It’s finally here! If you caught my last From the Notebook, where I talk about exactly what I was up to during our hiatus, then you’ve probably been waiting for this for a while. Over the course of the New Voices Literary Festival, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and interview Kristen-Paige Madonia, author of Fingerprints of You and the upcoming Invisible Fault Lines (to be released May 3). Not only was she gracious enough to talk to me for a while, but she ALSO singed a copy of Fingerprints of You that I am about to give away AND gave me some great swag! Before we get to that, though, allow me to introduce the fabulous Kristen-Paige!
Kristen-Paige Madonia is the author of the young adult novels Invisible Fault Lines (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016) and Fingerprints of You (Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2012). Her short stories have been published in various literary magazines including FiveChapters, the New Orleans Review, the Greensboro Review, and America Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Stories by Emerging Authors. She has received awards or fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, VCCA, Hedgebrook, Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Key West Literary Seminar. She was the 2012 D.H. Lawrence Fellow and was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize in 2010. She holds an MFA in fiction from California State University, Long Beach and currently lives in Charlottesville, Va. She is a member of the University of Nebraska low-residency MFA Writing Program faculty and also teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia, James Madison University, and WriterHouse.
The interview and giveaway are coming, but first: logistics! This interview took place verbally over the course of 15 minutes. I transcribed it into what you are about to read, editing for general speech tics and creating full sentences–that kind of thing. Initially I thought I was going to edit it into something a bit shorter but … well … Kristen-Paige said too many smart things that I agreed with not to share them all with you! It’s a great read AND there’s a giveaway at the bottom, so here we go!
GH: What inspired Invisible Fault Lines?
KPM: It started in a number of different ways. The first was that I was traveling for Fingerprints of You and going to these conferences and festivals of young adult authors, and it didn’t take very long to notice that the audience and signing lines for authors that were writing about fantasy or time travel or other worlds were much longer and the rooms were much fuller than for those of us writing contemporary realistic fiction. I was really just curious about that, about why so many readers were excited about these “what if” scenarios about other worlds and alternating existences. So that was just the root of a curiosity, about why people were so excited about that and interested in it. I was also just kind of feeling sorry for myself. [laughs] That’s just sort of the honest answer. So my husband and I were in Portland at the Wordstock Literary Festival, and I acknowledge that in the book, and that’s where this book began. I was complaining and moaning and I said, “You know what, I should write a book like that. I should write a book that’s about that stuff but I would do it my way.” And I really didn’t even know what either of those things meant, or what my way meant either, but I knew that I was interested in exploring something that was very different than what I had done with Fingerprints of You, and to maybe reach a wider audience. So that was part of it.
The other part was that same conference. David Levithan’s novel Every Day came out around the same time that Fingerprints of You came out, so I felt that I was very fortunate because we ended up at a lot of the same places and a lot of the same festivals and our books would end up beside each other a lot, so we became sort of friendly. In Portland that weekend, he had been reading and publicizing Every Day, but he said “I’m going to do something I’m probably not supposed to do, but I’m going to read off of my phone from this new book that I just completed” and he read from Two Boys Kissing. In that passage, he read the passage that became the epigraph of Invisible Fault Lines, which is “How extraordinary the ordinary becomes once it disappears.” I was sitting in the audience with my notebook and I scribbled it down, and that line just haunted me, that concept of how we define ordinary. That sort of braided together with this idea of doing something different and this wonder about other worlds, so those two things blended together for me. That night, when I was trying to go to sleep, I sort of popped up and started working on this book instead.
GH: This is great because it leads into a question that I’m really curious about. So, you didn’t know that Fingerprints of You was going to be marketed as young adult, so did you have that sense of Invisible Fault Lines? And if so, how did it impact your writing, or did it change your writing?
KPM: I knew I wanted to stay involved with the [YA] community, so when I started Invisible Fault Lines it was with the intention of it to be YA, which is not how Fingerprints of You started. There is that element of ignorance is bliss. With Fingerprints of You I wasn’t thinking about readers at all. With Invisible Fault Lines I was more aware of who the intended readers are for YA. But that’s even blurry because now, statistically, more adults read young adult than young adults, so again it goes back to writing the best book and the best story that you can write. I find the less I can think about audience, the better the book is going to be. But I was more aware of our responsibilities as YA writers because I was frequently talking about that component with Fingerprints of You because it was not written as YA and contains so many adult themes but was marketed as YA. I was always on the panel about cross-over fiction or adult themes in young adult work, and so I was talking about that concept a lot. Walking into a new project thinking about the intended audience and what our responsibly is as young adult writers was very much on my mind.
GH: So, because there’s that stigma about young adult being the very “bland” prose, not very well thought out, “thin”—which is not what your books are at all—but where you cognizant thinking about that at all? Or were you just like, “I’m going to write my way”?
KPM: No, I think the goal is to always to write to the best of your ability regardless of who the reader is. I think that the young adult readers are very demanding and they deserve the best fiction that we can provide for them, and so it’s really a disservice to think “Oh well if it’s YA we can really cut some corners” or write more thinly or less complexly. It doesn’t make any sense! Why would you want to produce something that’s not as strong as it could possibly be? It’s a ridiculous conversation to even have.
I’m of the mindset that there’s no need to censor. I’m really lucky; I ended up with an editor whose comment to me, when I sold Fingerprints of You as YA and knowing that it wasn’t written as YA was, “The worst thing you can do is walk into the revision process thinking about the ‘teen’ reader and dumbing it down.” He used that term, “dumbing it down,” and that’s always really stuck with me and haunted me in a way because I just think it’s so completely ridiculous. We teach teenagers Shakespeare and we teach them all kinds of complicated literature in the classrooms. Why are we not writing contemporary literature at the same standard? I mean, that’s exactly what we should be doing.
GH: That’s so refreshing for me to hear because my English honors thesis is all in young adult literature and I just finished a chapter that was about covers, and about how cover art is getting so much better but prose is getting so much weaker and that’s because editors are predominantly focused on selling as opposed to producing.
KPM: Absolutely. I think you have to write what interests you and what you’re most equipped to do and so I am not the kind of writer who will produce a book a year. That’s just not my process. In the YA world, though, a lot of people do churn out books once a year, and there is a lot of emphasis on keeping the audience and “Your readers are waiting for the next book.” Well, I’m not going to give them a book that’s not ready, that’s not good, and most likely I won’t be able to write a book that’s strong enough in a year. What I’ve seen is that often the books that are coming out that quickly are probably coming out a bit too early, they could have used another revision or another plot line or another level of philosophical component. But, as you’ll note, there’s been four years between my books, which is not the norm in YA. But it’s a disservice to the readers because we might be producing books that aren’t ready to be on shelves because someone decided you need to put a book out every twelve months. Those kinds of standards can be really harmful to the art.
GH: So on the question of process, what is your favorite part? Do you prefer being in the early stages where everything is new and wonderful or do you like revision? Or is it about both?
KPM: Yeah, it is both. It depends on the book, and where the book starts. So, for me, Fingerprints of You started with character and voice, and the first draft was so much fun because I really felt like I knew this character from the start. It was a very quick process for me; writing the first draft took about five weeks. It was a blast.
With the book I’m working on right now, the first draft is not that wonderful. It’s been a lot more of a struggle. I think that the result of a lot of different factors, but at this point I just want to get this first draft down because I know the revision is going to be the more joyful part. It’ll be the place that I can breathe a bit and enjoy it more.
GH: Can I ask about what this new book might be about?
KPM: No. [laughs] I mean, you can. I’m about halfway through the first draft and so it’s a vulnerable place. I hesitate to talk too much about it. It’s rooted in my curiosity about technology and our increasing dependency on it. That’s probably all I can say.
GH: That’s fine, I was just curious because you said it was conceptual, and Fingerprints of You was all about character. There’s an interesting tension between character and concept, and some people can only do one or the other.
KPM: Yeah, I think that’s why I’m so uncomfortable with this book. I’ve always considered myself a character writer, and that’s not how this book started for me, which I find to be really interesting and challenging. My hope is that I’m doing something different with each book, so that’s what this book is. It’s an idea, and now I have to work with that to figure out how to write it knowing that that’s all I have right now and that I will be layering in all the other elements
GH: Are you aware of the YA trope idea? Do you think about that as you write?
KPM: I am aware of it. It’s hard not to be aware of these things because we’re all so connected online now. In early drafts I try to just follow the story and let it be what it is and give myself permission to make mistakes and to lean on devices like that if I need it just to power through that first draft. I become more intentional about my choices in revision. I do a lot of revising. I love revising. It’s so wonderful to watch a project go from such a loose, flexible thing to really reining it in and figuring out what you want to do and say.
NOW, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The giveaway includes a signed copy of Kristen-Paige’s Fingerprints of You, plus swag from BOTH novels including coasters, temporary tattoos, a sticker and bookmarks. This giveaway is US only and ends on May 12th. Enough logistics? Enough! Enter away!