YA Author Stephanie Perkins on Love, Nachos and High School

When it comes to YA romance, it just doesn’t get better than Stephanie Perkins. Her books are the perfect mix of rom-com swooniness and real-life emotions. I wote about how much I loved her previous books (Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door), so obviously I was excited for her new book, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Isla focuses on characters who first appeared in Anna: contemplative artist Josh and sweet, lovestruck Isla. I don’t want to ruin any of the excitement for you, so I’ll keep my description to a few key words: Paris. Rooftops. Graphic novels. Kissing. I mean, that should be enough for you. It’s a Stephanie Perkins book, so of course it’s good.

It turns out that, in addition to being an amazing writer, Stephanie was also kind enough to talk to me about Isla, high school, writing, and nachos.

Q: Can you tell us what you were like back in high school? Were you anything like any of your characters?

A: Yeah, there’s definitely a piece of myself in each one of my characters—the nice ones and the not-so-nice. I wasn’t a happy teenager. Emotionally, I always felt older than my peers, so I never knew how to connect with them. And I didn’t really want to. I hated school, even though I was a good student. I was quiet and bookish and awkward. I loved the Beatles and the Beastie Boys and going to concerts. I loved my job at a bookstore. I only really had two friends, and they’re still the only two people that I’ll talk to from that period of my life. When I was a senior, I met the man who became my husband. He was in his early twenties, and it felt like he saved my life. He probably did.

It’s odd, because I just got choked up writing all of that. High school was awful. It’s still awful to think about. I think a lot of authors who write young adult literature had something remarkable happen to them as a teenager—often traumatic, but sometimes life changing. I had both.

Q: What was it about Josh that made you want to bring him back and focus a whole book on him?

A: Oh, I loved him from the moment he appeared on the page! An immensely talented artist who others—even his friends—saw as a slacker, but who I could see was behaving with extraordinary purpose. I find that level of drive and passion fascinating. I created Isla to be someone who had the patience to see through that false, outer layer.

Q: I really love that Isla is so different from your previous characters. She’s so unsure of herself and still figuring out who she really is. Was it a big change to write a character like this, instead of someone super-confident like Lola?

A: Thank you. It was. Even Anna has a lot of confidence, at least in terms of self-identity. For the first few years of writing this book, the fact that Isla was a blank slate was a source of massive frustration. I kept trying to give her a THING—an INTEREST—like my other characters. It took a long time for me to realize that Josh had enough interest (and drive) for the both of them! At the time, I was suffering from a severe lack of self-confidence, so it’s not surprising that this was the story that I needed to tell.

Q: You’ve been open about the challenges you faced while writing Isla, and you even wrote a really brave blog post about your depression. What has the response from your fans been like?

A: Tremendous. The outpouring of support has meant more to me than anything anyone could ever say about my books. Depression makes you feel alone and helpless and ashamed. It’s such a dangerous lie. I know I’m not alone, because now I’ve met hundreds of people who have been where I have been. I hope that by continuing to speak up, I’ve been able to give some of them a little bit of hope in return.

Q: Your books are pretty much the gold standard when it comes to YA romance. What other romances, YA or otherwise, would you recommend to your fans?

A: That’s very generous of you to say. Meg Cabot—especially her Princess Diaries series and Mediator series—was the biggest influence on my books, and I still think she’s the queen of YA romance. Rainbow Rowell and Gayle Forman kill it every time. And my favorite new release is Kiersten White’s Illusions of Fate (well, it comes out this September), which is a sparkling love story set in a fantasy pseudo-Edwardian England. It has the year’s most delicious dialogue.

Q: What advice do you have for HelloGiggles readers who want to be (or are) writers?

A: I’d encourage them to read like a writer. If they’re reading something, and it gives them a reaction—if they swoon, feel sad, get mad, laugh, feel frightened, whatever—to stop, go back, and re-read the passage. Study the text. HOW did the author make them feel that way? I like to remind aspiring writers that people like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens didn’t take any creative writing classes. They learned how to write by studying those who came before them. Books are incredible teachers.

Q: What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

A: I spent the last year editing a romantic holiday anthology called My True Love Gave to Me, which comes out this October. It features the swooniest, funniest, most beautiful wintry stories from twelve bestselling YA authors. I’m so freaking proud of it. My next novel is horror—a teen slasher! I’ve always had a dark side, so writing it, as odd as it may sound, has been a joy.

Q: And now, the most important question: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: Nachos. Oh, man! Rare does a day pass in which I do not consume a plate of nachos for lunch. Or dinner. Or both.

Thanks so much to Stephanie for answering my questions! Be sure to pick up your copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After ASAP—you’ll love it! If you’re still curious, you can read the first two chapters on MTV.com.

If you’ve read Isla, be sure to let me know! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education! Leave me a comment, email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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