Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with YA author Mariah Fredericks

As regular readers of my blog may have noticed, I don't host author interviews, however, I have made an exception for Mariah Fredericks, the wonderful author of young adult novel, The Girl in the Park, which I reviewed here. I didn't ask a lot of questions about her inspiration for the story as she has covered that well on her own blog here (it has a very cool backstory as it's inspired by a real murder and by an issue Mariah herself grew up with and has dealt with personally.)

Caroline Bookbinder: As an author of Young Adult novels, do you feel any pressure these days to add supernatural elements to your novel?
Mariah Fredericks: Certainly between paranormal and dystopia, it seems like readers are in the mood for grand stories with high stakes. My natural bent is towards realistic fiction. I don't have the gifts of physical description I think you need to pull off paranormal or alternate worlds. And if you follow a trend, it's pretty much guaranteed that the trend will have passed by the time you try to jump on the bandwagon. Interestingly, my next book is Season of the Witch, the story of two girls who decide to combat a bullying situation by casting spells. But the "witchcraft" is all psychological. It's really a look at a time in your life when emotions get out of control and do serious damage.

CB: What do you think about that trend?
MF: Before paranormal, it was all about best friends and relationships. Now readers have moved on to more dramatic stories. The potential for forbidden romance is greater with paranormal and I think that's a big part of its appeal.

CB: Murder mystery isn't a genre we see tackled very often in YA - what inspired you to go that route?
MF: I think it's not often tackled in YA because we don't like to think about young people dying—or killing. But sadly, with school shootings, we see that homicide is a part of the teen experience in America. But there have been so many teen shooting novels, I didn't think I had anything to add to that story.

CB: Your past books haven't been inspired by real events but this one was - why did you decide to go that route? Did you find yourself restrained by the facts of the original murder at all?
MF: The Jennifer Levin murder has stayed in my mind for many reasons. We were about the same age, lived in the same city, and we both went to private schools. Since I wrote the book, I've been amazed at the number of people I know who have told me they have some connection to Jennifer or Robert Chambers. At the time, I had a very definite view of Jennifer as this rich spoiled party girl. I didn't realize until later that that was exactly the image I'd been given by Chambers's lawyers through the media. I always remember that I got that story very wrong. I didn't feel constrained by the facts of the murder, so much as I felt it was really important that everyone, even the murderer, was seen as a full, complex human being. To the best of my ability, anyway.

CB: Do you have a basset hound in every one of your books?
MF: No! Sadly. Ziggy, the basset hound who is in my author photo, passed away last November.

CB: We've probably all had a friendship go south, like Rain's and Wendy's. Why do you think that topic isn't tackled more in YA literature?
MF: I wrote about a troubled friendship in The True Meaning of Cleavage. By the end of that book, I was very tempted to not have the friendship survive. I felt it would be more realistic. But in the end, they're still best friends. I'm still friends with the woman who was my best friend in high school. They're very important relationships, which is maybe why we don't like to see them go down the tubes.

CB: Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?
MF: I'm currently revising my next book for Schwartz and Wade. It's tentatively called Season of the Witch and it's about—yep!—two friends who fight back against bullies by using a form of psychological warfare they call witchcraft. But evil energy, once released, is very hard to control, and all sorts of problems arise.

CB: You started off by writing books for adults but have switched to teens - what is it about YA novels that appeals to you so much?
MF: I find the teen situation so sympathetic. I really feel for kids. They don't have full control over their lives. They're at the mercy of so many powers—parents, emotions, school. By the time you're an adult, you've figured out what situations are safe and which are not good for you. Kids engage with everything. That makes them very compelling subjects.

CB: Who are some of your favorite authors? What books have shaped you as a reader and writer, from childhood to the present?
MF: Oh, boy. Big question! I loved Eloise and Harriet the Spy as a kid—very different role models, but both city kids. Like nearly every YA author, I was heavily influenced by Judy Blume. Also Paula Danziger, Norma Klein, and Paul Zindel. I still think The Chocolate War is one of the best books ever written. I also went to a lot of theater as a kid; dialogue plays a strong part in my stories. Now I love writers like Margaret Atwood, Fay Weldon, and Tony Horowitz. I'm reading the new Hilary Mantel and loving it.

CB: What is the best part about being a published author? The worst?
MF: The best part is that I get to do something I truly love—write and think about human problems—for a living. There is no real "worst" except that publishing is always an uncertain business, so you don't necessarily have a whole lot of security.

CB: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
MF: I get my son to school, come back, have coffee, read the paper and get to work. My best work is usually done by about one. I try to work an hour in for keeping in touch with readers online.

CB: If you weren't a writer what would you do?
MF: I used to work for Book of the Month Club, writing articles about other people's books. I worked with terrific people and got to read books for a living. That was the second best job I ever had.

The Girl in the Park is in stores now (hardcover). Mariah Fredericks's other YA novels include:

In the Cards : Life
In the Cards: Fame
In the Cards: Love
Crunch Time
Head Games
The True Meaning of Cleavage

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