Writers on Writing: YA Author Becky Albertalli
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After hearing buzz and buzz and more buzz about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, April 2015), I decided to add the debut young adult novel from Becky Albertalli to my MUST READ NOW list. I’m happy to say that the book did not disappoint! Here’s a brief description via Amazon:
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
The book is so fresh and original and reading it simply made me happy. While I loved how Simon’s story unfolded, what compelled me to turn the page was his crisp, clear voice. He was SO lovable, and I rooted for him the whole way through.
With terrific writing and a great balance of humor and touching moments, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a great read for teens and young-at-heart adults.
I am thrilled to share an email interview with Albertalli about her award-winning book, writing, and so much more. (Image of Albertelli below via Decisive Moment Events.)
EZ: What’s your favorite flavor ice cream?
BA: This answer will surprise no one: Oreo!
EZ: What’s your favorite dessert?
BA: Oreo ice cream. To be honest, that’s my favorite food in general, too!
EZ: As a dietitian, I’m intrigued to learn from your web site that you’re a picky eater…how so? And has that changed since having a family?
BA: It’s actually hard to describe my food preferences in a way that makes sense to people. There isn’t necessarily a clear pattern to my likes and dislikes – I just have aversions to a lot of foods, including certain foods that are almost universally loved (like pizza!). I have two sons, ages three and one, and neither of them are quite as picky as I am. My pickiness hasn’t changed since they were born – these are specific food aversions that I’ve had my entire life (I have a lot of feelings about the assumptions people tend to make about picky eaters, but I’ll save that for another day!). However, I think my pickiness has informed some of my parenting decisions related to eating. For example, I choose not to require my kids to eat any one particular food – instead, I allow them to choose among a few healthy options.
EZ: How did your work as a clinical psychologist prep you for becoming a young adult author?
BA: It’s hard to pinpoint how my work as a psychologist prepared me for becoming an author! I’m sure the time I spent working with teens generally informed my storytelling, but due to patient-therapist confidentiality, I never share my clients’ stories.
EZ: What was your process in writing Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda?
BA: I wrote SIMON over a period of a few months in 2013. First, I outlined loosely in Scrivener, though I ended up deviating from my outline at several points. I revised pretty extensively on my own for several weeks, and then again with a critique partner. I revised again after receiving an agent critique at a conference. Ultimately, I connected with my agent, Brooks Sherman, very quickly, and he sold my book to HarperCollins a few days after I signed with him. I did revise based on his (wonderful) notes, and revised again based on notes from my editor. There was also a round of copyedits and a few more rounds to catch last-minute errors.
EZ: Did you have a specific experience that triggered you to want to write this unique story?
BA: I actually didn’t! I never quite know what to say when I’m asked what inspired SIMON, because I think people expect there to be a specific moment of inspiration. But there wasn’t. In reality, the character came before the story, and it very much feels like he appeared in my head.
EZ: Please describe the experience of writing from a boy’s perspective. Was it fun? Challenging? Simon’s voice is fantastic!
SA: Thank you so much! It was honestly very organic. I never made any specific effort to masculinize my voice. I just had a sense of Simon’s specific voice, and I let him tell the story. I actually think there’s more fluidity than people realize when it comes to voice and gender.
EZ: How long did it take you to write Simon from start to finish including your last rounds of edits?
BA: Before my book deal, it took about six months total. However, I don’t think I finished copyedits until almost a year after I started drafting (but I wasn’t actually writing or revising for most of that period – often, the book was with my editor or copy editors, so they could give me feedback). My second book, however, has been a much more intensive process. I’ve been working on it for about two years so far, and have rewritten it six times, with the help of my editor. It’s still not where it needs to be!
EZ: What kind of books are you drawn to, and how do you divide your reading and writing time?
BA: I think I’m most drawn to painfully, embarrassingly, deeply honest books. They can be funny, sad, romantic, or quirky – contemporary or fantasy or any genre – but they have to feel emotionally true. I tend to read in the evenings, especially before bed. I’m pretty careful about reserving my mornings for writing – which makes me a slow reader, these days!
EZ: Do you have a time and place you love to write? (Are you writing full time or still doing psychology work or both?)
BA: I tend to write on my bed in the mornings (which is when I have childcare). I’m not doing any psychology work at the moment, though I’m maintaining my psychology license. But I’m incredibly busy with writing and parenting responsibilities at the moment.
EZ: Are there any tips you can share for those who have trouble guarding/carving out writing time? (Like me lol)?
BA: I wish I did! It’s so incredibly hard. I often hear people say that if you care about writing, you’ll MAKE time for it…but I don’t think it always works that way. Everyone’s personal situation and daily responsibilities are different. I guess my advice is to be kind to yourself and to forgive yourself for the days you don’t make time for writing.
EZ: What’s next for you? (Hope you’re writing another YA book!)
BA: Next up is a loose companion book to SIMON (different characters, same universe) set in Washington, DC. It’s about the friends and family Abby left behind when she moved. It’s tentatively scheduled to release in early 2017.
More about Becky Albertalli: She’s a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released in 2015 from HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. It is the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award winner, a National Book Award longlist title, and it has a picture of Oreos on the back cover (below image of said Oreo cookies on the back of the book is via me, Elisa Zied.)
You can also learn more about Albertalli and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by visiting her fantastic website.
Have you read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? Would love to hear your thoughts.
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