Interview: YA Author Rebecca O’Connell

Rebecca O’Connell was a debut novelist with the release of MYRTLE OF WILLENDORF (Front Street, 2000). This interview was conducted via email in October-November 2000.

What kind of reader were you as a child? What were your favorite books?

I was an avid reader. My parents love to read, and I learned by their example. In elementary school, I loved the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. I read the whole original series. In seventh and eighth grades, I read everything I could find by Madeline L’Engle.

Who are some of your favorite authors today?

Francesca Lia Block, M.E. Kerr, Stephen King, E. L. Konigsburg, lots of others.

Did you begin writing early or were you a late bloomer?

Both; I’ve been writing since I was about six years old, but It wasn’t until four years ago, when I was 28, that I articulated the goal of writing a book and began working on it.

What inspired you to write for young adults?

Adolescence is an emotionally intense time of life, and adolescents are emotionally intense people. Also, no one tells you that adolescence lasts til you’re about thirty. I took a class on adolescence when I was in college. At the time I thought, good; I’m almost done with this. Ha! It lasted, like, ten more years.

Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?

I had always heard that in researching where to send a manuscript, you should look for a publisher who is publishing books like yours, and furthermore, for your manuscript even to be considered, it must be completely unique.

Very paradoxical.

Myrtle of Willendorf (book jacketWhen I read THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES by Brock Cole, published by Front Street Books, I knew I wanted MYRTLE to go to Front Street.

THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES is a compulsively readable story addressing some very weighty themes — death and child abuse among them. As serious as the themes are, they never overshadow the story, and the story itself provoked a very strong emotional reaction in me.

MYRTLE doesn’t deal with death or child abuse; however, it does include serious themes, and I like to believe it is also compulsively readable and will provoke strong emotional reactions. I sent the manuscript to Front Street early in October, 1998. The day before Halloween, I got a call from Stephen Roxburgh, President and Publisher of Front Street. I was so excited to hear from him, I temporarily lost my power of speech.

What are the greatest challenges to you as an author?

Getting ideas. Other people in my writing group talk about long lists they have of ideas for future novels. I come up with, maybe, one every other year. It’s frustrating.

What do you love about it?

I love the idea of sharing something — this story — with someone out there I’ve never even met. I know the intense pleasure I get from reading a good story, and I love the possibility that my story could bring that feeling to someone reading it. (It’s hard to talk about this without sounding dopey.)

In your novel MYRTLE OF WILLENDORF, Myrtle along with Jada and Margie are in three very different places with regard to their visions of beauty and self-image. Did you design the novel around these three girls or did their personalities emerge as you made your way through the plot?

Their personalities emerged little by little as the story progressed.

What is it like, being a first-time YA novelist in 2000?

It’s great. The response to MYRTLE OF WILLENDORF has been warm and wonderful. I’ve spoken to school groups as well as groups of writers and teachers, and the feedback I’ve gotten is very positive. Paganism, sexuality, self-destructive-tendancies are all themes addressed in the novel, and I thought maybe someone somewhere might object. So far, no one has.

What do you think of the current state of YA fiction?

YA fiction is getting better and better. I keep reading new YA novels that knock my socks off.

What changes, if any, would you like to see?

I’d like to see the really big bookstores stock more hardcover YA fiction. I’d like big, humongous book budgets for school libraries and for the YA collections in public libraries.

What kinds of reactions to your work have you gotten from young readers?

A college freshman said that she found herself thinking about MYRTLE OF WILLENDORF long after she finished the book. Others have said that they liked the parts of the book about Goddess worship; they are interested in women’s spirituality and enjoyed reading about it in this story.

What’s up next for your fans?

What a flattering question! Supposing the existence of Rebecca O’Connell fans, I would tell them that I am still writing and hope to complete another YA novel someday soon.