Welcome to the final stop on Penguin Canada's (You) Set Me on Fire tour! You can find a list of the other tour stops at the bottom of this post. Today I have an interview with none author than the hilarious and charming Mariko Tamaki, author of the novel. Enjoy!
What can readers expect from (You) Set Me on Fire? What's it about?
The main story is about a girl, named Allison Lee, who is transitioning from high school to university/college life. I think the book is about a lot of things though. It's about falling in love. It's about mean friends and good friends. It's about change and how change happens in life, the changes that happen to you and the changes you make.
The main character, Allison, has such a distinct and personal voice. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
I love talk. I love listening to people talk on the subway, in malls, in schools. All that stuff. It's a huge part of my research process for a book, talking at talk. Watching videos and eavesdropping on groups of kids downtown, listening to them gossip.
When I teach creative writing, I spend at least a day looking at dialogue and voice. How people say what they say is something I've always been interested in, the difference between "yeah" and "yes" and "sure" and "I guess." I studied Linguistics for three years, which I would highly recommend. If you have the time. It made me focus on the subtleties of communication. The pauses. The things people say and don't say. I think understanding what a character sounds like is pretty key to understanding that character. So. Yes.
You've just been told that you must choose a book and live in that world forever. Which one do you choose?
I don't know. Do I want to live in a utopian world, in a fairytale world where I'll have magical powers and a pet dragon? Or do I shack up in the world that I like reading about, which is usually a pretty dark, REAL, world. I want to say I'd like to live in David Sedaris's writing, but it would mean being a punch line a lot. But it would be an interesting life. I think a fairy-tale life would bore me eventually.
I wouldn't mind living in one of Scott Westerfeld's book (maybe The Specials). Especially if I could have all the bio-gadgets and stuff his characters get.
Allison's struggle to discover her place in the world is one that I think lots of readers will be able to relate to. Was there a reason you chose to portray this in a college setting rather than the typical (for YA) high school choice?
I went back and forth on the decision to set this book in University/College.
My memory of being a reader in high school was that I wanted to read about older people. You know, I read Seventeen magazine when I was 15. When I was in high school I started reading writers like Douglas Coupland, who was writing, at the time, about twenty somethings. So that was one thing I considered when setting this book in University/College.
Plus, this time of life seems like a pretty fertile territory for stories about being a young person. And you ARE still a young person in freshman year. I was 17.
Still, while there are tons of movies about the college/university experience, I hadn't, at the time I started writing, read any YA books focusing on freshman year. I'm not saying they're not out there, I just hadn't ready any.
Which gave me a little pause, like, maybe there's an unwritten rule out there you're not supposed to write about college?
Then I thought back to my first year at McGill. It was such a big year for me and fed so much into who I became as an adult. That year is such a signficant leap in a young person's life: a change of place, a possible change of person, a time when all the rules shift and you have these incredible new freedoms and responsibilities.
So I thought, you know what, this would be an ideal place and time to write about for YA.
So I did.
Do you have any novels that you would recommend to fans of (You) Set Me on Fire?
Ah. Well, tops, I would recommend David Sedaris for people who liked the humor of the book. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a huge inspiration for me. Also, I would recommend Alice Munro's The Lives of Girls and Women, which is a series of incredible short stories about growing up. It's a book they assign in high school, which might make it sound like a less desirable read, but it's actually really amazing.
So you should all read it.
In terms of YA, I am a huge fan of King Dork by Frank Portman, was also a big inspiration for my approach to writing for young adults. Portman is very frank, super gritty.
Also I think if you liked the protagonist in this book you might also like The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. Green writes an incredibly strong and well-rounded female voice in this book. I loved it.
And finally, because I just couldn't resist, I noticed TWO Harry Potter references in this book! Would you call yourself a fan?
Ha! Well, yes, I'm a fan. I'm more a fan of the myth of the phoenix than I am of Harry Potter, but I am a fan.
As if I wasn't already eager to take a Linguistics class in university! Doesn't it just sound fascinating? I'll also definitely have to check out all of the books Mariko's recommended because I haven't read any of them. And aha! I knew she was a Potterhead ;) The best people are.