also, I want to draw on the unique writing style of that book — with the graphic novel references. 

 

Q: Are you a big fan of graphic novels yourself? Was that what inspired you? If so, which ones in particular?

A: I am definitely a fan of graphic novels and comics. Julie Doucet, Marjane Satrapi, Elisabeth Belliveau, and Mariko & Jillian Tamaki — to name just a few big ones — are definitely authors/artists that I try to steal as much from as I can. A lot of these authors have great sense of humour, and I try to write things that are humorous too, because I like to entertain myself, to make myself laugh while I’m writing.

Graphic novels have probably influenced me more than I realize, but I think that my writing style is a byproduct of how much I love to play around with language and my admiration of lit heroes like bpNichol and Gertrude Stein. I like to use onomatopoeia and caps wherever I can, because I enjoy that stuff as a reader, and I think it has special appeal to reluctant readers too. I always think about the page as a space and I love it when I see words jump off of it. It makes me giggle. I've spent just as much time writing concrete poetry and puppet animations as writing long narratives, and in general I care more about whether every sentence is beautiful than I care about whether anything is happening plot-wise.

I knew a lot of things about Zadie from the beginning, but I didn’t know that she would be an artist. I think that my decision to have Zadie draw and my decision to utilize comic/graphic novel elements was in part a strategy to approach the scenes of heavy violence in a way that I could be comfortable with and interested in. And filling the first fight scenes with speech bubbles and stars and movement lines that only Zadie could see was a way to show how out-of-touch Zadie was with reality. Zadie sees herself as a comics superhero, and superhero-type comics are really curious domains where women can and do kick ass regularly, but can still be objectified hard-core. So it’s a pretty weird and confusing place to exist in, and that headspace made Zadie’s emotional problems multiply.

 

Q: Are there any autobiographical elements to this story?

A: Yes. In high school I felt a lot of the anger that Zadie feels, and I had no idea what to do with that anger. I felt underestimated and frustrated, and I didn't realize then that other people feel that too.

Zadie's little sister, RAMONA ROAR!!!, is based on my sister Rhonda.

And Ms. Cohen, the art teacher, was definitely based on my high school art teacher, who embodies the universal art teacher quirkiness and whose sweaters were fascinating.

Art and writing were refuges for me in high school. I love the idea of a person being able to save themselves through their art. I don't know how often it happens but I cling to the idea that everyone has stuff like that — stuff you can do that you love — and that you could stumble on these things any day now.

 

Editor's P.S.: Faye's book is getting very positive responses from early reviewers. Girl Fight is a Resource Links 2011 Year's Best book. Girl Fight is "Highly Recommended." by CM-Canadian Materials. Read the 4-star review here: http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol18/no14/girlfight.html

 


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