You used to move a lot when you were younger. How does this fact contribute to your protagonists?
All of my protagonists are outsiders in one way or another, which is something I understand very well having been the new kid at school so often. I know what it feels like to not quite fit in, to have something keeping you from fully integrating into the mainstream culture of a place. There’s a feeling of being lost, of desperately wanting to be found, which is something that drives all of my characters.
After your degree in film studies you decided to be an author. Why did you choose books over film?
Ultimately, I think it’s because I love words more than any other expressive medium. I was also a singer/songwriter for a long time, but writing won over that too. I think I also really love the solitary aspect of writing; I love going inside my own head.
Film is very much a collaborative art, and maybe I’m too much of an introvert and control freak for that to feel good creatively. I’m also a bit of a luddite, so the technology associated with film/video was alienating. I love the simplicity and solitary nature of writing. I love being solely responsible for finding the story and voice. I love that it is mine.
You advise aspiring authors to read books outside their comfort zone. Why is that so important?
Writing is a mostly solitary art form, but we must always be in conversation with other writers.
As I writer, I want to push boundaries and challenge what’s expected of me, and I think that’s an aspiration of most artists. I have to read widely so I can see what other paths might be possible. I am humble enough that I cannot think of all the good ideas on my own. I don’t want to read the same book over and over again, and I certainly don’t want to write it.
Which current book would you recommend to our readers?
I have a few favorite writers of dark, literary, challenging books about teens. Nova Ren Suma writes beautiful, haunting prose that uses paranormal aspects in really inventive ways. Her latest, The Walls Around* Us, is fantastic. Stephanie Kuehns books delve deep into dark psychological places, and her newest, Delicate Monsters*, is both disturbing and compelling. Both of these women are pushing the boundaries of Young Adult fiction in unusual ways that are really exciting to me.
In your opinion is there a difference between writing a young adult novel and novels for an adult readership?
The main difference that most people can agree on is that Young Adult novels are from a teen perspective. That’s where the agreement ends, though. Some will say that YA must have a moral message or a happy ending, that there can’t be too many R-rated things in it, or even that it should be written at a less sophisticated level than adult fiction. I do not agree.
They can deal (and are dealing) with big issues and moral ambiguity. The point of YA, in my opinion, is to offer teens books that respect their experience and point of view, that aren’t looking down on them from a place of judgment.
In your new novel Invincible* your heroine Evie has to face a severe illness. Do you believe that there are disadvantages in being cured from a potentially fatal disease?
The only disadvantages would be in how the recovery is handled by the people involved. In Evie’s case, she felt like she was not being fully seen or heard. Her emotional pain was not being cared for, so she felt on her own to find a way to stop hurting. There is a whole world of grief and adjustment that comes with surviving, and in Evie’s case, a lot of trauma and guilt. A survivor’s struggle is not over after the happy ending. Healing takes a very long time.
Image source: Amy Erika Hart
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