In this interview with Teenreads.com's Kristi Olson, Colasanti explains the significance of her latest book's title, WAITING FOR YOU
, and shares real-life experiences in the classroom that inspired some of her books' characters and scenes. She also discusses how she incorporates her taste in music and movies into her writing, muses on the pros and cons of referencing pop culture in novels, and talks about upcoming projects, including her next book, SOMETHING LIKE FATE.
Teenreads.com: In WAITING FOR YOU, Marisa hopes her sophomore year will be the best year yet. She prays that she will finally get a boyfriend and has her eye on Derek, a boy who always seems to be flirting with her --- even though he has a girlfriend. There’s also Nash, the dorky sweet neighbor who is nothing more than a friend in Marisa’s eyes. What sparked the inspiration for this story?
Susane Colasanti:Marisa and Nash used to play together when they were little. They’ve since grown apart and haven’t really talked in the past few years, even though they’re neighbors. This year, they’re reconnecting and getting to know each other again. I wanted to tell the story of how two people can grow apart, but then find their way back to each other.
Derek is that classic seemingly unattainable boy who gets you all twitterpated every time he’s in the room. We want to warn Marisa that Derek isn’t the right boy for her. It’s just one of those things you have to learn by experiencing. I like showing the contrast between the boy you think is right for you and the one who actually is. I also wanted to explore the concept of searching for something you didn’t realize you already had.
TRC: Marisa is a very realistic character with real problems that teen readers will find easy to relate to. Your use of pop culture references and slang definitely makes the book very timely. Was the novel influenced by any of the movies or songs mentioned throughout? Did you worry that the references would "date" the book?
SC: The scenes I write usually influence my song and movie choices. That said, I definitely find ways to incorporate my favorites! If a character is watching a movie, it’s probably one that I love. I’ve also had characters read some of my favorite books. In WAITING FOR YOU, Marisa believes that the answers to all of life’s problems can be found in a John Mayer song. I totally agree! Tobey in WHEN IT HAPPENS was very into The Cure and R.E.M., both of which I was obsessed with in high school. Whether a song is from 40 years ago or last week, as long as it’s true to both the characters and the scene, it works.
I never understood the fear of dating a book. If a book is awesome, the setting only enhances the story. THE OUTSIDERS clearly takes place in the early or mid-1960s, but that in no way detracts from its excellence. The word “crumby” appears all over THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, but that just makes the book more interesting. Although I respect the decision to attain a timeless quality by avoiding certain terms, I prefer to write dialogue that accurately represents the way our teens speak. I’ve received so many e-mails from readers that say things like, “Thank you for writing books with characters who talk the way my friends and I do. Your books are so real.” If a book is inherently excellent, it will still be excellent in the future.
TRC: Marisa’s anxiety disorder adds depth to her character, and makes a nice backdrop to understanding her life. Did you have to do any research on anxiety disorders prior to creating this character?
SC: Yes, I did. I interviewed a doctor who has extensive knowledge of chemical imbalances and depression. Also, the NYU Child Study Center provided essential information about anxiety disorders. I especially wanted to make sure that the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques Marisa uses to manage her anxiety were realistic, so I researched a lot about CBT.
One thing I didn’t have to research is what it feels like to be depressed. Although I don’t have a chemical imbalance, I was extremely depressed as a teen. Every day was pretty much the worst day of my life. There were times when I was too depressed to go to school, so I can totally empathize with Marisa’s struggle to motivate herself enough to get out of bed. I think we all can relate to Marisa’s depression on some level.
TRC: I love the dorky character of Nash, especially his fondness for robotics and collecting bells. Where there any boys in your own life who inspired his creation?
SC: Not really, although I did have a father figure who collected bells. He was featured in our local newspaper for having an extensive bell collection from all around the world. Nash’s bell collection was a way to acknowledge the real collection, which I thought was freaking awesome.
TRC: WAITING FOR YOU is a great title. How did you decide on it?
SC: When I was in high school, it always seemed like I was waiting for something to happen. Waiting to become the person I’d always wanted to be, waiting for love to find me, waiting for my real life to begin. The waiting was endless. It was excruciating! This story incorporates the frustration of waiting. So I knew that I wanted “waiting” to be part of the title. My titles all have three words, so then it was just a matter of determining what my main character would be waiting for the most. Since I write about soul mates, I knew that her most passionate heart’s desire was to find her soul mate.
TRC: One of the book’s major themes is searching for a soul mate. At the beginning of the novel, Marisa thinks that a boyfriend will solve all her problems, but then she realizes that maybe a boy isn’t the sole answer. Do you think you’ll continue writing love stories? What do you like best about them?
SC: At this point, I can’t imagine writing a book without soul mates being at the heart of the story. The idea of soul mates is so fascinating. True love is something that I think we all hope to find, so it’s a concept with universal appeal. I know what it’s like to find a soul mate and I want my readers to know that they’re real! To me, the best part of a love story is that overwhelming feeling of excitement and possibility, like anything can happen. When you connect with another person on so many levels, it’s a transcendental experience. Part of my job is capturing that euphoric feeling and inspiring hope in my readers that they can one day connect with their own soul mates.
TRC: As a former high school teacher, did any of your characters or storylines evolve from any of your students?
SC: A few students and classroom observations have influenced characters and scenes in my books. TAKE ME THERE probably incorporates most of them, since it takes place here in New York. It features an excerpt from a poem by an old student, Tatyana Cabrera. She is such a confident, creative person that she also inspired a character in the book. The whole dress code drama was totally taken from actual dress code drama (specifically, that the dress code was never specified or enforced). There’s also a scene where one student is frantically searching through his binder for an optional assignment that only the first person to hand in gets credit for, when this other kid comes sauntering in and drops the crumpled assignment on the teacher’s desk just as the first kid finds it. Totally happened. Oh, and Joe Zedepski’s ginormous calculator in WHEN IT HAPPENS, all teetering on the edge of the desk just waiting to fall off, was inspired by an actual ginormous calculator.
TRC: As an author, you’re very “wired.” You have a website and a blog, and are on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Do you get a lot of feedback from your readers? How has technology influenced your writing? And how do you find the time to keep up with it in addition to your writing life?
SC: My readers are so great about letting me know how my books have influenced them. I love hearing from teens! They are why I write. It’s the best feeling to know that my books have helped teens feel less alone or have motivated them to improve their lives in some way. Each piece of communication from them means so much to me.
When I was a teen, writing letters to my favorite authors was a big deal. I hoped that they would write me back, but they usually didn’t. Finding out anything about who they were would have made me so happy. This was before we were online like we are now, so most of the time these authors were essentially anonymous. It’s beyond amazing that now you can find out tons of info about authors just by Googling them. It’s a completely different world. Twenty years ago, I would have given anything to hear back from Sandra Scoppettone. Her books were majorly important to me. I recently e-mailed her to let her know how much her books helped me back then. And dude! She totally emailed me back! So I guess technology hasn’t influenced my actual writing as much as it’s influenced the quality of my connections with readers and other authors.
Being an author consists of two main parts: writing books and everything else. Balancing these parts is always challenging. Working at home allows me to concentrate on writing, but it’s still very easy to get distracted. Sticking to a schedule works best for me. I try to do most of my online stuff in the morning (like blogging, interviews, responding to e-mails, checking in at Facebook and MySpace, posting on Twitter if I can whip up something interesting to say), all of which can easily take a few hours. It’s really important to me that I respond to my readers, so I write back to every e-mail. My writing time happens in the afternoon, which is ideal since I’m a night person.
TRC: What do you think is the most challenging part of being a young adult novelist?
SC: Patience. There are so many stages to writing and editing a book that it’s usually over a year between the submission of a first draft and the book’s publication. After the galleys are printed and corrections are made, waiting for the book to be released is hard! Moving on to writing the next book helps with the waiting. Also, I try to live in the Now, as Marisa learns to do.
TRC: What books have you recently read that you’d recommend to your readers?
SC: Everything by Laurie Halse Anderson rules. I scored a galley of WINTERGIRLS right when they came out and was completely blown away. It’s the most outstanding book I’ve read in years. LOOKS by Madeleine George was extremely impressive. I also loved I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak. Next I’ll be reading Blake Nelson’s DESTRYOY ALL CARS and E. Lockhart’s THE TREASURE MAP OF BOYS, of which I requested galleys because I can’t wait to read them.
TRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
SC: My fourth book, SOMETHING LIKE FATE, should be out next year around this time. I’m currently writing books five and six. Hopefully, readers will see a new book from me every year for the next several years.