Whether they chatted over lunch or simply bumped into one another at BEA, the Bookish editors were able to talk to some truly talented and amazing authors in 2014. While it’s nearly impossible to single out our favorites (because honestly, we love them all), these are interviews we’re still talking about.
Picture Book: Jules Feiffer
Bookish: Why do you think illustrations are such an important part of children’s books?
Jules Feiffer: I’ve been a cartoonist all my life. I’m particularly addicted to the comic strip form, which got into me from the time I was six or seven. There is something terribly seductive about combining words and pictures into one form so that the reader isn’t really conscious of whether they are reading or looking—it becomes one. I work to tell a story not unlike what one sees in film, but I’m the screenwriter and the production designer and the director.
In the end, it’s all about storytelling—how you get it across to the reader, what feelings you want to evoke, and how you connect one picture to the next so that there is a flow created that the reader is not aware of. But I’m in the middle of trying to stage manage it so the reader isn’t aware of the sleight of hand, the magic act.
Young Adult: Ava Dellaira
Bookish: The Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky encouraged you to write this novel. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from him on writing?
Ava Dellaira: Stephen is a truly courageous writer who stays true to himself and his process—he writes things that matter to him, from a place that’s urgent and genuine. When I met him, I was new to Los Angeles, struggling to find my way and my voice. I was eager for recognition, and in a hurry to arrive at the moment when the world would say, “You’re a writer now.” Of course, outside validation is important—we all need it on some level—but Stephen helped me to learn that first and foremost, we have to find faith in ourselves and our own work. He helped me to learn to believe that I was a writer, even when it was just me alone at night working on a novel I didn’t know if anyone else would read. And this belief helped me to write more honestly and to be patient with the process.
Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Monica Byrne
Bookish: A lot of this kind of speculative fiction features white protagonists. When in the process did you decide to set this book in India and Ethiopia instead?
Monica Byrne: I can certainly say that one of my impulses for the novel was to be really bold and do something that hadn’t been done before, in multiple dimensions. One of those dimensions was writing a hero who looks like the actual, most common female type of the human race, which is a brown-skinned woman. There’s a lot of baggage around that—understandably and validly so—because so many white writers have abused that. They write either characters of color or stories set in Africa that are just power-trip fantasies, and it’s completely gross.
I wanted to make really sure that, as far as it was possible for me to do it responsibly and do it well, and to have the product reflect my intentions—which was to reflect the human race and redefine the human hero for the 21st century—that I could do that. I did think, for a moment, I should really make this a woman who looks like me and who walks, I don’t know, Beijing to Los Angeles. That would be so much more topical! But then I felt this gut revulsion of That’s not the story. It was just a deep, instinctual no; don’t make it something it’s not. It’s an Indian woman and an African woman.
Romance: Ann Aguirre
Bookish: What about the Backstreet Boys inspired you to name the books in this series after their songs?
Ann Aguirre: I couldn’t resist. For some reason, when I was on the Fall 2013 Fierce Reads Tour withLeigh Bardugo, Jessica Brody, and Gennifer Albin, we were always singing the Backstreet Boys on the way to our events. The first book is dedicated to Leigh because I got the idea from listening to her while we were on tour. “For Leigh Bardugo, who talks about love as if it is a question that must be answered. So I tried.”
Cookbook: Hannah Hart
Bookish:You specialize in drinking, cooking, and puns (Tear… Ah Miss You and Sad Thai being two of my favorite recipe titles in the book). How to you respond to the naysayers who call puns the lowest form of wit?
Hannah Hart: I say nothing to them because they’re not worth my thyme.
Memoir: Andrew Meredith
Bookish: The indie rock band Pavement, and in particular, Stephen Malkmus, seem to bear a lot of importance to your 22-year-old self. Could you talk about why you chose to include the band in the book and what their importance was to you?
Andrew Meredith: Following Pavement is maybe the only other big endeavor, besides writing this book, that I never quit. I very proudly call myself a Pavement completist, and from the beginning to the end of their reign I was completely besotted. Their songs offered me so much joy and humanity, and those years of being so thickly in their thrall coincided with my first days in the funeral business. To put it simply, Pavement songs pumped me full of life like nothing else could in a time when I was confronted, in many forms, with death.
Regarding including the band in the book: I couldn’t write about those years and not include Pavement. They—and I say “they” because each member represented something distinct and profound—were so important to me that, without fail, my first question when I met someone new was, “Do you like Pavement?” They were all I wanted to talk about, and, of course, all I wanted to judge people by. If you liked them, then you were granted instant access to the fantastical kingdom that was my friendship in 1997. If you said you didn’t like them or hadn’t heard of them, then you were in for a highly didactic few minutes.
Mysteries & Thrillers: Josh Malerman
Bookish: What were the challenges of writing for characters who are essentially blind? Did you do any real life experiments to discover how your other senses pick up when you’re blindfolded?
Josh Malerman: A little. Though I wish I had done more, if only for the sake of giving you a better answer. I did walk around the apartment with my eyes closed and, more than once, one of my five finches brushed against my hand, my neck, my face. I’m sure that had something to do with something.
Fiction: Pia Padukone
Bookish: You tweeted in early April that you were headed to Estonia to conduct research for your second novel. What can you tell us about that?
Pia Padukone: I’m currently in Tallinn, where I have been traipsing about the city, speaking with locals, and invoking ghosts of Soviet past in order to better understand the city and its history. My second novel is about two families that meet through a student exchange program [and] become inextricably intertwined, remaining in one another’s lives past the program’s end. The trip has been essential in helping me unearth some of the idiosyncrasies that make Estonians unique: They have historically been continually overtaken and governed by neighboring powers, but are finally beginning to create an identity of their own.