First, a bit about the book and the author:
"She's writing about him. he's writing about her. And everybody is reading between the lines..
For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions--it's her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family's racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin's college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter . . . so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?
Then, on the day she's sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He's joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin's heart with longing. Now she's not just imagining what might have been. She's writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter . . . except this story could come true." (from Goodreads)
"Jennifer Echols was born in Atlanta and grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama—a setting that has inspired many of her books. She has written eight romantic novels for young adults, including the comedy Major Crush, which won the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the drama Going Too Far, which was a finalist in the RITA, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the Book Buyer’s Best, and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. Her next two teen dramas, including Such a Rush, will appear in 2012 and 2013, with her adult romance novels debuting in 2013, all published by Simon & Schuster. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and her son." (from her website)
And now for the questions...
1.) Several of your previous YA novels have been set in high school. Since Erin and Hunter attend college, how did this affect the writing of Love Story? Did you approach certain elements, like voice or dialogue, differently than you would for your younger YA novels?
I would say the real difference is in subtlety. I let readers draw their own conclusions rather than bashing them over the head with mine, and though the ending is happy, I imply that these characters are going to have to work harder on their relationship than most of my characters do. The characters are more mature, and the story is too.
2.) Love Story provides the reader with insight into how college creative writing classes are conducted. Is this portrayal based on your own experiences? And if so, which aspects did you take from your own life, and which are pure fiction?
The class is conducted as one of my creative writing classes was conducted. The assignment for the class is to read other students’ stories that are put on reserve in the library. Then the stories are discussed in class as if the author isn’t there. Authors can’t defend themselves until the end—they just have to sit there and take it—which of course builds lots of tension and resentment.
3.) Erin and Hunter have a complicated relationship, and both seem to struggle with expressing their feelings to each other. Under the guise of their writing assignments, they communicate with stories that hold special meaning for the other person. Would you say this is typical behaviour of creative writing students in college?
God, I hope not.
How effective do you feel this strategy is?
I feel that this strategy is startlingly poor. But you know, it’s all these characters have to work with. They love and admire each other so deeply. There is so much baggage between them. Both of them think they’d be better off if they started over fresh with a new person and a new love, but they can’t let each other go, and they can’t even admit this to each other except in a way that is open to interpretation—the creative writing assignment—so they can still deny how they feel and avoid getting hurt.
4.) Most traditional publishers are hesitant to take a chance on books that fall into the "New Adult" category, and will tell writers to age their characters younger or older so that they fit neatly into either YA or adult. Have you come across this attitude? What is your response?
I have been told that readers don’t buy books set in college, and they don’t even buy books in which the characters are preoccupied with college. For instance, I had a plot shot down about a high school senior who desperately needed to get to a college interview on time.
And then there’s The Novel I Love So Much That I Will Just Die If It Doesn’t Sell. It was a New Adult with 21-year-old characters. I sent it to the one publisher I knew of who was actively seeking New Adult, and they turned it down. Then I got a new agent, and she suggested that I change it into a YA, because New Adult wasn’t selling. I did, and everybody rejected it anyway. It didn’t sell. I didn’t die. I still love it. And I still think it was a much stronger book as a New Adult.
I wish New Adult would take off. I would be its biggest fan. But publishers are chasing sales, plain and simple. Look at the example of 50 Shades. All my friends who write erotica are suddenly experiencing a resurgence in their careers because stores are rushing to carry more books like the runaway best seller. Likewise, if a New Adult ever makes a splash, the market will break wide open. Until then, my YA characters won’t get any older than 18.
5.) You've now had a couple books published that feature older YA characters. What would you say stories about characters in their late teens offer that YA books set firmly in high school do not?
I’m writing two different YA genres—romantic comedy and romantic drama. In the comedies, the problems are important to the characters, but they’re not life-and-death. If they were, the books wouldn’t be very funny. It’s fine to make those characters 15 or 16 and set those stories in high school, where there’s lots of drama that isn’t too serious. When things go really bad for these characters, they have a safety net in the form of their parents.
For the dramas, the problems need to be more intense. Characters aren’t as likely to encounter problems like that until they’re pushed out into the real world and onto the cusp of adulthood, and that’s why those stories tend to hover around high school graduation. Forget You is set at the beginning of senior year, Love Story is set at the beginning of college, Going Too Far and Such a Rush are set during spring break of senior year—the last time the characters will have a free week while they’re still in high school—and the book I’m writing now is set the week after graduation. Adulthood hasn’t set in, but it’s looming right there, and the characters can see it.
Thanks very much, Jennifer, for these thoughtful answers to my questions! Now you've got me curious about "The Novel I Love So Much That I Will Just Die If It Doesn’t Sell" :D