Libba Bray Interview, Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2010 by nxg920

Sorry to keep you waiting so long, but it’s worth it– I promise! Here is part two of my exclusive interview with young adult author Libba Bray.

The Paperbag Writer: Which do you prefer writing, or which is more natural for you: the more straight-laced–but sensual–passion of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, or the more frank, real-to-life language in Going Bovine?

Libba Bray: I think it depends entirely on the book. I want to find the language of the story, and sometimes that lends itself to the sensual and lush, and sometimes that means f-bombs and rat-a-tat-tat-dialogue and weird ruminations on the nature of existence.

But anybody who knows me could tell you that the, um, frank comes very, very naturally for me.

PW: What is your personal library like?

LB: Incredibly eclectic. There’s adult, YA, MG, and picture books. There’s non-fiction, poetry, short stories, graphic novels, comics, and a vintage Batman booklet. And we pretty much cover the gamut of genre, from horror to sci-fi/fantasy to mystery to romance. There’s a fair amount of literary fiction. I think most of the short story collections in the house are mine. I love short stories. I realize that I have no manga or techno-thrillers, so there’s where I’m lacking. When they come up with a manga Tom Clancy, let me know.

PW: What is it like being part of the NYC YA lit scene? My friend and I both write and will sometimes be talking about something and call dibs on a certain idea that we think would be good material for future work–does that ever happen with anyone in your writer’s circle?

LB: It’s great to have a community. Writing takes place in such isolation and it involves diving deep down into your guts to find the story and that can make you feel a little nuts. I think we’ve all seen “The Shining.” So it’s wonderful to have other writers you can turn to when things aren’t working with your story or you’re struggling with some aspect of the process, and they will hear you out and nod sympathetically or distract you with a toy or a cookie. I think there’s often a collective unconscious at work and sometimes you come up with things that are of a piece. Justine Larbalestier wrote LIAR while I wrote GOING BOVINE, and they each have unreliable narrators. Just recently, I was at an event with John Green, and we discovered quite by accident that we are writing similar novels, both involving footnotes. (They’re very different in tone, but you know, that shit happens.) And it stands to reason that if you are friends, you might have interests in the same subjects or have similar takes on the world. But they’ll be different enough. And yes, sometimes somebody calls dibs on something, and you bow out graciously and ask if you can have the rest of that person’s sandwich as a consolation prize.

PW: What, for you, is your biggest accomplishment? (In life, writing, whatever you think.)

LB: I hope it will prove to be being a good and loving parent.

PW: You grew up in Texas, then moved to New York. They are very different places. Or so I’m told. What do you like most and least about each place? How does each place inspire you?

LB: I actually had more culture shock moving from South Texas to North Texas in fifth grade than I did moving from Texas to NYC as an adult. It’s hard for non-Texans to understand how vastly different the various regions of the state are from one another.

In terms of inspiration, I would say that my adolescence was spent in Texas, and so I naturally gravitate to that setting when pulling up some emotional memory. The look and feel of North Texas is pretty iconic in my head, what with those vast blue skies and flat land, the roads that seem to stretch out forever, possibly into nowhere—or that’s how it feels when you’re sixteen with a license and no way out.

But NYC really gave me permission to be myself. There’s a tremendous energy here and so much artistic experimentation that you can’t help but be opened and broadened by it. I love that. So each has its value.

What I like most about Texas: Tex Mex. The delightful weirdness of Austin. The stillness in places. March weather.

What I like least about Texas: The knee-jerk evangelism.

What I like most about New York City: The energy, the diversity, the arts, mass transportation, the four gazillion different kinds of restaurants.

What I like least about New York City: The hassle. March weather.

PW: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? What’s the answer?

LB: Q: Have you ever been mistaken for Joan Jett?/ A: Yes. But I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation.

Short answer:

Most admirable trait in a person? Being able to own yourself, warts and all/compassion.

Vikings or Sorceresses? Viking sorceresses. In my head, they have fabulous boots.

Mixtapes or mix CDs? I have a soft spot for mixtapes because it takes me back to my youth. But now, I feel like I need to pay for my music.

What do you love most about yourself? My uvula. It is spectacular.

What do you like least about yourself? My spleen. We’re in couples therapy. There’s hope.

Favorite play and/or musical? Play: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Musical: Into the Woods.

Favorite “bad” word? There are no bad words for writers. My favorite curse word, though, is motherfucker. And I say it with grace and style as only a minister’s daughter can.

Best recent musical discovery? Broken Bells.

What are the 5 most played songs on your iPod? Depends on the week. This week’s most played: Midnight Radio/Hedwig & the Angry Inch. Love Reign O’er Me/The Who. Have Love Will Travel/The Sonics. He’s Misstra Know It all/Stevie Wonder. Wonderboy/Tenacious D.

If you could change one thing that has happened to you in your past, would you? No way, man. I’ve seen too many episodes of “Twilight Zone” to fall for that.

Stay tuned for a book review of Meg Cabot’s recently released Insatiable soon!

In Memorial of Dr. Tiller: Looking Ahead

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 31, 2010 by nxg920

I apologize for my neglect of The Paperbag Writer. It was one crazy semester that has come to a bittersweet close. But to get kick started again, I would like to post something I wrote for a blog that I regularly contribute to, abortion gang. It will probably go live there tomorrow or the next day. I decided I had to join the gang after I read their About page:

Too many articles have proclaimed, exasperated: Where are young women in the feminist/reproductive justice movement?

Look no further.

We are unapologetic activists for reproductive justice.

We are Jewish, Christian, atheist, Muslim, Wiccan, secular. We are mixed race, African-American, Latina, White, bi-racial. We are completing a graduate degree, we didn’t finish high school. We have had abortions, children, miscarriages. We have IUDs and we use rhythm beads. We work in reproductive health and we twitter about being #prochoice. We call ourselves feminists, womanists, womyn, wimmin, grrls, women. We are cis gender, we are trans women, we’re gender queer. We have sex with anything that moves, we are abstinent, we are poly amorous.

And we stand for choice.

This is our space to talk about what drives, inspires, and challenges us, what renews our passion for reproductive justice, what makes us outraged, and our ideas to keep the movement going forward.

I found it beautifully written, uplifting and, for me, nail-on-the-head-hitting. Here is my memorial for the one year anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s death:

It is with great sadness that I sit down to write this post–sadness for two reasons. The first, obviously, being for the one year anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s death. The second, though, is for not being aware of Dr. Tiller before that tragic time.

Maybe I had read his name in passing or heard it mentioned briefly at some point in my earlier times as an abortion rights activist. I knew, certainly, that there were few doctors in the country who provided late-term abortions, but I wish I had known about Dr. Tiller’s career and trust in women before he taken from us. As I read about him, I was touched by what he had done with his life and saddened that it was cut much too short.

It amazes me the lengths some people will go to to strip women of their human rights. It also amazes me (though, perhaps, shouldn’t) that the only way some people feel to stop what they consider murder is with murder.

But we shouldn’t we dwelling on the tragedy. We should be thankful for the time we had with Dr. Tiller and his invaluable and valiant fight for women everywhere. This May 31, I will be thinking of him and will feel renewed, once again, to keep the peace and continue the fight for reproductive justice.

Thank you, Dr. Tiller, for Trusting Women, and also thanks to Steph [creator of abortion gang] for keeping his legacy alive through I am Dr. Tiller.

The Paperbag Writer will be back soon with a post on a less somber subject–the second part of Libba Bray’s exclusive interview with us!

Back with YA lit royalty

Posted in Books, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2010 by nxg920

Hello, everyone! It has been too long. It’s been an incredibly busy semester for the Paperbag Writer (from a 900-page Dickens novel to two very different theatre productions: The Vagina Monologues and Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors), but I’m back, and with a surprise–a brand new interview with Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray! Because Libba is amazing, it’s a pretty lengthy interview, so I’m going to be posting it in two parts. Enjoy, and feel free to continue discussion in the comments…

The Paperbag Writer: What was it like finally seeing Going Bovine on bookshelves? It seems like a lot of people have been waiting for it for a long time, but I’m sure it was just as long of a process, or even longer, for you.

Libba Bray: It’s always a thrill and a bit surreal to see a book you’ve written on the shelves, a moment of, “Hey, isn’t this wild? There’s another Libba Bray and she wrote a book! I wonder if she spends time watching ‘Dr. Who’ and eating brownies, too?’”

PBW: I applaud you for making string theory and parallel universes pretty easy to understand for those of us who are more science-challenged. Have you always been interested in these ideas? Was it easy for you to write about? 

LB: Oh, man! I am completely science-challenged. If you ever want to feel dumb as a box of rocks, just try to understand string theory and particle physics and parallel universes, especially if you barely passed math and were asked to drop your high school physics class by your sympathetic teacher. I would read something and retain about three words, and those were usually “the” “and” and “theory.” But yes, I’m fascinated by all of it. It’s so trippy and makes your synapses feel like they’re playing jazz drums. And eventually, it started to penetrate my gray matter a smidge. I also have the pleasure of knowing a physicist, Adam McInroy, and he sat patiently with me in my kitchen, going over things again and again. And big kudos to Brian Greene and Michio Kaku for making so much of this material accessible. (If you really want to blow your mind, try reading some of Julian Barbour’s theory on time as an illusion. But don’t do it while listening to Pink Floyd or you’ll feel really, really weird and want to lie down on the couch with your blankie for a bit.) Anyway, I absolutely loved diving into the physics, even if I constantly felt as if I were the equivalent of a mental stick figure in their Rembrandt.

PBW: Have you ever found friends in the most unlikely places, like Cameron found in Gonzo and Balter? Maybe the better question is this: Have you ever been friends with a talking garden gnome?

LB: I think I’ve found all of my friends in unlikely places. But I promised them I wouldn’t talk about that. J Many of them came from junior high and high school, and if that isn’t the unlikeliest place to find lifelong friends, I don’t know what is.

As for my friendships with talking garden gnomes, you know, what happens on the front lawn stays on the front lawn.

PBW: In the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, all of the main characters are female, and almost all of the strongest characters are teenaged girls. Do you feel that feminism has become a “dirty” word in YA lit and how important do you think it is to portray strong, female characters in YA lit? Do you feel there are enough or do we still have a long way to go?

LB: I actually think there are lots of strong female characters in YA lit. The first that comes to mind is Frankie from E. Lockhart’s quite feminist, National Book Award-nominated and Printz Honor-winning THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS. Go, Frankie! I don’t know that I would say that feminism has become a dirty word (and one could argue that it is a word which has always been misunderstood), but that the female experience might be suffering from some tunnel vision right now and there is room for so much more.

Look, bottom line: I think there should be room for everything. If we say that girls never fantasize about being rescued or about having the idealized male desire them, and in that desire, they somehow feel beautiful and come into their own, well, that’s denying a huge portion of female sexual fantasy. BUT…it would be nice to have the various facets of that trope explored rather than accepting it as face value, you know? Yeah, sometimes we fantasize about this and that’s cool, but what does it satisfy? Does it always work out? What would happen if the girl took on some of the male traits she covets in the boy? What if she decided that it simply wasn’t enough after all? What does it all mean? There seem to be quite a few stories being published now in which the female protagonist’s main concern is getting the guy or choosing between two guys and it stops there. And that begs the question: What is going on culturally that makes this so appealing? Or has it always been appealing and we’re just seeing a big resurgence of this particular story?

You know, when I would read romances, I always had a soft spot for the cheeky, smirking, passionate bad boy who had bedded a thousand women and who was the bane of his family’s existence because of his outrageous behavior. The rake. And then one day I had a startling realization—I was more in line with the rake than with the female characters. It really helped me to identify that sexual, cheeky aspect of myself and accept it. I’d love to see more ownership of our sexual selves in YA lit, because I think society is still obsessed with the Lolita and terrified of girls/women actually owning themselves sexually, understanding what they want, being in charge of their bodies and their sexual identities. This is why I love Annette Curtis Klaus’s BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE.

I grew up in a different era, on the heels of a still-very-present feminist struggle that included such victories as Title IX, and for my friends and me, it was much more about emancipation and finding ourselves. We wanted to be Chrissie Hynde or The Runaways. We fantasized about having our own apartments and getting out into the world. We certainly had tons of crushes, but those crushes weren’t our sole focus. I think the literature, movies, and music reflected this sense of freedom. I’m writing a book right now that is all about gender and identity, female sexuality and fantasy, and it’s tough, because I’m trying to sift through the cultural expectations/restrictions placed on women, as well as the feminist perspective, which has its own set of expectations, and find what is true for these characters, to ask them what being a young woman means, to find their narratives. Frankly, it’s kicking my ass.

I’d just like to see a much wider representation of the female experience in YA, including a lot more stories about women of color who are under-represented, in my opinion.

This is an excellent question, and one I hope we’ll keep discussing.

Stay tuned for part two, in which Libba discusses her personal library, the NYC YA lit scene, and answers the age old question:  Vikings or scorceresses?

Blog for Choice

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , on January 23, 2010 by nxg920

I had no idea that today was the fifth annual Blog for Choice day! 

From an article from USA Today: 

For Blog for Choice Day, bloggers are asked to describe what the phrase “trust women” means to them, says Ted Miller, spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“We know that not everyone can lobby a member of Congress in Washington,” he says. This gives participants a way “to explain why they’re pro-choice in their own words.”

“Trust women”? Some random musings:

Trust women to make the right decisions for themselves. How can you trust them to raise children if you can’t trust them to decide whether or not they want to have them in the first place?

Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion.

It doesn’t matter what the law says–women will seek out abortions whether or not they are legal. Since this is the case, let’s keep them safe.

You might know your political position (and might personally be pro-life, but believe in choice), but do you really know what you would do if it were you?

I don’t.

And the winner is…

Posted in Books, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2010 by nxg920

You probably think that this post is Golden Globes-related, seeing as though the awards were last night. It’s not. However, I’m disappointed that (500) Days of Summer lost, but stoked for Christoph Waltz. As much as I love Glee, it didn’t deserve to win. But we’re not talking about the Golden Globes. We’re talking about:

 …the Printz Award, the most prestigious award for young adult/teen literature. I am so excited to be able to refer to Libba Bray as a Printz Award winner. Congratulations to Libba–her amazing novel was completely deserving.




Edited to add: The first photo of Going Bovine with a brand-spanking-new shiny award sticker! Isn’t it pretty? (Borrowed from Libba’s agent’s twitter–hope he doesn’t mind!)

‘Cause we’re all Very LeFreak…

Posted in Books, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by nxg920

…In more ways than one. Teen author goddess (c’mon, you know it’s true!) Rachel Cohn has a new title out today–Very LeFreak, her Knopf solo debut.

From Very LeFreak has a problem: she’s a crazed technology addict. Very can’t get enough of her iPhone, laptop, IMs, text messages, whatever. If there’s any chance the incoming message, call, text, or photo might be from her supersecret online crush, she’s going to answer, no matter what. Nothing is too important: sleep, friends in mid-conversation, class, a meeting with the dean about academic probation. Soon enough, though, this obsession costs Very everything and everyone. Can she learn to block out the noise so she can finally hear her heart?

Rachel Cohn makes her Knopf solo debut with this funny, touching, and surely recognizable story about a girl and the technology habit that threatens everything.


You can be sure that I will be snatching up this new release Very quickly and will post a review as soon as possible. But until then, to celebrate the release of Very LeFreak, Rachel answered some questions especially for The Paperbag Writer! Incidentally, these questions were answered while Rachel bravely completed her own week-long technology detox.

The Paperbag Writer: Cyd Charisse is a pretty iconic YA character. For example she’s had an abortion and is comfortable with her decision. This is pretty unheard of in YA lit. How easy or hard was it to create this difficult, complex character?
Rachel Cohn: She really created herself. Besides Norah in Nick & Norah, CC was the easiest character I’ve ever written, with a voice that came quickly and easily. Because of that, writing about her abortion wasn’t hard at all. It wasn’t something I decided to do consciously; as I was writing her voice, that incident just popped out, and I didn’t fight it. I didn’t think it was a big deal; it was a painful passage that happened to her and affected her deeply, but the novel wasn’t about that. The abortion was something on top of all the other adolescent issues she was trying to face, but not an incident and not her central issue, I don’t think.

TPW: As the author of a strong female character like CC, how do you feel about the majority of YA characters in YA lit?
RC: If my favorite writers like Patricia McCormick, Jaclyn Moriarty, Libba Bray, Melina Marchetta and Megan McCafferty are representative of what it’s popular in YA right now (and certainly their huge readerships would indicate so), I’m only encouraged about the majority of YA characters, and very, very proud to have my characters standing next to theirs on the shelves.

TPW: The content of You Know Where to Find Me is very different from your other work. Which do you prefer writing?
RC: Certainly more overtly comedic writing (like Gingerbread or Nick & Norah) comes much more easily to me than a book like You Know Where to Find Me. The being said, although You Know Where to Find Me was the most difficult book I’ve ever written, and took the longest to write, it’s also the book that was the most gratifying to write: it said exactly what I wanted it to say, how I wanted to say it. I know it’s not a book for everybody, but for me, it turned out just the way I wanted it to.

TPW: Have you spent many long nights out in the city like Nick & Norah?
RC: Not lately! But I moved to Manhattan when I was seventeen for college, and I certainly remember what it was like to be that age and wandering the city in the middle of the night with friends, searching for music, food, love – all of it. So yeah, I had some Nick & Norah type of nights in my youth – maybe not so much in one night, but I definitely understand the experiences and excitement they felt.

TPW: What do you love about NYC and how does it inspire you?
RC: I love the energy of NYC. It’s always on. Sometimes that can be a drain, but for a person like me, who not only makes her living inside her brain, but is also very introverted, that kind of aliveness you feel in NYC proves a nice balance. The city inspires me most in the sense that it’s a place where so many people – especially young people – go to find something, or someone, or themselves. That search for identity is everywhere in the city, and I love exploring that in my characters.

TPW: How or when did you become such a big music fan?
RC: I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, which is a great radio town. Most people in my family were already big music listeners, so I grew up feeling like music (just like reading) was second nature. I always had the radio on (still do); I was always on a quest to hear more, learn more about music.

TPW: How did the writing process of Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List differ from that of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist?
RC: Nick & Norah came very quickly and easily with little discussion and no planning whatsoever, as if the book was writing itself (seriously, we both were surprised – going into it, we had no idea our brains would meld so smoothly). Naomi & Ely was just as much fun, but took a lot longer, and required a lot more discussion and planning – which was very much a reflection of different schedule restraints we had the second time around, and also, knowing each other better by that time.

TPW: What is your personal library like?
RC: My music library leans towards soul and funk, lots of alt-country and honky tonk, some classical, some indie, some pop, etc. Mostly soul. My book library is mostly YA – all the usual suspects.

Speed Round:
Most admirable trait in a person? Kindness.
Mixtapes or mix CDs? Mixtapes = cooler, mix CDs = highly more efficient.
What do you love most about yourself? My sense of humor.
What do you like least about yourself? My sense of humor.
Favorite bad word? Fuck. Duh!
Best musical discovery? Merle Haggard.
5 most played songs on your iPod?
1. Diet of Strange Places – kd lang
2. Gentle on my Mind – Aretha Franklin
3. Stairway to Heaven – Dolly Parton
4. After Hours – We Are Scientists
5. Fond Farewell – Elliot Smith
If you could change on thing that happens in your past, would you? Hell yeah! (Anyone who says no is lying.)

Many thanks to Rachel for answering these questions! Stay tuned for a review of Very LeFreak!

Jai guru deva om…

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by nxg920

Happy New Year! Jai guru deva om. You might recognize that as the mantra from The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” but it is also a perfect way to start a new decade, a new year, a new day… “I give thanks to the Divine. Om.”

I hope you all had a wonderful, safe New Year’s celebration and that 2010 is all you wish for it to be.

Chanting aside, I think a review of a much-anticipated sophomore novel is also a fine way to begin the new year. Elizabeth Kostova’s (The Historian) The Swan Thieves will be released January 10. Her first novel, published in 2005, was a critical success and is one of my all-time favorite books. 

Synopsis from

Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism. 

Kostova’s masterful new novel travels from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from the late 19th century to the late 20th, from young love to last love. THE SWAN THIEVES is a story of obsession, history’s losses, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

Review by The Paperbag Writer:

Let me begin by saying that I very much enjoyed The Swan Thieves. Although nearly 600 pages, I devoured it in just a few days. But like any novel, it has its problems.

With Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian, she showed us that that was indeed what she was. She beautifully wove together centuries of legends, told by different narrators in different time periods. Unfortunately, The Swan Thieves doesn’t illustrate this talent of hers.

Yes, there are a few different narrators–four, to be exact–but all but one are in current time. Marlow’s challenge is to find out why Oliver attacked a painting in the National Gallery of Art. He refuses to talk, so Marlow goes in search of those who knew him best: the women in his past. They tell their stories. There is also an unknown narrator from the nineteenth century telling, for a long time, what seems like an unrelated story. There are also letters from that same time period, but this novel lacks the layers, complexity, and glimpse into the past that Kostova’s first novel had.

The book itself is beautifully written. Kostova brings her characters to life and, most importantly, took what could have been a literary cliche–two artists living in New York City in the 1980s–and managed to make it real. She has a way with words. Marlow describes one woman’s face as “not merely guarded, but sad, with its colors of ocean and beach.” Kostova also has a nice way of bringing the different narratives full circle. It could be something as simple as two characters in their separate narrations both mentioning the color of the same shirt, but it is a masterful touch.

While the novel is enjoyable and the mystery somewhat surprising, it has its downfalls. At a few points, Kostova’s characters get a bit too pretentious, throwing around Shakespearian quotes and living the artsy life. A few too many chapters ended with a character going to sleep. Some transitions made the story seem too rushed. Looking back over the notes I took in my copy of the book, I wrote “Too much” several times: who Marlow ends up falling for is not only ethically wrong, but it seems forced and fake. The language Kostova used to describe some of the romances was too romance novel-y for a work of literary fiction. 

Kostova has shown us that she is a historian and a writer. The one thing she needs to work on to really marry the two is storytelling. As with The Historian, The Swan Theives is anti-climactic. The mystery unravels until the last twenty or so pages, and then the book ends. It is too quick and not very effective. The reader could be completely absorbed by the mysteries in both novels, but be left feeling indifferent by the end.  My suggestion would be to read The Swan Thieves. Get lost in the mystery and the interesting life of an artist. But don’t expect much when you get to the end.

Again, happy new year! Young adult author Rachel Cohn has a new novel–Very LeFreak–coming out on January 12. Look for an exclusive interview with her for The Paperbag Writer to be posted around the release date!