young adult book reviews & more

Interview with Tanya Egan Gibson

Well, what do you know? Tanya Egan Gibson's wonderful How to Buy a Love of Reading is now out in paperback. To celebrate this awesomeness with a new cover, I have interviewed the lovely lady Tanya herself.

Would you consider How to Buy a Love of Reading a young adult fiction or adult fiction? (I’m just curious for your opinion on this, since there can be arguments for both sides).
I think it's adult fiction, but I can see why people might disagree.  The book alternates points of view--and a lot of those POVs are those of adult characters.  This (the choice to include so much adult POV), for me, is what disqualifies it from being truly YA.  On the other hand, when I told the story through the viewpoints of the teenage characters, especially that of Carley, the protagonist, I wanted those viewpoints/voices to feel genuinely teenage (if precociously so).  So I ended up with a book where perhaps half of it *is* YA (if you were to only read the Carley and Hunter parts) and the rest is not.  Though this decision hasn't made it the easiest book to categorize or market, it's not a decision I regret making.  (More on that below, in answer to the next question.)

What were you trying to accomplish when you started writing How to Buy a Love of Reading? What do you feel you’ve accomplished with the finished product?
I have a love/hate relationship with meta-fiction (fiction that calls attention to the fact that the story *is* indeed fiction, rather than allowing the reader to experience the story as a waking dream).  I think it's cool, but often it is *too* cool for me—that is, too cerebral and not emotional enough.  I'm not impressed by coolness; I'm impressed by heat.

No matter how clever something is, if it doesn't resonate emotionally for me, I lose interest fast.   I love, for instance, the way most YA fiction bravely explores emotional territory without trying to be overly subtle.  And I hate the idea (one that, for me, I find more than vaguely misogynistic) that there is something shameful about blatant emotion.

All which added up to me wanting to write a novel that had a YA-ish emotional resonance to it and that also explores the merits and perils of meta-fiction.  (My favorite proposed title for the book—brainstormed by my wonderful husband—was LITERALITY AND THE PERILS OF LOVE.  Alas, everyone on the publishing end thought that title was too complicated.)

Carley and Bree are certainly very unique characters. Can you tell us how they were developed?
In the first draft of the novel, Bree the author hired by wealthy parents to custom-write a novel for their book-hating daughter, was actually the protagonist.  I'd imagined it as *her* story, and had imagined Carley as her bratty, spoiled protagonist.  But it didn't take long for me to realize that
a.) I didn't really like Bree.
b.)  Carley, who kept "stealing" the scenes, was way more interesting.

Once I realized whose story it really was, the writing was far more fun and the book took on way more heart.

What was the most difficult part for you to write in How to Buy a Love of Reading?
There are some very ugly scenes with Hunter that made me feel terrible as I wrote them.  (I like Hunter a lot, and it's hard for me to hurt characters I care about.)  But the truth is that he's such a glamorous character, in so many other ways, that it was *necessary* for me to show his descent into addiction as ugly in ways both emotional and physical.  The last thing I wanted to do was end up glamorizing addiction.

Which character from How to Buy a Love of Reading can you relate to the most, and why?
There's a lot of Carley in me—I’m hugely emotional and show my love in unsubtle ways, and I'm not embarrassed sometimes when maybe I should be.  And there's a lot of Hunter in me, too—a person who looks to fiction for emotional safety and gets author-crushes and all.  (When I go to other authors' readings and get on line afterwards to have them  sign my book, I get so nervous that not only is it nearly impossible for me to make words--even something like "I love your work"--but once or twice I've forgotten my own name.  Embarrassing but true.)

What is the most interesting thing you learned while writing How to Buy a Love of Reading? (This can be about yourself, about writing, or anything at all).
I came to realize that *stories*—not necessarily those in book form—were the most important things to me.  At events where I speak about the power of stories and storytelling, it drives some folks crazy when I suggest that the "story" of a good TV series (for instance, any Joss Whedon series) is as important as that in a book.  I get looks that say, "Didn't you write a book called How To Buy a Love of READING"? and "Can you please not say that in front of my teenagers?"  (Yeah, because that might turn them into driveling TV-heads who spend all night watching BIG BROTHER AFTER DARK, right?)  I love reading and I'm a huge advocate for books.  But my book and I are advocates for all stories, not just written ones.

Why do you read?
Through listening to Carley (and, I suppose, to my own heart) while writing this, I started to really understand why I love the stories I love and why the stories I tell myself about my own life are so important. Stories give emotional shape to my world and make me feel connected to other people.

What is the most rewarding part of being an author?
I love talking to and e-mailing with people about books and writing.  Book groups are amazing!  Writing groups are amazing!  I love hearing about how invested people are in what they read—how much they care about characters they are creating and characters they are reading about.  Being around devout readers and writers—people brave enough to bring their hearts to what they read and write—reminds me that people are good and caring and kind and wonderful.

If there was one thing you could change about How to Buy a Love of Reading, what would it be?
It's a tough question because to change one thing about a book—or a person—is to change so many things, a domino effect.  If I were to write it again today parts of it would of course be different because I'm a different writer than I was during the time period (2000-2008) when I wrote it, but I haven't given much thought to what exactly I'd change.  Mostly, I spend time thinking about what I'm writing now.  (Looking back over your shoulder, in my experience, inevitably leads to turning into a pillar of salt.)

What’s next for you?
I'm working on a novel, LANDS, that takes place in an underwater-themed amusement park where nothing is exactly what it seems.  The protagonist, an eighteen-year-old former competitive figure skater, performs in the park's ice show in a jellyfish costume that covers not only her body but her face, which was scarred by her former skating partner's skate blade during a career-ending accident.

I love theme parks (and funnel cake and chili dogs and those games where you can win a giant orange teddy bear that you don't need but somehow want) without irony.  So even though there's a fair amount of humor (some of it dark) in the book, it doesn't poke fun *at* theme parks or the folks who frequent them.

I'm especially fascinated by theme park rides and experiences that tell a story and how the "story" the park tells intersects with the "stories" we bring to them.  (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is, in fact, a different "ride" for you than it is for me.) Having this great excuse to visit theme parks with my children for research, and writing the book in general, has so far been a very fun ride.

2 munch(es) :

Kelli (I'd So Rather Be Reading) said...

Great interview!

kjovus said...

She described very well how I feel about books, "No matter how clever something is, if it doesn't resonate emotionally for me, I lose interest fast".

This was a very good interview.
Thank you.

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