I recently read The Kissing List written by the amazing author Stephanie Reents. The book is about a group of four women in their 20s who meet while studying abroad at Oxford. The book follows them on their journey to New York on the “cusp of adulthood”. I rarely ever recommend books, but this is definitely a must read for any girl entering their 20s. After reading the book, I was so excited to get to ask Stephanie a few questions. She is pretty amazing!
What originally made you want to become an author?
Gosh, that’s such a great question. I’ve wanted to be a writer – or had storytelling tendencies – since I was a little girl. One of my earliest memories is of climbing into bed with my Grandpa Buzz (what a great name, right?) and reading him stories from the newspaper. The only rub was that since I couldn’t read, I just made everything up. But this was perfectly fine by him. Grandpa Buzz shared my zany imagination – he invented silly songs to mark major events in the lives of my brother and me. He told me stories about why the irrigation ditch that ran through my neighborhood was sometimes dry. When he and my Grandma Frances would arrive at Christmas, he always claimed that someone dropped garbage bags of presents in the back of their Ford truck, and of course I believed him.
Grandpa Buzz definitely showed me it was acceptable, and even a very fine thing, to have a wild imagination. Then, when I was in sixth grade, I had a wonderful teacher named Mr. Lythgoe, who treated me and my classmates like writers by giving us a little time to write each day. Sometimes he assigned prompts, but he also gave free writes, allowing us to continue stories from one day to the next. Writing regularly was invaluable, though the best gift Mr. Lythgoe gave me was reading my work and really engaging with my imaginations. Instead of correcting my grammar and punctuation, he told me how my stories made him feel. This is probably the moment I learned how powerful storytelling could be and started dreaming of doing it some day.
Where did you get the idea to write “The Kissing List”?
It’s a little known truth that being in your 20s is pretty hard.
After I graduated from college and before I started a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, I flew home to Boise, Idaho, and cleaned up my childhood room. When I’d finished boxing up mix tapes of early 80s New Wave music, track and cross country ribbons, my funky thrift shop jewelry, I had – I told myself – completed the transformation from child to adult. And yet when I arrived in Oxford, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Not only was I terribly homesick, I felt out of place, adrift without competitive running in my life, and ambivalent about my desire to study British literature. Things got so dreary that first winter that I called my mom and announced my intention to drop out. Being at Oxford, I told her, was an obstacle to my goal of becoming a writer. Luckily she talked me into staying a little longer.
Let’s face it: the 20s are a harrowing and thrilling time; you’re figuring out your professional identity, your romantic attachments, and your personal priorities. You have more freedom than you did in college, but not necessarily more good sense. I wanted the stories in The Kissing List to reflect the perils and pleasures of those years. One of the ways that my friends and I survived this time was by telling stories of our escapades. Part dark, part funny, the stories of our adventures and exhilarations, scrapes and scandals helped us make sense of our good and bad decisions. Storytelling drew us into permanent intimacies, helping us forge families of choice that were vital, especially to those of us who were so far from home, either geographically or emotionally. Finally, telling these stories offered the evidence we needed to see that we’d survived.
Were all the characters in the book based off of people you know in real life?