I love A Little Friendly Advice. I've given the book to teens who also loved it, so it's not odd at all to hear someone come into my store and declare, "I heart ALFA." I enjoyed the book for a million different reasons: the writing, the storytelling, the characters, everything that spun together like cotton candy to make for a sweet, memorable book. Even the cover is fantastic - and it's also true to the story, but more about that later.
I also enjoy the storyteller. Whether we're talking about literature or food, little things or big coincidences, Siobhan Vivian never fails to crack me up. It is my absolute pleasure to present An Interview with -
Wait. Okay, first of all, for people out there who have difficulties pronouncing Siobhan, I'm going to sound it out: Shove-on.
Now we can move on. (But no pushing!)
Which came first, the title or the main plotline?
The title came first . . . though it was not originally A Little Friendly Advice.
I had been strolling through the big Diane Arbus exhibition at LACMA on Easter Sunday 2003. I remember the day exactly, because the museum was totally empty and I could get up close to all the pictures.
One photo in particular caught my eye, and I stared for at least 20 minutes. It was of a tough-looking girl wearing a jean jacket covered in little buttons. I couldn’t exactly make out what was written on them, but one looked to say something like Lost Daddy's Love...
The story exploded into my head right then and there. I ran outside and scribbled a rough plot down on my museum map, and Lost Daddy's Love became the working title.
At the very start of the story, Ruby gets a Polaroid camera for her sixteenth birthday, which she uses to take pictures of her friends. Those pictures grace the cover of the book - and I think they're pretty darn accurate.
Aren't they awesome?!
Did you have any say in the cover design and the text typesetting?
I didn't go to the actual model casting, but Scholastic asked me to provide some short-hand descriptions of the four main characters and how I might like to see them posed. They followed my suggestions to the letter! I think my favorite thing about the photography is that the girls look like real girls. They’re not overly styled or airbrushed.
As for cover design, my editor David originally pitched the concept of four Polaroids, with one word from the title written in marker on each picture. I loved the idea, though in execution it was kind of hard to read. So we went with the masking tape as a back-up. I’m so happy with the result.
Shortly after Ruby takes up photography, she befriends the quirky Charlie, who makes equally quirky pins. What made you equip your main characters with such cool hobbies?
I have always been attracted to people who make stuff. And not just because they tend to give awesome presents!
I feel like creative people are adventuresome by nature. They're not afraid to mess up. In fact . . . they often embrace their mistakes. They're more romantic. They’re more passionate. Those were all traits I wanted Charlie and Ruby to eventually connect on. So giving them each a creative outlet made sense.
I really enjoyed all of your supporting characters, especially Ruby's parents. Each had their own personality and stumbling blocks.
Oh, thank you!
You're welcome. Do either of the parents in the book or their tones echo anything from your own household?
There's nothing too literal, thankfully, but there are definite similarities in how Ruby learns to communicate with both her Mom and Dad.
It's such a strange thing when you know someone means well, but they still fall way short of your expectations. I think that's a hard thing for anyone to come to terms with, and something I've certainly struggled with as my parents have become more like "real people" to me.
Ruby's best friend Beth is also friends with Maria and Katherine. Ruby gets along with Maria, but she would gladly do without Katherine. You captured that weird feeling that comes about when your friend has a friend who is not YOUR friend. Did that happen to you in high school?
Mm-hmm. It makes for a really strange dynamic, doesn't it? You'd think that if two people were connected by a common friend, there’d be a really high probability that they'd get along themselves. Ha. If only!
You have co-written a picture book with J. Otto Seibold called Vunce Upon a Time. How did that come to pass, and when will it be available?
I met Jimmy while living in Los Angeles. We had always talked about doing a book together, and worked on a TV idea that never took off. Life got in the way after that, and when I moved back to NYC, we lost touch. Then we reconnected last year and shortly thereafter, Vunce was born! It’s a sweet story and the art is really rad. I'm very proud of it. It will be published by Chronicle and will be available this Halloween! (insert spooky "OooOOoo!" sound here)
When I'm home, I'm always listening to music or to a program or film on TV - unless I'm writing something. In that case, I have to turn off the TV (too distracting) and listen only to music. Do you have any writing rituals?
Buy a fancy coffee, set iTunes to play dedicated music for a particular chapter/character, and turn my internet off. Having no web access is essential to having a productive writing day.
You have a background in film and television.
My undergraduate degree was in Writing for Film and Television. After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles and worked in kids television for a few years, in jobs ranging from being the assistant to a network head, working as a literary scout for an independent animation company, and doing PA work on a few shows. I've even had my hand up inside some Muppets!
Are you still involved in the entertainment industry?
I'm still semi-involved with that industry. This past year, I worked as a staff writer for a preschool show on The Disney Channel. I'd love to do more work in that field. It's a lot of fun, and a nice change of pace from writing books.
Would you ever develop your books into screenplays?
I would absolutely d-i-e if someone wanted to make ALFA into a film, but I'm not sure how involved I'd want to be in the process. I think I might be a little too close to the material to make the changes necessary for adaptation. Just give me a cameo and one of those folding chairs with my name on the back and I'd be set.
Care to give readers A Little Friendly Advice about...
... taking Polaroid pictures?
Outkast lied to you! No shaking allowed.
... writing a novel?
Have a high threshold for pain.
... dealing with school?
Create something for yourself outside of the realm of high school -- be it taking a pre-college class, starting a band, writing a book, doing an internship. A little perspective on how awesome life will be like once high school is over goes a long way. At least, it did for me.
What are you working on now?
My next book is called Same Difference. It will be out in Spring 2009.
It's the story of a girl named Emily who lives in beautiful suburbia and just "gets by" in terms of friends and popularity. She's totally skilled at flying under the radar.
During the summer before her junior year, Emily starts commuting everyday to a fine art program in Philly. While there, she makes a whole new set of friends who are waaay different from the kinds of people she’s friends with back home.
Emily finds herself becoming a different person, depending on whether she is at home or in Philly. Eventually, those two worlds collide, leaving Emily to figure out who she really is.
And, of course, there is a cute boy to crush on, a first tattoo with a fake ID, thrift store shopping and the stealing of booze from fancy galleries.
Good times! Last but not least, what are ten of your favorite books?
Hard to choose! But here goes from the top of my head . . .
Blankets by Craig Thomspon
Ghost World by Daniel Clowns
absolutely anything by Adrian Tomine
Rabbit, Run by John Updike (and the other three novels as well)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci
Tyrell by Coe Booth
Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson
Many, many thanks to Siobhan for the conversation, the laughter, and the pins. You rock, lady!