Interview: Kristin Walker
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In Kristin Walker's YA debut, A Match Made in High School, Fiona can't believe that her entire senior class has to participate in a year-long marriage project. To make matters worse, they don't get to chose their partners. While her best friend Marcie gets paired up with a decent (albeit freakishly tall) guy named Johnny, Fiona gets paired up with Todd, a guy she can't stand. His real-life girlfriend has been teasing her since they were kids, and Todd purposely embarrasses Fee in front of (almost) the entire school during the senior marriage ceremony. Fee gets him back during their next big school event, and the war is ON. Meanwhile, Fee's best friend is hiding something, and Fiona's baby-sitting charge, the usually happy-go-lucky Samantha, is not so happy. Her argumentative parents are the polar opposites of Fiona's parents, who are still completely in love and wouldn't have any problems with PDA.
I recently interviewed Kristin about her Match, and what sparks her imagination.
Did you ever have to take part in a school assignment similar to that in your book, or the typical egg (or sack-of-flour) baby project?
No, thank goodness! I never had to do any of those programs. I was such a dork, though, that if I had, I'd probably have loved it. I babysat a lot in high school, so I'm sure I would've thought of myself as professionally skilled in egg/sack-of-flour minding. Unfortunately.
How did you perceive the concept of marriage when you were a kid? How did that change when you were a teenager, or an adult?
When I was a kid, I think marriage was something I took for granted. It was a foregone conclusion. I didn't know a whole lot of kids whose parents were divorced, so married moms and dads were the norm. There was never any question in my mind that I'd get married some day in the whole white-dress, church wedding, fairy tale sort of way. Which I did, incidentally.
As a teenager and young adult, I fancied myself as somewhat of a social rebel, so I vociferously defied belief in marriage for a long time. A couple should be together because of love, not because of some edict of religion and society! Legislation can't dictate commitment! Fight the power!
Luckily, I grew out of that. Now I see marriage as a living organism that returns the care you give to it. Having a good marriage is a privilege, and should be treated as such, but no one should be denied the opportunity to give it a shot.
Throughout the book, Fee and Todd sling insults back and forth and pull pranks on one another. Oddly, this makes Todd respect Fee. Did you ever write anything (actions, language, et cetera) that you felt went too far and thus changed it?
I removed a good bit of swearing from earlier drafts. Other than that, I never really thought about whether or not I was going too far, which, in my opinion, improved my writing and the story. But back then, I hadn't encountered reader feedback and opinions like I have since the release of MATCH.
Now I'm concerned that when I write, I'm going to have an imaginary, conservative, critical, all-American mom whispering in my ear that I'd better clean up some passage or dial back some action. I wish my inner critics and censors would just go off and form a happy little club somewhere else besides in my brain. I could suggest a spot slightly farther south.
Would you ever write a companion novel to Match which followed another couple's fake marriage? I would have loved to have seen a gay or questioning kid who felt uncomfortable with the pairings - you mentioned this possible concern a few times, but we didn't see a character deal with it directly - or the girl or guy who was "leftover" because the number of boys and the number of girls didn't match up.
Oh, I would love to have included a gay couple, too. I tried with great sincerity to address gay relationships through the subplot of Uncle Tommy (as well as with the parade), but I was worried that having a gay couple in the marriage ed course would require so much attention (and rightly so) that it would pull focus from Fiona's storyline. Gay marriage is a huge issue, and requires a book of its own. If I could ever feel confident that I knew enough about growing up and being gay in America, I would love to write a book about it. But right now, I don't know enough to write it authentically. If anyone's looking for a fantastic young adult novel with LGBT issues and appeal, please go read Malinda Lo's ASH, which is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. It's a Morris Award finalist and a starred selection of the ALA's 2010 Rainbow List, among other honors. Gorgeous.
A Match Made in High School is your first novel. You've also written essays and poetry, and seen your works published in Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies and magazines. What was the first story or poem you ever saw published?
My first published pieces were two poems that appeared in the November/December 2006 issue Wee Ones e-magazine, which has closed shop, sadly. I sold them for ten dollars each. I still have a copy of their acceptance email in a frame on my desk.
If aspiring writers want to submit their works to magazines you've worked for, like Ladybug and Wee Ones, how do they go about doing so?
As I mentioned, Wee Ones has closed. Ladybug is part of the Cricket Magazine Group (Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, Babybug, Click, Cobblestone, etc.) which to many writers is the Holy Grail of kids' magazine publishing credits. I love to include it in my bio even though the story they accepted years ago hasn't appeared yet.
There are other magazines, though, like Highlights/Highlights High Five, Hopscotch/Boys' Quest/Fun for Kidz, Humpty Dumpty/Jack and Jill/Turtle, and many more. Submission guidelines can usually be found on a magazine's website, so go for it!
Are you working on another novel?
"Working on" is such a nice, general phrase when referring to a manuscript. I could be wrapping up the final revision, or I could be just knocking around initial ideas. How would you know which? Okay, I admit it's the second one. But that still counts as "working on" it. I definitely want to write another YA because I adore teen readers. I also have a middle grade paranormal that I hope to shop around soon.
Back to Match: Fiona has an appreciation for the novel Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Is that one of your favorite novels as well? What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Yes, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is definitely one of my all-time favorites. Besides that and the other Austens, here are the ones I'd probably pick, in no particular order (except for the top one):
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak (Mind-blowingly phenomenal. Do not read the ending in public.)
ACCORDION CRIMES by Annie Proulx (Her artistry... The degree of work... *sigh*)
COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier (I ate fried eggs, grits, and cornbread the whole time.)
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Well, all of the Anne books, really, but I'm counting them as one.)
HARRY POTTER AND THE... by JK Rowling (All of them, too. It's really just a single, one-million-plus-word-long novel, right?)
SILAS MARNER: THE WEAVER OF RAVELOE by George Eliot (Why am I the only one who seems to like it?)
DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC, AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA by Erik Larson (It made me fall in love with Chicago and anything having to do with the Columbian Exposition just when I desperately needed to find something to like about living in Illinois.)
THE TEACHER'S FUNERAL: A COMEDY IN THREE PARTS by Richard Peck (His characterization and wit are sublime. Also made me love Illinois.)
GODLESS by Pete Hautman (My gateway to young adult novels.)
STRAIGHT MAN by Richard Russo (The funniest book I've ever read, by far.)
Phew, that was a hard list to make. I feel like I was just a guest judge on American Idol.
Visit Kristin's website and blog.