Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Author Interview: Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli’s much anticipated 'Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda' was published last month to global, critical acclaim. Becky is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, partial to Oreos (I should know, we’ve debated this on Twitter for days!) and has worked for seven years with gender non-conforming teens in Washington D.C.

Follow Becky on Twitter: @beckyalbertalli
Check out Becky's website here.

Buy 'Simon Vs the Homosapiens Agenda':
- Amazon
- Waterstones 
- Foyles

The Interview 

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Thank you so much for interviewing me! I’m so happy to be a part of this.

For those that haven’t read Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, can you sum it up in 140 characters?

SIMON is a nerdy, gay email love story that sounds like Elliott Smith and tastes like Oreos.

I know you’re a huge supporter for the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ initiative for children and teens. Did Simon Vs arise from this need or was it a story you had inside you?

I am definitely a huge fan and supporter of the WNDB initiative, though that’s not the reason I wrote Simon (I was actually already past copyedits when the WNDB movement entered the scene). This is absolutely a story I had inside me.

Your background is in Clinical Psychology and I know you’ve worked with non-gender non-conforming teens for seven years. Has this impacted Simon’s story?

I’m sure it has, but it’s hard to say how! I was so inspired by the awesome, beautiful kids I worked with, but I’m also really careful not to use any confidential information in my writing. So, Simon’s story is one hundred percent fiction, except the parts that were lifted directly from my high school journals.

When I read Simon, I got echoes of Stephen Chbosky, David Levithan and possibly John Green. Is it an accurate statement that these writers influenced the book? How difficult was it for you to carve a space for Simon’s voice within the genre?

That is so flattering – those are three of my favorites! But it really is hard for me to trace my influences. I never sat down and attempted to emulate any other writer, and I doubt I could have accomplished that anyway. But maybe my love for these authors helped inform my style? It’s hard to explain, but I never consciously tried to carve a space for Simon’s voice. I just created this character who felt very real to me, and I tried to stay faithful to the direction he took me.

What made you choose a male narrator? 

Simon sort of showed up in my head fully formed. He was always a boy, always named Simon, always an Elliott Smith fan, always an Oreo eater. I didn’t have any difficulty connecting with Simon as a narrator, even though he’s a boy. I think he’s Simon first and a male second.

How has the reaction to the book been from readers? Have you any stories you can share?

It’s been very surreal – mostly wonderful, but entirely strange. As a psychologist, I had basically no online footprint, and I kept my personal life very private. Suddenly, my entire life feels very public, and the internet is full of people discussing this story that feels deeply personal to me. That can be hard, but it’s also incredibly special and gratifying. So many people have reached out to me via email or social media, and it’s so magical to hear that this book I wrote has actually touched people’s lives. Of course, there’s also an entire contingent of people who think I don’t know that Tumblr is just called “Tumblr.” You guys, I freaking know. STOP THINKING I’M A DORK. (I think this is how my dad feels, like, all the time.)

How did you find the writing-to-publication process? 

For me, it was a bit of a fairy tale. Things happened really quickly for this book. I queried my agent a week after I met him at a conference. He offered representation five days later, and he sold my book four days after I signed with him. Since then, there have been ups and downs, but my teams at The Bent Agency, HarperCollins, Penguin, and my other foreign publishers have been over-the-top incredible. I feel really lucky.

Do you have any unusual or strange habits while writing? 

It’s hard to say what’s unusual! I tend to write in pajamas, and I never, use a desk (always my bed or the couch). I edit compulsively as I go along. I get distracted easily by social media. I require a lot of chocolate. I think these things are pretty common, probably.

Your style of writing is equally accessible to teens and adults. Did you envision Simon Vs having such universal appeal?

That’s so nice to say! I’m thrilled that the book has resonated with both teens and adults. I had no idea what to expect, honestly. I just sort of wrote a book I would want to read, and I guess I also wrote something the teen version of me would want to read. I actually think I liked the same kinds of stories back then, so maybe that’s part of it!

I feel as though you could have pushed the homophobic abuse further in the novel. What made you hold back?

It’s funny - I didn’t feel like I held back at all! I think for a story set in 2014 and 2015, so much of the peer reactions depend on the particular context and environment. In Simon’s case, there was some very real bullying and humiliation, but much of the focus was on the micro-aggressions he experienced. Some teens have it much worse, unfortunately, but some have a much easier time than Simon. Interestingly, you’re not the first person who has wondered if I held back – but I’ve had just as many people express disbelief that things could still actually be as difficult as I portrayed them. It’s all about the experiences the reader brings to the table. 

Would you ever write a sequel to the story? If you had to write and explore the story of one character, which character would it be and why?

I don’t know that I could ever write a direct sequel, because I can’t bear to introduce conflict into the Simon/Blue relationship. I think if I ever wrote a sequel from another character’s perspective, it would be Leah. I don’t think her story wraps up entirely when Simon’s does.

You’re on Mars and you realise that you only have 48-hours of oxygen left in your canisters. You reach for your emergency kit filled with five books (apparently, there was a food shortage and you’ve lost communication with Earth). What five books are they?

Well, my emergency kit actually contains my kindle, pre-loaded with ALL of my books, so I can put off making this decision as long as possible. Why, yes, I was the kid who would have asked the genie for more wishes.

I’d just like to conclude by saying that Simon Vs is the kind of novel I would have loved to have read at school when I was bullied. I am twenty-four and gay. It’s such an easy read and it has a very insightful message and approach. So, I guess what I’m asking you to do is, go back in time to 2004, write and publish Simon. That’s not a lot to ask surely? Seriously though, Simon Vs the Homosapiens Agenda is my favourite debut of 2015 so far and your success is well-deserved. I wish you all the best and I hope that you continue to write.

That is so incredibly nice, and it means the world to me. Thank you so much!

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