Friday, March 15, 2013

Author Rainbow Rowell Talks to Us About Taking Teen Romance Seriously, Finding a Character's Voice and the X-Men.

What better way to finish off a week dedicated to Eleanor & Park than with an interview with the author. Rainbow Rowell is very busy with the NYTimes calling to write about her book and another book coming in 2013, we are so thankful that she found the time to answer our questions!

Welcome to TATAL! Thank you so much for virtually stopping by. To start off, would you mind giving us a short description of Eleanor & Park?

Sure! It’s about two 16-year-olds, a boy who wants to be invisible and a girl who couldn’t be invisible if she tried. Eleanor is the new girl, and when she gets on Park’s school bus, he wants nothing to do with her. But she ends up sitting next to him, and then … everything changes.

They connect through music and comic books, fall in love (eventually) (hard) – and then have to deal with what it means to be 16 and in love. Like, what are they supposed to do with that? It’s not like they can get married – and they’re not na├»ve; they know that first love doesn’t usually last.

Eleanor falls hard for music (like Joy Division and U2) and comics (like X-Men). I love how you depict that feeling of finding a piece of art or music that you love so much that it’s almost like it couldn’t possibly be made for anyone except you. What did you fall for as a teen?

Thank you! Well, I’m only a bit younger than Eleanor and Park, and a lot of the stuff they like is stuff I liked at that age. I got really into Tom Robbins and John Irving in high school. I remember being blown away by their writing – by the language. And I started reading comic books, which are still a big part of my life, X-Men, New Mutants, Marshal Law, Sandman . . .

New music was hard to come by back then, so when you found something you loved, it was like discovering GOLD. So precious. The albums that really got to me were: Green by R.E.M., Disintegration by The Cure, In My Tribe by 10,000 Maniacs, Louder Than Bombs by The Smiths, and Flood by They Might Be Giants.

Eleanor and Park don’t talk much about movies, but that’s what my friends and I did every weekend. If we had met in high school, I would’ve forced you to watch: Hairspray, Harold and Maude, Raising Arizona and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Eleanor and Park’s relationship is never treated as a frivolous teen romance. Instead it is something true and strong, especially when compared to her mother’s marriage. What made you want to write about a teenage relationship this way?

That’s really great to hear – thank you.

Well, I’ve always wanted to write a first-love story – and a high-school love story. I think, when you’re 16, you have the greatest-ever capacity for romantic love. You fall in love with every cell of your body. But, at the same time, at that age, you have so little to offer the person you love. You don’t belong to yourself quite yet — you still have school and your parents, you don’t even have your own space …

I wanted to write about the built-in tragedy of that situation. And I also wanted to see if I could write about first love in a way that would capture the stomachache of it.  

E & P is set in 1986. Do you think that they’d have had an easier time if they’d happened to meet as teens in 2013 instead?

Oh, that’s a really good question – I don’t know! I think the Internet would have made Eleanor’s life a lot easier. It would have been easier for her to stay in touch with her old friends, easier for her to listen to music and watch cool stuff. But . . . maybe then she and Park wouldn’t have been so hungry for the connection that they make with each other. In a way, the Internet can be so distracting and fulfilling, you don’t have to connect with people face to face. (That’s a big theme in my next book, Fangirl.)

Park’s relationship with his family is completely different from Eleanor’s and one of my favorite parts of the book.  In a lot of books for teens, the parents are unimportant or foggy in the background, why make Park’s such an integral part of the story?

I’m not sure. I don’t think I did it intentionally. The book actually has a pretty small cast of characters. I kept trying to add more scenes at school, but the story resisted growing in that direction. It felt like it needed to stay tightly focused on the two of them. But both Eleanor and Park have strong beliefs about love – and those beliefs were shaped by their parents’ relationships. So I wanted to show them in the context of their families.

Also, Park’s parents were just a lot of fun to write. His dad became a bigger character because I loved writing in his voice. 

used under CC license from Flickr User JinxiBoo
On TATAL we have a total soft spot for the mixtapes. Park especially seems pretty adept at the art of making a perfect tape (or CD. Or I guess, Spotify play list?) Do you have any tips for our readers on what makes a good one?


I say, start STRONG -- with a song so likable and obviously appealing, no one will skip it. I clump songs together, in groups of three and four with a similar vibe. The last song in each clump should be a transition to the next one.

If you’re including a longer, less accessible song, put it about two-thirds of the way through; by that point, if someone has committed to the playlist, they’re not likely to get frustrated. And always end with a song that feels like the end. Thematically. When I was working on Eleanor & Park, I always knew that the last song on my internal soundtrack would be Blackbird by The Beatles. Short, sweet, hopeful.

(I make really detailed playlists when I’m writing. You can find them all on my blog.)

Your characters definitely read like real people, who are easy to care a great deal about. When you set out to write a new book, how much do you already know about your characters? Do you write biographies of them or anything like that, or does it come to you as you’re writing?

THANK YOU. I usually write a paragraph or two at the outset, and I always know the general direction that I’m heading. The characters take shape as I’m writing, so I find myself sharpening them and tweaking their dialogue during the second draft. With Eleanor, there was one scene –a rant about the bus and school and Park – that helped me find her voice. I would go back to read that scene to remind myself what she sounded like.

Who was your favorite character to write?

I always like to write the characters who are least like me. In this book, I loved Jamie, Park’s dad. I loved how rough and tactless he is – but also how loving. All of his feelings for Park – frustration, love, protectiveness – are right on the surface. And I liked how much Jamie loved his wife, how utterly at ease he was about being madly in love with Mindy.
I’m working on my fourth book now, and I’ve had a crush on the dads in the last three. (It must be my age.)

Your last book, Attachments, was about adults. Was it different to get behind the eyes of teenagers? Was one more difficult than the other?

It really wasn’t different … In both cases, I knew what story I wanted to tell and just climbed into those characters’ heads. Attachments was a little scarier because it’s written from a 28-year-old guy’s point of view – and I was worried about making that convincing. But once I got past that,  I was much more fearless about writing Eleanor and Park.

Do you read YA yourself? Do you have any favorite authors to recommend to our readers?

I do. I really love Stephanie Perkins and Gayle Forman. I love the way both of them dig deep into relationships. I love John Green’s voice, the way his books just keep pushing you forward, effortlessly; Sarah Rees Brennan is like this, too, and her dialogue. I love the way David Levithan writes characters who feel natural and real. I love Scott Westerfelds ideas – Uglies is such a cool series. Oh, and Margo Lanagan is one of my favorite writers, period. Her books are poetry.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I write at Starbucks! It started as a necessity. Free Wi-Fi, lots of power outlets and a place that wasn’t home. (It’s impossible to write at home, with my kids.) But now I’m so programmed to write at Starbucks, I can’t concentrate anywhere else. (This makes me sound so lame.)

Do you have any advice for teens who want to pursue writing as a career?

Write. A lot.

And read even more.

Try different types of writing – I was a journalist and an ad copywriter – and try to write on deadline. Deadlines keep you moving forward and writing more. Writing absolutely gets better with practice.

Lastly, read everything you write out loud. You’ll hear what you need to fix.

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog Ms. Rowell! If you want to find out more about the author and her novels, check out her website today. We hope you all have enjoyed "Eleanor & Park" Week as much as we have. 

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