INTERVIEW and GIVEAWAY
by Shane Filer
Exit is on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an interview with the author. You can also read my review and enter the giveaway for a chance to win a paperback copy of the book. Please visit all of the other tour stops as well.
"Did you know I spent the whole of my fifteenth year in my room?"
Briar’s impromptu, mid-afternoon confession stirs up distant memories of the lonely time she spent trapped in her home; suffering agoraphobia - fear of open spaces.
Now it’s six years later. She’s free, but the year's isolation has left serious personality disorders; disorders which will resurface as she relates her own story, and that of those in her orbit; Melodie, a pretty valley girl who Briar desires to be, Justine, her oldest friend, who has her own dark secret, and Dermot, a man who thinks he's the reincarnation of Robin Hood - stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
Slowly Dermot begins to draw Briar into his ever-so-exciting world, but who is leading whom on their slow descent into crime? Dual periods of Briar’s life intertwine like a rope around her neck as her lost year begins to overtake the present. It leads her to the answer to one very simple question:
“Is it what I always feared - am I losing my mind?”
“Did you know I spent the whole of my fifteenth year in my room?”
I sit in the trashed corner booth of an empty Indianapolis diner sipping Coke through a red and white striped straw and watch the reaction from my two friends.
We’ve been here, Melodie, Justine and I, talking, eating, and drinking for hours and we’re all in advanced stages of serious twenty-something afternoon collapse. It’s reached the time where you run out of trivial, conversational-type things to talk about, so you say something deep and personal instead.
Melodie lifts her head from the table and flicks ash haphazardly from her cigarette in the direction of an overflowing ashtray. “You’re kidding?” she asks.
“No, she isn’t,” Justine says. We’ve been friends since school, and she knows me very well.
Elbows all over the table I cup my palms around my chin and explain. “I suffered from agoraphobia. That’s what my doctors said. It sounds awful, but all it means is that I had an irrational fear of being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult in the event of a panic attack. So I avoided those situations. During my Dark Ages I left my bedroom only to eat and go to the bathroom.
“Basically I was worried about death. Abandonment. My health. My mother’s safety. The house catching fire. Food poisoning. Earthquakes. The environment. That kind of stuff.”
I tell Melodie and Justine all these things, and when I open my mouth the words just flood out, like I’ve been wanting desperately to speak them for so long. They sit and listen, perhaps too tired or too hot and bothered to do anything else. I tell them about the first time it happened... the first time I had a panic attack. When I was thirteen. One Saturday in a mall. I can remember the smell of doughnuts and ice-cream, and ferns. I remember ferns. And the sound of a radio playing that dumb Spandau Ballet song — “True” — boy do I hate that song!
“I was standing around, just hanging out with a bunch of my girlfriends, and this boy from my class, who I had, like, this incredible crush on, came up to me and said “Hi!”
“Those girls pushed me forward. I could hear them giggling behind me, saying ‘Briar’s in love’ and all that junk, and my body froze like a statue. I felt hot and sweaty. My heart was racing. I felt this numbness in my hands and this tightness in my chest like I couldn’t breathe. I had this need to breathe in more air, this need to escape. I just ran out.”
“Shit!” Melodie says.
“Shit,” I agree. “My doctor said later that this overwhelming sensation of terror is similar to the fight or flight response inherent in all animals, including humans. No one seems to know what causes panic attacks, but there are a lot of tell-tale signs that I had right from an early age. I always used to cling to my mother’s leg. I was afraid of Santa Claus.”
“Oh yeah,” Melodie says. “I always hated that old, fat, red, pervert too.”
“I suffered a lot of phobias back then,” I explain further. “I would become possessed by a desire to clean the bathroom. The bathroom and I would literally be covered in Comet cleanser. But then I stopped.”
“Why?” Melodie asks. “Did your cleaning phobia go away?”
“Not exactly. I ran out of Comet.”
Sunlight is pouring in through the diner’s windows and Justine keeps glancing anxiously out there to the street. Am I boring her, I wonder? Anything’s possible — she has heard this one before.
It’s only then that I suddenly notice the sunglasses she wears at a lopsided angle on her face hide a large bruise around her left eye. It’s a horrible purple thing that’s yellowing at the edges like rotten fruit.
“Oh there’s Addison,” she says suddenly. “I’d better go. I’d better not keep him waiting.”
Following her gaze, I see her boyfriend climb from his red Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Addison Healy has tanned skin and swept-back dark hair, and I’ve never liked him. He’s far too handsome — one of those people who’ve never known what it’s like to be alone — because there’s always someone new throwing themselves shamelessly at him. Someone who’s never had to appreciate the smallest signs of affection.
Justine scoops up her purse, quickly excuses herself, and rushes out to meet him. Leaving a three-quarter full Coke bottle sitting behind on the table, she’s gone almost before I can register it. She’s gone.
I watch them get into the car. She’s talking. Explaining herself. Addison seems agitated; gesturing wildly and I read his lips: “What fucking time do you call this? I told you to be home at three!”
Eventually he throws up his arms in frustration and drives away. I turn back to Melodie.
“Why does she stay with that asshole?” she asks after a long pause. “He hits her, don’t you know?”
“How do you think she got that bruise on her face?”
“She said she fell against the... Fuck!” I hadn’t noticed... well, come to think of it, I have seen signs, but I’ve never put two and two together. Sometimes I wonder if I am so wrapped up in my own problems that I fail to see the suffering of others around me?
“So what happened with you, Briar?” Melodie asks, toying playfully with the straw in her bottle.
“With me? Oh, after my first panic attack I returned to school and everyone laughed and talked about me, so I stopped going. Slowly I found it harder and harder to leave the house. After a while I gave up entirely.”
“When I did eventually emerge from my room, a week shy of my sixteenth birthday, it wasn’t like a beautiful butterfly emerging triumphantly from her chrysalis, but instead a tired gray moth treading cautiously into the light.”
“My doctor once speculated that my year’s hibernation was due to an irrational fear of growing up, but that’s not right! If I really didn’t want to grow up there are much more reliable methods: sleeping pills, guns, razorblades...”
“God, so how did you, like, get out of it?”
“My brother. My brother helped me. Helped me help myself, I guess.”
“Is this Jeff — twenty-seven and still living at home?”
“No, it’s Paul — twenty and away at college. You haven’t met... oh shit!”
And I suddenly remember: Paul’s arriving home today and I said I’d go with Mom to meet him at the airport. As the afternoon dissolved I’ve lost track of time.
“Is he cute?” Melodie asks as we slip from the diner out onto the pavement.
I can only nod yes.
“Can I come too?”
“No! I’ll see you later!” Melodie is super beautiful. When I first saw her, I wanted to see her again. I hardly ever see really beautiful females. I see pretty ones, hot ones, but hardly ever see a woman that just makes me turn my head and think ‘wow she is stunning.’ I think that people who are attractive just want the world to see something other than their looks. They want other aspects of their personality to shine through. I hate boring people. I hate boring guys. I feel like sometimes if I just be really quirky it will compensate for my lack of looks. Of course this never works.
Briar Averill suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks; she never left the house for a whole year when she was fifteen. It's now six years later, and Briar finds herself revealing her secret to her friends Justine and Melodie. These girls have problems of their own, which are slowly revealed throughout the book. Throw in Briar's brother Paul, Justine's abusive boyfriend Addison, and Melodie's new roommate Dermot, and we have some serious fireworks.
The narrative jumps between Briar's past and present experiences and is interspersed with fragments of Briar's short story about the Last Man, whose lonely life parallels her own. As the story-telling becomes more fragmented toward the end of the book, we begin to wonder what is real and what is not. As Briar herself says, "Sometimes it's so very difficult to know what's the truth anymore."
There are some minor editing errors, especially the misuse of certain words, e.g., "compliment" for "complement", "desert for dessert", "bought" for "brought", "advise" for "advice". Overall, however, this book is well-written and easy to read, and the (male) author does an incredible job of getting inside the minds of his female characters. He also has a wonderful poetic way with words, e.g., "The low red moon glows hypnotically, a burning fire in the quiet blackness."
I absolutely loved this book and look forward to more from this author.
Warnings: Coarse language. This book also covers several serious themes such as domestic abuse, self-loathing, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, self-harm, suicide, and incest.
Interview With the Author
Hi Shane, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Exit.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
A wide range, from various mediums. I will talk about a lesser known, unsung one. I loved drawing and consequently comics as a child, and I soon began to notice the importance of the writer. I brought English comics, like 2000 AD, Battle and Tornado, which all had serials in them – 5 stories each week written and drawn by different creators. They carried credits and I soon came to notice that all my favourite stories were written by one writer - Pat Mills. I began to understand that he was knew how to write well and I would like pretty much everything with his name on, no matter who drew it. His most famous creation is the anti-war World War One series Charley’s War. He was just a very solid, not-flashy story-teller and everything he touched had a glaze of magic to my childhood-self. What more can you ask for?
What age group do you recommend your book for?
It’s a teens to early 30s book, and women tend to relate more to it. I think I described it once as dark chick-lit. Readers who like Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, Virginia Woolf, or the films of David Lynch or Sophia Coppola will love it. Readers who think that Fifty Shades of Grey is the best thing since sliced bread will hate it.
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
In the case of Exit, the concept came first. The idea of a young girl trapped in her room because of agoraphobia. How would she escape, and when she did, how would she deal with the “normal” world again? The character, though, soon took over and began to deviate from the outline I had written. She took the story to deeper and darker placers. She became, at least in the story, real.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The ending. Towards the end of the book, the narrative becomes distinctly fractured with several storylines coming together as one. I wanted a sense of confusion and eventual enlightenment, and so played around with a few stylistic ways of writing before coming to one I was satisfied with that fit.
It was very effective! How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I like to feel the book will make readers think; there is an element of work involved to fully appreciate it. I don’t like stories where everything you need to know is force-fed to the reader. Many, many books and characters stayed with me long after I had turned the final page – I would like to think the same will be true of Exit for others.
Well, it's true for me at least. How long did it take you to write this book?
The bulk of it came in a year, but there were some additions and subtractions after. I have another much longer book I’m working on that also was mostly done in one year, but other writing and general survival has meant it’s sat on the shelf for another year.
What is your writing routine?
I am a morning person, all writing, work, anything creative and productive is done in the mornings. By lunchtime I need a siesta. I can write anywhere - on a PC, laptop, paper, restaurant napkin, indoors or out. I often write with a cat on my desk or at my side. Cats inspire love and creativity.
How did you get your book published?
The book is set in the USA but I currently (but hopefully not for long) live in New Zealand, so I couldn’t get an agent and, without that, large publishers wouldn’t look at it. So I sent it to maybe six small publishers in the USA and pretty quickly four came back with interest in publishing it. I realized that I had written something good. I had self-belief that Exit was good, but it was nice to have it confirmed. I chose one publisher and they did some editing on it, but closed down just before it was due to be published. So I then offered it as a completed book to another publisher I hadn’t seen before - Biblio Publishing. They also accepted it. They offered creative freedom and I retained the copyright of the book.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
It’s not easy, I think. Read a lot. Write a lot. Get better. Eventually someone will take notice.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I used to like running, individual sports a lot, until recently I fell down my stairs and fractured my pelvis, quite a serious injury from which I’m still recovering. So I hope to be back to that in time. A serious accident makes you think a lot about what you need to be doing. In my case, I know I need to be writing. Just this.
I hope you recover soon, Shane. What does your family think of your writing?
I have no family as such, no wife, children, my parents died. I have a cat, though, that I’m sure is deep down very proud of me.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up in a small town in New Zealand. A safe, happy, though perhaps not inspiring, place. I was always happiest playing by myself in a world of my own imagination. I still have many of my childhood toys. I wish I could remember how to play, though.
Did you enjoy school?
School was great until I was a teenager, then it was all downhill. I think that’s the age you realize if the opposite sex is interested in you or not. And in my case it was not. This likely influenced my desire to write because I became more insular and writing became an escape from the somewhat unwelcoming world outside.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
My parents brought me many books, which my mother would read me every night. I think reading is vitally important, reading anything - books, comics, magazines, cereal packets. I have heard teens today say they don’t read. I think this is horrific and wonder what a lack of stimulation must have on personality?
Who were your favorite authors as a child?
Oscar Wilde (for The Happy Prince), Dr. Seuss, Pat Mills, and John Wagner (who wrote many UK comics).
Who was your favorite character as a child?
I often had affection for characters or stories which weren’t done as well as they could have been and, looking back, this is the seed of being a writer, because you feel that you could have written it better, or done the character justice. One such character is Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. It was an iconic UK comic character from the 1950s (okay, before my time), but over the years there have been many attempts to re-boot him with varying degrees of failure. The best of these was a 1980s strip featuring the great-great grandson and namesake of the original hero, written by John Wagner and Pat Mills. This probably made the most sense, moving the character away from the outdated values and timeline. But when these writers left - it fell into lesser hands and fell apart. It was revived in the 90s by Grant Morrison and in the 2000s by Garth Ennis, both of which were little more than confused pastiches of past material. I remember years ago, as a writing exercise, sitting down and writing a story which would bring all the disparate versions together and exorcise the bad elements, leaving a modern, useable character. Inspiration can come from this, seeing that an idea or concept hasn’t been utilized to its full potential or taken to its logical conclusion. I don’t even know who owns the character today.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
As a kid I wanted to be an artist, for a while a comic book artist, but found I had to write stories to draw. Eventually I just did away with the drawing and stuck to writing. My aim in the years since was to be a novelist. The dream came true, it just took a while.
That's great, Shane. Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Yes, because my love of writing comes from the comics and books of this time. There is a somewhat magical element to childhood which I think lingers in much of my writing. My teenage years and much of the time since has been very lonely, and this isolation directly influences Exit.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
The book has only been released, but reader reaction is welcome. “I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” - Oscar Wilde.
Thanks so much for stopping by today, Shane. I really enjoyed the chat. And, by the way, I loved the book.
About the Author
Shane grew up in provincial New Zealand, a small place where options are small, were people wear PJs to the mall, a small place where dreams of being a writer or artist are not only actively discouraged, they are actively quashed. Nevertheless he fell in love with books, comics and writing at a young age and his early influences include Oscar Wilde, Alan Moore, and Dr. Seuss.
After many years of trying to get books, documentaries and films accepted in his own country, Shane gave up and settled for working in the fairly creative world of video-making and advertising.
A trip to Europe and the USA rekindled his love of writing, and he wrote the American-based novel Exit, submitted it this time to American publishers and immediately received several offers for the work. He chose one and Exit was released December 2013 in the USA as his first novel from Biblio Publishing.
Shane has since had comic book scripts accepted in the UK by DC Thompson, publisher of the long-running Commando comic, fulfilling yet another dream for his child-self.
He lives with a very old and very vocal Tonkinese cat, and they both dream of eloping together to the USA or Europe.
He likes oranges, orange juice, and orange furniture - in fact even the color orange. Why? Well, because it's the best color, of course. While he believes that being a grown up is not all it's cracked up to be, he still enjoys ruining his appetite before dinner, and staying up past his bed time.
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of ten paperback copies of Exit.