As with her debut YA novel, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, April Genevieve Tucholke once again leaves readers spellbound with Wink Poppy Midnight. The three characters of the book’s title are far from what they seem: Wink, the odd, naive neighbor girl; Poppy, the perfect blonde bully; and Midnight, the sweet boy caught between them. Midnight has long been under Poppy’s spell, until he moves next door to Wink, who whispers fairy tales into his ear and promises him that he’s a hero. But Poppy won’t let Midnight go so easily. Each character reveals their place in this story—but perhaps not in the ways readers expect.
At first, the three main characters seem like they’re from a fairy tale: They’re either very bad or very pure. And yet they’re not so flat as that, and eventually they each reveal more. It can be so easy to put people in boxes. How did you flesh out what could’ve been stock characters?
I’ve never been interested in one-dimensional characters—I always knew Wink, Poppy and Midnight would expand beyond their initial roles as good or bad. I knew they would grow and change as I kept writing, as they became more and more substantial and vivid in my head.
In your opinion, are there any stories (fairy tales, or perhaps just favorite books of yours) where the villain and hero seem to be mismatched or mislabeled?
Well, I’ll use any excuse to bring up a favorite book of mine, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell—it’s filled with mismatched and mislabeled villains and heroes. Jonathan Strange is seemingly the hero, but he’s arrogant and distracted and not a terribly good husband. Norrell, by contrast, seems the villain . . . but his motivations are understandable to any fervent reader—he just wants to be left alone with his books. Susanna Clarke’s novel has what I would call a secret hero, the one nobody suspects, the one who stays in the background until he is needed—the true hero of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is Norrell’s servant, Childermass, though I didn’t fully realize this until I’d read the book the second (or was it the third?) time. Childermass’s heroic qualities are not evident on the first page, or even, necessarily, the last. They hover between the lines, waiting to be discovered by the truly observant.
At one point in the book, Wink says, “Sometimes the only way to fight evil is with evil.” What’s your take on this statement? The book never makes it clear whether she’s right or wrong about this.
My take? I don’t know if Wink is right. But saying this briefly pushes her into the “villain” category, which was my intention.
You know, Woody Allen debates in his movie Match Point whether it’s better to be lucky or good (which in itself was a theme taken from Crime and Punishment, I think). I often struggle with similar philosophical questions . . . and sometimes they pop up in my books.
Poppy could’ve been a very hateful character, but readers will likely end up empathizing with her—or even loving her, as her so-called friends do. Do you always try to search for the deeper cause of a bully?
Most bullies are deeply insecure, or deeply damaged, or both. They deserve the chance to have their story told, and to redeem themselves, just as any other character.
Revenge, justice, love—are these elements present in every story?
Every good story, yes.
Do you often find yourself in the woods? Why do the woods hold such magic for us?
I find myself in the woods on a daily basis—my neighborhood in Bend, Oregon, borders the Deschutes National Forest. For me, the woods are the place where civilization ends . . . a place where magic still exists. I remember reading about the Black Forest in Germany as a teenager, and how its dense trees blotted out the sky and inspired some of the dark fairy tales retold by the Brothers Grimm. Part of me still believes that someday I will wander down a gloomy, unmarked woodland path and stumble upon a cannibalistic witch living in a gingerbread house.
For you, where is the line between magic and reality? Does that change when you’re writing a book?
I think magic and reality are fluid, especially as a child. But we all design our own universes, even as adults. We all decide what we want to believe.
Wink is so strongly influenced by her favorite stories, and one favorite book in particular, that these tales influence her actions in potentially dangerous ways. If you wanted to craft your life story around a novel you loved, what story would you pick?
Great question. Hmm . . . when I was a teenager I would have picked something dramatic like Jane Eyre or Green Mansions or Rebecca or Far from the Madding Crowd. But now? I’d choose an Agatha Christie murder mystery (who wouldn’t want to solve crimes with Miss Marple or Poirot?) or something essentially whimsical and pleasant, like P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves or Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.
As a writer, why do you think you avoid concrete answers? Why do the events in your novels often seem so ambiguous and dreamlike?
My personal experiences have never provided me with concrete answers, so this is reflected in my novels. Life is complicated, with few definitive answers to important questions. I don’t set out to make my books ambiguous or dreamlike, it’s merely an extension of my own reality.
What’s next for you?
I am currently working on a Pan’s Labyrinth-ish middle-grade book, which I am co-writing with a friend. I’m also writing an all-female YA novel set in Scandinavia. And I have, oh, three half-finished other projects as well. I’m a slow writer with more ideas than I could use in four lifetimes—I’m constantly at war with myself.