Laurie Halse Anderson's poignant novel SPEAK blazed a trail that many other authors have followed. It also inspired an enjoyable film which was fairly true to the novel - though what could never hope to capture the novel's narrative completely? More than that, it has helped countless teenagers and adults come to terms with things that have happened to them or their loved ones without being ashamed, and encouraged them to report real-life incidents and crimes.
The newest book to bear the Laurie Halse Anderson byline is TWISTED. When Tyler is falsely accused of something disreputable, he must decide what is worth standing up for, and determine how the truth became so twisted. ( Read my full-length book review. )
Laurie just wrapped up a successful book release tour. I spoke with her at length about writing, responsibility, and speaking out.
SPEAK is a landmark novel which inspired readers and writers of all ages. Prior to its publication, did you face any huge obstacles due to its content or subject matter? Do you feel as though your story broke down some barriers?
SPEAK was turned down by one publisher. The editor was gracious enough to write me a personalized rejection letter. She did not seem to have any problems with the subject matter, she just didn't like the somewhat quirky narrative style.
Yes, I absolutely think SPEAK has crumbled some walls. But it's not just the book. It's the readers who come away from the book with a new understanding of sexual assault and depression, and who find the courage to speak up about their own pain. It's also the teachers and administrators who are smart and bold enough to put a contemporary piece of literature into the classroom where it can help open minds and change lives. SPEAK is great example of the power of Story.
CATALYST came after SPEAK, and careful readers noted its tie-ins with its predecessor. What are the advantages to placing your books in the same immediate universe? The disadvantages?
I was hoping for more advantages, but it didn't turn out that way. I was quite comfortable writing in the setting of Merryweather High (where both books are set). After SPEAK, I thought I might reuse some of the teachers. But I ran into an unexpected problem. Kate Malone is a very different kid than Melinda Sordino. Her perspective on teachers like Mr. Neck is not that of Melinda's at all. So I scrapped the scenes that had the teachers from SPEAK. And then when the character of Teri Litch showed up, the book took off on its own path. It was, however, very nice to be able to show the readers of SPEAK that Melinda is doing well. I seriously doubt I will ever write a sequel to SPEAK, so I owed them that.
As we speak - no pun intended - many high school students are gearing up for their prom. Your PROM novel was much lighter than SPEAK and CATALYST. Did you attend your high school prom?
No! At least, not my senior prom. I was an exchange student living on a pig farm in the Denmark my senior year. But I went to a number of proms my sophomore and juniors years, plus I have 4 kids, so I had some insight into the social phenomena we call "prom."
PROM was deliberately lighter than the previous YAs, for a couple of reasons. First, it takes a lot out of my soul to spend a year or two writing a book that has dark and troubling issues. When I was writing PROM, there was enough drama in my personal life that I needed a wee bit of a break from it all in my fiction. Second, I was irritated with the idea that all YA literature has to be tragic and angsty. Sometimes a story can be fun. Sometimes a character can make you laugh. I reach for funny books all the time to help me get through life. So I set out to write a lighter book, for both my readers and for me.
TWISTED is your first novel for teens with a male protagonist. Did you find it difficult to slip into his shoes and his mind?
Yes, at first. I spent a looooong time talking with guys and asking how the insides of their brains worked, and what did they really thought about. It was a fascinating ride. But once I developed a clear understanding about the motivations and quirks of Tyler, my main character, it became as easy as writing from a female POV.
Others may have beaten me to this, but can I ask for a spinoff book about his sister, Hannah? I really enjoyed her.
Thank you! You are the first person to say that! I adored her character. It took some arm-wrestling to prevent her from taking over the story. I shall sit down with her again and consider your request.
(We ramble on about Hannah for a while, then move on.)
SPEAK, CATALYST, PROM, TWISTED - all one-word titles. Coincidence or not?
You have also had success with picture books and juvenile series. Would you ever try your hand at adult fiction?
Yep. I have an adult novel that's been kicking around my laptop for a couple of years. It's not quite ripe yet. I don't know if I will try to publish it, or, if I do, what author name I will use. Ask me again in ten years.
That may time out nicely. Think of the readers who were teens when SPEAK came out, and where they will be in a decade. In the meantime, what are you working on now?
I am finishing what I hope are the final revisions to my historical novel that comes out next year, packing for the next trip, and thinking about my next YA which I will work on this summer.
Name your top ten books of all time.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman (and everything else he wrote)
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Chris Crutcher
The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
Ulysses, James Joyce
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Borrowers, Mary Norton
Holes, Louis Sachar
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott
Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block
Yes, I know, this is 11. Sorry.
Don't apologize! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to me.
Thank you very much for these wonderful questions. It was a delight and a relief not to have to answer the same things for the ten thousandth time. I really appreciate that.