Guys, I am so excited to welcome the one & only Emery Lord to my blog today for an interview! You’ve heard a ton from me and from other readers on what her work has meant to us…now, bask in the awesomeness that is the Lord. =p Emery is just as vivacious and honest and well-spoken as her books, and I had SUCH a good time reading her answers – and if there’s not a line-up to be her friend after this, then something has gone wrong in the universe. =p Check it out!
1. Firstly, can you choose one song and one word to summarize each of your books?
THE START OF ME & YOU
2. I think we talked once about the fact that you’re not actually a huge fan of country music. Why did you base Open Road Summer on a country music star instead of, say, a pop star? (Was it just Taylor Swift fanfic? Got it in one, right?)
Well, I do truly love some country music! But I got the idea for ORS after passing a few country music tour caravans on the highway. I had this character of Reagan, and I needed a foil for her- that shaped into Dee, whose earnestness and longing just makes sense with country. Plus it fit with a kind of Americana vibe that I wanted, with a largely Midwest setting. I saw Dee as a kind of young Patty Griffin, more folksy- and I listened a lot to a singer named Nicolle Galyon while I wrote.At the time (2010), I didn’t know much about Taylor Swift except that I loved the song Mine. When people started telling me Dee was very Taylor Swift…I read about Taylor, got more into her music and now I worship her as the deity she is.
3. Paige and Max in The Start of Me and You are voracious readers. What books do you think were seminal in developing you as a writer and reader? Did you have a place like Alcott’s when you were a teen?
I was raised by a girl gang of Newbery Honoree heroines: Ella of Frell, Sal Tree Hiddle, Catherine Called Birdy. I loved Anne of Green Gables and the Secret Garden and Harry Potter. In middle school, I was very into Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare- both of which have themes that are surprisingly resonant for a sixth grader. Those all remain really precious for me. And yes! We had several Alcott’s- the Barnes & Noble Cafe nearest to us, plus a lot of local coffee shops that we haunted.
5. You’ve talked about feminism and slut-shaming in Open Road Summer before. One of the things I’ve heard people get frustrated with is the fact that Reagan never gets “punished” for her treatment of other girls in ORS, and thus, the book is condoning her behaviour. Can you talk about your reason for letting Reagan’s slut-shaming stand “unpunished”?
Sure! First of all, I want to say that I believe any reaction readers have to Reagan and her problematic behavior is totally valid. If it colors the book for them, I fully understand. I see my role as the author to present honest portrayals and hope to promote conversation- both are components of my own feminism. I’m always happy to stay OUT of these conversations…BUT I’m also always happy to talk about it if asked. So, I guess I’ll start by saying that I actually wrote The Start of Me & You *before* Open Road Summer (even though that’s not the order they were published in). Paige has this great support system of friends, family and community and, as a result of all that, she’s deeply kind and non-judgmental. In a lot of ways, it can read as aspirational, so it felt really important to me to portray another kind of girlhood. One that I think a lot of us experienced, where people were cruel to us, and we didn’t transcend it at age 17. I hoped that, by showing ties between Reagan being body- and slut-shamed in her formative years and showing her distrust and judgment of other girls, I’d be showing what I believe: which is that negativity toward girls (and humans) can be so cyclical. I wrote parallel moments (Reagan pushing up her bra at one point, then later comment on girls’ low-cut shirts) with the intent of tossing red flags for readers- hoping for a “wait, that’s not right” feeling. A few narrators gave me this discomfort as a teen reader, and they made me reexamine how I was treating other girls, including “mean girls.” But I didn’t take well, as a teen reader, to characters being chastised/punished on page in a way that seemed like a lesson. It felt like the adult writer swooping in to wrist-slap me, when I had already picked up on the cues of right and wrong. Of course, that’s totally a matter of taste, but that was a turn-off in my reading life, and so it is in my writing life.
I guess, ultimately, one of my concerns about how society treats teen girls is that we don’t allow them to be angry and hurt and occasionally unkind and still worthy of love or our understanding. I needed, for myself, to let Reagan emotionally backslide a little at the end and still be someone who is seen and cared for. So, that’s where I operate from, as a woman and writer. Thanks for asking!
6. Part of the reason I think your writing speaks to teens (and adults) so much is because it’s so raw and unfiltered. It’s really emotional and wise, often very present in the moment but also reflecting on the moment. Have you always written this way? Or do you feel like it took some time to develop your voice as a writer?
Oh, thanks! A lot of the writing I did as a teen and in college was like…personal essays, but only for me- private. I’d take something that was happening in my life and try to craft it into the kind of brief non-fiction you might see in a magazine. It was my way of catharsis and hunting for meaning, of framing my problems. Like, if I can give my issue a beginning and middle, maybe I can settle on an end–on closure. So I guess I’ve always stepped out of my own life in the present to reflect on that moment, if that makes sense. Part of my voice as a human and writer.
7. In TSOMAY, Paige has to deal with anxiety and loss, while in ORS, Reagan is dealing with major self-esteem issues, and I know that in When We Collided, Vivi is dealing with bipolar disorder. Talk to me about writing characters who are dealing with mental health issues. How do they come into being for you? Do you draw from your own experiences or ones of others you’ve met dealing with mental health issues?
Both! My own experience is always my jumping-off point, and then I seek out conversations and research and expert readers to flesh out specifics. Even when I’m well-informed personally because the issue is in my own life, I seek more information. It can help shape the narrative and, frankly…me. Connecting with others about mental health experiences is hard and important and really, really meaningful for me.
8. I think of you as the queen of YA friendships because the girl friendships that you portray are so amazing and close and true. I haven’t ever had that special a connection with someone; in fact, it took me until university to really understand female friendship. Can you talk a bit about these friendships and whether you have friends this close in real life? How do you maintain that kind of friendship? How did you learn to be that good a friend?
I do. My friends are my family. Maintaining that kind of friendship really comes from, I think, both parties wanting to. A big part of it is that I don’t have any sisters, and neither do most of my closest friends. Also I read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when I was a freshman in high school. If you haven’t read it, it’s about four lifelong best friends and their undying devotion to one another beyond marriages and children and many years. I was obsessed with it. Sound silly, but that book introduced me to prioritizing my friends over crushes or social hierarchy.
As long as I’m talking about it, I want to add that not all of us made it to adulthood still BFFs. Life is complicated, and I don’t want any girl out there who has not carried all friendships on to feel alone! It happens! It’s hard.
9. The characters in TSOMAY and ORS love their friends fiercely, but are terrified of something real in romantic relationships. It’s an interesting dichotomy, especially because Reagan is really the opposite of Paige in her support system. Were you more of a Paige or Reagan in high school? And is this something you experienced as a teen or young adult?
Definitely more of a Paige! Reagan is such a far reach for me in so, so many ways. And no! I was super ready to find my true love at any moment, hahaha!
10. Your tweets are hilarious. Your characters are generally snarkily hilarious. How funny are you in real life?
Well, thank you! I try to be really authentic on social media- that side of me is very true. But I also spend a lot of my mental time kicking around concerns about fiction, narrative, social justice, feminism, politics. That…you probably don’t see as much. Twitter is an outlet for me, a break from that, where I can just talk about food and TV and my dogs.
-Favourite book by Madeleine L’Engle & fave L’Engle boy? A Wrinkle in Time / Calvin O’Keefe
-Favourite flavour of ice cream? Jeni’s Sweet Cream Biscuits and Peach Jam
-Best pair of shoes in your closet? Pic attached. They’re atrociously uncomfortable but the heart wants what it wants. Sometimes I put them on and just sit, looking at them. I’d like to be buried in them. So that everyone in hell will be impressed by my swagger.
-Jane or Elizabeth Bennet? Darcy or Bingley? Elizabeth and Darcy, but high school Em would have gone Bingley.
-Max Watson, Ryan Chase, Jimmy Collier, or Matt Finch? Yes.
Thanks so much, Emery, for taking the time to answer my questions! I love how she dodged my last question LIKE A BOSS. And I think it’s really interesting that she was writing personal essays to try to sort out her own problems – writing has always been an outlet for me, and probably for many of you, but I’ve never thought of making it into a non-fictional way to write out a beginning, middle, and end to my problems. Something to think about.
What was your favourite part of this interview? What would you ask Emery if you could? Do you have friendships (or shoes) as great as Emery has, and what have they meant to you? Hit the comments and let us know. And if you haven’t checked out the other posts for #TheStartofEmandYou week, take a look! You could win signed books, an ARC of Emery’s 2016 release, or a The Start of Me and You tote!