compiled by Nathan Grutchfield
Pratima Cranse was born and raised in Vermont where she went through the Montpelier public school system. In 2015, when her debut novel, “All the Major Constellations,” was published, Kirkus Review deemed that Cranse was “a stellar voice to watch.”
Her book confronts difficult subjects and deals with complex characters. In what follows, Pratima Cranse, the author whose imagination is behind it all, discusses “All the Major Constellations” as well as her own path as a writer which she sees in equal parts as tedious, muddled and fulfilling.
From Pratima Cranse:
Like all writers, I’m cursed. I have to write. My first clear memory of writing a story was in the second or third grade. It was called, “The Mystery of the Purple Pizza Man.” The teacher had us make our stories into books with glue and cardboard and wallpaper. An auspicious start to my writing life!
I kept a journal about a boy I had a crush on in middle school. I didn’t yet have the ability to express my overwhelming emotions, so I would bear down on the pencil hard enough to break the lead, as if that physical action could make up for what I lacked in language. And another time, in high school, I had a scab on my arm that I picked at until it bled. Then I held my “wound” over my journal and let the blood drip. Now I look back on those memories and laugh.
But that’s what it’s like to be young, you have all this stuff inside you, and you can’t quite convey it, so if you’re two, you have tantrum, and if you’re a teenager you bloody-up a perfectly good journal.
My dad always knew I had it in me, and my mom is my mom, you know? I could glue macaroni on a piece of construction paper and she’d call it art. My dad too. ‘Look how the glue drips off this particular noodle, masterful!’ There’s a lot of flak in the media these days about coddling your kids, but I don’t know where I’d be if my parents hadn’t built up my self-esteem. Writers are notoriously self-conscious about their work, and I’m no different, so it’s nice when your people are in your corner.
I went to Rutgers College for my [undergraduate degree], and one of my English professors, William Vesterman, appreciated literature in a way that was very new for me, and revolutionary. He could bring tremendous intellectual engagement to a piece of fiction, and still have a lot of fun. Like, a rollicking good time! I’ve never met his equal as a reader, and his joy in reading is a huge influence in how I approach my work.
The alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. I would write a page or two, then be off to work. On the weekends, I’d hole up in a café and crank out more pages. The pre-dawn weekday writing was usually pretty dismal, but if I didn’t do it, the more luxurious weekend writing wouldn’t go nearly as well. You’ve got to earn your productivity by being productive, if that makes sense. I more or less have the same schedule today.
[“In All the Major Constellations,”] A messed-up 17-year-old boy, Andrew, graduates high school just as one of his best friends winds up in a coma from a car accident. Andrew goes into an emotional and spiritual tailspin and involves himself with a fundamentalist Christian youth group — in part because he has a huge crush on one of its members.
It sounds serious, and it is, but I think it’s also fun and funny and nostalgic and even a little sexy. It takes place in Vermont in the late 1990s, and although I’m not one to get all misty about Vermont, I think I celebrate the beauty of our state in a way that’s honest and hopefully interesting.
The characters created the plot. I had Andrew, the main character, and his two best friends, Sara and Marcia, and then the beautiful girl with whom he is obsessed: Laura. There’s Andrew’s dysfunctional family, his bullying older brother. Then there’s a handsome, closeted, guy in the Christian youth group upon whom Andrew develops a confused and contentious crush. The characters bounce off each other and make the story. That’s how I plot. So my creative process is a bit chaotic, but that’s the only way I know how to do it.
My most memorable surge of inspiration came with the character John. I didn’t plan on him, he just arrived. One night Andrew, the main character, goes to Laura’s house (Laura is Andrew’s obsession and unrequited crush). Andrew knocks on the door, and John answers. When I was writing the first draft, it was sort of magical, I can’t quite describe it: Andrew knocked, John answered — he was just there. And John came to me as a really complete person, so I must have been developing him somehow in my subconscious, and then he appeared when the story needed him to appear.
Funny story, I didn’t intentionally write “All The Major Constellations” as a young adult novel, that’s just how it got categorized because the main characters are teenagers. Sometimes libraries and bookstores mislabel my novel as Christian fiction, which it isn’t, but I don’t really care. I definitely don’t harsh on Christianity, but if a conservative Christian person were to pick up my novel thinking that it’s “Christian fiction,” they are in for a bit of a surprise.
I am currently writing a novel about a young nurse working in a psychiatric facility. She’s kind of a messed-up person, and it’s about how her personal demons come into play with her profession. The tentative title is ‘Lovesick.’
I like mess. I like messy, murky, mucked-up people, by which I mean all people. Because who knows what lurks beneath the surface of anyone? My inspiration lies in creating a character, and then another character, and seeing what happens when they interact. Setting is usually inspired by places I’ve been or lived or worked, for example, ATMC takes place in Vermont, where I grew up, and my next novel takes place in a health care facility, and as a nurse I’ve worked in plenty of those.
I wish I could say something more poetic about inspiration and where it comes from, but the truth is that the work of writing is often tedious and difficult. You need to be a disciplined and pragmatic person to get it done, and the glorious moments of inspiration arrive by producing piles and piles (or files and files) of work.