Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book QnA: How NOT To Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler

Okay, I'm way late in posting this, but I hope Jenny can forgive me for that =) This was a phone interview, so it's all transcribed exactly as Jenny and I conversed, etc. The first question was taken right from the beginning of the convo -- the rest are at the end. The personal phone interview is coming in part along with a written interview in a few hours when I finish putting them together!

My review of How NOT To Be Popular is here!


Book QnA (with Jenny!)
*Yeah, I call her Jenny instead of Jennifer cos, you know, so many Jennifers already on this site--Echols, Banash, and now Ziegler! Gotta differentiate somehow!

Steph: Okay, so, questions! What do you want to do first, book or personal?

Jenny: Oh, it doesn’t matter. You want to start with personal and then you might be able to draw some links to the book or something?

Steph: Sure! I have, like, six book questions. But most of them are just really stupid questions.

Jenny: There are no stupid questions!

Steph: No, but there are! Like, How much of Maggie is really you? Like, that kind of question—that is the stupidest question you can ask somebody.

Jenny: Oh, but you know what? People want to know that. I’ve had a lot of girls ask me that when they meet me. They wanna know that. So that’s not a stupid question at all.

Steph: [Laughs.]

Jenny: So do you want to start with that one or get back to that one or...?

Steph: Whatever you want. For me it’s all good.

Jenny: Okay! Well, I’ll go ahead and answer that one because I think it’s a very legitimate question. And if you want, we can revisit it later. Okay, let me see. I’m so used to writing these answers—

Steph: Yeah, see, that’s one of the reasons—that’s one of the things I thought about, actually. I should’ve emailed you these questions beforehand so you would’ve known.

Jenny: Oh, no, this is fine! It’ll be more spontaneous. I might backtrack a bit and correct myself, just so you know...

Steph: That’s not even a problem. :)

Jenny: [Laughs.] Okay, so, how much of Maggie is me?

Steph: Yes, the question was: How much of Maggie is really you?

Jenny: You know, that I reread the book, I do see myself a little bit, but I think that every character I create, even the little one, is going to have a little bit of me in them. I just, I don’t think there’s any way around that when you’re an author. You know, because you’re pulling this out of you—you’re pulling these characters out of you. I didn’t really realize this when I was writing the book, but I think Maggie is similar to me in that she has this sort of irreverent inner-voice as she goes through life and she avoids confrontations, and both of those things are very much me. I tend to avoid any sort of abrasions, and she’s that way, at least with her parents, keeping their life peaceful. So that’s definitely me. And just, I wouldn’t call her cynical, but she’s got this critical, sometimes rye, view of the world, and I think I do, too. I’ll catch myself making the same observations—that I keep to myself, mostly. Maybe this is how they come out—in the fiction. [Laughs.]

Steph: How did you get the idea for How Not To Be Popular?

Jenny: You know, I got it when I was busy working on the rewrite to Alpha Dog. When I’m deep in one project is when I typically get ideas for more projects. At the time, I didn’t know where—I the idea of this girl just popped into my head. I didn’t think to question it, I just got the vision of this girl walking to school or walking across campus in this really crazy outfit. I think it was a Laura Ingalls Wilder dress or something big and crazy, like a southern belle type dress. And I think she paired it with army boots. I got the vision of this girl in a really outlandish getup and she’s crossing the lawn of the school, and she’s getting laughed at, but she’s loving it. Then it was only a matter of going back and figuring out, what is she trying to do, why is she loving it, what’s going on here?! And that’s typically—not always—how I get my ideas. It’s almost like a movie trailer.

Steph: So you get a scene and then you build from that?

Jenny: I do. But unlike a movie trailer, I know what’s in the mind of the characters. I knew enough that I knew she was doing this on purpose. I think at the time I realized that she was tired of moving around and so she was breaking all the rules on purpose so that she would not be tied to this new place, so that this new place would reject her.

But anyway, that’s typically where I get my ideas from. They start from intense, dramatic moments and then I pull back and ask myself, why, how, is this plan going to work? I think later I came to find out my inspiration for those was my best friend, Christy. She has been my friend since we were twelve-years-old and she moved around a great deal. It was both wonderful and very hard for her. I think I got the idea because around the time I was working on Alpha Dog, she was calling me and emailing me a lot because she was getting married and suddenly we were giddy teenagers again. (Laughs.) You know, we were talking a lot and planning, and I think that sort of what brought me the vision, if that makes sense.

Steph: Yeah, it does! Okay, hmm, which of the characters did you like the best?

Jenny: You know, I really loved Les and Rosie. They just came to me, and I love it when this happens when you’re writing. Of course, they weren’t the first to come to me, Maggie was in the vision I had, but when I had to back up and figure out why she was there and what brought her there, suddenly Les and Rosie were in my head. I love it when this happens: They came to me as complete characters. I knew what they looked like, I knew their names, I knew what they sounded like. I just automatically had the sense of them. They’re not based on anyone I know, or if they are, they’re a complete mix of people I know.

Penny, also, I love the character of Penny.

Steph: Penny! Yeah, I really loved Penny, too. She was just so interesting.

Jenny: I knew a lot of people like Penny, not only growing up, but also as a teacher. I loved her sense of self and her—

Steph: Yeah, I know what you mean. I had a question about her, actually. Does she not care or does she not even realize people think she’s weird?

Jenny: I don’t think her brain goes there. I honestly don’t think—if it registers, I think it’s just blip. And it’s just not a problem. She truly cannot help be what she is. You know, kinda haplessly weird and yet there’s a real charm to her. I mean, I love her. I don’t want anyone to think she’s the stereotypical weird girl. Maggie is trying to be her, in a way, but Penny is like that. She just is.

Steph: Yup—that’s her mind set.

Jenny: Yes, Penny just really is "real". Everyone thinks Maggie is, when Maggie is trying to be someone she’s not. I’m not trying to make anyone draw something from my books, but it was really interesting to explore this issue of popularity and can someone who’s not naturally charismatic make themselves charismatic and can someone who’s naturally charismatic turn that off? I wanted to explore that. I don’t think I have a message there per se but it was interesting for me to delve into that.

Steph: One of my questions, actually, was: Did you hope the reader would come out with a message from your book? But I guess—

Jenny: I always love it when readers say they learned something. Maybe they learned something about themselves or if they’re able to make connections, I love that. There wasn’t any particular definite message that I wanted to impart. No, not really.

Steph: But as long as they come out with something, you’re fine with that.

Jenny: You know, even if all they did was enjoy it, I’m good with that. If they truly did make a connection or learned something from it, hey, that’s a bonus. But for me to say I’m trying to teach something, that would imply that I know something. (Laughs.) That would imply that I’m an expert, and I’m, you know, I don’t pretend that I know... :)

Steph: Les and Rosie, they both have really interesting ideas for how they see the world and how they raise Maggie and such. What do you think about those ideas? Do you really think they raised her in an unstable way?

Jenny: I think they’re very good people and that they meant well. I think they did a lot of things right. I don’t know if I can say this is true for everyone, but for most teens, that sort of lifestyle, would’ve been extremely hard. I don’t think they realized what they were putting their daughter through. I think that sort of a lifestyle is not for everyone and knowing Maggie intimately, I have to say that even as a grownup, I don’t think she’s the type of person born to live that way. She’s different from her parents in that aspect. But especially in those years of finding your identity and finding your place in the world, I think it’s just really, really hard. I do think they’re good parents in that they’re loving, they’re trusting, and they respect their daughter, they usually listen to her... They don’t know her as well as they think, but I do think they know her as a person. They’re good parents, but I think that in this one aspect, they made a mistake: an error in judgment. Which all parents do. (Laughs.) I hope my kids won’t be writing tell-alls one of these days...

Steph: [Laughs.] I’m trying to remember what else I was going to ask you... Hmm. Oh, right! Jack. At the end of the novel, her forgives Maggie in the sense that they are friends again. Do you think they’ll ever go back to dating again?

Jenny: Oh, gosh. I don’t know that I’ve let myself go there. And I get asked a lot: When are you going to do the sequel? And if I did do a sequel, that would definitely deal with it. But like I said before, I don’t want to squeeze a story out of those characters. If there is a story, it’ll come to me, like the original one did. I think—I will say—that at that point, when they decided to stay friends, it’s clear to me, that he still has really deep feelings for her. Now, if they’ll ever be able to overcome what happened—if he’ll ever be able to put it aside the betrayal that he felt—I don’t know. I haven’t let myself go there. But I think it’s very clear, to me, he still cares for her a great deal. And we know she still is.


Shooting Stars Mag said...

Great job Steph! And I completely understand why transcribing this would have taken a long time...but you did really well.
Loved the questions. Loved the answers. I really really NEED to read this book. It sounds fantastic and this is just proving that it is...:)


Reviewer X said...

Thanks, Lauren! You really can't know how difficult it is until you have to do it, though. I thought it was manageable until I spent the entire last week emailing Jen to ask for extensions and such... She really helped me out with a written review, too. I would be SCREWED otherwise.

Jennifer is awesome and a really, really classy person. If anyone's looking for an author to interview, go and ask her. You won't regret it. She's really earned her position on my Trinity of Awesome :)


Book Chic said...

haha, great interview! I have yet to read a Jennifer Ziegler book, but I think I really need to now.

I loved your questions and her answers, and I especially loved the beginning, lol.

Kudos to you for transcribing all of that!

ambeen said...

Great job, Steph! I know what a pain this must have been. I can just imagine having to listen a million times to make sure you got it right.

I'm so glad I won the contest because, I really want to read the book now! Jennifer sounds like so much fun, her book must be too.

P.S. I'm slightly obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I'm dying to drive down to her old house (she spent her last years living about 3 hours from where I live!) which is a museum now. So just mentioning her made me want to read the book even more :P

*Heather* said...

This was great! I loved it and it was kind of funny, too, that it was spontaneous so she kept having incomplete thoughts.

I have to read How NOT to Be Popular! I got Alpha Dog the other day, and am going to start it soon, but I need this one, too! It sounds so awesome!

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Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph