Monday, October 10, 2011
I recently posted a review of Katrina Kittle's Reasons to Be Happy. Today, I am pleased to host Katrina for a stop on her blog tour with a Q&A. Enjoy!
Q: What has been different about writing your tween debut in comparison to the books that you have written for adults?
A: In early drafts, I made the mistake of “watering down” and playing it too safe. A wonderful editor encouraged me to “forget your audience.” That sounds crazy, right? But she said, “I picture you
picturing this room full of middle school girls. Forget them. Just write the novel you'd always write.
The only difference is that all the protagonists happen to be in middle school.” This advice really spoke
to me and allowed me stop trying to “filter” for the tween audience. Those attempts to filter will always
show and will inevitably be insulting.
Don't get me wrong. Of course there is a difference in presenting tough subject matter for a tween
audience and an adult audience. But for me the key was my protagonist. Especially since Hannah tells
the story in first-person, the only “filter” I needed was her. She tells the story with her perspective and
understanding of events, not mine. That became important in revision: I would comb through looking
for lines or passages that were colored by my own, more experienced viewpoint. When I found them,
they had to go. Hannah could only know what she would know as an eighth grader with her own life
experience so far.
That was the biggest difference, and a good exercise for me as a writer: to really capture Hannah's
voice I had to stay true to her frame of reference.
Q: I noticed on the FAQs of your author site that you incorporate your favorite restaurant, El Meson into your books. Does it make an appearance in Reasons to Be Happy?
A: Yes, yes it does! It's become almost a game for me, no, to find a way to sneak my favorite restaurant on the planet into every story. Characters are always dropping in to eat the amazing paella and empanadas, drink the mojitos, and revel in the ambiance that makes them feel they're in a tropical country. El Meson is mentioned briefly in Reasons to Be Happy when Hannah is staying with her Aunt Izzy in Yellow Springs, OH. Hannah is worried that her Dad hasn't called or emailed (or answered any of her calls or emails) from LA in four days. She thinks, “I just thought he was tired of pretending he cared enough to talk to me. Tired of listening to me blather on about canoeing on the Little Miami, climbing at the Urban Krag, taking Latin Dance class at El Meson, or having a picnic on the lawn of the Dayton Art Institute.” I've actually taking dance class there myself. I've met with probably 50 some book clubs in El Meson's lovely private rooms. It's my favorite place to go to celebrate anything. Seriously, if you're anywhere near the Dayton area, do yourself a favor and get in there!
Q: On your site you also mentioned, "I don't want to tell the reader WHAT to think about these issues. I want to ask the reader TO think about the issues…and I want to entertain them at the same time." Reasons to Be Happy would prompt a lot of discussion for an adolescent book club. How did you decide which aspects would be important to include in your novel?
A: I worried a bit, with the eating disorder, that I had a difficult balance to maintain: enough graphic
detail to show how horrifying and damaging it is, but not so much that the book reads like a “how
to” manual. Again, I focused on using Hannah as my guide, my filter. If I stuck to what she was
experiencing—what the disorder did for her, as well as how it betrayed her—then I felt I wouldn't go
wrong. And every time I caught myself lecturing, I'd delete, delete, delete. It's more satisfying for the
reader if any discoveries and revelations come through the character, not from me. I hoped readers,
young women especially, would identify with Hannah's doubts, fears and struggles, and maybe think
about Hannah's mistakes (and then, a writer's dream—to apply that knowledge to their own lives).
One of the greatest joys, for readers of any age, is to have something to discuss at the end of a book.
Discussion isn't possible if everything is too black-and-white with no room for interpretations and
perspectives. And being open to discussion, to perhaps considering a new way of thinking, is much
more likely if you've been entertained along the way, instead of feeling like you were subjected to a
preaching public service announcement. A quote I love (I heard it in a writing lecture once, but have no
idea who to attribute it to!): “A novel is not a message clamped to a passenger pigeon's leg. It should be
the experience of watching that pigeon fly from A to B.”
http://katrinakittle.blogspot.com/ (Reasons to Be Happy Blog, lists a reason to be happy everyday)
There's a hash-tag—#reasonstobehappy—for your tweeting purposes. :-)
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Throughout the years I have read a lot of debate about YA novels and their content. A member of NCTE just posted a link to Sherman Alexie's commentaries on the content of his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
What a powerful article! It reminds me a lot of hearing Chris Crutcher advocate for YA novels. I highly recommend that you read the full article, but here is one of my favorite sections, the last paragraph.
"And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons—in the form of words and ideas—that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed."