An Interview with Teri Hall
In order to maximize the experience of reading Away I decided to interview the author Teri Hall after reading the novel. In email exchanges during November, 2012, I asked her an initial set of questions about the themes and the thoughts I was having as a reader and then I asked her a few more additional questions that arose after our first interview.
Amanda: The first step in my study was to write a think piece about the theme I really connected with and I asked myself, What Would I Do? Throughout The Line there is this resounding question, “What would you do?” Would you stay quiet, out of fear, as Vivian does when she sees the woman she knows arrested. Would you help the stranger on the other side of the line as Rachel does? These are deep questions. They ask a person to look deep down into their character, into who they are, into who they want to be. I felt as though it was no mistake that you asked these questions of the young adult genre. Was the genre of your novel a driving force behind asking these questions? And are these questions you find yourself wrestling with?
Teri: I wouldn’t say the genre was the driving force because these are questions I would ask in any novel (among others). I will say that I have always felt that if you haven’t prepared by thinking about exactly this (“look deep down into their character, into who they are, into who they want to be”) you are never going to be the person you could be, and perhaps the person the world needs. And hitting a young audience with these questions is appealing for that reason. Maybe nobody has ever asked that young readers think about this sort of thing. Maybe they have never ben treated as a person who can make a difference. Maybe they have only been expected to make the soccer team and get good grades. These things can matter, but they aren’t what life is about. I wanted to try to help kids think past the surface things, deeper.
A: One idea that I sort of came to in my writing was that, “even if I don’t personally stand for the wrong that is occurring, am I not subscribing to injustice by choosing no action at all?” I feel this relates to The Line and after reading Away I keep resting on the conversation between Bender and Nandy in school. Nandy asks, “‘what is it, Bender, that makes a person good or bad? Do you remember?’ Bender nodded. ‘It’s what they do.’” (46) Did you intentionally incorporate the notion that inaction is subscribing to injustice?
T: I did. I completely believe that if you stand by while injustice takes place, you are as bad as the person who committed the injustice.
A: I noticed in Away we’re seeing Rachel’s perspective most of the time, whereas in The Line we heard more from other characters such as Ms. Moore or Vivian. In addition, Rachel is growing up. She begins to feel more afraid because she understands the realities of living in a world of people she doesn’t yet understand and she even falls in love. Was your choice to allow the story to be told primarily through Rachel’s eyes a sign of her maturing?
T: Rachel isn’t the narrator in either book – they are both told from a third person close POV. In The Line, knowing that many people might not read another in the trilogy, I felt it was crucial to allow the other perspectives to be represented well. I wanted to have the kids (and adults) who read the story be able to see that perspective changes with circumstances, and that while this may explain a lot, it may not be the best thing sometimes (in other words fear is not a wise teacher).
A: When Rachel learns about the Roberts, she learns that they used to take people from camp to torture them. “Often, their bodies were dumped on the edge of our camp when the Roberts were through with them, as a sort of warning. The bodies were always ruined; testaments to horrible suffering.” (122) The case is the same when Vivian recalls finding Collaborators beaten by the EO’s. I was initially shocked at the same evils being practiced in Away and felt that it could have been a statement that there are always evils in society. I’d like to know why you chose to include the same evils in Away?
T: Humanity has the innate ability (and perhaps the innate tendency) to be cruel, selfish, awful. Away is no different because people are no different. Power, the need for it, corrupts.
A: I was happy to see that the orchids were present in Away. When Indigo recalls seeing them (and Elisabeth) for the first time he says, “‘the glass glittered, and the orchids inside were lush jewels.’” (160) I kept thinking about how you compared the orchids to people, and that while they’re all different, they’re all the same thing at the core. In The Line we see Ms. Moore and Rachel compassionate toward the orchids. There was a part of me that wasn’t surprised that Indigo also loved the orchids ad even brought them to Away. whey bring the orchids to Away?
T: The orchids are a symbol for difference, and how difference need not be feared, but might be our saving grace and should be welcomed.
A: Rachel brings orchids with her to Salishan. Is that continuation intentional?
A: In The Line I was attuned to the beauty of Indigo’s eyes. However in Away, they are a sign of danger and fear. While Indigo didn’t approve of the camp using his eyes to scare the Roberts, I still found it interesting that Indigo, the man of high moral standing, has eyes that represent death. Why Indigo?
T: Any idea (or person) can be twisted, used, etc. Indigo would never willingly do wrong, yet his people used a misunderstanding, a horrible burden placed upon a young boy, used without his intent, to generate fear in order to keep themselves safe.
A: I’m also intrigued by the family line of gifts: Indigo can kill, Malgam can see other people’s perspectives, and Pathik can sense other’s feelings. Were these conscious choices and are the gifts connected in any way?
T: That’s one I would not impose on a reader. It needs to be for the reader to decide, to make the connections or not.
A: In the end, Indigo would rather die than give any information or kill the Enforcement Officers. “He’d decided long ago that killing wasn’t something he would do, not if he had another choice. And it turned out there was always another choice. At least one.” (217) Indigo really provides the ultimate moral high ground and in the end it feels as though he makes the ultimate sacrifice and reaches the epitome of doing what is just. Was there a reason you chose to end Indigo’s life in that way?
T: Yes – this: “he makes the ultimate sacrifice and reaches the epitome of doing what is just.”
A: I keep thinking about the different themes from both novels and it is clear to me that you’ve injected a bit of your philosophy into the books. I’m thinking about the idea that everyone should be treated equal and differences are positive, the idea that we should sacrifice to help others no matter the danger, the power fear, etc. and I’m wondering whether you knew from the start that you wanted to do so? To put it another way, did the idea of these themes or the idea of the novel take hold first?
T: Each book is different, but for me, themes are the thing that make a novel happen. Without an idea for a theme or themes, there really is no idea for a novel.
A: Considering the choices we see Indigo make in Away it would seem as though he is the root of your philosophy, your beliefs. Did you mirror Indigo’s actions based on the ones you would choose? Or is he just the ideal?
T: Indigo’s actions are what I believe we should all strive for, in that he knows what is right, and does what is right, no matter the cost to himself. I do believe, strongly, that this is what one must do. Doesn’t mean I know what I would do, but it does mean I would try my hardest.
A: Power and the intoxicating effects it has is prevalent throughout both books. In the new US, the government maintains power and essentially diminishes democracy down to almost nothing using fear. They use fear of being caught by the EO’s, fear of the Others, fear of Away, (which is essentially fear of the unknown), etc. What, in your opinion, makes ruling by the use of fear so dangerous? What, if there is one, is the alternative?
T: Ruling is only possible by fear. Leading, which is a far different thing, can be done by example, education, etc. Ruling by fear works so well because humans have not evolved into knowing that life is only worth what it stands for – yes, our bodies want to live regardless of why – but we need to learn that life is not the most important thing. Life is actually stupid and useless and empty if it is lived at the cost of integrity. If living – just continuing to draw breath – is valued more than meaning, it means nothing much at all. And as long as living at any cost is what people choose, fear will always rule.
A: Why orchids? I know there is symbolism attached to them but why not use another type of flower?
T: There is no other flower that expresses the things I wanted to express in the same way.
Being granted the opportunity to interview Teri Hall proved to be one of the highlights of my studies for two primary reasons. The first is that it is rare that a reader gets to engage in meaningful conversation with the author in order to gain more perspective and I realize that I am a part of a lucky few that has been able to do so. The other reason is that not only was it an amazing experience to be able to talk with Teri about the themes, but I was able to speak to the source of a resounding question that I’ve been asking myself since first reading The Line and one I found myself tackling with great depth in the last few weeks of my studies: “What would I do?” It is for that reason that I think the single most valuable piece of information I received from Teri was that while Indigo is the ideal, even she can’t say how she would act in a situation. In addition, she said, “ . . . I have always felt that if you haven’t prepared by thinking about exactly this (“look deep down into their character, into who they are, into who they want to be”) you are never going to be the person you could be, and perhaps the person the world needs."