Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lush on Thursday, with Author Interview

Lush on Thursday is essentially the spotlight feature here at Christina Reads YA. For a further explanation of what the feature means, read my first ever LoT post :).

Today's pick is...

Ask Again Later by Francesca Zappia
Release Date: Fall 2014

Published by: Greenwillow/Harper Collins

Francesca Zappia's debut ASK AGAIN LATER is about the ultimate unreliable narrator, a schizophrenic teenage girl unable to tell the difference between reality and delusion who discovers -- thanks to her Magic 8-Ball, her little sister, and a boy she thought was imaginary -- that sometimes there really is someone out to get you.

or, a slightly more thorough synopsis from Chessie's query:

Despite being a paranoid schizophrenic, Alex Ridgemont knows Abraham Lincoln isn’t really chilling in her dad’s La-Z-Boy, communists aren’t really coming to kill her family, and the unbelievable little boy she met when she was eight just wasn’t real. Knowing these realities are all that keep her away from her mother’s mental-hospital zealotry and keep up her chances of getting into college and having a real life.



But when she transfers to East Shoal High and meets Miles Richter, a high-functioning genius and the douchebaggy, definitely-very-real incarnation of the little boy from ten years earlier, all Alex’s carefully conceived realities begin crashing down around her. Miles, the only person who can help her find the dividing line between real and not, has life-threatening problems of his own, and some of them are linked to Alex's schizophrenia. With or without him, Alex will have to pull herself together—or risk losing more than her sanity.

Here's something you probably didn't know. Over two years ago, I stumbled upon a blog post calling for the formation of a critique group for YA writers. A group of five we formed until two dropped out, so I advertised for the crit group here on Christina Reads YA; Chessie, Kate, and I needed two more to join our ranks, and so they did. For about half a year, we kept up our emails and critiques and weekly Skype chats. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, the group disbanded. For the most part, we've all stayed in touch. 

And now (!!!) I cannot tell you how excited I am for Chessie's contemporary debut (I got to read one of her science fiction manuscripts (not AAL), and that manuscript was fantastic!). Please join me in giving Ms. Francesca Zappia a warm welcome as she agreed to answer my questions today, and get excited about her upcoming 2014 YA title, Ask Again Later!


Artwork has been taken from Chessie's website with her permission.
1. I'm not going to ask the what-inspired-you question, since that was in almost all the interviews that you've already done, but what can readers expect from your work? You said that Ask Again Later may be the only contemporary you'll ever write, so do you have a set of writerly patterns that you'd want associated with you (i.e. quirky humor, nerdy characters, etc.)?

AAL was definitely rare for me genre-wise, but in other aspects I feel like it has everything my other stories have. As the writer it sometimes feels pretentious to put labels on your own work, because everything's subjective. What I want to try to deliver with every story are casts of characters that look and act and feel like real people, that the reader can get involved with. Characters are everything for me, because if the reader is invested in the characters, they'll really feel it when I do the other thing I'd like to be known for, which is crushing hearts. (This is a wish of a lot of writers, I think--but we're writers, and the bigger the emotional reaction we can wring from the reader, the happier we are!)  

2. For readers who might be on the fence about AAL, do you have some comparison titles or authors? Or, in case it feels weird to think on your work that way, maybe one of your CPs or your agent or your editor or etc. has said AAL reminds them of X and X?


I am notoriously bad at coming up with comparison titles for my own stuff, but my agent originally compared it to two different books: Liar by Justine Larbalestier and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon. In Liar, the narrator is a compulsive liar and therefore extremely unreliable. Alex, the narrator of Ask Again Later, is also extremely unreliable, but she doesn't know she's doing it. And the wonderful Dahlia Adler compared it to It's Kind Of A Funny StoryI assume it would also appeal to fans of John Green's books (whoa gettin' crazy here) because the characters in this book are very smart and (I hope) occasionally funny. 

3. This is something that I'm really into, but what books define you as a reader? (These don't have to be your favorites. They're more like the books that you wish you could have written, that you wish you could hold onto forever, that as a writer, you strive to match. They have the elements that you look for in every book that you read.)

Harry Potter. I mean, literally, the entire Harry Potter series. Not only are they my favorite books, and the books that inspired me to start writing in the first place, but they're so good. In every possible way, they're good. They're complex and the world is massive and all the characters are so deep and yet it's got such simple, universal messages.

But apart from that, in YA, I have a special place in my heart for the Graceling Realm books, especially Fire. Again, absolutely wonderful characters. I will also always save a spot on my shelf for the Hunger Games trilogy, which I think will stay at the pinnacle of YA dystopian. Suzanne Collins created a world--perhaps not plausible, but certainly worthy of suspended disbelief--to showcase a myriad of problems with our society today, and managed to do it in a way that never felt preachy. The cherry on top was Katniss's character (all the characters, actually) who always felt true to the world she lived in and the situations she was faced with.


4. Mental illness seems to figure heavily into the plot and character arc for AAL. I saw in some of your previous interviews (The Page Sage, Chasing the Crazies,  OneFourKidLitThe Writer Librarian,  QueryTracker Success Stories) that you'd written that Alex and Miles as well as your fascination with mental illness heavily inspired the story. Several times I've written (unpublished) posts about the current portrayal of mental illness in young adult literature, so I'm curious to know your thoughts on the topic.

I've also written a lot of never-published blog posts on this topic, haha. I could talk about it for a long time. Of the YA books I've read or heard about that include mental illness, there seem to be a few recurring tropes: the illness used as the catalyst for a thriller plotline; the idea that medication or therapy for these illnesses is bad and should be tossed out to regain some sense of self; mental illness leading to the use of drugs and alcohol and similar behavior*; or the idea that the mentally ill character is "broken" and needs to be "fixed." While these certainly aren't bad or wrong, it seems as if they're treated like rules rather than options. 

Alex and Miles both deal with mental problems, though Miles's involve autism. Alex does take medication and sees a therapist, but it's the central struggle of her character to be able to function without a hitch in the real world, all on her own. She doesn't like her medication or her therapist, but I wanted it to be clear that she knows they'll help her. She still has some reservations on treatment, but she's not about to throw any of them out.

The last point, about fixing broken people: I have seen a lot--a lot--of YA lit in which one or more characters, usually love interests, believe themselves to be broken or are seen as broken and in need of fixing. That was another thing I was careful with when it came to both Alex and Miles. They don't see themselves as broken, and they don't see each other as broken. There are parts of Alex's world that she genuinely likes, and Miles is well-adapted to working around his emotional and social problems. They don't fix each other, they just understand each other and make things a little easier to bear, like any struggle gets easier when you have someone to share it with.

*which it does lead to in some cases, but not, I would argue, in all of them.


5. Top five favorite scenes to write? Or, if too spoilery, favorite scene to write?

Haha well I'm afraid it would be too spoilery to explain them in any sort of detail, but some of my favorite scenes were when Alex was hardcore hallucinating. I got to step out of the contemporary mindset and into almost-horror for a few paragraphs.

But my absolute, hands down favorite part of the whole book is (what is right now) Chapter 34. 

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Psh, Chessie, now that was just cruel. I have to bookmark this page so that I'll remember to pay extra attention to Chapter 34. (Although a part of me right now is kind of like this: O.o. You did say that you loved crushing hearts...)

Want to find out more information? Visit Chessie at her website (where she blogs and posts the awesome artwork that has been featured here), her twitter, or her tumblr, or add Ask Again Later to your Goodreads shelf. OR do all of the above. You won't regret it. This is a 2014 title that is HIGH on my list, and should be on yours as well!

32 comments:

  1. Oooh I'm pretty excited about this one. I don't read contemps very often, but they appeal to me more if they involve mental illness or some other diverse viewpoint that I don't see often. Schizophrenia and autism? Sounds good to me. Plus, I love how she says that the characters aren't broken or feel like they need to be fixed. So true. From the few books I've read that feature mental illness, they always attempt to help the character "heal" or be better by the end. But, can't they just be how they are? Maybe learn how to manage it better but not be better? I'm not sure if that makes sense. But anyways, Christina, make sure to remind me about this book in a year because I'll surely forget even if I don't want to!

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  2. Jenny @ Supernatural SnarkAugust 15, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    I love books with unreliable narrators! Those types of stories never fail to keep me on my toes, and I always have so much fun being suspicious the whole way through, wondering if I should believe the narrator or keep questioning them. And of course now I desperately want to know what happens in chapter 34. I NEED TO KNOW CHRISTINA!!!!! I'm definitely adding this to my list, thanks for putting in my radar, and fabulous interview ladies!

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  3. I will definitely remind you, Asti :). I'm sure there will be a lot more promo stuff by then too, like the cover reveal and giveaways and etc. etc. But if not, you will probably see me talking about it.

    Yes, Chessie and I have been discussing the portrayal of mental illness in other books, and I have utter confidence that this book will treat it sensitively. I agree with you on accepting the characters who they are and stop trying to paint them as broken--even if they do need to learn how it manage better.

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  4. Yay, Jenny! Unreliable narrators are definitely fun to read from :) and I hope you'll like this book too. And Chapter 34 - I too am very curious. Will it be a curse from my lips when I get my heart broken? Will I start sobbing? Will I clutch the edge of my seat? *sigh*

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  5. Lisa (Lost in Literature)August 15, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    I'm so eager to read this. I adore contemps, and I'm always looking for another good one. This sounds so awesome. Thanks for sharing such a great post! :)

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  6. I'll be paying extra attention to chapter 34 too now! I'm glad you introduced me to this book, Christina, as reading the interview here makes it apparent that this is my sort of contemporary. I can't wait to give it a try. :) I love that Francesca's agent compared her book to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I read that book a while ago, but it was definitely memorable. And I'm always impressed when authors can can get the balance between the funny and the serious just right. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  7. This book sounds really interesting. I've been reading more contemporary YA lately and I've definitely been enjoying them. I like the idea of the unreliable narrator and it sounds like it's written with some humor to it. ~Pam

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  8. I will finish reading this after I do my actual homework, but I wanted to say that I came across this book on this blog a few weeks ago and put it on my reading list IMMEDIATELY. Mental illness is SUCH an important topic for me, and schizophrenia is something rarely portrayed sympathetically, particularly in YA. So I can't wait for this book to come out and start some great dialogues.

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  9. Aah I want to know what chapter 34 is!! But whatever, THE ENTIRE FREAKING BOOK IS AWESOME so it doesn't even matter. Seriously, I cannot recommend this book highly enough to everyone I know, and I can't *wait* until it's on my shelf and everyone else's!!

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  10. I requested this on Edelweiss a LONG time ago and I'm dying to get approved. This sounds like just the kind of book I'd love.

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  11. It's not fair to tease with a chapter number;) What is ch. 34?!?!???? I wanna know! ;) I think unreliable narrators are so fun because you don't really know what to believe. Mara Dyer is one of these kind I think. I never knew if she was outright crazy or if these things were really happening since she doubted these herself too. So great of you to feature a book like this on your blog:) I hope it has lots of success since it doesn't seem like your typical YA read.

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  12. Thank you for visiting and I hope you'll enjoy AAL :).

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  13. In the manuscript I did get to see from Chessie, there was plenty of humor to balance out the action, so I'd say you're right :). And I hope you'll enjoy AAL!

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  14. Me too. I don't quite remember everything from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but I do like that that's one of the comparison titles. If I'm not mistaken, I think that one also had a good balance between the funny and the serious :). Thank you, Sam! And now we're all waiting to see what Chapt. 34 holds :O

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  15. Completely agree, CJ! The book I'm reading right now has a paranoid schizophrenic who's all over the place and the MC is being rather patronizing. So yes, I really want to read this book and see what discussion comes from it :) and if we're really lucky, it might help with the mental illness stigma in YA.

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  16. Me too! As is, Dahlia, you're lucky that you got to read an early version of this book :).

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  17. Hey, Jen. I checked to be sure, but this book isn't on Edelweiss. There is another book called Ask Again Later that is also a 2014 YA contemporary debut, but it's by Liz Czukas. I hope you get approved for that one though.

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  18. Lol, it's my fault for asking the question. I asked for favorite scenes, and I got one, even if it's sort of a breadcrumb more than anything ;).

    Mara Dyer is definitely an unreliable protagonist. Definitely a fun perspective to read from. And thanks, Siiri-- I hope AAL is very successful too :).

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  19. You're right -- same title -- two different books. I will read them both :)

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  20. I hope! That's my fondest wish for the next generation of YA. That and, ya know, diversity. Novel idea.

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  21. Right when I read the synopsis for Ask Again Later, I added it to my TBR list. It sounds so unique. I have never seen a YA book that deals with schizophrenia or even a character that has is (though it sounds pretty fun). But... That darn release date! *shakes fist at calendar*

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  22. There are very few YA books that deal with mental illness and even fewer that have a MC dealing with it. And yes!! The release date is way too far away :O.

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  23. There are very few YA books that deal with mental illness and even fewer that have a MC dealing with it. And yes!! The release date is way too far away :O.

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  24. Lol, it's my fault for asking the question. I asked for favorite scenes, and I got one, even if it's sort of a breadcrumb more than anything ;).

    Mara Dyer is definitely an unreliable protagonist. Definitely a fun perspective to read from. And thanks, Siiri-- I hope AAL is very successful too :).

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  25. Hey, Jen. I checked to be sure, but this book isn't on Edelweiss. There is another book called Ask Again Later that is also a 2014 YA contemporary debut, but it's by Liz Czukas. I hope you get approved for that one though.

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  26. Me too! As is, Dahlia, you're lucky that you got to read an early version of this book :).

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  27. Completely agree, CJ! The book I'm reading right now has a paranoid schizophrenic who's all over the place and the MC is being rather patronizing. So yes, I really want to read this book and see what discussion comes from it :) and if we're really lucky, it might help with the mental illness stigma in YA.

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  28. I will definitely remind you, Asti :). I'm sure there will be a lot more promo stuff by then too, like the cover reveal and giveaways and etc. etc. But if not, you will probably see me talking about it.

    Yes, Chessie and I have been discussing the portrayal of mental illness in other books, and I have utter confidence that this book will treat it sensitively. I agree with you on accepting the characters who they are and stop trying to paint them as broken--even if they do need to learn how it manage better.

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  29. Yay, Jenny! Unreliable narrators are definitely fun to read from :) and I hope you'll like this book too. And Chapter 34 - I too am very curious. Will it be a curse from my lips when I get my heart broken? Will I start sobbing? Will I clutch the edge of my seat? *sigh*

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  30. Me too. I don't quite remember everything from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but I do like that that's one of the comparison titles. If I'm not mistaken, I think that one also had a good balance between the funny and the serious :). Thank you, Sam! And now we're all waiting to see what Chapt. 34 holds :O

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  31. Thank you for visiting and I hope you'll enjoy AAL :).

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  32. In the manuscript I did get to see from Chessie, there was plenty of humor to balance out the action, so I'd say you're right :). And I hope you'll enjoy AAL!

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