Author Interview: Lara M. Zeises on Anyone But You

Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises (Delacorte, 2005). It’s one hot summer. Seattle’s planning to spend her early vacation days hanging out with her stepbrothers–Jesse and Critter. But it’s too hot for Sea to skate, too hot for Critter to chase girls, and responsible Jesse is busy working. Layla, the boys’ mom, is working all the time, too, and Sea’s dad took off six years ago. That leaves step-siblings-turned-best-friends Sea and Critter to venture to a swimming pool in an nearby upscale town. It’s there that Critter falls for a pretty life guard, and before long, Sea’s spending all of her time with a skater boy who’s on the rebound and just visiting for the summer. Neither Critter nor Sea is happy, though both struggle with why, and then Sea’s dad reappears, even further confusing the roles of friendship, love, and family. Ages 12-up. More on Anyone But You.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I almost always start with character. I had this idea that I wanted to write about the best friend of the popular girl – you know, the silent one who secretly has all of the power? That’s how I started to conceive Sarah. And then I was thinking about how best to shake up her world, and thus Critter – a tall, skinny kid with a fixation on Rod Stewart – was born. But in playing the “what if” game, Critter suddenly had a blue-haired sister who wasn’t really his sister. And then two of them became way more interesting to me than Sarah, so she took a backseat and I focused more on Sea and Critter.

I didn’t know that Sea was a skateboarder until the second draft. This is partially because when I was writing the first draft I was convinced that Critter and Seattle were going to hook up. But by the time I started to write the actually hooking up parts, it just felt wrong. My editor, the brilliant Jodi Kreitzman, and I talked a lot about what direction to take the book in. The word “family” came up over and over and over. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t so much about a forbidden romance as it was a family in crisis.

In this context Seattle as a character needed some fleshing out. Jodi was pushing for her to join the swim team, but I knew Sea wasn’t a joiner. And then one day I was talking to my friend and he said his cousin was dating a pro-skateboarder and WHAM! I knew instantly she was a skateboarder.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I remember the exact spot where I thought, “What if Critter had a blue-haired sister who wasn’t really his sister?” I was walking across the parking lot to the Needham Library in MA, on my lunch break. This was November of 2000. In the summer of 2001, just after I’d sold/revised Bringing Up The Bones for Delacorte, I wrote maybe 16 pages, the first few in Sarah’s voice (which I quickly discarded) and the rest in Seattle’s voice (which I instantly loved).

That fall I sold Contents Under Pressure to Delacorte, and then a month later moved back to Delaware. In adjusting to the move, looking for a job, and revising Contents, I didn’t get a chance to revisit Anyone But You until the fall of 2002. My agent had asked me for a full synopsis and some sample chapters and we used them to sell the book to Delacorte in spring 2003.

I turned the first draft – a big, ugly, messy draft – into my brilliant editor, Jodi Kreitzman, that fall. We talked a lot about what direction I wanted to take the project, and the word “family” came up over and over. So that’s what guided my revision all through the winter/spring of 2004 (while launching Contents Under Pressure and teaching two classes at the University of Delaware). The second draft crystalized what the story was really about – this loving, lower-middle class family trying very hard to keep it all together emotionally, financially, etc.

Jodi and I were both pretty happy with the second draft, but we did another round of minor revisions before sending the manuscript into production. Galleys were sent out in early June and the book will be out on November 8th.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Since this was going to be my third book, I wanted to stretch my wings a bit. People had been asking if I was ever going to write in boy voice. And I wanted to play around with structure, too. The result was these two alternating first person POVs.

Then I had to deal with the sexy parts. I’m very, very vigilant about making sure that every sex scene is there for a reason, and not just to shock people or whatever. So I walked a super-fine line when dealing with those scenes, trying to be certain that every word, every action served a specific purpose. Shelli, Critter’s “friend with benefits,” was particularly difficult to write because I didn’t want the reader to see her as pathetic, but I didn’t want them to see Critter as a villain, either. She gets to have a moment at the end that I think gives her some real dignity, and I was glad I could have that and stay true to the voice of the piece.

The research for the skating stuff was relatively easy. I used to be a journalist, and that helps out a lot when I’m researching. I e-mailed a female pro skateboarder and talked to her about skating. I watched videos of tricks online, and read up on everything there is to know. Finally, I had the female pro and a college friend who skates and writes for skater mags to read through my pages to make sure I got it all right. They corrected a few mistakes but overall thought I nailed it.

The final big challenge I dealt with was that this was the first book I wrote outside of grad school. And while I thought about my characters 24/7, the time I actually spent writing their story was brief – the bulk of the first draft was written in six weeks and revised in another eight. I’m still struggling with discipline in terms of a writing schedule. Actually, I’d kill to have the tiniest bit of structure in my life. How do other writers do it? I do not know.

Note: Don’t miss other recent cynsational front list interviews with: Anne Bustard on BUDDY: THE STORY OF BUDDY HOLLY (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005); Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein on MISS LADY BIRD’S FLOWERS: HOW A FIRST LADY CHANGED AMERICA (Harper, 2005); Elisa Carbone on LAST DANCE ON HOLLADAY STREET (Knopf, 2005); Mary E. Pearson on A ROOM ON LORELEI STREET (Henry Holt, 2005); Cecil Castellucci on BOY PROOF (Candlewick, 2005); Kerry Madden on GENTLE’S HOLLER (Viking, 2005); and Jennifer Richard Jacobson on STAINED (Atheneum, 2005).

Cynsational Links

Author Interviews: Lara Zeises from February 2004. Also visit Lara’s LJ, girl uninterrupted.

Interview with author James Deem from by Juanita Havill from The Purple Crayon. Emphasis on writing, Deem’s work, and promoting books online.

Musings July 2005: “Writing Time Outs” Can Help You Polish Your Picture Book by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

See also July publisher editorial staff changes at The Purple Crayon.