Some measure out their lives in “coffee spoons,”
Others in Judy Blumes . . . .
1988: Peter Hatcher from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing became my first literary boy crush.
1989: Blubber marked the first time my friends and I ever saw the word “bitch” in print. We were so stunned and delighted by this novelty that we kept passing the book around to each other under our desks during class, with the famous “bitch page” doggy-eared.
1990: I polished off Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in two hours, and for me, that event was no less than a religious solemnity. It seemed that the book was “happening to me” as I was reading it. I felt so much more grown-up by the time I reached the last page.
1991: Then Again, Maybe I Won’t was my introduction to the adolescent male psyche. I was grateful it explained the mystery of why boys would sometimes bring a book (as coverage) with them to the chalkboard.
1992: There is no way to exaggerate Forever‘s influence on every aspect of my high school life. (It was also around this time I first watched “The Thorn Birds”–that the Richard Chamberlain character was called “Ralph,” a name which figures rather largely in Forever, made him all the more enticing.)
1993: I was too young to read Wifey, but I tore through it anyway. It shattered my fairy tale fantasies of “happily ever after,” which is probably a good thing in the long run.
1998: I had the honor of reviewing Summer Sisters for a local magazine. It was wonderful to be able to rave about Blume not just to my friends but also to the general public.
2006: Since I knew I’d be dedicating Anatomy of a Boyfriend (Delacorte, 2007) to Blume, I mailed her a partially-edited version of the manuscript. I didn’t expect to hear back since she’s so busy, but I did! Last May she emailed me that she read Anatomy, thought it was “so good,” and enjoyed it so much she “had trouble putting it down.” 🙂
What made you decide to write for young readers?
I was still in my early twenties when I started Anatomy of a Boyfriend, so I felt qualified writing for teens since those adolescent years were still fresh in my memory. Oddly enough, a lot of the reader emails I’ve received lately come from adults who stumbled across the book in Target stores (Target is currently shelving the book in the “Bookmarked Breakout” section, not the young adults section). So maybe the story has a wider appeal than I imagined.
Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?
I finished the rough draft in mid-2003, and I began querying agents through Writer’s Market shortly thereafter, right as I was beginning law school. An agent accepted me several months down the line and submitted the manuscript to more than a dozen publishers. It was universally rejected–apparently, 599 pages is a bit too long. Instead of ending his representation, my agent graciously allowed me to take my first summer after law school to halve the book’s length. It was this new, shorter draft that was bought a few weeks later.
Thank you! I remember my first hall meeting during freshman year of college–we were introducing ourselves and discovering that almost half of us had boyfriends from high school. Then by the following semester, almost everyone had dumped or been dumped by her high school sweetheart. So I wanted to focus on that part of a girl’s life when she’s simultaneously excited for and scared of how college will change things. In the book, Dominique, the protagonist, says, “I used to think of college acceptance letters as emancipation proclamations. Now they’re like divorce papers.”
I also wanted to do a straightforward, nonjudgmental treatment of the emotional roller coaster of love. I resent that all of the words associated with romantic love are so pejorative. We’re often called “nuts,” “obsessed,” “head over heels,” “infatuated,” and “addicted.”
Why is love saddled with such negative words considering that any one of us, no matter how brainy, sane, or logical, can feel this way? Anatomy of a Boyfriend concerns a girl whose intelligence is above average but still longs uncontrollably for her knight in letterman jacket. Her behaviors may seem crazy, but in truth what she’s experiencing couldn’t be more natural and human.
Could you briefly describe the story?
Seventeen year old Dominique can’t wait to graduate from high school and go pre-med. She’s rational and level-headed and never had a serious crush before. However, during winter break of her senior year, she meets shy but dreamy fellow senior Wes. For the first time in her life, all of her priorities become completely reordered, and she finds herself thinking about him every minute of the day, reading into every little thing he says or does, and desiring to be his girlfriend more than she wants to be accepted into her first choice college. This is the story of Dom’s emotional and sexual journey through the euphoric highs and hellish lows of first love. It also follows Dom’s transition to college as she tries desperately to keep her relationship with Wes intact.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?
The biggest logistical challenge was juggling literary revisions with the rigors of law school. Luckily, I was able to schedule all of my classes on Mondays through Thursdays, so I had three-day weekends to devote to the book.
One of the many aspects of this book that I appreciated was Dominique’s smart, sometimes clinical, sometimes vulnerable, always real voice. Could you give us some insights as to how you came to know this character?
Thank you, again! We see Dom before and after she falls under love’s life-altering spell, and every emotion she experiences I’ve endured as well. Before I had ever been in love, I was so impatient with my girlfriends who wouldn’t stop “obsessing” over their (ex)boyfriends. I kept telling them, “Just get over him! He’s not right for you! How can a smart, sensible girl like you act this pathetically?” Then when I finally fell for a guy, I found myself guilty of everything I had railed against. For the first time ever, I identified with Scarlett O’Hara, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and a host of other characters from literature whom I had initially written off as unrealistic, clingy, selfish dopes unworthy of carrying a novel.
So although Dom and I differ in most ways, I understood her plight all too well. I just tried to express it in Dom’s uniquely scientific, analytical voice. More than anything, I tried to make her sound honest. That’s what I appreciate most about Blume’s characters–they are always very straight with the reader about everything they are going through, even if what they’re feeling, be it spite, jealousy or hate, isn’t all that complimentary.
What is it like, being a debut novelist in 2007?
I’m lucky we have email and MySpace to make direct communication virtually effortless. I feel much more connected to readers and writers than I probably would have ten years ago.
Growing up in the eighties, I rarely sent fan mail to authors because it was too time-consuming to find the address, write out a letter, and schlep it to the post office, especially since there were no assurances that the author would ever receive it, let alone respond. Now I rarely read a book without emailing the author afterwards.
What are some of your favorite recent reads?
Nine Wives by Dan Elish (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005). It’s about a thirty-something musician/legal assistant in Manhattan who’s raring to get married, but his standards are a tad skewed. It’s perfectly written, highly thought-provoking, and totally hilarious. Elish actually spoke to my fifth grade class back in the eighties about his middle-grade book, The Worldwide Dessert Contest. I remember him describing how arduous and frustrating editing can be, and knowing that comforted me during my own revision process.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Praying for “The Wonder Years” to be released on DVD.