Thursday, March 6, 2008

Enchanting Reviews Interview with YA Author Robin Benway

When did you start writing?
I guess I’ve been writing since I was about 8 years old or so. I liked to tell stories and the first time I realized that I could put pen to paper and make a story really "last" was pretty life-changing. Then in college, I started taking some introductory fiction writing classes and one of the teachers mentioned that he thought I had a talent. It was the first time I had actually shown my work to people, so it was an incredible boost to hear that.

Professionally speaking, though, probably since late 2005? Honestly, though, I’ve been writing my whole life. If I need to understand something that’s happened to me or if I want to remember an event, I write it down.

How long did it take you to get published?
Well, in 2005, I quit my job and decided to take a year and really focus on pursuing a writing career. What that meant, I had no idea, but I took a writing class at UCLA Extension and began writing "Audrey, Wait!" full time. The instructor at this class was Rachel Cohn, and she read the first (and at the time, only) chapter of "Audrey" and introduced me to my now-agent. This was all at the end of 2005, and "Audrey, Wait!" sold to Razorbill in the beginning of 2007. So about 14 months, I guess? I had always had the goal of one day being a published author, but it didn’t really happen until I finally sat down and said, "Okay, this is it, I. Am Going. To Write. A Book."

What do you like best about writing young adult?
So many things! In terms of writing & characters, I love that teenagers are so emotional because it gives me so much more to work with. There’s always something happening, and there’s so much possibility with that.

Another thing that I love about writing young adult, although I find it difficult at times, is always staying loyal to that teenage viewpoint. While I was writing "Audrey," I was always thinking, "Is she real? Does she sound like a normal girl?" That’s always the most important thing to me, not to buy into the cliches that usually exist about teenagers and try & make their fictional counterparts realistic.

What sparked the idea for Audrey, Wait!?
So many different things! I think the real moment happened when I was listening to music in my apartment one morning and a song came on. It was a great song, but it was SO MEAN and really vilified the ex-girlfriend, and I thought, "Huh. I wonder what it’s like to be the girl in the song."

Within seconds, I knew who Audrey was, and I knew Victoria and Jonah and James and Evan. I had actually been working on another project at the time, but their voices were so strong (especially Victoria’s) that I had to start writing "Audrey, Wait!" I had no idea what would happen in the story, but I wrote the first chapter that night and it just took off from there. I wanted to find out what happened, so I kept writing!

Another thing that really interested me about "Audrey" and what made me want to write the book is the way girls are often represented in music. I think a lot of times, music is marketed *towards* teenage girls, and the songs are often *about* girls, and yet there’s very few outlets for girls’ voices, especially in rock (or whatever genre they’re calling it now). So I really wanted to give a voice to a girl who had a lot to say, but didn’t have a platform to say it.

Music plays a huge role in the story. How big of a role did it play as you wrote the novel?
Music is on ALL THE TIME. Even as I’m typing this sentence, I’m listening to iTunes (The Doves are playing right now, good stuff). For "Audrey", I listened to a lot of rock and younger, newer bands because I wanted to hear that energy as I was working. And then as the story started to really take shape, I knew exactly what I wanted to hear, which was how the soundtrack came about. For example, "Whatever Happened to My Rock & Roll" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club played constantly while I was writing the scenes with the Lolitas. To me, that’s exactly what the Lolitas sounded like, and hearing that music really got me into the headspace of "tiny club, really hot, everyone’s dancing, everyone’s sweating, going deaf, so much fun".

But at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a moment where LL Cool J’s "Mamma Said Knock You Out" is referenced, and that happened solely because that song happened to pop up on shuffle while I was driving in the car. That song came on, and it changed the whole course of the story because I knew that Audrey would have to play it, and I needed to figure out how she would be able to do that. Enter the Lolitas. ?

What was your favorite scene to write?
Probably when Audrey goes to the Lolitas concert & her whole experience while there. That was a moment when the story kicked into high gear for me and the energy of that scene just shoved me forward. I can still remember writing it in bed at 3am, totally wired and feeling like I had electricity in my blood, I was so excited by what was happening on the page. And to have that excitement captured in a scene was a pretty great moment for me as a writer because that was the first time when I thought, "I can write this book and I can finish it, too. It’s actually possible."

What do you like most about Audrey?
I *adore* her. When I first found out that the book had sold and would be published, one of my first thoughts was, "OMG, I have to tell Audrey!" Haha!

One of my favorite things about Audrey is that she’s so self-confident, even if she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She wants to wear turquoise ankle boots? She’s wearing turquoise ankle boots. I didn’t even recognize this confidence until another writer pointed it out to me, but Audrey manages to carry herself through this weird experience by always recognizing what’s right for her, even if she sometimes doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.

Oh, and I like her music collection, too.

Who is your favorite secondary character in the book?
Oh, man. This is a mean question! How am I supposed to pick??

Okay, I have to say that after I finished the final draft, I read through the entire book and thought, "Hey, this Jonah kid is a pretty cool cat." That surprised me because I had put so much time into creating Victoria and Evan and James, and yet it was Jonah who really caught me by surprise. He’s so laidback and the perfect foil for Audrey & Victoria’s shenanigans.

But James is a VERY close second. Very, very close.

You have a soundtrack on your myspace page for the book, how did you pick each song?
Mostly a combination of lyrics and the energy of a song. For example, I wanted to start the soundtrack with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ "Cheated Hearts" because I love that line, "Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound." I think that’s such a perfect way to describe Audrey’s experience and the way fame can eclipse more important things. For "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" by Stars, it was that duet sung between a girl & boy that says, "I’m not sorry I met you, I’m not sorry it’s over, I’m not sorry there’s nothing to say." I still get chills every time I hear that line because it makes me think of Audrey and Evan.

I tried to arrange the songs to follow the plot of the book and I listened to them a lot while editing the manuscript.

Any chance of a sequel?
As much as it breaks my heart to admit this, I don’t think there will be a sequel. I would like nothing more than to keep following Audrey and her friends, but I feel that her story is done. I wish there could be a sequel, though, because I love writing her so much! When I finished the book, I just couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t get to keep following Audrey’s story and it made me so sad. But her story’s been told and now there’s other tales to tell.

What’s next for you?
Weeeeell, right now I’m working on a new book. No title yet, but it focuses on four characters. I’m scared to say any more, but these characters are my favorite things right now.

Interview by Lisa

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