Friday, August 3, 2012

Feature Friday: Kristen-Paige Madonia

Kristen-Paige Madonia’s debut, Fingerprints of You, is a young adult novel published by Simon & Schuster, and her recent short fiction can be found in Upstreet, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, Sycamore Review, Inkwell, and South Dakota Review. She is the 2012 D.H. Lawrence Fellow and a Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar. She has also received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Hedgebrook, Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Studios of Key West and was the 2010 recipient of the New Orleans Literary Festival/Tennessee Williams award. In addition, she was the 2008 Marianne Russo Scholarship recipient as awarded by the Key West Literary Seminar. She holds an MFA from California State University, Long Beach and teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA where she is at work on her second novel.

Interview:
A.L.:
What advice would you give to a budding author?

Kristen-Paige:
My first rule for new writers is that there are no rules - there is no one way to go about it. Writing is a leap of faith, which is exactly why I do it. It's a strange and messy process - it's all about the art of discovery and you should never feel pressure to follow the trends or genre-specific guidelines.

I also like to recommend that if you can afford the time and money to take classes and attend conferences, do so. There's an element of isolation that can creep into the writing life, and engaging in a writing community can alleviate that. The Tennessee Williams Festival, Sewanee Writers' Conference, Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Key West Literary Seminar... there is so much to be gained from the workshops and readings you'll find at these places. There are some amazing organizations out there, and most of them offer scholarships and awards. It's important to take your time with your work and not feel rushed to send it out, and attending workshops will help you stay focused on the craft, on the art of creating fiction, versus the industry side of things. I think it's such a common mistake, I still do it myself, but it's best not to send your work out until it's as strong as you can possibly make it, and sharing drafts with other writers is a great place to start in terms of revising and polishing.

But mainly I suggest you don't bother doing it at all unless your heart is one-hundred percent in it, unless nothing makes you happier than finding that perfect sentence or creating that wonderful character you want to spend hundreds of pages with. A lot of people will tell you "no" - rejection is inevitably a large part of the process, so you have to be doing it for you, not for them. If you're writing because you're happiest when writing, then you're in good shape.

A.L.:
Fingerprints of You is a very heartfelt coming of age story, where did you get the inspiration for it?

Kristen-Paige:
I began writing the book when I was living in San Francisco, and I knew that I wanted to write a novel set in the city. In that way the book is a kind of thank you note to SF and the way it shaped, inspired, and changed my perspective when I lived there. But the real seeds for Fingerprints of You came from Lemon and Stella, as most of my work begins with the characters. I was teaching in an elementary school and spent all of my free time camped out in coffee shops working on the final draft of another book, a novel I started in graduate school. It was during one of those afternoons that I noticed a woman and a teenager crossing Fillmore Street, and just like that, Lemon & Stella arrived in my imagination and wouldn't let go. The woman seemed feisty but fragile somehow, and young to be a mother, and the girl was confident in the way teenagers can be but still so very vulnerable. It was only a few moments that I saw them, but I couldn't get them out of my head and became fascinated by the idea of exploring a mother-daughter relationship set in a single-parent household where the mother, Stella, was still trying to find her own way in the world while simultaneously raising a teenager. The book always belonged the them and to that strange time period when a parent realizes their child is becoming an adult, and the child realizes the world is much larger and more complicated than they had known.

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing the book?

Kristen-Paige:
Absolutely, that's just part of the process. I struggled with the ending during my first round of rewrites and again after we sold the book to Simon & Schuster while I was working on the final draft. I always knew something was off but never could quite get it right in terms of the sequence of events that followed the climactic scenes. I'm fortunate because I have the most amazing agent a writer could ever hope for, one of the few that still makes time to work with her authors editorially. So we talked a lot about those final chapters, and I spent a good amount of time revising them before we began submitting the manuscript. And then I went through the same process all over again once I started working with my brilliant editor at Simon & Schuster

A.L.:
Who is your favorite character in Fingerprints of You and why?

Kristen-Paige:
What an impossible question! Of course my heart belongs to Lemon, to her perseverance, to her sassiness, her brave and relentless nature, her struggles and triumphs. But I'm also so fond of Stella, too. The more time I spent with her and the more I was able to unpack her past and understand how complex she was and why she made the decisions that she made for her and Lemon, well she certainly became a favorite as well. I always enjoyed writing Cassie's scenes too, she's just so hip, so lovely and smart and kind. And like Lemon, I became enamored with Aiden once the book set up camp in San Francisco. I've got a thing for Vespas, so he won me over that first night he met Lemon and Emmy. And Emmy! Who wouldn't want to jump on a Greyhound bus and head cross-county with a fearless friend like Emmy? And by the end, I absolutely fell in love with Ryan, too, with his quiet nature and his love of music. Like I said, that's just an impossible question to answer.

A.L.:
You teach Creative Writing, I assume that means you also like to read? What’s your favorite book and why?

Kristen-Paige:
I read everything and anything I can get my hands on, so inevitably my "favorite" changes all the time. In terms of the classics, Great Expectations is always at the top of the list because I love the storyline and setting but also because of the brave and vulnerable voice we find in Pip. And Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote - I absolutely love that cast of characters. I also read a lot of newly published contemporary fiction. I'm a big fan of T.C. Boyle and Raymond Carver, A. M. Holmes and Zadie Smith. I've been reading a lot of YA lately and always love John Green and Jay Asher's books... Laurie Halse Anderson and Gayle Forman both write amazing novels, too. A new favorite is John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back and of course, always, the original YA genius: Judy Blume.

A.L.:
Was it hard writing from the perspective of a young girl who you may, or may not, have common experiences with?

Kristen-Paige:
There are so many things Lemon experiences that have absolutely nothing to do with my own life, and while that can be challenging at times, it's also one of the reasons I write in general: to create a world unlike my own. When I teach, I always recommend that my students give their central characters one attribute that is similar to themselves and one attribute that is extremely different because it steers them away from writing about their lives and frees them from the confines of truth, but it also keeps them connected to their characters. I try to do the same thing in my work. So yes, it's hard to write a first person narrative about a girl that has gone through a lot of things I have not, but that's why I write fiction, so that I can imagine being in someone else's shoes, so that I can explore someone else's world. And we do share some characteristics... like Lemon, I have a strong wanderlust and love to explore new places and environments outside of my comfort zone. I also read constantly, enjoy seeing live music, and rely heavily on my friends for support and comfort.

A.L.:
On Goodreads it says there is an illustrator for your book. Is the book illustrated? If so, what was it like working with an illustrator?

Kristen-Paige:
I love this question because it gives me a chance to talk about my amazing cover art! S&S assigned an art designer for the book, a brilliant woman who was committed to creating some outside of the norm for Fingerprints of You. So she met with a number of tattoo artists and ended up bringing in Terry Ribera, the person listed as the "illustrator," to create a customized font and design for my book. I was floored - I had never seen a book cover quite like it, which is exactly what they were hoping for. And it's so beautiful! Though I've never met Terry (I believe he moved from NY to CA shortly after we worked with him), he seems to be fairly well known in the world of tattoo artists, and he did an incredible job. I've spent hours on his website looking at his images! The book begins in a tattoo parlor and repeatedly returns to the idea of inking, so it made perfect sense. So no, there aren't actually illustrations, though each chapter heading has a design pulled from the cover, but every aspect of the cover art was customized for the book by Terry Ribera.

A.L.:
You’ve had a number of smaller pieces published before this debut novel, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication and how good it felt to have a novel published?

Kristen-Paige:
There really is nothing like it - when my agent called to tell me we got an offer from S&S BFYR... well there just aren't any words to explain what that's like. I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I have my MFA and have been studying the craft for years, but I began Fingerprints of You in 2008, sold the book in 2010, and then worked on it for two years leading up the publication date, so it's a long process, but worth every single moment. Like many writers, I have a book in the drawer; the novel I started in grad school was the project that led me to my agent, but ultimately it was never published. That was disheartening, of course, but during that time period I had a mentor remind me, simply, that my job wasn't to sell the book; my job was to write another one. So I did - I threw everything I had into writing Fingerprints of You as a distraction from the fact that I was collecting rejections for that first novel. Looking back, part of my heart will always belong to that first manuscript. There's a rawness there that I love, but it wasn't meant to be my debut. It just wasn't, and I firmly believe I'm a stronger writer for having written that book. Fingerprints of You wouldn't be the novel that it is if I hadn't created the book in the drawer first.

A.L.:
On your website there’s a “Lemon’s Lists” section where you’re going to post Lemon’s famous recipes. I’m curious to know, are these recipes going to reflect your own preferences for that-which-is-sweet?

Kristen-Paige:
Yes! Oh, I have the worse sweet-tooth ever, it's terrible, so I'll certainly post lots of delicious recipes! Lemon's Lists is going to be a blast... each month for the first 6 months after publication, she's going to release a list of all kinds of different things, some related to the book, and some not. Readers will have access to the PlayList she made for her road trip, to the list of places she recommends for anyone visiting San Francisco, to her Favorite-Books List, her Favorite-Recipes List... is should be a lot fun!

A.L.:
What are you working on now?

Kristen-Paige:
So many things! I just completed the first draft of a new novel, a book extremely different than Fingerprints of You and one written for the adult literary market. I still have a lot of work to do on that novel, but my next project after that will be another YA book, one based on an idea that I'm nervous about and intimated by, which I think is a good sign. So those are my two current writing projects. But for now I'm mostly trying to enjoy the process of sending Fingerprints of You out into the world. It's a terrifying and amazing thing to do. You work so hard for so long at this private and intimate endeavor, and then you send it off into the hands of strangers to read and take what they will from it. I think that's going to be a pretty wonderful experience to be a part of, and I want to make time to enjoy every moment of it.

The Giveaway:
Kristen-Paige is going to ship FINGERPRINTS OF YOU to one lucky winner!
Fingerprints of You: Lemon grew up with Stella, a single mom who wasn’t exactly maternal. Stella always had a drink in her hand and a new boyfriend every few months, and when things got out of hand, she would whisk Lemon off to a new town for a fresh beginning. Now, just as they are moving yet again, Lemon discovers that she is pregnant from a reckless encounter—with a guy Stella had been flirting with.

On the verge of revisiting her mother’s mistakes, Lemon struggles to cope with the idea of herself as a young unmarried mother, as well as the fact that she’s never met her own father. Determined to have at least one big adventure before she has the baby, Lemon sets off on a cross-country road trip, intending not only to meet her father, but to figure out who she wants to be.

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Enter the giveaway using Rafflecopter. Hit the green "Do It" buttons, follow the prompts, and hit the green enter buttons when you're done. (You may have to log in using Facebook to do this). There will be one winner (selected by Rafflecopter). I will contact the winner via email. This contest is open to US entrants only.

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