Question and Answer with Waneta
Q: What inspired Behind the Hedge?
A: My interest in writing about marriage began when I was a teen. My dad was at times a harsh man and far too
often chewed out Mom and/or us children. From a young age I wanted to influence people to be considerate and
kind to one another and was especially interested in figuring out how to have a harmonious, loving marriage. The
books about marriage that were available at that time said if the wife yielded to her husband, all would be well. So
for a while I blamed my mom for the disharmony in my parents' marriage. But after I married and tried to do my part
by yielding to my husband, I found out it did NOT make our marriage harmonious. Instead, my husband became
more demeaning and disrespectful toward me. At that point I thought if I could find out what I was doing wrong and
make the appropriate changes, my husband would love and respect me.
However, my research told me the best I could do was tell him to stop it. If he respected me enough to stop it, our
marriage had a chance. If he didn't, we didn't even have a foundation on which to build a marriage. He ended up
not respecting me enough to stop his nasty behavior, but I didn't give up right away. It took me a number of years
to finally accept that we would have to separate. I kept looking for the solution to creating a loving marriage that
those writers had not yet found. But it wasn't until after our divorce and after the judge awarded my husband as
the primary caretaker of our daughter that the drive to write about marriage began to resurface. I began to under-
stand that most people had no idea what I had lived with and how my ex-husband was still abusing me through our
daughter. The pain of those years was so sharp, I needed to do something to bring something good out of the
situation, to change the lemons in my life and my daughter's life into lemonade.
Q: So is the novel a thinly veiled story of your marriage?
A: Some may come to that conclusion. But I didn't marry a Mennonite, we lived in a city not on a farm, and my
husband never told me I had to submit nor used the biblical teachings I had grown up with. I made every effort to
make sure that I did NOT use anything about my husband in this story. Indeed, since my husband frequently used
perverted thinking and vulgar language as his power-over techniques, very little of his behavior would be
acceptable for the portion of my readers who are Christian.
Q: Is any part of the novel your story?
A: Yes. Yvette's struggle to try to understand how God would view the submission issue and to do what was
right in God's view, not her own, was also my struggle. In my gut I knew God is not a god who condones oppression.
But where was that in the Bible where marriage is concerned? I found very little writing on the subject, and what I
did find dismissed the biblical passages that had been drilled into me, instead of going into depth to pull out their
meaning. It was impossible to let go of the idea of "submit no matter what" merely on the strength of how many
verses talked of submission compared with how many talked of husbands loving their wives. I needed more than
that, and eventually found it in Bible verses that tended to be skimmed over and not taught or emphasized. I
wanted to share what I found with both the Christian and the secular communities.
Q: How did you develop the characters?
A: My first guideline was that the characters would not be anyone I know, past or present, (with the exception of
my grandpa and the fact that he built the barn) and their names would not be those of people close to me either
personally or at work. When I first talked with Susan Kratz about beginning the novel, she suggested using
common Mennonite last names to indicate these people could actually be someone here in the Mennonite
community. Rather than base the characters on a real person, I chose the personality characteristics I wanted
each person to have, and then recalled 3 or 4 people who could serve as examples of those characteristics. For
the children I purposely chose differing personalities, motives and reactions for each, so that readers can see how
devastating abuse is, for those prone to abusing others, for those easily intimidated, and even for those who
appear to be unharmed by it.
Q: Are you in any of your characters?
A: There is a little of me in all of them, with the exception of Luke, Alex, and Greg. For their characters I talked
with many men who expect "their women" to yield to them and serve them, and also read and reread a number
of books to find how others saw men like that. My training and experience as a facilitator for the Batterer's
Education Program also taught me how men think and influence one another.
Q: Do you work from an outline?
A: Only in the most vague sense. I have a general idea what direction my story will go, but not exactly how it
will end. For the sequel, I thought I’d save time by writing a more detailed outline first like the experts advise, but
it doesn’t work for me. I get bored with the story and then can’t write at all.
Q: Do you direct the characters or do the characters direct the story?
A: Some of both. I start out directing the characters, and then partially rely on them to tell me how they’d react,
or even who would react in a given situation. In Behind the Hedge, Luke wanted to become much more violent and
I had to keep restraining him. The characters became so real to me, I kept thinking I’d see and recognize them on
the street when I went to town. (but I never saw them) And I’d feel foolish when I’d catch myself beginning to pray
for the Miller family. There were some places where the story came to an abrupt stop, like the scene with the family
sitting around the table when Yvette announced that Luke’s return to the family was on a trial basis. It was as if the
story was a movie I was seeing and someone had hit the pause button. The tension was thick, and someone had a
knife in the jam jar, and someone else had a spoon suspended halfway between plate and mouth. Very weird. I had
to go from one character to the next in my mind to see who would make the next move. I was taken by surprise when
Kyle did his uncharacteristic outburst. But it felt so right and another part of his personality and motivation came
through at that point. Which brings up another quirk of mine. I prefer to know my characters in a general sense when
I start, and allow them to round themselves out as the story progresses. Thus, for me writing is similar to reading a
book, yet there is a wonderful sense of joy in the creative experience.
Q: When you have a blank page in front of you or a new scene, how do you move forward?
A: Putting my novel in a farm setting made this relatively easy. I keep a calendar for my fictional story, which
includes month, date, year, and day of the week. Behind the Hedge was based on 2003 and 2004. I even
check a website for what the weather was like on the days I chose for background setting. There actually was a
tornado in Georgia in February 2003. When it’s time for a new scene, I think what month it is and what would be
going on in the garden or fields, or with the weather, livestock, or social life. For each scene, there needs to be
the events that happen and also a place and background activity for it to happen within. I find dairy farming
provides a rich selection of settings and activities in which to place my characters.
Q: Do you write your novels in order from beginning to end?
A: That remains to be seen. I didn’t with Behind the Hedge. I started with the applesauce scene and a butterfly
scene, which has since been deleted but may end up in the sequel. The first scene at Stringtown Grocery was
added after the rest of the book was written, and the last scene was added after I’d already sent the book off to
an agent. That last scene was the first chapter of the sequel, and the book just did not want to move. I finally realized
it belonged on the end of the first book. For the sequel I’m trying to write it in order from beginning to end so fewer
rewrites and adjustments will be needed.
|© Waneta Dawn 2007 Created June 2008