Wednesday, June 20, 2012

PART TWO Of My Absolutely "Wizard" Interview With Elizabeth Wein, Author of CODE NAME VERITY

Two weeks ago, I ragged on my store's crappy summer reading shelf. One week ago, we all banded together and constructed a much better shelf that I am extremely proud of (and yes, you can still go and suggest books). On that list were several new titles that I happened to adore, and one of those titles was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Yesterday, I posted PART ONE of my interview with Ms. Wein. This is part two. It's the juiciest part, in my opinion.

S: Tell me about the different names you chose. Verity, of course, is pretty straightforward, especially by the end. Do the other names - Maddie, Isolde, Peter - mean anything, or did you pick them just because they seemed to fit?

EW: Well, all the Special Duties pilot code names are from Peter Pan, so Peter is an obvious one - like Maddie's call-sign being Wendy for her flight to France. But I used names from Peter Pan on purpose because it was a theme throughout the book. I really love choosing names. Isolde's name was obvious because I already had quoted the aria from Tristan und Isolde before I knew what her name was. The fabulous contrast of "Isolde still in the day and the sun" with Queenie trapped in "Night and Fog" was a FANTASTIC COINCIDENCE.

Maddie's surname, Brodatt, is actually my grandmother's maiden name on my father's side (spelled Brodat). I picked it simply because I knew it really was Russian and Jewish - it was easy.

I wanted Maddie's first name to be something very stalwartly English - so went with Margaret, which is the name of one of the princesses. But for her nickname I used Maddie as a derivative of Madge. It's an unusual nickname for Margaret.

Did you have any specific names you were wondering about?

S: None in particular. I just adore names, so if there are ever reasons for names, I want to know about them!

EW: Von Linden was originally von Loewe, because Loewe is lion in German, and he is a sort of manticore character. But then I found this other book called The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown, which is also about the ATA, and it had a very similar character in it named von Loewe. So we changed it at the last minute to von Linden - the name is about the same length so was easy to fit in the text, and we didn't have to change the "v.L." abbreviation. And it's easier to pronounce in English. And I really like the idea of him being a transplanted "Linden" in the City of Elms - Ormaie means elm grove. (I am shameless... I chose Ormaie because I knew it meant elm grove, and I went to Yale, and New Haven's nickname is "Elm City".)

I chose "Engel" simply because it was an easy German name - the name of my mechanic in Pennsylvania. Again, it was a happy coincidence that it turned out to mean angel.

Seiler is actually the name of my school. Well, an old name for it. One of my friends from high school read the book and caught it!

S: See? All these happy little reasons and twisty coincidences. Love them.

Speaking of the Peter Pan theme - loved it! I had forgotten how much I adored that book as a child. How did that theme make its way into the story?

EW: I think it first came up when Maddie was directing Queenie across the airfield in the air raid, when she says "second to the right and straight on till morning." And then I started using it as a theme. It made it convenient to refer to Queenie's mother as "Mrs. Darling," so I didn't have to give her real name.

It really fell into place - it was OBVIOUS that the Craig Castle Irregulars were the Lost Boys, and that von Linden was the same sort of well-educated gentleman as Captain Hook.

Plus there was all the flying.

S: Okay, as happy as all this is, I do have to take you to task a bit. Your beginning was completely maddening. I was so angry with Verity. But your ending was maddening, too, you know that? I want to know what happened! Even though you didn’t give everyone a nice epilogue to tell us about their lives, did you ever give them private endings? What happened to them?

EW: Oh, man, I can't tell you what happens to them. For one thing, I am *hoping* to address it somewhat in my next book, all being well.

I do actually know what happens to EVERYBODY.

S: ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

EW: I know, you all want Maddie and Jamie to get married and make lots of little Scottish babies. I HAVE SEEN THE REVIEWS.

I *loved* it that you were so mad at Verity in the beginning. One of my purposes in writing the book was to create a coward. I had never done that before. (Some might say I failed miserably). But actually, seeing readers' reactions makes me think that I was successful, because people really think she IS a coward. And they either sympathize with her or they don't, but they fix her in their minds as being a pathetic squealer.

[The next section of our interview is CENSORED. I was sworn to secrecy. This woman writes about spies and NAZI INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES. I’m not crossing her. But I was allowed to quote her on the following.]
Tried to find a pilot cute enough to represent Jamie. Failed.
Lindbergh came close, at least.

EW: Jamie is the ONLY male in the whole book who takes Maddie seriously as a pilot, as a navigator, as a person capable of being in control - and he is constantly enabling her. He talks the other Moon Squadron pilots into taking her to France, he suggests she can fly Queenie to France, he tells Paul to let Maddie find him a new landing field, he gives the flight controls over to Maddie to get them home - and tells her she's a better pilot in an emergency than he is, which may well be true. He is the only male in the book who takes her for what she is and sees beyond the fact that she's a woman. And I think that's why they seem like such a good match. They are not constricted by stereotypes. (Indeed, she sees beyond his disability, too, and isn't embarrassed by it).

S: Okay, well, my last question was going to be about what you're working on next (even though you answered that in other interviews), but you've already sort of answered that above.

EW: It's a book about a new (younger) ATA pilot. She's American, for a number of reasons, some of which are very calculating on my part. And if you've read the other interviews, you'll have gathered that she ends up in the Ravensbroeck women's concentration camp in Germany. So it's, um, intense. It's not as twisty as CNV - it's not a "mystery" in that sense, and has a "happier" ending. But it's intense. As I said before.

Maddie gets mentioned.

S: Yay!

EW: Actually, I wanted Maddie to be the heroine, but she was too old.  And for a number of reasons it was easier to write about a new person who doesn't bring Maddie's CNV baggage to the plot.

S: Well, I can't wait to read it!

EW: I'm writing as fast as I can!


I'd just like to thank Ms. Wein for being such a good sport. She was remarkably charming and a fantastic interviewee. I hope you all had as much fun reading this interview as I had in conducting it. (I literally sent a text to my friend mid-interview that read, "I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN ON THIS INTERVIEW!!!!!")

For more information about Ms. Wein,Code Name Verity, and her other works, please see her website. For a list of Ms. Wein's other interviews, click here. For my review of Code Name Verity, click here.

And please feel free to clog the comments with love for Ms. Wein, Code Name Verity, Jamie, Maddie, and Verity herself.