Interview with Michelle Kwasney

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Michelle Kwasney is the author of YA novel Blue Plate Special, as well as two middle-grade novels, Baby Blue and Itch. You can find out more about her on her website, which also has advice for aspiring authors and book recommendations for teens. Well worth checking out!

In my review of Blue Plate Special, I called it 'A really powerful novel, that emotionally involves the reader and brilliantly pulls off multiple viewpoints.'

(Do you like the way I quote myself? I'm clearly a real professional, over here.)

Many thanks to Michelle Kwasney and Chronicle Books for making this interview possible! Read away!

What inspired you to write about three different girls in three different eras all in the one book?
As a writer, I’m not a big pre-planner and never outline, so I didn’t set out to do this. About six or seven years ago, while we were vacationing in Provincetown , one of the characters, Desiree, began to “speak” to me and I grabbed my writing notebook. The first thing that poured out was Desiree’s assault scene. It gripped me, and I knew I needed to get to the heart of her story. Within a few months, I’d finished her very rough first draft. At that point, I had no idea the novel would evolve as it did, eventually involving multiple narrators. But then, not long after, a sad, overweight character named Madeline appeared, telling me her story. About 80% of the way through her first draft, I got stuck, and that’s around the time I realized she and Desiree were meant to be connected in some way. By the time Ariel introduced herself, I began to solve the mystery of how these three incredibly different young women were meant to relate to one another. If I’d set out to attempt writing a novel narrated by three separate characters, I think that task might have seemed daunting. But as things flowed, the process felt more and more natural.

Was writing Blue Plate Special more difficult with the three different perspectives, than it had've been writing from just one?
Writing the first draft for each individual character was pure joy, as first drafts tend to be for me. But yes, weaving their stories together in subsequent drafts was challenging, especially with decade shifts and historical period details, which my editor, Julie, and I felt were very important to keep the reader grounded. Probably the most difficult task was making the teen characters feel believable as they aged into adulthood. But I was very invigorated as well as challenged by the process—so much so that I’m now working on a second YA novel using multiple narrators.

Is there anything in particular that drives you to write, and more specifically write for young people?
Hmm, good question. Actually, at this point, I probably couldn’t NOT write—any more than I could stop breathing. As far as writing for young adults, I think each story find its home. I don’t recall choosing a genre; I believe the genre chose me, and I feel incredibly honored to write for this perceptive and brutally honest young audience. I don’t doubt I was urged on by my own inner teenager, still very much alive, still looking back, attempting to make sense of the baffling, exciting, tumultuous journey called adolescence.

What was the road to publication like for you?
The process was much different with my third novel, Blue Plate Special, which was given the amazing honor of being Chronicle Book’s first young adult novel. There was so such much excitement on everyone’s part, and it was clear from the get go that attention to every detail was being lavished on this project. Also, I believe we were all motivated to move ahead quickly. Julie Romeis , who became my wonderful editor, called in early May 2008 to make an offer on the novel, and soon we were looking at either a fall 2009 or spring 2010 pub date. I had my hopes set on fall 2009—which would create a tight production schedule—but that’s when Ariel’s story is set. So Julie and I and the rest of the Chronicle Team fastened our seat belts for a whirlwind journey with everything on hyper-speed. Personally, I think we all worked together beautifully, like a well oiled machine. The editing was done electronically with Track Changes (a first for me), so that saved a lot of wait time. Julie asked for two revisions—which were pretty labor intensive but greatly strengthened the novel—and she and I had many marathon phone calls addressing key issues and wrestling with a few stubborn plot quirks. Things happened rapidly after that. Every day it seemed I was looking at something new—first galleys, a glimpse of the mock up of the gorgeous cover, designed by Amy Achaibou, second galleys, flap copy, an ARC. It was a harried race to the finish, but a very exciting one. And the end product is a beautifully designed book. It’s so obvious Chronicle didn’t cut any corners. As the author, I’m incredibly proud to have my name on the jacket.

Who are your favorite authors?
Laurie Halse Anderson, Han Nolan, Jacqueline Woodson, Alex Flinn to name a few. But the list goes on and on.
Complete this sentence: Outside of writing, my life is...
Currently I am recovering from Lyme disease, which has monopolized the last couple of months of my life. Once treatment is complete, however, I hope to return to teaching elementary art and writing regularly again. Fingers crossed!

Complete this sentence: My years as a teenager were...
Turbulent and complex. Fortunately, I was blessed with creative outlets—drawing/painting and a love of writing. In my senior year I lived in the art room. I had a small circle of close friends—gentle souls, quirky like me (I never followed the mainstream). I was a bit like Ariel, in that school was important to me, and I prided myself on being the type of person others could lean on.

Are you working on something new at the moment? Can you reveal anything about it?
Soon I hope to return to revising a second novel in alternating voices, narrated by two high school girls who’ve been best friends since elementary school. Their friendship begins to suffer as they each develop firscrushes—one on a boy; one on a girl. I also have two other YA novels in first draft form, but it’s a bit too soon to talk about those.
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