2013 was Rainbow Rowell's year, with not one but two YA novels getting some major buzz. Eleanor & Park reminded John Green what it was like to fall in love with a book, and made quite a few of the year-end "best of 2013" lists. For my money, her second book, Fangirl, was even better - but I guess you'll have to read them both and decide for yourself. Read on for our interview with my new favourite author, Rainbow Rowell, and leave your name & contact info in the comments for a chance to win your very own copy of Fangirl!
Q: I wanted to start by just telling you how very much I loved Fangirl – as soon as I was done I wanted to start reading it again! It’s been a long time since I felt as connected to a character as I did to Cather. How much of Cath did you pull from your own experience?
A: Thank you so much!
There’s a lot of me in Cath. I was also terrified to leave home for college. I had decided not to, actually – then a friend from high school said she’d be my roommate. Cath’s social anxiety, her fear of change, her desire to escape into fiction – those are all mine.
And of all my characters, Cath is closest to who I am as a writer. We both love to write dialogue. We both worry that we won’t have anything new to say. And we both crave collaboration.
Q: You’ve said on your blog and in interviews that you always create a playlist when you start writing a book – what’s the connection between your music and your writing?
A: The playlists help me stay emotionally consistent when I write. Sometimes I use a specific song to help keep me inside a scene, even if it takes a few days or weeks to write it. The song becomes an emotional anchor for me.
Also, I build the playlists as I write – and I usually make one for each main character – so I’m always thinking about the emotional arc of story as I go along.
You can see all of my Eleanor & Park playlists on my blog! I’ll be posting Fangirl playlists soon.
Q: There’s this great line in Fangirl: “Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity” (p.396) – is that what it’s like for you? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
A: Thank you. That is what it’s like for me. Exactly. Pretty much everything Cath says about writing is how I feel, too.
I have to really focus when I write. For four to six hours at a time, for four to six days in a row. I don’t like to have any other commitments on those days, if I can help it. My goal is to submerge myself in the story and stay there as long I can without coming up for air.
I’ve written all of my books so far in coffee shops, but I’m trying to write at home now that my kids are in school all day.
Q: Your first book, Attachments, was published as an adult book, and Eleanor & Park and Fangirl are both YA; was it a conscious decision for you to write YA, or is that just where those stories seemed to belong?
A: It wasn’t a conscious decision. When I started Eleanor & Park, I didn’t even realize I was writing a YA novel; it was just, “This is the story I want to tell.” I was a bit more savvy when I wrote Fangirl. By that time, I’d sold Eleanor & Park as YA, and I was working with a YA editor.
I love writing books about teenagers – and I love that teenagers are finding my books. (I really love the YA community.) But I don’t shift my approach to the story based on who might read it. It’s always: Get inside the characters’ heads, try to make it feel real.
Q: It seems to me that the reaction to Eleanor & Park has been all about extremes – John Green loved it (seriously, how much did you freak out when you heard that JOHN GREEN loved your book?!), and then there were the parents who hated it enough to get you banned from a planned author reading (and they’re still trying to get it banned from the area libraries, AND punish the librarians who recommended it – and you – in the first place). What do you think it is that makes people react so strongly to this story?
A: That’s a good question – and I’m not sure I can answer it. I mean, I was feeling extreme things when I was writing Eleanor & Park. The story definitely came out of me in an extreme way. (I felt gripped by it.) But it was still a huge surprise when people responded so passionately to the book. I never would have predicted that.
As for what happened to the book in Minnesota, I hate to give too much weight to that controversy. The negative response there came from one child’s parent. That parent was able to rally support and eventually influence the school and county boards -- but it was such an unusual and unprecedented response to the book.
Q: You have a new book, Landline, coming out this spring – can you tell us a bit about it?
A: Yes! I’m very excited about Landline. It’s another adult book (not YA) and it comes out in July 2014 from St. Martin's Press. Here’s the pitch:
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.
Maybe that was always besides the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if they never got married at all?
You can see the cover for Landline here.
Q: Apart from your own work, what books or authors would you recommend to a YA reader?
A: I really love Cynthia Voigt. I read Homecoming in college, then inhaled everything she'd written about the Tillerman family. (There's a Dicey Tillerman reference in Eleanor & Park.)
I also love The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Magicians by Lev Grossman . . . . Those books are hard to categorize, but I think you could call them YA.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is my favorite YA love story. Where She Went by Gayle Forman was impossible for me to put down. And Will Grayson Will Grayson (David Levithan/John Green) has my favorite YA character – Tiny Cooper.
Remember to leave your name & contact info in the comments for a chance to win Fangirl! (And don't worry, we won't publish any personal information).