Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Enchanting Reviews Interview with YA Author Kathryn Williams

1. What made you want to be a writer?
Being able to work in my pajamas. Kidding (kind of). As long as I can remember, I’ve just loved words and writing. It’s how I best express myself. When I was really young, I used to write poems and short stories about a horse named Babbling Brook in a pink Trapper Keeper my mom got for me. I still have it.

2. Why young adult?
Why not? (Sorry, I hate it when people answer a question with a question.) I’m relatively young myself, 26 -- and while that might sound as old as the earth to some readers, it feels young, so I still feel close to that audience and identify with a lot of the issues and themes addressed in YA lit. I love how you say in your bio that you’re "a young girl and a grown woman," because that’s how I feel, too.

I’m also in awe of how perceptive teens are -- they pick up on everything! Their threshold for bullshit is low, which I respect. I think maybe it’s a product of growing up in the Internet era. They’re constantly bombarded with media, so they learn early on how to sniff out insincerity or fakeness, and they’re also used to sharing their lives online, so they expect openness. There definitely is something as too much information, but in books, I believe you shouldn’t hold back. I think we’re finally reaching a point where publishers are realizing we don’t have to hold back in YA.

3. What inspired THE DEBUTANTE?
I have to give credit where credit is due. The seed of the idea -- a girl from the North whose family moves to the South and forces her into the whole debutante culture -- was actually my publisher’s. My editors grew up in New York and Connecticut but had spent some time in the South and were so intrigued by this "foreign" culture. They saw a personal essay I wrote for a newspaper in New York about being Southern in New York City, and they contacted me. When I heard their idea, I loved it. It was the reverse of what I was experiencing, living in New York and really missing the South, and this was a way for me to sort of revisit it through my writing. (While the book is definitely not autobiographical, I did draw a lot on my experiences growing up in Richmond, Virginia.)

4. Describe Annie in three words.
Searching, sarcastic, genuine. The last two seem like they contradict each other, but I don’t think they have to.

5. What’s one thing you have in common with Annie?
I tend to be sarcastic, like she is. I also love old-school game shows. I did not, however, make my debut, though a lot of my friends did. And I did do cotillion in middle school, which is kind of like pre-debutante (not to be confusing, because some debutante balls are, in fact, called cotillions). We had to wear white gloves and learn ballroom dances (none of which I remember, except for the "Star Gaze" and the "Pretzel") at the Tuckahoe Women’s Club. The big dance, called the Holly Ball, was at Christmas, and my friend had a party every year where we made our own bouquets (we called them "nosegays"… seriously). Man, I wish I had photos to share with you. The dresses were awesome -- sleeves bigger than my head. Of course, I think I saw SJP in something similar the other day, so maybe those are back in now…

6. THE DEBUTANTE has such vivid secondary characters. Who would you pick as your favorite?
Thank you! We (and I say "we" because my editor was awesome and very involved) worked hard to bring them to life and fill them out. I would say Mary Katherine or Gram… probably Gram. She comes off as a witch, but she’s just from a different era. You run across a lot of older people like that in the South, who are living by the codes and traditions of a bygone time. If you haven’t noticed, we don’t like to let things go in the South, especially if it’s "tradition." Sometimes it’s infuriating, and sometimes it’s a beautiful thing -- as Annie learns in the book.

7. What was your favorite scene to write?
Ooh. That’s a hard one. I enjoyed writing a lot of the scenes. Some were added later in the editing process to help move the story along and flesh out the characters, so those were sometimes difficult to work in. I guess I’d say the party scene when (without giving too much away) Annie has a major freak-out. For some reason, I loved writing her freak-out scenes, like the other one in the car with Robert, too. The scene I least liked writing was the kiss -- I felt so awkward, like I was invading my characters’ privacy! Haha! I think I was blushing the whole time I wrote it. I also really didn’t want to be cheesy.

8. Any chance of a sequel or a spin-off with one of the other characters?
Not at the moment. I’m really happy with where I left Annie and the other girls at the end of the book, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse with the whole fish-out-of-water thing. I wanted to characterize the South but never caricature it, and I’d be afraid if this book became a series, it might lead to that. But I grew to know and love my characters, so never say never…

9. What would readers be surprised to know about you?
I am the world record holder for longest javelin throw. Kidding. I have no idea. What have they been saying…?

10. What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a second YA novel. This one’s set at a summer camp in Tennessee. I had an awesome experience, both as a camper and a counselor, at a camp in Virginia growing up, so I really wanted to explore that setting. There’s just something about camp that’s magical. Those were great summers.

I also have an illustrated gift/humor book about living with roommates coming out in September. It’s called Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks and would be great for guys and girls heading to college and getting ready to experience dorm life. If you’ve never had a roommate before, sharing your living space can be a shocking experience.

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