Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Interview with E. Kristin Anderson

Q: Of which book are you the most proud? And why?

A: My first book is Dear Teen Me, and I'm so so so proud of it.  When Miranda Kenneally and I took on the project, we had no idea how much hard work would go into organizing an anthology.  But I have to say that every drop of sweat was worth it.  I'm so privileged to have created a book with so many fantastic and talented authors.

As far as my novels go (none of which are out yet) I think there's something to be said about that first novel.  I have no idea if it will ever sell, or if it does when it will come out.  But the first book I wrote is about a girl struggling with her own identity in the wake of loss, and it takes place in a small Maine town a lot like the one where I grew up.  I drew on some hard truths of my own life as a teen to write it, and I think that's what makes it the book of my heart.

Q: Patty Campbell talks about the germ for a piece of writing being like the sand in the oyster.  What is your grain of sand? Do you begin with character or setting or something else?

A: This is different for each book.  For Dear Teen Me, it was a Hanson concert.  I wrote myself a letter on my blog about seeing my favorite band for the first time at 27, which I'd been waiting to do since I was like 14.  It sparked the Dear Teen Me blog and eventually the book.  For my novels, it's usually either a character or a theme that comes to me first.  Either way, I have to work to make sure that the character has a compelling obstacle to overcome, or that the theme is wrapped around a compelling character.

Q: What do you hear from your readers?

A: One thing I really love about the response to Dear Teen Me is that we're hearing a lot from both adult and teen readers -- and they have a lot of the same things to say.  I think it speaks to the fact that the high school experience is the same for a lot of us, no matter who we were then, and no matter when we grew up.  People leave us comments on the website saying things like (I'm paraphrasing here) "Thank you for sharing your story, this happened to me, too" and "This makes me feel less alone."  It makes me feel especially privileged to be able to share these non-fiction stories.  Because high school is lonely, no matter what kind of kid you are, jock or nerd, prom queen or skate punk.  I'm happy to be able to connect kids with adults who remember that -- not all adults do!

Q: Why do you write for Young Adults?

A: This is a great question.  I think for me writing YA was a really natural choice.  I was a poet before I was a novelist/non fiction author.  And I was really struggling to find my voice in prose.  If you could see some of the work I was trying to scratch out before I found YA -- oh God, it's just wrong. I found contemporary YA when I was about 25, and I read SWEETHEARTS by Sara Zarr and THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson.  Something just clicked.  I sat down and started to rewrite something I'd been working on for years, and I found that the voice I'd used in my poetry transitioned to YA better than it ever could as an adult.  I think it's a combination of two things: One being the slight surrealism that I love in poems and the fact that being a teen is a beyond surreal experience, and, two, well, something inside me is stuck at like 17, and I'm finally okay with that.

Q: Who is your favorite character you have written or read about?

A: I think that my favorite character to write about is always going to be the character I just finished writing about.  As of writing this, I just finished a first draft of a time travel novel taking place in New York City in 1986.  And I love, love, loved writing the protagonist, Eileen Archer.  She's so bubbly and devil-may-care, and she just embraces life in a way I think a lot of people will enjoy.  Plus, her love interest, Rahul, is super sexy.  (I co-wrote the book with my friend Priya Chand.  She's fantastic.  I hope she lets me work with her again!)

As far as reading goes, there are so many characters that I love.  But there are two that just always pop for me.  Hassan, the sidekick/BFF in John Green's AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES cracks me up, and I've made all my friends (even the grown-ups who mostly read grown-up books) read that book for all of Hassan's jokes (and also the footnotes, which are brilliant).  And Rob, from the grown-up book HIGH FIDELITY by Nick Hornby.  This was probably the book that made me want to write a novel when I was like 19.  I love Rob's voice, I love how he breaks the fourth wall, and I love how he translated to the screen in the film that is TOTALLY different from the book, but is still so so so Rob.  Also, I worked in a record store in high school and made lots of top 10 lists in my journal, so Rob's record store and his top 5's make me all giddy.

Q: What is one thing you would like your readers to know about you?

A: I'm a giant nerd.  Seriously, huge, crazy nerd.  I watch too much TV and love mix tapes and am obsessed with postal mail.  I watch Shark Week.  I sometimes get so excited about something that I stutter and I still trip and fall in heels sometimes even after my stint in NYC where I was a fashionista in my head.  I like Nintendo and cats and poems and Mythbusters.  I am so nerdy.  And I'm okay with it.  I think you should be, too.

Q: In high school, where did you fall? (Prom Queen/King, Gamer Geek, Brainy/Book Nerd, Jock, Shy/Quiet Scholar, Skate Rat, Stoner, Class Clown, etc.)

A: I was a bit of a mix.  I was on the track team, but I did the 1600m racewalk so I wasn't one of the cool kids on the track team. (Even if I won all my races -- and I mostly did!)  I sat at a lunch table with a mix of skaters and AP students and kids who were into the swing revival (it was a thing in 1999) and the occasional hockey player.  I sometimes made my own clothes and they were ridiculous.  And I eventually gave up trying to be liked by everyone and spoke my mind a lot, which didn't get me invited to parties, but it did get me voted "Most Unique" in my senior yearbook.

Q: Do you have a pet (pets)?  Tell us about it (them) and how they help/hinder your writing.

A: I have two cats, Telemachus (Tele for short, named for Odysseus' son in the Odyssey) who is an unnaturally clever Maine Coon/Siamese mix, and Turkleton (named for Dr. Turk on Scrubs...and the nickname Kelso gives him halfway through the series) who is a not-so-clever tabby that I found under my porch when I first moved to Texas.  Neither of them are very useful to my writing.  And neither of them has a problem sitting on my laptop or notebook.

Q: What is the hardest part of waiting for a book from the end of your writing to when it is released?

A: The waiting itself, probably.  I'm pretty good at pretending to be patient, but in reality, I'm not.  It does help that there's a lot to do between turning in the final draft and having the book on shelves, though.  Sprucing up websites, booking events, printing promotional materials, setting up book trailers.  So I keep myself busy.  And I'm always writing the next book.  Best to keep myself distracted!

Q: How often do you dream about the writing you are working on?

A: Often!  A professor I had for a poetry class in college -- Charles O. Hartman -- told me that some poets felt that dreams were legitimate material for poetry -- that they were as "true" as actual life events.  I want to say that Galway Kinnell was a big part of this movement, but I can't quite remember, and either way, Galway Kinnell is brilliant and you should check out his work.  Anyway, after that class, I started writing down scenes from dreams, and, years later, a few of my novels have started this way.  Usually just a snippet of a scene, but when I wake up and write it down, I can build from there, and sometimes it works.  Other times, not so much.  But I think it's a good idea to write down dreams even just for practice -- you never know where that next great idea is going to come from.  I mean, I heard that Stephenie Meyer built TWILIGHT around a dream, and that worked out pretty well for her!

Thanks so much for your time, Kristin! We look forward to seeing you at the Festival.

Learn more about E. Kristin Anderson at her website.

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