Crickets, hills, Hole, wine, cigarettes, bialettis, John Lee Hooker, limp hair, sundresses, wisteria, sleazy dudes, dying dudes, skinned shins, virgins, green shutters, pizza pies, bicycles, white weeds, spaghetti straps:
Me: What I loved best about ATK? All that spot-on description. Those gloriously constructed sentences. So satisfying to read as a writer. Can you talk a bit about your process with this book? How long it took you to piece together a novel of poems? ATK is substantial in size, yet every word is so perfectly placed. How did you manage to do that with the time constraints? Deadlines?
Her: First of all, thank you so much for the compliment, because it means a lot, coming from such a great writer!
As for how I DID it? Well, ATK was the first book I had a “real” deadline for. I agreed to do it, and then I got told when I’d need to deliver it, and so after that I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to waste thinking about it. I drafted out an outline, and then after that I had to rely a lot on my training, and my focus on Becca and Camille as characters to get me through.
One big important element was that I studied poetry very seriously in high school, college, and graduate school. I read a TON of it. I studied it closely, line by line. And I wrote a ton. Poetry was what, for many years, I lived and breathed. Literally.
When I speak now to schools about being a writer, I often tell the story of the Karate Kid: how Daniel went to Mr. Miyagi to learn karate, but all Mr. Miyagi made him do was a bunch of chores (wax the cars, sand the floor, paint the fence). Daniel didn’t feel he was actually learning karate. But after complaining, Mr. Miyagi says to Daniel, “Show me, wax on.” And just as Mr. Miyagi brings down a karate chop, Daniel’s arm goes up in the motion he’s been repeating over and over for days, and-Holy camoley!- Daniel blocks Mr. Miyagi’s incoming punch! It turns out, Daniel was learning karate after all!
So I liken writing ATK to that. All I really did was get my mind fully focused on nothing else but Becca and how she was feeling, or Camille and how she was feeling, plus what was happening in the book. And then I got my own self out of the way and wrote the poems from there. Of course there was editing (tweaking some lines, adding more action, tightening), but the root of it was already pretty well in place.
Me: I had a very different experience writing my first and second books. You? Was the experience any different the second time around with ATK?
Her: I think the biggest thing with AFTER THE KISS was having signed a contract. Knowing there was a specific date at which I had to actually deliver something made a huge difference. With PURE there was a lot more hemming and hawing. We did a lot of editing in early drafts. I wasn’t sure, even, whether or not I was going to be able to write the book. But with AFTER THE KISS, I didn’t have the luxury of doubt; I just had to do it. And, of course, I was completely insecure about it, but I just couldn’t let that get in my way.
Me: Two girls, one boy, no villains – just a lot of confused feelings and messiness. What motivated you to tell this particular story?
Her: I think I was intrigued by all the stuff in popular culture over the last several years about infidelity. Every time there’s a new headline, we all seem so eager to judge: “She must be a harpy of a wife, if he cheated on her.” Or else she is a saint and he’s a total dog. We tell ourselves: “This other woman must be a complete sexpot maneater, if he cheated on his wife with her.” We all think we know what’s going on inside a triangle relationship, even though we’re not at all a part of it.
But I’ve been the girl who’s been cheated on. And I’ve been the girl someone else has cheated on somebody with. I know that none of it is easy or clear cut. Everyone involved contributes, in some way, to the problem. Everyone has different feelings about what’s happening, about each other.
And because writing honestly about what honestly happens in human relationships is a big turn-on for me as a writer, I wanted to try to tackle this issue. In AFTER THE KISS, Becca has her feelings about Camille, and about what’s going on between herself and Alec. But Camille has feelings, too. And so does Alec. Everyone is involved. It’s messy and confusing, yes, but that’s what I’m aiming for: the unclean places that make life truly complicated and interesting.
Me: I adore the alternating POVs in this book. I don’t think the story could have been told without, both, Becca and Camille’s perspectives. Was there ever a moment early on where you considered writing this book from only one POV?
Her: When I first conceived this book, I actually intended it to be from three perspectives: Becca’s, Camille’s, and Alec’s. But after working with the manuscript awhile, it felt more interesting if Alec was kind of a third personality sketched out by both girls. There was no question about trying to tell this from only one girl’s point of view, though. Both Becca and Camille absolutely had to be involved.
Me: Becca’s “with apologies” poems. Those where you mimic the style of famous poets (Robert Creeley, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, etc.). So clever. Can you talk a bit about where that idea came from? & was your approach any different with those sections of text?
Her: As a student, one of the most repeated bits of advice I got was to find writers I liked, and then to mimic their style. This would mean taking a poem, or essay, or short story, and then break it apart, and copy the writer’s structure almost line by line, inserting your own thoughts and images where appropriate. We did this with Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.-everyone.
I knew that Becca was going to be a poet. I knew she was going to write a lot of it, and be involved in her school’s literary magazine and all the other things that young poets do. So I figured that this would be advice she’d get, and would follow. It was a fun thing to take on, because it gave me an opportunity to introduce readers to some of my favorite poets, of course, but also it was just a good exercise for me as a writer, too.
In terms of execution, every now and then (especially if I was feeling stuck), I’d pick up my Norton Anthology and flip through, try to find a poet I thought Becca would know from her high school studies. Then I’d look for a poem that might somehow match what she was feeling at the time. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” by Wallace Stevens, was a good one. Also the Pablo Neruda and the Elizabeth Bishop. I think the William Carlos Williams red wheelbarrow one was the first one I did. So, I’d find this poem, and then I’d just focus on Becca-what she was feeling, what she’d see in this poem and how it might echo her own feelings-and we just went from there.
Me: Lastly, please shed some light on this perplexing trend in publishing: why the obsessive love of Fluevog shoes in the YA community? I have several friends who stalk the Fluevog site. You yourself are a huge fan! As is our beloved editor, Anica Rissi! Terra Elan McVoy, this fascinates me! Please explain.
Her: I bought my first pair of Fluevogs in the mid-90′s. Doc Martens were really big at the time, but I was an eccentric girl, and I wanted a shoe that stood out even more. When I went to an indie store in my hometown, and saw this pair of Fluevogs, I was hooked. I bought them even though I couldn’t afford them.
And I’ve been buying Fluevogs ever since. Part of it is sentimentality (my first big shoe purchase), part of it is practicality (they are exceedingly comfortable and last a long time), and part of it (yes, a big part) is style. There is just something about a Fluevog that stands out among other shoes. Everywhere I go, if I’m wearing Fluevogs, I get a compliment. There is so much to say about how great they are, and I have loved them for a very long time.
When I moved to New York to work in publishing, I was just a Southern girl with a creative writing degree, and there wasn’t much to make me stand out. Except my Fluevogs. I wore them to work, and other people noticed. One of them was my co-worker at the time, Anica Rissi. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s 1986! I’m in love with the bitchiest boys on the block! They’re rich! They wear white linen suits to school! The world is their ashtray!
Happy V-day. Whatever happened to hard-hearted preppies in undone pink dress shirts?
Saint Valentine in the distance! Am pricking my fingers with rose thorns and melting chocolate cherries in the hot California sun! Am blowing soap bubbles and eating carnation heads and painting my walls pink and charging for kisses! Pennies, people! Pucker up.
Pondering friendship. Real friends, fake friends, books about friendship, movies w/ friends, stories about cliques who hang obsessively, loving and hating each other with the obsessiveness of total obsessives! Friends who drink bellinis w/ brunch. Port after dinner. Friends who share secrets. Friends who tell lies! Books: The Secret History, A Fortunate Age, The Likeness, The Basic Eight. Movies: Metropolitan, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Last Days of Disco, The Big Chill. Will watch/read anything that combines friends w/ mansions.
Today, two vids. Can’t choose just one:
Clearly I’m on some sort of S&G kick lately. Am feeling maudlin and deep right now, so this song seems only appropriate:
It was either this, or Joni Mitchell’s River. Merry Christmas, Jews.
S&G Mondays. Stuck in my head:
I think I’ve re-watched this thing six billion times. Kevin with Cara, the girl from the lake! This chick lives on soft-serve ice cream and lip smackers lipgloss. She has meaningful moments with boys in cars. She cries whilst still looking soulful and pretty! Too much, I swear it.