I may have said this before in this very column, but there’s no better feeling than getting completely, totally, stay-up-late-reading-even-though-you-have-to-work-in-the-morning caught up in a book. That’s why I’m so excited to tell you guys about Katie Coyle’s fantastic novel Vivian Apple at the End of the World, a book I wasn’t able to put down until I finished it. If you like reading about cults, close girl friendships, badass gals figuring things out, road trips, the end of the world, romance, or any combination of those topics, then this is a book you’re going to love.
In Vivian Apple’s reality, people are either Believers or Nonbelievers. Believers accept the Church of America’s claim that the Rapture is coming soon, but Vivian’s a bit too cynical to buy into it. When her parents disappear, though, Vivian wants answers about what happened. . .so she and her friends embark on a cross-country road trip to uncover the truth. It’s exciting, realistic, and best of all, incredibly creepy.
Katie was nice enough to talk to me about the book, writing advice, and (of course) cheeseburgers. After you read this interview you’ll definitely want to read Vivian Apple at the End of the World, so be sure to get it on January 6th from Amazon, Indiebound, or your local bookstore!
Q: Can you tell us what you were like back in high school? Were you like any of your characters?
A: There’s a lot of me in Vivian Apple, minus the whole parents-in-a-fundamentalist-cult thing. I was really well-behaved, and very much a people-pleaser, and as a result there was a lot of run-of-the-mill rebellious behavior I completely missed out on in high school. But I was also a very loud, rambunctious theater kid, who did a lot of weird things solely for the sake of being weird (usually these were sartorial choices—I wore a lot of ties, and Newsie costumes, and thrift store ’80s prom dresses over jeans). I was essentially an odd mix of not caring what other people thought of me while at the same time caring very, very much.
Q: Tell us about your publication “journey” (sorry for using that word). Was Vivian the first book you wrote?
A: I had a weird journey! I was in graduate school when I first starting writing Vivian Apple, and at that time I had never attempted writing a novel. I never thought I’d be able to write a novel; I thought I would stick to short stories forever. When I first had the idea for Vivian, I tried to write it as a short story, but it didn’t take me too long to realize it was going to be something much longer. Right after I graduated, I heard about the Young Writer’s Prize, sponsored by my UK publisher, Hot Key Books. They were looking for YA novels from unrepresented writers under the age of twenty-five. I seriously doubted I’d be able to finish the book, let alone win, but I thought it would be a fun challenge, and a good incentive to work on the idea. I submitted a first chapter and a synopsis and a few months later they asked me for more; I completed and sent in the full book, and a few months after that found out I’d won and would be published. It all happened very fast—only a little over two years passed from the moment I had the idea to the moment the book hit the shelves in the UK.
Q: One of the things that freaked me out the most about your book was how REAL it all seemed. How much time do you spend thinking about the end of the world, and do you think things in America could conceivably play out like they do in your book?
A: I’ve spent a lot less time thinking about the end of the world since I’ve stopped writing about it, but before that I was thinking about it to a degree that was probably unhealthy. I’m really glad it seemed real to you, because that was one of my goals in writing the book. I wanted to create an apocalypse born out of some of the things I saw happening in real life—climate change, and the way corporations seem to dominate every facet of human life, and what I find to be the downright scary treatment of basically all minority groups. I don’t honestly think that things could devolve in America the way they do in Vivian Apple (at least I hope they won’t), but I do think it’s important for teens to pay attention to these issues, and know that when it comes to things they object to, it’s more than okay to speak up about them; it’s necessary.
Q: A strong, complicated, wonderful friendship is at the heart of Vivian. In that spirit, what are some of your favorite lady friendships in books or films?
A: I grew up devouring The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin, and I think that really set the tone for my tastes in media—if what I’m watching or reading does not include a diverse group of complicated and loving female friends, I can’t really get that into it. I love Queenie and Maddie in Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, and the various sets of friendship in Sarah McCarry’s gorgeous Metamorphoses trilogy. I love Muriel’s Wedding and Buffy and Willow and Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins and a Swedish movie that came out last year called We Are the Best!, about an all-girl pre-teen punk band. I am obsessed with Broad City. I know that Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are not fictional characters, but I especially love their friendship because it reminds me so much of me and my best friend—in fact, sometimes I become convinced that Tina & Amy are versions of my BFF and I from an alternate universe who accidentally came to this one and had to pretend to be other people so as not to tear a hole in the fabric of space and time. Does that make sense? I’m sure that makes sense.
Q: Cult-y religions are one of my favorite topics, so your book spoke to me on a deep level. What sort of research did you do? Did you base the Church of America and Frick on any specific cults/religions or people?
A: I didn’t do a huge amount of research, in part because I didn’t want the Church or Frick to resemble too closely any particular person or group—I think the ideology they represent can actually be found in a lot of very different ones. But I read up quite a bit on some famous cults—Jonestown, in particular—and on some relatively newer religions, like the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and Scientology. I find it interesting how it’s sort of culturally acceptable to scoff at religions like these, that have only cropped up in the last hundred to two hundred years, even as they attract hundreds of thousands of followers. Frick got his start in a real person, a man named Harold Camping who predicted the Rapture and apocalypse in 2011, but he’s largely made up, although physically I would say he does closely resemble Mitt Romney.
Q: Although your book is certainly very critical of religions that take away people’s freedoms, you’re also careful not to paint religion as 100% bad. One of Vivian’s favorite people is Catholic, and she says “I’ve never bombed an abortion clinic or set someone’s house on fire. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t conflate me with the people who do.” How important was it to you to include some sense of nuance regarding religion?
A: This was really important to me! Though Vivian is a character who has set herself in opposition to a powerful organized religion, I didn’t want readers who value religion and spirituality to feel like I was attacking them. I believe everyone has a right to believe whatever it is they believe. Some of the people I love best in the world belong to organized religions, and I have nothing but respect for them and their views (just as I would hope they have nothing but respect for mine). But it was important for me, as a teen, to question and examine the things presented to me as fact by authority figures, and that’s a process I think is healthy for everyone to engage in. Without spoiling anything, Vivian’s true enemy in the end is not religion so much as it’s fear and fear-mongering.
Q: What advice do you have for HelloGiggles readers who want to be (or are) writers?
A: The most important writing advice I’ve ever been given is that you have to write what you’d want to read. When you decide to send your writing out into the world, you’re essentially setting yourself up for a ton of rejection and criticism. For me, the only way to survive that without curling up under my covers forever is to write stories I believe in, about characters and issues that are important to me. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are to mine. And when you write passionately, about things you feel passionate about, you’re all the more likely to find an audience (however small) of people who share those passions.
Q: What can you tell us about the next Vivian Apple book?
A: Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle picks up right where the first book leaves off. Essentially, Vivian learns some shocking truths about her world and her family at the end of Book One, and Book Two is about her figuring out how to act on these revelations. There are also additional puns and friendship and kissing scenes.
Q: Because we are Internet Friends, I know you’re a One Direction enthusiast. Please tell us which One Direction member is your favorite and why.
A: A wonderful, important question. By a wide margin, my favorite member of One Direction is Harry Styles. He is, objectively, the handsomest member of One Direction, and he also seems to me to be the member of One Direction with the most intriguingly ambiguous sexuality. He’s confident and funny and what’s more, he’s got that James Dean daydream look in his eye.
Q: The most important question I ask everyone: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A: I thought about giving a sophisticated answer to this question but the truth is: cheeseburgers today, cheeseburgers tomorrow, cheeseburgers forever.
Thanks so much to Katie for answering all my questions. Be sure to check out Vivian Apple at the End of the World on January 6th! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment below, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.