I am thrilled that YA author Allen Zadoff (although his memoir for adults, HUNGRY, is awesome, too) has graced us with his presence for this Fun Friday!
His first novel, FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE (Egmont), had me laughing out loud (you must read the soccer scene!), and I obviously wasn't the only one; it was the winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award in 2010. And it is now available in paperback -- a total deal!
Allen's second novel, MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES is out on May 10 -- oh my gosh, that's Tuesday! Woo hoo! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy! Here's what Publisher's Weekly says about it: "Zadoff captures the confusion, torn loyalties, and overwrought drama of teenage life—not to mention student theater. All the world's a stage, indeed, and these players earn their applause."
After reading in the acknowledgements in FOOD and learning that Allen spent some of his teen years in my hometown of Rochester, NY, I practically mauled him at the YALSA Symposium this past November. Fortunately for me, he accepted the upstate NY craziness and allowed me to ask him even more questions here. So enough about me! On to Allen!
(Oh wait, that picture's still about me...let's try this again. ;-))
1. When did you start writing novels with the hopes of having one published?
Not too long ago! I wrote my first novel in 2006 while I was waiting for my memoir HUNGRY to be published. I’d written a lot of things before this time. Plays, poetry, sitcom specs, screenplays...but I never thought I’d be able to write a novel. I thought novelists were geniuses. Then I wrote FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE. Believe me, I’m no genius. I’m a storyteller, and novels are just stories told in a particular form. I know that now.
2. What was your first paid writing gig?
I wrote for a puppeteer named Mark Weiner, creator and star of Weinerville on Nickelodeon in the 90s. I loved the gig. Someone was actually paying me to write. I felt like a pro for the first time, even if I was writing for a piece of felt on Marc’s hand.
3. Did you have an agent when you sold your novel?
I did indeed. My wonderful agent (you don’t hear that phrase very often) had sold Hungry, and connected me with Elizabeth Law, who was the publisher of the brand new Egmont-USA.
3a. Can you tell us a little about how the sale went down?
Elizabeth Law says that when she read my memoir Hungry she heard the voice of a YA author waiting to emerge. When she became publisher at Egmont, she asked me to bring her something. I showed up with fifty pages of the book that was to become FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN'T HAVE. She must have liked what she saw because she signed me to a two-book deal at Egmont. That’s a lot of faith in a new author! The second book of that deal is coming out on May 10. It’s called MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES.
4. How has your writing/writing process changed since selling your first novel?
My motivation has had to change. When you write for as many years as I did without outward success, it twists you up a bit. You’re trying to get someone to pay attention, to take you seriously.
Now I’ve got three books out with deals for several more on the way.
The world is saying, “We’re looking. We’re listening. Now what do you have to say to us?” This is how it has changed. The focus is off of getting publishing and onto sharing my point of view with the world. When I work with writers as a writing coach, that’s what I try to share with them. Let’s stop worrying about how to get published and think about the stories we have to share with the world.
5. How do you work to keep your books on the shelves?
I do a lot of blog interviews. LOL! The secret job of being an author is that you must promote your work, talk about it to friends and strangers, blog, post, update, tweet. Ask for help from friends around the country (“Would you go to B&N and turn my book cover face out so more people will buy it? Do you mind writing a little Amazon review for me?”) You have to stay active, and I struggle a bit with that. I mean, I wasn’t sitting in the library at Brighton High School twenty years ago dreaming of doing Facebook updates, I was dreaming of writing books. So you have to accept that there is a business aspect to being an author, and do the whole job, not just the writing part.
6. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR LATEST YA RELEASE?
My latest book, MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES, was inspired by two things. The first is that I loved theater when I was in high school. I was a shy, pudgy kid, but when I got on stage, I totally transformed. I did maybe 40 shows in the 5 years of middle school and high school. Then I went on to become head of the undergraduate theater company at Cornell and I went to grad school as a director at Harvard. Theater was an enormous part of my life, and I wanted to share some of the magic I felt during that time. The funny thing about LIFE/THEATER is that the whole story is told from the perspective of the techies, the backstage crew. They’re at war with the actors in my story.
The second inspiration was a sadder one, the death of my mother last year. This was a huge event in my life, and the theme of tragedy and how you move on afterwards is a major component of the new book.
7. AND WAS YOUR REAL HIGH SCHOOL LIFE AS FUNNY AS YOUR WRITING?
Life is always funnier in hindsight. It wasn’t so funny to be a fat, unhappy kid, and I had a lot of angst throughout my high school career and afterwards. Actually, I have a lot of angst now. What’s wrong with me? Okay, back to the point. Life looks a lot funnier today because I have some perspective. This is good to remember if you’re having a hard time now. It gets better. And who knows? Today’s hard times may end up being the inspiration for the book, song, movie, or painting you’re going to create years from now.
Wow, thanks Allen, for that great interview. I'm so excited that you have more books up your sleeve, and I know I always need to hear stories -- truth or fiction -- about how to overcome whatever tragedies trip us up in our days.
Thank you so much for your time here today! And readers, if you need a pick-me-up through the glut of dark YAs, Allen Zadoff is the author for you! I promise you will laugh out loud. :-D
Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing