One of the best parts about writing for HelloGiggles (besides, you know, everything) is getting to know all of the talented and creative contributors. All of the ladies (and gents) who write for the site are awesome, and Leila Howland is a great example of this. In addition to writing HelloGiggles posts on topics like friend break-ups and Anne Hathaway, she’s also the author of a brand-new YA book, Nantucket Blue!
Naturally, I was beyond excited to read Nantucket Blue, and it didn’t disappoint. Summer beach books are some of the best books there are (see: The Summer I Turned Pretty, My Life Next Door, Alice In Rapture, Sort Of and Summer Sisters), and Nantucket Blue continues this great tradition. When our teenage heroine Cricket gets the opportunity to spend the summer in Nantucket with her best friend’s family, she can hardly believe her luck. But when a tragedy happens (vagueness to avoid spoilers!), Cricket’s summer plans are turned upside down. She still goes to Nantucket (hence the title), but the summer doesn’t turn out exactly as she thought it would. There’s lots of friendship drama and forbidden romance (the best kind of romance!), so of course I loved it.
Leila was nice enough to talk to me about Nantucket Blue, her writing process, thrift stores and (of course) food.
Since a lot of HelloGiggles readers are still in high school, can you tell us what you were like back then?
I was kind of a whippersnapper! I was a good student. I was very social. I loved team sports. I was in the school plays. But… I was also very anxious. I had insomnia. I wrote poetry while listening to melancholy female singer-songwriters. You know that great line from The Mindy Project “best friend is a tier not a person”? Well, I had several best friends: one from summer camp who understood my sensitive side, one who’d moved away to Buffalo in the ninth grade and had a wicked sense of humor, one at school who was a genuine genius. I loved them all fiercely. When I was exactly Cricket’s age, I had the revelation that being in love was not about getting someone to like you back or achieving some kind of social security, but an actual feeling…the best feeling.
How much of yourself did you put into your main character, Cricket?
I imagine Cricket as one of the girls who was a few years ahead of me in high school whom I worshipped because she seemed to have it all, but who I’m sure had her own troubles and fears. I had to get to know Cricket as I wrote her. And for me, discovering a character is half the fun of writing. The more I let go and allowed Cricket to be her own girl, the more real she became. She is from my imagination, however, so my humor and my heart are a part of her. Interestingly, the places in the book where I, Leila, was too present were the exact places my editor flagged as not quite right.
Nantucket Blue doesn’t shy away from sex (I’m not saying it’s Fifty Shades of Gray, but you know what I mean). Was it important to you to show a female teenage character who thinks about sex? Did you feel a responsibility to depict safe sex?
I wouldn’t say it was important to me to write about someone thinking about sex, but rather that this character happened to be thinking a lot about sex; so, it was a character-based decision, not a thing I set out to write about. I felt a responsibility to be true to Cricket, who is a pretty responsible girl. If I were writing about someone irresponsible I would want to address that, not in a didactic way, but as part of the story.
When you picture your ideal reader, who do you see?
I see a barefoot girl in glasses and jean cutoffs (are those back in now, or am I having a 90s flashback?) sitting on a hammock, flipping pages, and laughing as she reads. She’s having a great afternoon!
When you’re feeling uninspired or burnt out, what do you do for creative inspiration?
I go treasure hunting in thrift stores. I get so focused it’s a kind of meditation. And all those weird and random objects have stories!
What YA writers do you think everyone should read?
E. Lockhart, A.S. King, Natalie Standiford, Elizabeth Wein, and Evan Roskos.
What advice would you give to any HelloGiggles readers who want to be writers?
Make the creation of the work the most important thing. Make writing a practice you honor. Make the routine of writing the method by which you build yourself a home. You have no control over who likes your work or doesn’t it, who accepts it or rejects, if it sells or not. The only thing you do have control over is the actual writing. If you have a writing practice then you can endure rejection, jealousy, and bouts of despair. You will have shelter. You will be too busy writing to get knocked out of the game. I wrote for fifteen years before I was published (I’m talking after college, not this “I started writing when I was five” business.) I was rejected a lot. I felt kind of invisible and displaced because I spent most of my time working at jobs that weren’t really “me.” But I also had this very solid relationship with my work, and that’s why I was able to persevere, and perseverance is everything.
And right here on HelloGiggles are my thoughts about getting down a first draft.
What writing project is next for you?
Nantucket Red is coming out Summer ’14! Cricket, Jules, Zack and Liz are back on Nantucket and a lot of stuff goes down. There’s even a brush with the law! I’m really excited for this one. It was such a challenge — and kind of a thrill — to write.
And now for the most important question: if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Really high quality, top-of-the-line fish tacos.
May I add one thing? Oh, I can? Good! HelloGiggles readers in Los Angeles are invited to my book launch at Skylight Books in Los Feliz at 7:30 PM on Friday, May 24th. Come and support this independent store and hear me read a favorite excerpt from Nantucket Blue!
What about you guys? What are your favorite YA summer beach reads? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education! Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.