I'm happy to welcome Jessica Park, author of the New Adult novel Flat-Out Love, to the blog today for an interview! You can read my review of Flat-Out Love here.
First, a bit about the book and the author:
"Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it.
When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.
And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.
To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer." (from Goodreads)
"Jessica Park is the author of the young adult novels FLAT-OUT LOVE and RELATIVELY FAMOUS; five Gourmet Girl mysteries (written as Jessica Conant-Park); and the e-shorts FACEBOOKING RICK SPRINGFIELD and WHAT THE KID SAYS (Parts 1 & 2). Jessica grew up in the Boston area and attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. After spending four years in the frigid north, including suffering through one memorable Halloween blizzard, Jessica hightailed it back to the east coast. She now lives in (relatively balmy) New Hampshire with her husband, son, bananas dog named Fritzy, and two selfish cats. When not writing, Jessica indulges her healthy addictions to Facebook, Rick Springfield, and super-sweet coffee beverages." (from the author's website)
And now for the questions...
1.) Unlike most books about someone's first year in college, Flat-Out Love doesn't involve dormitory or apartment life, but rather a homestay–style situation. What inspired you to go this less traditional route for Julie's college experience? How much do you think living arrangements affect a student's time in college?
Getting Julie into the Watkins household was integral to the story. She just had to become enmeshed enough in their lives to be able to see and feel what no one else could. Plus, I love that it gave her “real” time with Matt… Had they met outside of this situation, odd are that neither of them would have really been themselves around the other. Living together the way they did allowed so many walls to come down.
Living off-campus vs. living at the dorms has got to be a different experience in so many ways. You may still be in a parent’s house and therefore still under some degree of house rules… College is a pretty fun time to make your own rules! If you’re in an apartment off-campus, I think it’s a great opportunity to develop strong independence and responsibility while being able to escape some of the chaos of dormitory life. Dorms give you instant access to a social life, but it can be draining and hard to find anything resembling private time.
College is housing is always going to be a mixed bag, with good and bad aspects of all options. I can, however, guarantee you that you will eat some incredibly disgusting things for four years. True story: I used to microwave white rice with peas, ranch dressing, and curry powder from the salad bar at my college’s cafeteria. And I thought it was spectacular compared to what was offered to me at the potato bar.
2.) The focus of Flat-Out Love isn't the classes Julie attends, but the time she spends with the Watkins family. Why did you choose to make this the central storyline? Which "New Adult" themes do you think this plot highlights?
Yes, her attending classes is the backdrop to the larger story. I wanted to do a strong romance but have that tied into other complicating issues with this damaged family. The complexities of the family’s history help to make the connections between the characters all the more powerful.
Making Julie eighteen and having left home for the first time was important in terms of how she would respond to the other characters. She’s an adult… sort of. But she’s also still a kid. She’s flawed and finding herself the way that most of us are at that age.
I don’t believe in “rules” for New Adult books… I ignored all of those when writing Flat-Out Love. :) But it covers romance, pain, angst, hurt, loss, hope. I think it’s got a good degree of guts, too, which is part of what readers have really responded to: this is not a light, superficial book, although there are some readers who have seen it that way. On the surface, one could boil it down to a superficial level, but it’s really a layered book. What you see is not what you get.
3.) What's been the most common reaction when you tell people you've written a "New Adult" novel? Have you ever had to defend your choice of publishing in this category?
Readers are thrilled to pieces to see so many New Adult books. There has been a ridiculously large gap in this market for reasons that I’ll never understand. It’s why no big publisher wanted Flat-Out Love; they said that a story about a college freshman would never sell. That thinking is incomprehensible to me and readers have shown that they can’t get enough of stories about characters in their late teens and twenties. Indie authors are proving those rejections by publishers wrong over and over, and finally we are starting to see pubs snag up some of these stories.
4.) You originally self-published Flat-Out Love. What were some of the obstacles you bumped into along the way, and how did you deal with them?
I’m not sure that I encountered obstacles so much as I encountered exhausting work. I had no built-in audience so I was really marketing my book all on my own. It was not easy, but bloggers and readers were extremely generous in taking a chance on Flat-Out Love. Dealing with formatting, covers, and editing are also piles of work--and not always entirely successful--but I also liked being in control of those.
Trying to go to any of the major book conferences, like Romantic Times or BEA would be really challenging on my own, not to mention expensive. Now that Amazon Children’s Publishing is taking over, they’ll be able to send me to all the fun conferences that I’ve been dying to go to.
5.) If you could pick one memory from your "New Adult" days to relive, which would it be and why?
Can I pick all of college? No? Well, I’m going to cheat a little bit and say that some of my favorite memories are grounded in the friendships that I made in college. I’m still incredibly close to my friend, Alexa, who I met during the first few days of freshman orientation. Friendships that you make in New Adult years can be unbelievably powerful and long lasting.
If you want one specific memory, I could tell you about a 2 a.m. trek across campus in sub-degree Minnesota temperatures that ended with… Well, no, never mind. Probably not an appropriate story.
Thanks so much for these thoughtful answers to my questions, Jessica!
Now for the giveaway... Jessica has generously offered up Smashwords coupon codes for Flat-Out Love!
- Entrants must be 16 years or older.
- Open internationally
- One entry per person. But anyone who's officially signed up for my New Adult reading challenge gets an extra entry! (You must have already filled in this form, prior to the posting of this giveaway, in order to qualify. Please mention that you're a participant in your comment and leave the e-mail address you signed up with.)
- Following and tweeting are not necessary but always appreciated!
- Ends August 25, at 11:59 pm EST.
- Winners will be selected randomly.
To enter, please leave a comment with your e-mail address.