Young Adult Education

‘Burn for Burn' and an Interview with Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian!

Have you ever really wanted to get revenge on someone who wronged you? Maybe it was a former best friend who stabbed you in the back, or a boyfriend who cheated on you, or a jerk at school who’s taunted you since you were little. Have you ever daydreamed about embarrassing them in front of the whole school (or maybe just deviled-egging their car like in Gilmore Girls)? And then have you ever banded together with two other girls to create an elaborate scheme to basically destroy the lives of three people who totally have it coming?

Okay, so most of us can’t relate to that last one (I hope not, anyway). But that’s exactly what Kat, Lillia and Mary do in Burn for Burn, the first book in a triology by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian. Burn for Burn is about high school, crushes, friendship, revenge and homecoming–all of my favorite things. I flew through it, and now I just have to deal with the long wait for the next book to come out.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Jenny and Siobhan, which was incredibly exciting because they’re two of my favorite YA authors. Jenny wrote the wonderful book The Summer I Turned Pretty (as well as its sequels) and Siobhan’s written several fantastic books (in particular, I loved Not That Kind of Girl). Based on the suggestions you guys give me for the column, I know a lot of HelloGiggles readers love Jenny and Siobhan as much as I do! They had such fantastic and interesting answers to all of my questions, and Jenny even made a Parks and Rec reference. Basically, they’re wonderful and you guys are going to fall in love with them.

1. You’ve both written several books on your own…what made you decide to work on a project together?

SV – Well, one of the biggest factors was friendship. Jenny and I had been living around the block from each other in Brooklyn for a few years. When I decided to move to Pittsburgh, working on a book together seemed like the perfect way to stay close. Now we have an absolutely reasonable excuse to hang out with each other every month!

JH—We love each other like sisters! I steal her away from Pittsburgh whenever I can. And, we both admire each other’s writing and appreciate each other’s strengths. Siobhan is so good at crafting plot, she is always asking the question, How does this serve the story? I like to spend a lot of time thinking about characters and their back stories and why they do the things they do.

2. Writing a book with another person sounds pretty tricky. What was that process like, and how was it different from writing on your own? Did you outline together, split up chapters or characters, etc? Did you have any disagreements, and how did you resolve them?

JH – We talked about the story for about a year before we even started writing it—after we had the main idea down, we worked on an outline, which ended up being super helpful. With my own books, I never outline, and Siobhan always does, so it was a cool experience for me. It was like having a road map. For me, I usually just know the destination, and it takes me forever to get where I’m going, and inevitably get lost a few times—which I actually kind of like. With our outline, it was pretty hard to get lost or turned around, but we still had the luxury of wandering off the beaten path when we felt like it. Then, after we had the outline, we split the book up into sections we each wanted to write, then we’d trade back and forth multiple times before we pasted it into the master document.

SV – This is going to sound totally weird, but Jenny and I would get into fights over the choices our characters were making. We each have favorites and we’re really protective over them. So at first, we’d debate like two writers trying to make our case for what should happen in the story, but then we’d suddenly slip into first-person and fight as if wewere the characters. I’m sure the neighbors thought we were insane.

3. Burn for Burn has a lot in common with your other books, but it also incorporates a paranormal element. What made you decide to move in this direction? Have you always had an interest in that sort of thing?

SV – You know what…Jenny and I hesitate to use the P word, because we don’t think it is entirely accurate. Sure, there is somethinginteresting going on under the surface, and all will be explained as the series progresses, but we honestly feel like Burn for Burn fits best in the category of realistic fiction.

4. Do either of you have anything in common with the characters in Burn for Burn? And do people from your lives ever wind up in the books you write?

JH—I think we both relate to certain characters and from there, we imbued them with certain experiences that are personal to each of us. Lillia is the character I feel closest to—she’s Korean American, she has a younger sister she’s close to, she grew up pretty sheltered. There’s a prissiness to her, but there’s a toughness too. Also I like dressing her in white cashmere and little dresses and suede booties!

5. Since a lot of HelloGiggles readers are still in high school, could you tell me what you were both like back then? Did you already know you wanted to be writers?

SV – I was a craaaazy girl. I honestly remember having several adventures and thinking to myself,Wow. If I live through this, I really need to make better life choices. I was also completely boy crazy. I loved having crushes and scheming. And, as far as writing goes, I knew that I wanted to be an entertainer of some kind. I loved putting myself out there, making people laugh, telling stories to get reactions. I basically used my humor as a passport to hang out with all the different kinds of groups and cliques.

JH—I was a total goody goody. I went to a magnet school, I was secretary of my church youth group, I wore a lot of babydoll dresses and baby t’s and overalls. SO the 90s. Alicia Silverstone was my style icon, from her Aerosmith videos to Clueless. As far as writing is concerned I’m from a suburban town in the South, and I’d never met a real live writer before, so pursuing writing as a career never really occurred to me. But I’ve been writing stories since I was little, and books have always been my favorite thing.

6. Your readers are primarily female, many of them in high school or middle school, which can be a tough time for a lot of girls. How much do you keep your future reader in mind while writing? Do you try to send a positive “message” to the reader, or do you just focus on the book itself and let the reader extract her own meaning?

SV – I hate books where it feels like you are being browbeaten with a “message” or a “lesson” from the author. I’m sure it’s mostly well-meaning, but doling out advice for girls in a One Size Fits All way is not helpful. For me, it’s more about creating empathy over communicating a message. If I can get a girl to learn, understand and empathize with something or someone outside of her own personal experience, then I’m doing my job.

JH—The only goal I really have with my stories to write characters that feel real. For me this means that they have flaws and they don’t always do the right thing. I hate when characters always do the right thing. It’s boring and it’s also disingenuous.

7. As writers, you’ve probably dealt with a lot of rejection. How do you handle that?

SV – Shopping.

JH—Crying to Siobhan and then shopping. We make it a point to Treat Ourselves at every opportunity.

8. Who are some YA authors you think HelloGiggles readers should check out?

SV – Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler was the best YA book I read last year. Seriously, I want to hug that book and be buried with it. Recently, I read and loved Adele Griffin’s new book, All She Never Wanted. She describes things in a completely original way, and always spot-on. I spent the whole book thinking,Wow.

JH—I loaned her my copy! Give it back! (JK.) Adele is amazing, obvs Sarah Dessen always and forever, Lois Duncan is my back-in-the-day homegirl, I really liked Matched by Ally Condie, Sara Zarr’s new book How to Save a Life is terrific…

9. What’s the best part of being a writer?

JH—I think it’s getting to create art, put it out there, and then each reader gets to have their own experience with it. It’s a very personal thing. It’s not like watching movies or TV (which I love), where you can share it with other people. You read books alone. It’s just you and the author, on a journey together, kickin it.

10. What advice would you give to HelloGiggles readers who want to be writers?

SV – Finish a draft of an entire book. Force yourself to reach The End. You will learn so many valuable lessons about plot, pacing, and character development. It’s like a total body workout for writers.


Huge thanks to Jenny and Siobhan for answering my questions and just generally being awesome, and a thank you to Lydia at Simon and Schuster for setting everything up!

Burn for Burn comes out this Tuesday, September 18th. I hope you’ll all grab a copy, because it’s a fantastic read! Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments, send me an e-mail at or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

Featured image via Burn For Burn tumblr; image via Young Adult Magazine