Friday, February 3, 2012

Author Nina LaCour Talks to us About Grrl Bands, Art, Traveling and the Disenchantments!

Yay it's finally time to share our interview with author Nina LaCour!

Ms. LaCour is the author of both Hold Still
and the new book, The Disenchantments. We are so excited she has agreed to stop by and answer our questions!

Welcome to TATAL Ms. Lacour!

Can you give us a short synopsis of your new book, The Disenchantments?

 I’d love to! The Disenchantments is told from the perspective of an 18-year-old boy named Colby who has a plan with his best friend, Bev, to postpone college and travel around Europe instead. First, though, they are going on a final tour with Bev’s (not very good) all-girl band, The Disenchantments. They don’t get far on their trip when Bev tells Colby that she’s changed her mind about Europe, so Colby is left to figure out what he’s going to do with his life now, and why Bev kept her decision from him for so long. All the while he’s on the road with these four girls and they’re meeting new people, setting up shows in sketchy venues, and being completely on their own for the first time.

One of the things that I loved about the books was the way that you wrote about the friendship of all the characters in the book. These are people who so clearly love each other. Was it important to you that all of the members of the group had such strong ties?
 I’m so glad that the love came across to you. It was definitely important to me that they all really love one another. There are so many questions that come with new adulthood, with being out in the world away from home, and I think what we need in all times of uncertainty is friendship. So even when Colby and Bev and Meg and Alexa are annoyed with one other, or are having trouble understanding each other, I wanted the love to be there.

At TATAL we have a soft spot for books that have great soundtracks. The Disenchantments is special because each character has his/her own strong musical influences and loves. How did you pick what bands would be important to each person?
Picking the bands was one of the most joyful parts of writing this novel. I sat in my little home office watching YouTube videos of The Supremes and The Runaways and Sleater-Kinney and Heart and tons of other bands, too. I knew from the beginning that The Supremes and Sleater-Kinney would be in the book, because they are two of my all-time favorite groups. My parents instilled a love of old Motown groups in me as a kid and I’ve been listening to them more and more lately. And I can’t even begin to guess how many times I listed to the song “Modern Girl” as I was writing this book. I have a tendency to listen to songs on repeat as I write, and that one got the most play. I chose The Runaways because they’re the ultimate icon for all-girl bands. I can’t believe how young and fearless they were when they started out. So that covered everyone’s favorite except for Alexa’s, and I was really torn about hers. In the running were Wilson-Phillips and The Bangles, both of which I was obsessed with as an elementary school and middle school kid. But I worried that I was choosing them because of nostalgia and that there might be better narrative choices. So I went with Heart, a band I wasn’t really familiar with before writing the novel. They kept showing up high on lists of female bands, and when I found out that the singers were sisters I felt like they were the right choice for the book. I have to admit that though I find their music slightly ridiculous, I ended up becoming pretty fond of a lot of their songs.

Sleater Kinney- "Modern Girl"

There is something special about a road trip and a tour is just about the coolest form of road trip around. The Disenchantments’ tour takes them to living room shows and dive bars. Did you travel to get an idea of what spots you wanted them to hit?
 Yes, I did travel. In fact, when writing this book I started claiming that I would only ever write books that involved fun research, because listening to tons of girl bands and going on road trips didn’t feel remotely like work. (Right now I’m doing some research that is not as fun for one aspect of my work-in-progress, though, so it didn’t last long.) I went to all of the places that Colby and the band go, and it was incredibly helpful and inspiring. I don’t want to give anything away, but I stayed in a motel exactly like the one I describe in Fort Bragg, and stayed at the Kennedy School in Portland, and friends of mine were living on Vashon Island farming . . . I could go on for a long time with all of the similarities. Apart from the Kennedy School in Portland, though, the specific venues are imagined, as are the characters who live in the towns and cities they visit. I would hang out in a town and dream up the people. Actually there’s one exception to that: when they find the little kids at the lemonade stand—I pulled over and bought lemonade from kids exactly like them. They swindled me with their watered-down, over-priced product but I put them in a novel so now we’re even.
Portland, Oregon by Jeff.Jones
(used under the creative commons license)

Colby’s post high-school graduation plan is to head out across Europe with Bev. If you had a year or two to adventure, where would you like to go?
My wife and I traveled to both Amsterdam and Stockholm while I was writing The Disenchantments. Colby has good reason to be obsessed with both of them. I would jump at the chance to go back. I also really want to visit Berlin and Oslo, and I would love to visit Japan, where some friends of ours are living, and Uruguay, where one of my best friends is from.

(The Disenchantments - "Photo Album Smiles)
The heart of the book is these four characters and what’s so great about The Disenchantments is that they are so fleshed out; you close the book feeling like you have these four new friends. When you were writing them, what sorts of things did you do to get to know them? Do you do character biographies, find inspirational pictures, or something else?
Thank you. Creating full characters is probably the most important thing to me, but I don’t have any good tricks up my sleeve. I just think about them a lot. By a lot I mean all the time. I’ll see a dress or hear a song and think, Meg would love that! The biggest revision to the novel that I made was cutting a character. Originally, there were four girls in the band. It was really painful for me, because I loved the girl I cut, but my editor thought there were too many girls, that readers would have trouble keeping track, and I gradually came to agree with her. It was one of the best decisions to make because it meant that I could give parts of her to other characters. Alexa got her organizational skills and notebook of future jobs. Bev got her sculpting. So she made the other characters more complex and interesting, which was ultimately worth the sacrifice.

What band would you travel great lengths to see?
I would travel back in time to see The Supremes, The Chiffons, and The Temptations. More realistically, though, last year, while visiting my brother in Paris, my whole family saw Belle & Sebastian at The Rex. We traveled to France for my brother, not for the band, but it was pretty cool to see them in Paris.

(The Supremes- "Baby Love")

The book is not just heavy in musical influences, there’s a lot of visual art in there too (sketching, graffiti, even tattoos). Your first book, Hold Still, had illustrations as well. Do you have a background in art or do you come at it from the perspective of a viewer?
 My mother is an art teacher and artist and my wife is a photographer. My brother and my dad play guitar beautifully and sing and write songs. Most of my friends are artists or have jobs in artistic fields. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a book that doesn’t include some form of art, because art is so much a part of my daily life. I was raised drawing and painting, and I still love to draw, though I rarely do it.

Hold Still was a Morris Award honor book; what was it like to be so recognized for your debut? Did you feel a lot of pressure on your second time out?

 I still feel so fortunate that Hold Still received a Morris honor. The experience of publishing my first novel was all about discovering the book world for me. I had worked in independent bookstores for a few years by that point so I already understood how valuable passionate booksellers are to authors—I had been one of them—but I had no idea how much librarians did for authors. That sounds so ridiculous now that I know more about what librarians do, but I just had no idea! Being nominated for the Morris award brought my book to so many more readers and gave me the chance to go to ALA in D.C. and meet the group of passionate, dedicated people who worked on the committee. Since then, librarians have invited me to travel across the country to speak to their students and their educators; they’ve defended Hold Still against threats of banning. So, yes: I was really worried about my second book. The Morris committee members took a chance on me, and PW named me as a Flying Starts author, and I won the Northern California Book Award for best children’s book and made it onto so many state lists, and I was terrified that I would let everyone down with The Disenchantments. I was so intimidated that I put off really working on it for a long time, and then when I finally got a draft out, it was super short, like a skeleton of a book. But finally it became what it was meant to be and I was able to let go of a little bit of that anxiety.

We have a book group for high school students and they spend a lot of time talking to us about the books they're assigned for class. You’re an English teacher (the other side of the coin!); what’s your favorite book to teach?
Strangely enough, my favorite books to teach are not my favorite books. I’ve taught some of my favorites before—Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Known World by Edward P. Jones and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, for example—but I’ve found that I have trouble when my students don’t like them. I love these books so much that I can’t help but take it personally. I’ve learned that just because I love a book doesn’t mean that teaching it will be pleasurable; sometimes it’s best to just love something without dissecting it too much. So my favorite book to teach is probably Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I find the story fascinating and there are so many rich themes to discuss. I’ve also found that it’s polarizing: some readers sympathize with Victor while others root for the creature, so it generates spirited debates.

Do you have a favorite place to write?
 It changes all the time. I have a bedroom-turned-office in my apartment that I have been slowly turning into a good space for writing. I bought a chair that I love and new curtains, and my desk is the first piece of furniture I bought on my own, an antique table from a thrift store in San Francisco, where I went to college. I do also love writing in cafes, though. Sometimes it feels good to be surrounded by people who are also working or reading.

Do you have a favorite YA author? Adult author?
I love too many authors to answer this question!

What has been the best part about being a YA author, so far?
That is such a tough question. There are daily gifts that come with being a YA author, like the camaraderie of other YA authors who are so generous and supportive, and the emails and letters I get from my readers, and the feeling of walking into a bookstore filled with books by authors I admire and seeing my novel among them. It’s nearly impossible to narrow it down. I can tell you about a highlight, though. A year or two ago I got an email from one of my brother’s best friends. She told me that she stumbled upon an image on a tattoo tumblr she follows, and then she included the link. It was a beautiful tattoo of a line from Hold Still, “I’ll go wherever you go,” with a caption explaining that the woman got it from my book and had it tattooed as a message to her best friend. For a long time, I got chills just thinking about it. It’s such a beautiful feeling to release something into the world and then see it come back to you in these unexpected ways.

Can we get you to give us a hint about what’s coming out next from you?
My next book is still very much in progress, but I can tell you that it has to do with a mystery surrounding a late, iconic movie star who left a letter in his house to be delivered to a woman upon his death. It’s also about two girls who fall in love, and movie making, and Los Angeles.

Do you have any advice for teens who want to pursue writing as a career?
Find a friend you can share your writing with, preferably someone who also writes. I’ve found that I do my best work when I know someone is waiting to read it, and the feeling of someone reading and talking about your work is indescribable. After you’ve done that, just keep going, keep writing, and always write things that interest you personally. Don’t worry about whether or not they’ll interest other people because, if you do it right, they will.

Thank you soo much for taking the time to answer our questions! We will be definitely spreading the love for The Disenchantments and we'll be on the lookout for that work-in-progress too!

To learn more about Nina LaCour, you can find her at her website, twitter and Facebook page!

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