Recently, I reviewed 738 Days by Stacey Kade. I fully admit — with my deepest apologies to Stacey — to expecting something conventional and by the end finding myself utterly wrecked and besotted with the wonderful characterisation in her book of Amanda and Chase, and Amanda’s family — her parents and her siblings.
Characterisation is everything in a story that revolves around Amanda trying to come to (some sort of) terms with her captivity. Her strength and her compassion and in a way, her fearlessness in moving forward make her a riveting character.
So, I had to know more about Amanda and Chase, and this is what Stacey Kade shared with me.
If you could describe what 738 Days is about in one word, what would it be? Or you could use a whole sentence
In one word: hope.
Who – or maybe I should say what — inspired Amanda and Chase?
The germ of the idea actually came from a specific interaction I had during the Elizabeth Smart abduction coverage, back in 2002.
I was working for a large insurance company at the time. It was only about nine months after 9/11, so the televisions in the building were always on, always tuned to CNN. One day in June, there was a large group of people gathered near the screen again. I approached a lawyer I worked with, who was with the group, and asked what had happened. She told me that a teenage girl, Elizabeth Smart, had been abducted.
As we watched the anchors talk about the timeline and the search efforts underway, the lawyer just shook her head. “That’s too bad.” Her tone didn’t at all match the fervent hope of the people being interviewed. And when I asked what she meant, she said, “They never find those girls alive.”
Unfortunately, she had a point. The statistics of a missing person being found alive, particularly a child, after 48 hours are pretty grim. But at the time, I was shocked by her proclamation. All I could think about was: What if this poor girl is fighting to survive while everyone else is already writing her off?
I continued to follow the coverage, hoping for her safe return. Then, against all odds, it happened: Elizabeth Smart was found alive. A miracle. But then what? The entire world knew about her ordeal, the gritty and horrible details of what had been done to her. How could she go about having a normal life with that kind of “fame” hanging over her head? How could she trust someone, anyone again?
As for the Chase half of the story, I will admit to being completely fascinated by “fame gone wrong” stories. Young stars who seem to have it all and can’t keep it together under the intense (and horrible) pressure of public scrutiny. In particular, I was thinking of stars like Robert Downey, Jr., who has made an amazing comeback after a troubled early life, and River Phoenix, who never got that chance. What was happening behind the scenes? How could someone like that redeem himself/herself and also become comfortable with who they are and what they obviously love to do?
I also think there was an element of my own fear in Chase’s story. Acting and writing are very different obviously, but they’re both professions you enter because of your passion for the field. And it’s very scary to realize, at some point, how much of your career is determined by other people. You can love what you do, be passionate about doing it, and trying your very best, but if people no longer think you’re worth the effort or the money, it doesn’t matter. Eeeek.
I thought one of the most important things about the book was that Amanda was steel underneath her vulnerability – she was trying very hard to find herself, to be strong and to her that meant going with Chase. What were your greatest concerns about readers’ reactions about that decision?
From a writing standpoint, there has to be conflict. There has to be doubt as to whether the hero or heroine can pull off what they’re trying to accomplish. I expected that people would feel like she was taking too much of a risk, which is, of course, what her family felt as well. I think, though, there’s a point at which, if you’re frustrated enough with yourself and a situation, you’re willing to do almost anything to try to change it. In her mind, she had to do something radical because all the normal things weren’t working.
That being said, it was very important to me that Amanda went with him because she was trying to help herself. She was trying to find a way to grow and improve. She did NOT go with him because she had a crush on him or because she thought he would solve her problem for her. What developed between them romantically is separate, though it is certainly part of Amanda’s journey toward healing—to trust another person in that way.
It seems impossible for there to be any sort of comparison about Chase’s and Amanda’s journeys, but in the end I thought they were both trying very hard to find out who they were by themselves, without the trappings around them whether it’s her family’s expectations or the expectations of his reputation. What was it like writing their very different, but still similar journeys? What was most important about both to get onto the page?
It’s interesting that you say that. I’m listening to an audio lecture right now by Michael Hauge, and he says that’s exactly what a character’s inner journey should be: moving away from being defined by others’ expectations to defining yourself.
Because their situations are so different, I wanted to focus on how they were similar. They both know what it’s like to be considered “damaged” in some way, to have people write them off. And they both know the ugly aspect of fame (or infamy), when fame is usually something people strive for without realizing the downsides.
I wanted both of them in unique situations (relatively) that only the other could understand. It was, in part, based on a gossip item I’d read years ago—that Natalee Holloway’s mother was (supposedly) dating JonBenet Ramsey’s father. That just clicked in my head. These two people could understand the other’s pain and fame and notoriety in a way that no one else could.
When I write a dual-POV book like this, I always ask myself what can each provide the other. They need each other in some way, even if they don’t realize it at first, even if they don’t want to. Chase needed someone who believed in him, despite all of his choices. Amanda needed someone who saw the person beneath the tragedy.
I think what was most important to get on the page was Chase’s quality of character and Amanda’s strength. And that they were both at moments in their lives where things could have tipped either way.
What do you hope readers come away with after reading 738 Days?
I wanted 738 Days to be a rollercoaster of emotions that ends with readers feeling satisfied and hopeful about the world and other people. Many, many of us feel too “broken” to be truly loved, to be worthy of being loved, and I wanted 738 Days to show them that wasn’t the case.
And this is why 738 Days got under my skin. Excellent characterisation in this has stuck with me and I hope it will with you too when you get a chance to read it.