WHY DO YOU WRITE FOR YOUNG ADULTS?
I can think of no more intensely soul-searching time than young adulthood, and there is no one more vulnerable than a young adult. Babies aren’t even as vulnerable. No one would leave a baby to figure anything out. No one would expect a 7-year-old to make smart long-term decisions. Suddenly, we reach a certain age and so much is expected of us and we’re left all alone, or at least it feels that way. Young adults internalize the message that they should have everything figured out, and when they don’t—when they inevitably fail at things big and small—they’re so hard on themselves for not getting it right. They compare themselves to others, they think they’re the only ones who feel (and act) like such a mess. And yet, in the face of all that terror and confusion, they’re also so full of hope. That young person—full of longing and self-criticism and hope—is who I am on the inside, and that’s who I’m most inspired to write for and about.
WHAT BOOKS DID YOU READ AS A CHILD AND YOUNG ADULT?
I was mostly left to my own devices in what I chose to read—so I read widely and weirdly. I had some collections of fairytales that I devoured—I loved the really creepy, twisted ones the best. There’s so much crime and punishment—unfair and otherwise—in fairytales. There are also so many dubious lessons about greed and jealousy and marital happiness. I was particularly obsessed with “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Anderson, and “Rumpelstiltskin” by the Grimm Brothers.
I also had a collection of thin, illustrated paperback retellings of bible stories that were probably my main source of biblical knowledge. There were two that stand out most in my head. The first was the story of the good Samaritan, about a man who is beaten within an inch of his life and then actively ignored by the high and mighty who pass him by while he suffers on the road—that one appealed to my distaste for the hypocritically pious. And the other that I was transfixed by was about Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. In the pictures, the person tempting Jesus throughout the story wears a black hooded cloak that completely conceals his features, until he finally throws off the cloak, revealing himself to be the Devil—complete with horns, clawed feet and hands, and blood-red skin. I was simultaneously horrified and drawn to it.
When I was a little older, I remember having a much beloved copy of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I longed to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I also had a collection of Roald Dahl short stories; the cover made it look like it was for children, but over the course of that little volume the stories grew progressively more disturbing and over my head. Needless to say, I loved it. By the time I was twelve, I started in on Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, and that began an obsession with nineteenth century literature that lasted through college.
WHAT AUTHORS INSPIRE YOU?
More than any other author for young adults, Philip Pullman introduced me to what was possible. When I read the His Dark Materials trilogy, beginning with The Golden Compass, it was like finding my Platonic ideal of reading. It was transporting and frightening and so original and yet emotionally real and poignant. Will, who isn’t introduced until the second book in the trilogy, might possibly be my favorite fictional character of all time.
I’m also constantly amazed by Neil Gaiman’s imagination. Coraline is my favorite of his books, because it’s so perfect in every way. The Ocean at the End of the Lane made me weep, so I have a deep and warm soft spot for it. It’s simply beautiful.
If there is one writer whose very existence inspires me, it’s Margaret Atwood. Not only do I love her writing (and there is no book more deserving of its status as a classic than The Handmaid’s Tale), I think her brain is the eighth wonder of the world.
WHERE CAN I GET A SIGNED COPY OF ONE OF YOUR BOOKS?
If you order from Greenlight Bookstore, I’ll stop in and sign it, and they’ll mail it off to you. Be sure to note if you’d like it personalized.
DO YOU DO SCHOOL VISITS?
Yes, and I love to, especially if I can coordinate a visit around my travel. For large groups, I’ve developed an empathy-building game that involves the students (see here for a little sample). For smaller groups and book clubs, I’m happy to Skype. Contact me directly to schedule.