Thank God for UNCOMMON YA! If not for my blog assignments there, I might never post an update here. I was featured on the site on Wednesday, July 31, 2014. If you missed me there, here’s the interview.
Today I (Beth Fehlbaum, UncommonYA moderator) am interviewing Steven Parlato, author of the highly acclaimed THE NAMESAKE, for YA Writer Wednesday! It’s Steve’s second time doing the interview. I wanted him to update our readers on his latest work! Welcome, Steve, and thanks for agreeing to answer the questions again.
Hey, Beth! So pleased to be making a return visit to YA Writer Wednesday. A lot has happened since I was here back in December, and I’m excited to share my news with readers. Thanks for having me!
What’s your book about?
My debut, THE NAMESAKE (Merit Press, 2013), followed Evan Galloway, a gifted high school junior, in the wake of his father’s suicide. Evan’s was a rocky journey of self-discovery, excavating his father’s past. Writing that story took me on a challenging emotional voyage, as well. I can hardly believe THE NAMESAKE’s been out over a year. I miss Evan and plan to return to his world in a future novel. Randy Spiotti, Evan’s bully, wants his story told. It’ll be a challenge spending time with that little bastard, but I think I’m meant to. Stay tuned!
Last summer—5:00 am, July 8, 2013, to be exact—I started my latest YA, tentatively titled TEDDI ALDER, after my protagonist. It’s the story of a young woman on the verge. Nearly sixteen, Teddi lives with her alcoholic mom, Brenda, and her dog, Binks, in the partially renovated, former Alder family store. Hoping to avoid summer stagnation, she joins a teen writers group at the library. When her writing dredges up forgotten childhood memories, Teddi goes questing for answers. I consider the novel a literary psychological thriller. While not quite as heavy as THE NAMESAKE, which, in addition to suicide, took on childhood sexual abuse, TEDDI ALDER has its dark elements, including a ghostly figure who appears to Teddi, as well as a monstrous character from her childhood. I’ve loved spending the past year immersed in this world with Teddi; her impossible mother; her bestie, Willa; Aiden, Teddi’s crush; and the whole SUMMERTEEN writing gang.
What inspired you to write it?
It’s interesting. I was inspired to write THE NAMESAKE, pretty directly, by a family member’s suicide. After, I couldn’t shake the idea of what it would be like at fifteen, losing a parent to suicide. Evan was born out of my need to answer that question.
Teddi came about differently. I can pinpoint the moment the story began, because it immediately followed my reading Stephen Chbosky’s THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Such a great book! I finished reading PERKS around 2:00 am, July 8, 2013. Unable to sleep, I finally sat up at 5:00 with the name Teddi Alder, and inklings of story, in my head. Without bedside paper or pen (shame on me!), I started writing on my phone, cranking out about 500 words. I still have that phone message, time-stamped 5:35 am.
As a college writing teacher, it was nearly impossible to make progress during the school year. Still, most nights, I’d phone-write before hitting the pillow. I managed to slowly add pages that way.
As I listened to Teddi, the story just flowed, very organically. I sort of knew things from the start. Again, very different from Evan. THE NAMESAKE constantly surprised—and occasionally terrified—me as the story took shape; I wasn’t sure where it was headed. With Teddi, I had a clear idea from the start. I recently found pages of early plotting notes, which I’d lost track of entirely, and the final plot adheres closely to that early framework. I trusted Teddi to tell her story. And she did.
While I’ve never experienced anything like what Teddi endures, I’ve filled the novel with details from my own life. For example, like Teddi, my family and I live in a former mom and pop store next to a city park. We both have quirky cockapoos, an irrational fear of shark attack, and a near-obsessive love of giraffes.
When is your book coming out?
Fingers crossed it happens soon, but I have no idea. I finished the manuscript just last week, and I’ll be visiting NYC to deliver it—today, July 30, 2014, actually—to my agent, the wonderful Victoria Marini. It’ll be our first face-to-face, and I’m going to surprise her with a finished (I use “finished” loosely; I’m sure there will be plenty of revision ahead) hard copy of the manuscript. Hopefully, she likes it as much as the excerpt she read back in October.** I feel good about it, and that’s rare. I tend to be pretty hard on myself.
So, God willing, it’ll go out on submission soon. Regardless of how long it takes to find TEDDI ALDER a home, I’m psyched to have completed the novel in just over a year. THE NAMESAKE took exactly eleven years from initial scribbling to bookshelf, so this has been lightning speed in comparison. The knowledge that people were actually waiting on a next novel made a big difference. I’ll keep you posted!
**Update: My trek to NYC to meet with Victoria Marini, or as I call her, uber-agent Marini, was a blast. She was completely surprised to receive a finished hard copy, and we talked about everything from THE NAMESAKE to TEDDI to future projects, as well as crying over PEOPLE magazine, and happy authors who write dark. Great trip!
What’s the best part of being published?
I’m terrible at “favorites” and “bests,” but I will say there are many wonderful aspects to being published. As someone who struggles with self-doubt, having a novel in bookstores and libraries is a wonderful affirmation, a tangible “look-what-I-did!” accomplishment. Beyond that, I’d say the opportunity to touch readers with my stories is hugely gratifying. Having a forum to address topics that matter to me—suicide, sexual abuse, mental illness, the complications of family—is a blessing. And if a single reader, struggling through these issues, feels less alone because of my work, well, that would be nothing short of a gift.
Publication has also brought amazing opportunities to meet readers—I’ve attended several book club meetings—and to work with writers, both young and old. It’s a thrill to meet fellow writers at signings, and to encourage others to tell their stories. Yeah, publication rocks, even without mounds of cash.
What’s the last book you read that you still haven’t been able to shake off? What was it about the book that stayed with you?
CHARM & STRANGE, Stephanie Kuehn’s incredible YA, winner of YALSA’s Morris Award for debut novel, was absolutely stunning, both the quality of the writing—poetic and utterly engaging—and the raw power of the story. Her protagonist, struggling with the wolf inside him, is complex and tragic, likeable and maddening. The story’s filled with startling twists, the resolution an absolute fist to the gut. I was a mess after reading it. Then, perhaps sadistically, I passed it on to my wife, who read it in a day and had a similar reaction. I can’t wait to read Kuehn’s next, COMPLICIT, out now. I was thrilled she mentioned THE NAMESAKE in an interview. I guess that’s another perk of publication, having an author whose book you loved, tell you she loved your book as well. Nothing like it!
Thanks, Beth, for these great questions. I really enjoyed stopping by. And thanks to everyone for supporting Uncommon YA. We really appreciate it!
Kirkus Reviews called the book “a memorable, disturbing story, carefully wrought.”
Book blogger, The Subtle Chronicler, said, “The characters were all perfectly laid out. I was able to connect with each and every one of them.”
Dayla F.M. at Book Addict 24/7 chose THE NAMESAKE as one of her top ten reads of the year, calling the book “heartbreakingly real.”
Find Steven online on his Website
or like his author page on Facebook!
Follow him on Twitter and check out THE NAMESAKE on Goodreads!
Buy the Book: Purchase THE NAMESAKE on Barnes & Noble.com or find it on Indiebound.