We are delighted to have fellow VCFA graduate Marianna Baer as our guest today! She's here to talk about her wonderful debut novel FROST. I loved the dark moody atmosphere she created in this haunting YA psychological thriller and was curious about where her inspiration came from.
KTE: Marianna, can you tell us about one of the landscapes that inspired, or is featured in, your book?
MB: FROST takes place at a New England boarding school, and centers around the girls living in a small dorm called Frost House. The landscape of the entire fictional school (Barcroft Academy) was inspired by the boarding school I attended, and the house itself was based on the dorm I lived in my senior year – a tiny old house that really was called Frost House. (I didn’t keep the name for nostalgic reasons, but because I thought it couldn’t be improved upon, in the context of the story I wanted to write.)
KTE: Can you describe it?
MB: Frost House – the real one – was a white clapboard Victorian, dating from the mid-1800s. It sat on the edge of campus, somewhat camouflaged by trees and bushes, in an area that wasn’t really a throughway to anywhere else; you could have gone to the school for years and never seen it. It had the feeling of a house that had been added on to somewhat haphazardly. Not because of different architectural styles, but because of a rambling, piecemeal aesthetic – as if a family had expanded it room by room as babies arrived. The front of the house, with its wide porch, was the house counselor’s apartment; students entered by a side door. There was a common room on the first floor, and past that a hallway that led to the rooms I shared with one of my best friends. We had a bedroom that stuck off the back, with windows on three sides (originally built as a sort of sun porch, I guess), a bathroom with an ancient clawfoot tub, and a small study room. Because of the way our “suite” was set apart from the rest of the house, we could have been quite isolated back there, had we not been friends with the girls who lived upstairs.
The house’s obvious old age, strange layout, and architectural quirks, all made it seem like it held stories in its walls...
KTE: How does it play a part in your story?
MB: Very centrally! The main characters in my novel live in Frost House. Leena, the narrator, is looking forward to spending her senior year there with her closest friends, instead of dealing with the drama of a big dorm. On an emotional level, she’s looking for a home and family to replace the one that disappeared out from under her when her parents got divorced. But at the last minute, she’s assigned an unexpected roommate – confrontational, eccentric Celeste Lazar. Tension and conflict arise immediately, despite Leena’s attempts to keep the peace.
Leena and Celeste live in the same first floor suite that I lived in, and, again, I didn’t make that choice for nostalgic reasons. I wanted to exploit the sense of isolation they can have back there, since it’s such a separate part of the house, and the fact that no one else would be aware what was happening in their rooms. I also liked the contradiction between the very cloistered feeling of the small, foliage-shrouded house, and the open feeling of Leena and Celeste’s bedroom, with all those windows. For me, that echoes the very different ways Leena and Celeste feel about Frost House: Leena experiences it as a safe, comforting space – a sanctuary; Celeste feels vulnerable and threatened by living there, almost from the minute she arrives.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I think it’s okay if I say that while they live there, the girls become haunted. Frost House isn’t just a location; it’s a character itself.
KTE: How is it important to you?
MB: The real Frost House was the site of one of the best years of my life. I can’t exaggerate how amazing it was to live with a group of friends, with little adult supervision, as a seventeen-year-old. Of course, there were rules that we (mostly) followed – it wasn’t Girls Gone Wild or Animal House! But even studying becomes a bonding experience when you’re staying up all night in one person’s room, fueled by cookie dough and caffeine, helping each other with essays and calculus. My dormmates and I became a sort of family; we’ve had yearly reunions ever since graduation, over 20 years ago. One of them flew to NYC from Portland, OR for the launch of FROST!
The book doesn’t explore the good side of the living situation much, because things disintegrate so quickly. But I’m still thrilled that I got to return there for this period of time, and that Frost House is being kept alive in a way. When my dormmates and I went back to campus for a reunion, we found that it had been torn down. It almost looked like nothing had ever existed on the (surprisingly tiny) plot of land. I say almost because even though the grass had grown back fully, we could still make out a ghostly footprint where Frost House had once sat. As far as I know, to this day, nothing else has been built in its place.
KTE: Thank you so much Marianna for being with us today and giving us these great insights into some of the background of your story, which I LOVED! I highly recommend all of you readers to go out to your local independent bookstore, pick up a copy and read it, too!
Marianna Baer received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a BA in art from Oberlin College. She also attended boarding school, where she lived in a tiny dorm called Frost House, the inspiration for her first novel, Frost. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is working on her second novel, Immaculate, which is scheduled to be published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in fall 2013.