Up-and-coming YA author Becky Albertalli tried her hand at writing a novel, and she subsequently created an immensely touching, witty story that’s about to hit bookstores tomorrow! That’s right, her debut novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, comes out tomorrow, April 7th!
For those of you who are not yet familiar with Becky Albertalli, I highly suggest that you go to her website to read some of the fun tidbits that she’s posted about herself. These tidbits include interesting biography facts — like how she once studied abroad in Scotland and is currently living in Georgia with her husband and two sons — but my favorite posts have to do with her interests and random fun facts — such as her love for Harry Potter and her brief obsession with anime.
Her personality shines through each and every blurb that she decided to share, and I definitely became a fan of hers after reading this particular fun fact: “…her college friends once created their own likeness on the SIMS, and it was all fun until SIM Becky burned the SIM house down and then peed herself.”
I became an even bigger fan of hers once I learned more about her debut novel. Suffice to say, I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to ask her some questions.
Here’s a short synopsis of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda from BeckyAlbertalli.com:
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
The main character of your upcoming book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, is a teenage boy. How is it writing from that different mindset? Was it a challenge or just plain fun?
Writing from Simon’s point of view was ridiculously fun, and I really didn’t find writing from a male perspective to require a big shift in my mindset. Simon’s voice reads a lot like my own journals from high school — though Simon is much more charismatic and confident than I was, and I would say I was more self-aware. But these differences aren’t particularly linked to our respective genders, in my opinion. Simon is Simon — and it was liberating for me to approach his character from that perspective, rather than actively trying to create a voice that sounded male (whatever that means!).
I haven’t been able to read the book yet since it hasn’t come out yet, but from the comments I’ve seen about it, it seems to be filled with wit and humor while simultaneously dealing with a pretty tough subject matter. What made you want to write on this particular topic? Where did the idea for this story come about?
Thank you so much — it’s so great to hear that you’ve gotten that impression, and I hope I pulled that off. I think I naturally gravitated toward writing about a gay teenager, since I spent years specializing in therapeutic work with LGBTQ teens, children, and adults. I do think it’s so important for more queer stories to be told — including queer loves stories with happy endings! That being said, it’s hard to say how the idea for SIMON came about. The process of generating plot ideas is really mysterious to me — I really feel like Simon just sort of appeared in my brain and asked me to write about him.
Would you say that your book is more comical, more serious, or a balance of both?
I would say the book has elements of both, though I think it’s more comical than serious. Simon as a character is very driven to make people laugh, and he and his friends like to tease and banter. That being said, we do get to see Simon dealing with some pretty stressful and challenging situations related to his sexual orientation, his friendships, his family, and his love life.
Your website mentions that you are a licensed clinical psychologist, though you’re not currently practicing as one. Does your expertise in this area help you at all when getting into the mindset of your characters and figuring out their behavior, or figuring out how they might respond in different situations?
It’s funny — you would think so, but I honestly believe I draw more from my experience being a teenager than my experience working with teens. I do think my fairly recent experience working in a school gave me a great refresher on high school friend and relationship dynamics, and I’m sure I unconsciously absorbed the kids’ speech patterns and slang. However, psychologist-patient confidentiality is so incredibly important that I truly consider the inner lives of my clients to be off-limits. Luckily, I have many years of experience being a teenager, so I was able to fill in some of the gaps.
When did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve been writing stories since preschool! I’ve always loved creating characters and trying to make them come alive. Granted, most of my early work was really freaking weird, but the process was important to me. Writing has always been something I’ve done for fun, even though I never thought I would be able to make a career out of it. SIMON was my first attempt at writing a novel, and I feel so incredibly lucky that I’m getting to see it become a real book.
When writing a story, where do you generally start? Do you pick the characters first, the overall plot, or the story’s moral/theme, etc?
I absolutely start with the characters. I can’t do it any other way! My first partial draft of SIMON was literally just a bunch of pages of his internal monologue as he woke up, got dressed, listened to music, and drove his sister to school. Needless to say, the book looks pretty different in its current form.
Can you tell us about your general writing process?
I would say I don’t have a very structured process, or at least not one that’s worked for multiple books. With SIMON, after that disastrous first draft, I created a loose outline, but allowed myself to change it as the story pulled me in different directions. I had a full, robust draft by the time I received any editorial input (first from my critique partner, and eventually from my agent and editor). I’ve been working from an outline again for my current work-in-progress, but this time around, I’ve received much more feedback as I’ve been writing. This second book has required many more overhauls and intense edits than SIMON. I also do a lot of editing and tinkering as I go. I’ve heard many people say that the second book is the most challenging to write. I seriously hope this is the case, because this book has not been kind to me!
How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for when you write, or is it pretty spontaneous?
These days, I’m under some huge deadlines, so I write every single day, basically every moment that someone else is watching my kids (and I write a lot with my infant son sleeping in my lap, too). Under ideal circumstances, I think I get my best writing done in the mornings and evenings, but my kids’ schedules run the show these days!
Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
I don’t know if I have a particular go-to quote, but I do love this one by the cartoonist, Lynda Barry: “I go to work the minute I open my eyes.”
Do you have any advice for young writers hoping to make a career out of it?
I think I’ll break this one down into a few bullet points:
- Read whenever you can, and especially read in your genre. Play favorites with books. Let them have an emotional impact — and then try to analyze what did and didn’t work for you.
- Observe your environment, and especially observe the people around you. Eavesdrop on strangers. Study speech patterns. Be wholly honest with yourself about your own thoughts, wishes, fears, and fantasies.
- Write a lot, even if you never plan to show your work to anyone. Keep your old work so you can see how much you’ve improved just from practice.
- Meet other writers. The Internet is great for this. I actually didn’t do this, for the most part, until I had an agent and a book deal — and I wish I had joined the community sooner.
- When you’re ready to consider submitting a manuscript for publication, research like crazy. Learn which agents represent your kind of work, and learn the proper channels through which to submit. Be kind, appreciative, and humble.
- Once the ball is rolling, make the time to take care of yourself!