Monday, October 17, 2011

Interview with Laura Goode, author of Sister Mischief

Laura Goode, author of Sister Mischief, recently did an event with us here at Porter Square Books. One of our Fresh Ink reviewers, Sophie, was in the audience. Sophie had heard about the book from another one of our reviewers, Jenna (see Jenna's review of Sister Mischief here) at our one-year anniversary party we had last month here in the store.
During Laura's event, Sophie had so many great questions about the book, the writing process, and Laura herself, that we thought it would be fun to do an interview between Laura, Sophie, and Jenna. So here then is our first Fresh Ink Interview. A HUGE thank you to Laura for being so enthusiastic about the interview and for being so thoughtful in her responses. And a HUGE thanks to Jenna and Sophie for coming up with such great questions.

Now on with the interview:

Sophie & Jenna: What inspired you to write Sister Mischief?

Laura Goode: When I was a little girl, I loved nothing more than books about other little girls who wanted to grow up to be writers. I devoured Anne of Green Gables, Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which are all mentioned in Sister Mischief), and millions of others. The becoming-a-writer books were the ones I loved most, but I also loved books about any girls who were Doing Something instead of just sitting around painting their toenails -- I loved reading about girls who sought adventure, girls who wanted to Be Somebody. So I probably knew all along that when I grew up, I was going to have to write my own girl-grows-up-and-becomes-a-writer story.

But when I did grow up, I realized that the faces of my amazing women friends didn't always match all the faces in those books I'd read (not) so many years before. I had friends who were Black, or Latina, or South Asian, or mixtures of any or all of those things, and I didn't see too many books about little girls who looked like them who wanted to grow up to be writers and adventurers. I had friends who were lesbians, or queer, or still just figuring it out, and I didn't see a whole lot of YA heroines who represented their experiences, either.

So Esme and Rowie and the gang, I think, became my effort to make sure that more girls growing up today could find girls that they related to in the books they were reading--girls who looked like they did, aspired like they did, fell in love like they did. I wanted girls who were younger than I am to know that someone cared about what they were going through, that someone who'd survived still understood how hard it was to grow up. I think that's why a lot of people like me write books for young adult readers -- because we really care about those readers, and because we don't want them to feel alone. Sherman Alexie, who won a National Book Award (that's a really big deal) for his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, once wrote "I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed." I think about what that means to me every day.

S&J: Are you anything like your characters? LG: It's funny -- a lot of readers have asked me "So, Laura, which character in Sister Mischief is you?" Esme is, of course, the most obvious choice, but there are some really big differences between us that prevent Esme from equaling Laura -- she's Jewish and I'm Catholic, she doesn't have a mom and I do, she's only attracted to women and I'm about to marry a guy. So Esme's story isn't truly my own; in truth, Esme is way cooler than I ever was in high school.

That said, all of the characters in Sister Mischief are me in some way or another. Like Ada reaching down to give some big sisterly advice, and Mrs. DiCostanza cheering on the girls' 4H ruckus even though she knows she's supposed to disapprove, and Tess telling Esme that she's perfect the way God made her, and Esme always being a little too interested in controversy for her own good. The four girls and I have a lot in common: like them, I was raised in the Minneapolis suburbs, I was anxious as heck to get out of Minnesota for college, I'm still feisty and trouble-stirring and ambitious. So yes, I'm in all these characters; after all, I made all of them.

S&J: Were any of your characters based off of people that you know?

LG: This is a question that's always a little tough for me, because it's been my experience that people tend to get irked when you steal their identities for your own fictional purpose, so I never base a character just on one person. In fact, I think I'd be a pretty bad writer if I did -- great character development takes a lot of imagination, and while all of us steal a great line or a juicy quirk here and there, building each character requires a lot more work than just quoting one of your friends and adding water.

That said, there's a certain spirit in Sister Mischief that's very derivative of the dynamic I enjoy with my closest girlfriends--a lot of oversmart bantering, giving each other a lot of grief about everything, working out the big questions of our lives in conversation with each other, always pursuing new intellectual adventures and inquiries. And there are definitely elements of the story that came from my life -- I grew up across the street from an Indian family whom I adored, and Rowie's house is distinctly reminiscent of theirs. My best friend in high school drove a 1987 GMC Jimmy that we called The James. I did once steal a sign that said "Buffalo Meat for Sale." My high school English teacher was (is) one of my biggest allies and heroines. One of my girlfriends actually did once ask me if I ever thought about animals just making out. That's the great thing about writing, and the reason why none of my nearest and dearest ever feel totally safe around me -- the good parts are there for the taking, and you can just leave out the boring parts!

S&J: What character do you relate to the most?

LG: That's a tough question! The easy answer, like I mentioned before, is Esme -- Esme and I have a lot of qualities, if not quite as many biographical details, in common. I relate to her perspective on being an only child who's desperately searching for the peer group that family didn't provide, I relate to her ambition and spunk, I relate to her obsession with words and books and performance.

I think, though, the character I actually relate to the most is Ada -- the older-but-not-too-much-older girl who's relocated to a new city with home and all it represents still very much on her mind, the big sister who really cares about telling her little sister(s) all the things she wished someone had told her at that age, a person wrestling with an insatiable desire to expand her horizons and see the world, but who's never forgotten the compass that points her back to all that made her who she is. I think that, in a way, because I'm 27 and not 57, I feel big-sisterly instead of motherly toward my readers -- my job isn't to nag them, or discipline them, or even protect them, but instead to have a little bit of wicked fun with them, to impart advice where I can, to help them experiment safely with the issues like sex and drugs that tend to be too scary for most parents to approach levelly. In a way, I probably think of Esme (and the rest of the girls) as my own baby sister, a certain kind of version of myself, but also not myself.

S&J: What books and authors did you like when you were little?

LG: Oh, gosh, how much time do you have?! I already mentioned the Annes and ATGIB; those were pretty seminal. I relate to Francie Nolan's internal monologue more than any other in all of literature. The book that made me want to be a writer was Alice in Wonderland. I loved classics like Little Women and The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. I loved everything ever written by Roald Dahl and Lois Lowry (especially the Anastasia books) and Judy Blume (Are You There, Judy? It's Me, Laura, and I Still Love You) and Beverly Cleary (oh, Ramona!) and Shel Silverstein. There were Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain (The Black Cauldron and The High King were the best of the five books), too -- I loved feisty Princess Eilonwy and how she never let anyone boss her around. I loved any girl character who never let anyone boss her around.

End of Part One. Come back tomorrow to read the rest of Laura's interview with Fresh Ink reviewers, Sophie and Jenna.

In the meantime, check out the book trailer for Sister Mischief.

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