This is a beautiful question. It feels luxurious to answer. The book I’m writing now is set in West Virginia and I really want to spend a few weeks there, listening to the cadence of the accent, learning idioms and dialect, and studying mannerisms. Just getting to know the good, strong people there. So, that should be my answer, right? Except you didn’t put any limits on me, so I feel like casting my net wider. I would say Ireland. I’ve always wanted to go. Scotland is the closest I’ve been and I felt really pulled to go west and hop on over to Ireland but didn’t have time. I talk about Irish music a lot in Perfect Glass. One side of my family came to America from Ireland and I’m fascinated with that branch of the tree. I could definitely set a book there if you twisted my arm.
Which comes first? The character’s story or the idea for the novel?
For me, it has always been, and will always be, about the characters. I write character-driven stories so their backgrounds and emotions and thoughts usually trump plotting issues in my mind. I can get a whole book written in my head and then realize I need to be more linear with a plot. So then, while writing, I concentrate hard on getting my character from point A to point B. Usually she (or he) begs me to go to point X or point D first. Sometimes they want to bring their friends along for the ride and character development gets even sticker. But after a few passes, I land them where they’re supposed to land.
If you could write a story with another writer who would it be and why?
Anyone? Really? Who’s going to see this? There are many writers, living and not, I’d like to write with so that I could absorb their habits and turns of phrases. Let’s talk contemporary YA, though – I’d give anything to write with Sara Zarr or Lois Lowry or Deb Caletti or Rainbow Rowell. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in John Green’s writing cave. I wouldn’t dare ask him to collaborate, but I’d like to watch him. And here are two authors that I admire completely because they write with heart and soul and I am so sensitive to their tone and voice that they’re magical to me – Cynthia Rylant and Kate DiCamillo.
What books/authors have influenced your writing or life in general?
I get something meaningful from nearly every book I read. Here’s what it is for me . . . I love authors who are emotionally brave with their words. Some books that I think about often for various reasons are:
The Bluest Eye, Beloved and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To Kill a Mockingbird (of course)
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez
In recent years, it’s been Sara Zarr, Deb Caletti, Aimee Bender, Stephen Chbosky, Natalie Standiford, Allison Espach, Chris Crutcher, and Sherman Alexie who really make me crazy with how good they are. They make me want to be a better writer.
Was writing something you always wanted to do for young adults or did you think it would have been in a different area?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I see authors leap back and forth between adult and young adult fiction and it astounds me. I wonder sometimes if they just haven’t settled into their voices yet. Deb Caletti’s first adult novel just released and I can’t wait to read it because I think she’s one who can balance on that line successfully. For me, my voice naturally falls squarely in young adult literature. It’s not that I haven’t grown up or that I have some traumatic event from my teens that stunted my emotional growth. It’s just that, when I write, I go to that place of raw honesty where teens tend to live best. I speak directly from my heart and, often, adult fiction is a little removed from the heart because adults have developed a bit more cynicism about the world. I’m still curious and optimistic and living and breathing possibility. Young adult readers live in that space, too.
Would you share four little known facts about you?
- I once got trapped inside a famous cult’s compound in Texas after a prank with some college friends went sour. We made it out, but it brings me equal parts terror and hilarity when I think of it.
- I’ve never read Harry Potter.
- My mom calls me “LuLu” and my best friends call me “LaLa” – I’m like a song they can’t remember the words to.
- I have extremely long toes. Bird-like, really.