Some time ago, I wrote about RJ Keller’s Waiting for Spring in my review titled, “Waiting for Spring: what is ‘white trash,’ anyway?” Well, RJ Keller is now working on The Wendy House, her prequel, of sorts, to Waiting for Spring. The Wendy House, in RJ Keller’s words, “follows an alcoholic, deadbeat dad during the course of one day as he prepares to kill the man who murdered his daughter, all while having hallucinatory conversations with his long-dead wife.”
I thought it would be fun to be the very first person to interview RJ Keller specifically about The Wendy House, so I made sure to catch her in the WIP (work in progress) stage.
What’s the most difficult question someone has asked you about The Wendy House?
Over the weekend I was asked if I intended to cut down on the profanity and sex in the new novel, since most of the criticism of my first novel, Waiting For Spring, centers around those things. The truth is that there isn’t as much profanity and sex in it as there is in WFS, but that has nothing to do with any criticism the first book received. It’s just that this story and its characters don’t call for it. But it’s frustrating to think that it might be perceived that way.
I think Waiting for Spring has just the right amount of swearing, sex, drugs, alcohol, sex, swearing, and other kinds of vulgarity.
Why is your follow-up to Waiting for Spring called The Wendy House? Who’s Wendy? Where is her house?
The term “Wendy house” comes from the novel Peter Pan. When Wendy Darling first arrives in Neverland, she is injured, so Peter and the Lost Boys build a house around her where she can recuperate.
In my novel, the title character, Wendy, comes from a very strict, religious family who lives in a very small town. She has an adventurous soul, and longs for the day she can leave home and be free to roam the world. But she gets pregnant at seventeen and ends up having to stay put. So her “Wendy house” isn’t literal. It represents that feeling of being trapped in a life of domesticity.
Whose character are you having the most fun writing?
Actually, Wendy. The odd thing is that during the bulk of the novel, she’s been dead for about fourteen years. It’s written from her husband Rick’s point of view, using flashbacks and diary entries to tell her story. But Rick also has hallucinatory conversations with her. She’s so blunt and nasty to him in his imagination (ie, he’s actually being blunt and nasty to himself, he’s just using her voice and image to do it) which is an absolute blast to write.
I understand you named a character after me. What’s she like? Is she the most important character in the book?
I did indeed. Kristen Lancaster is a woman from Rick’s past whose presence, and subsequent absence, in his life had a big impact on him. As a teenager, she was both a corruptive influence on him and a source of rare happiness in an otherwise loveless and uninspiring childhood. As an adult, she’s cleaned up her act and is trying to live down her past when Rick shows up and threatens to ruin everything. So although she isn’t the most important character in the book (sorry, Kris), she definitely plays a big role in it.
Yeah. I know what it’s like to have a big impact on a man. Tell me, are any other characters named after people you know?
There are three others. Rick’s brother, Jimmy, is named after author Jim Chambers; your namesake’s last name, Lancaster, comes from author Craig Lancaster; and Shannon Kinney, another strong woman in Rick’s life, is named after a very good friend of mine.
What are some of the issues The Wendy House explores? Why did you choose those issues?
I originally started writing this novel to explore the chasm that exists between what children know of their parents’ lives and the reality of those lives. In Waiting For Spring, we see Brian’s parents, Rick and Wendy, from his viewpoint. Thus we see an angel and a devil because their lives are filtered through his perception. That’s not an uncommon thing even in the happiest and most normal of families. The truth is usually a lot more complex, though, and I was interested in seeing how that was the case with this fictional family I’d already created. I think Waiting For Spring readers will be interested in that, too, but I try to explore those dysfunctional family relationships in a way that will – hopefully – help The Wendy House resonate with readers who are unfamiliar with the first novel as well.
Share your favorite line of dialogue, so far.
Well, my favorite contains a big, fat spoiler. But this spot of dialogue, between Rick and his girlfriend, was fun to write:
“Did the camera see you come this way?”
Jesus. Not her, too.
“No. I went in through the apartment and out the back.”
“Did you make sure to—”
“Yes. Whatever it is, yes, yes, yes. I did. Now can we please just get going?”
Why is that your favorite?
I think it’s because it was when I first lost myself in Rick’s character. It was difficult at first to write from a male point of view. I kept looking at Rick through a woman’s eye instead of becoming him. When I wrote the above dialogue, though, I finally felt like I understood him. I felt truly frustrated about being nagged by this woman – actually, because of the chapter preceeding this conversation, a series of women – instead of looking at Rick as an irresponsible guy who needed the nagging to keep him focused.
What character do you think readers will like best, and why?
I’m hoping that they’ll come to like Rick, or that they’ll at least start to feel for him. On the surface, and even under the surface, to a degree, he’s a very unlikable guy. He abandoned his family, which is pretty unforgiveable. But my goal is to deconstruct him and show what got him to where he is. Not in order to excuse him, but in order to understand him and to help him redeem himself.
What has been your greatest challenge, thus far, in writing The Wendy House?
Finding its narrator. When I began writing the first version of the novel, over two years ago, it was told in first person from Wendy’s point of view. It turned out to be very limiting since … well, since she dies and all. Then I tried using both Rick and Wendy as narrators, giving them alternating chapters. That was even worse. Finally, last November, I decided on Rick alone, which is when things really clicked.
When can readers expect to get The Wendy House on their e-reader?
I originally planned to release it, both in print and in ebook, this fall. But it looks now like it might be closer to next January or February. I know that readers will be bummed out about that, but I want to make sure the novel I release is the best it can be, and I’m willing to push back to release date to do that.
Do you have any cover ideas or a mockup, yet?
I have a few ideas, yes. And this time I plan to work with a professional to bring the cover to life instead of making it myself. I’m looking forward to that.
Will it look something like this?
My co-worker made it.