The Take-Over Friend
by Carol Dines
(Fitzroy Books, 27 September 2022)
Interview by Anna Roins
What does it mean to have a best friend? For Frances and Sonja, it’s everything.
Until their friendship becomes untenable and fraught with jealousy and betrayal.
On the second day of ninth grade, introverted Frances meets Sonja, a witty and outgoing newcomer who recently moved from France, and the girls become instant soulmates. The two teens are euphoric about their blossoming relationship, relishing a depth of understanding for each other they’ve never experienced with anyone else.
But as their friendship grows, so do the expectations.
Family crises impact both girls—Sonja’s parents are caught in a bitter divorce, and Frances’s father suffers from bipolar disorder.
THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND by CAROL DINES, a recipient of the SWCA’s Judy Blume Award and the Eric Hoffer Award, powerfully explores themes of guilt, jealousy, possessiveness, and the difficult task of staying true to oneself.
We interview the remarkably talented CAROL DINES, the recipient of the Judy Blume Award, about her latest YA novel, THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND!
AUTHORLINK: Ms. Dines, thank you for your time today. We are so pleased to chat with you about THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND, your most recent YA novel. The characters, Frances, and Sonja are so familiar, and their friendship ‘woes’, so relatable.
We’ve all met that person in high school who undermined or gaslighted others out of jealousy, while simultaneously purporting to be a ‘best friend’ – a take-over friend.
Cultivating healthy boundaries is an important skill to learn as a teen. What made you want to explore jealousy, possessiveness, and the themes of betrayal in friendships?
“there is no guaranteed equity in friendships.”
DINES: No matter what age we are, I think friendships are incredibly important. But there is no guaranteed equity in friendships. One friend might have more opportunities for travel, or might be far more attractive, or may have a supportive family. We often, unfortunately, know ourselves by comparison and contrast. That is one way of learning about what we want and don’t want. The negative side of that is that sometimes what we want comes easily to our closest friends.
For example, I went through writer’s block in my writing, and my closest writing friend published two books during that time. I had to really work with myself to hold onto that friendship and celebrate her books even though I was very jealous of her success. Jealousy is normal, real, human experience, and it is difficult for adults to own up to their own feelings sometimes. But for adolescents who are figuring out who they are, those same feelings—jealousy, possessiveness, and betrayal—have far more power to wound and end friendships.
AUTHORLINK: I love that; ‘there’s no guaranteed equity in friendship’. It’s interesting how not much gravity is given to the trauma one feels when a close friendship has ended – and yet, it can sometimes have more far-reaching emotional consequences on one’s life than a romantic break up. Why do you believe that is?
“…we don’t think of ourselves as outgrowing friendships.”
DINES: There has been almost no conversation about why friendships end until recently when covid arrived and many people had an excuse to end friendships that weren’t working. All friendships form patterns and habits and routines, as do romantic relationships. But our expectation is that a romantic relationship might and often does end, whereas we don’t think of ourselves as outgrowing friendships. Change is inevitable in any relationship, and research indicates that most friendships don’t last more than a year. But we never discuss this fact.
“…in order for a friendship to last, it needs lots of room for each individual to grow and change.”
Instead, we discuss how loneliness is growing, without going further into the question of why friendships so often end. My own personal experience is that in order for a friendship to last, it needs lots of room for each individual to grow and change. This means knowing one’s own boundaries in friendship and also respecting the boundaries of others. It also entails a kind of courageous honesty when a friendship isn’t working. Adolescents often don’t want boundaries. They want to get rid of boundaries and experience deeply close relationships. Often adolescents confuse intensity with closeness, and when that closeness becomes claustrophobic, they have a hard time loosening the friendship to include healthy boundaries.
AUTHORLINK: That is so interesting. Yes, you make good points. We understand that THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND was inspired in part by your own ‘break up’ with your best friend and your daughter, who was going through something similar. Have both of your ex-best friends reached out since then to try and work on the friendship or to have it move forward differently?
DINES: Yes, in both cases the friends reached out, but I chose not to pursue the friendship further. We did communicate, kindly and in letters. However, I think it is very hard to have a friendship that is so intensely close you intuit each other’s feelings and thoughts and then try to loosen the friendship to create healthy boundaries. I think boundary setting needs to be there at the beginning for a friendship to be healthy and lasting.
AUTHORLINK: At least you communicated. We understand you are a writing and poetry teacher at the university level – and yoga! How did you get into teaching? What courses did you complete for these professions?
DINES: I received a BA in Sociology with a focus on family studies, and an MA in English with a focus on poetry. As a graduate student, I taught composition to earn my way through graduate school. After graduate school, I was hired as an adjunct at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and from there I went on to hold a variety of teaching jobs—creative writing in schools, composition in colleges, YA literature at the college level. However, I always struggled with anxiety around my teaching. I’m a bit of an over-preparer. So, I took a break from teaching and then began studying yoga with Gary Kraftsow at the American Viniyoga Institute. I studied with him for twelve years, completing his yoga therapy program. After the training, I taught yoga for pain, anxiety, and stress reduction both in a hospital setting and in schools. But at one point, I realized that I needed to choose between writing and yoga. I chose writing and continue to do my own yoga.
AUTHORLINK: How amazing. I hope you don’t suffer from anxiety as much anymore. You are also the winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award, as well as being the finalist for both the National Indies Excellence Award and the Feathered Quill Award (Short Fiction), for your book of short stories, The Distance we Call Love (Orison, 2021).
You once described it as thirteen stories that “…explore boundaries in our most intimate relationships, how they change over time—marriage, family, friendship. I wanted to explore the tension between the demands of relationships and the demand in ourselves to keep growing”. (Clifford Garstang, 2 August 2021)
How long did it take to tell these stories? Please tell us how you put pen to paper when you first have an idea for a story.
DINES: Most writers, I think, write about a recurring theme in their lives. For me, it is boundaries in relationships. I began writing these stories five years before the book was published, and for me, this book was the most exciting writing I have done.
…”each of my characters must decide between accommodating the demands of the relationship or the demand in his or her soul …
I tried to go into our most intimate relationships and show that point when each of my characters must decide between accommodating the demands of the relationship or the demand in his or her soul to keep growing in a way that allows fulfillment. I didn’t realize that this was also the major theme in my new YA book, but it is. Frances’s moment of recognition comes when she understands she put Sonja’s needs ahead of her own, and that recognition causes the relationship to end.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, and willingly up until that point. You’ve also penned an excellent work of historical fiction in The Queen’s Soprano (Harcourt Publishers, 2006). What is your favourite genre to write? YA fiction, short stories, or historical fiction? Or at least, which in your opinion, is more challenging to write?
DINES: I love writing short stories, but I like writing them around a theme that connects them or in a context where the stories are linked. For me, the most challenging form is novel writing because one has to be able to hold onto so many threads during the writing of the book. I’m a slow writer, and I often forget the beginning of the book as I move toward the end. In terms of genre, I am drawn at this moment in time to contemporary fiction.
AUTHORLINK: That is so interesting. Thank you for sharing that. When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer? What was the first thing you wrote?
DINES: I always kept journals but it took me until after college, when I attended a women’s writer’s conference, to commit myself to writing. I was a huge reader as a child. My parents gave us book lists, and we were expected to read for an hour a day. My siblings reacted rebelliously against that rule, but I loved it. That was my preparation.
AUTHORLINK: That’s a great little story! Are you prone to changing the POV of your stories to see which is the better fit? How does one POV lift the story over another in the delivery? What is the determining factor, in your opinion?
DINES: I really struggle with POV. Sometimes I write a story in several ways to see which POV works best with the plot and timeline. I would say this is my greatest challenge in writing, to figure out the point of view. Often, the final decision is organic to the story: does it need the intimacy and closeness of first person? Or does a little distance between the narrator and the reader create more room for a wider perspective that serves the plot?
AUTHORLINK: Yes, I see. Amazing though to think you experience challenges given how effortless your writing reads. Did you have any challenges to becoming published? If so, what were they? How did you find your current agent? Are they the same ones you had from the beginning?
DINES: I have had the same agent for years, although I chose to publish the last two books through contests. And yes, publishing is very difficult. In fact, I would say the system is broken. There are so many hoops to jump through, finding an agent, finding a publisher, and finding a publicist if you choose to use one. And there is so much trashy fiction flooding the market that it’s very hard for good fiction to get noticed. There are many great small publishing houses, but they’re competing against the big five, and reviewers often prioritize the big publishers. Publishing has changed so much in the last decade; I decided after this last book to contact my agent who handled the first three books and ask if we could work together again. I hope that will happen after the next book is finished.
AUTHORLINK: I know it will. Run us through your typical writing day. Do you have any rituals or set routines to which you like to adhere? A word-limit? How often do you review your work before showing your first readers or sending it off to your agent?
DINES: I work for however long I have available on a given day. Usually that’s 9 to 12. Sometimes I get to work earlier, and sometimes later. I do write every day for at least 2 hours. And I have two wonderful writing groups with whom I can share my work, and a very close friend who I walk with once a week to talk about writing. My work goes through many edits, and I show it to various writers I trust before sending it off. Writing never gets easier, but I feel immensely lucky to be able to write at this stage of my life.
AUTHORLINK: You are lucky! Now for a light-hearted question, if you were able to invite any three souls over to dinner, alive or who have passed on, who would they be and why?
DINES: Pema Chodron, Bill McGibbon, Jane Hirschfield.
AUTHORLINK: Oh! What a combination. Would love to be invited to that! Finally, we understand you’re working on an adult novel involving politics that sounds just amazing. Please tell us a bit about them.
DINES: I always write about families. So, the next book combines three novellas: a mother and her two daughters who are divided politically. The book explores the limits of family, if, when, and how we leave or separate from our families to become ourselves.
AUTHORLINK: Terrific. Ms Dines, it was our pleasure to chat with you today about your wonderful YA novel, THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND. We wish you all the best of success and look forward to reading more of your work!
DINES: It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about my work.
About the Author: Carol Dines writes novels and short stories for adults and young adults. Her latest YA novel, THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND, will be published by Fitzroy Books in October 2022. She’s also written two additional YA novels: Best Friends Tell the Best Lies (Delacorte) and The Queen’s Soprano (Harcourt), as well as a collection of YA short stories, Talk to Me (Delacorte.) Her collection of short stories for adults, This Distance We Call Love, was published by Orison Books in 2021.
Additionally, her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Ploughshares, Narrative, Colorado Review, Salamander, Nimrod, as well as anthologies ‘Someone Speaks My Language’, ‘Love and Lust’, and ‘Voices of the Land’. Carol Dines is a recipient of the SWCA’s Judy Blume award and the Eric Hoffer Award, as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin State Artist Fellowships. She’s a graduate of Stanford University and has an M.A. from Colorado State University. She was born in Rochester, Minnesota and currently resides in Minneapolis with her husband.
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Some questions this author answered:
- What is your writing routine?
- How many edits do you do before considering your work finished?
- How difficult is publishing these days?
How would you answer these questions? Leave us your comments at the end of this article.
Buy this Book: Amazon: (Print) (Kindle)