May 8, 2015

Chatting with Corey Ann Haydu

I'm seriously so, so excited about today's author interview! Corey Ann Haydu is a YA author who is unafraid to write messy, complicated stories narrated by complex, unique characters. Her novels are not always comfortable reads, but they certainly challenge reader perspectives and contain so many points that can be discussed with other people. Without further ado, here's my interview with Corey!

Hi Corey, welcome to Alexa Loves Books! I’m so pleased to have you on the blog for an interview. I’m very excited to be chatting about Making Pretty, because I really enjoyed it! So, in Making Pretty, your main character Montana has a fairly unusual family situation where it’s just her, her sister Arizona, her father and his paramour of the moment. Was giving Montana’s family this dynamic important to you and to this story?

It was! When I initially came up with the idea for Making Pretty, all I knew was that I wanted a plastic surgeon father with a teen daughter. As the idea evolved, I realized that I wanted Montana and her sister to see their father constantly falling in and out of love. I wanted that kind of instability for them. I think so much of growing up is asking the question, over and over, who am I supposed to be? Montana and Arizona have so many older women in their lives, so many potential role models and so many potential family structures, that the very central question of who am I supposed to be gets more complicated and harder to answer.

One of the most important things in this novel is Montana’s struggle with her self-image. Could you talk about what inspired you to write about this, and tell readers a little about the factors in Montana’s life that contribute to it? And if you feel comfortable, could you share a little about your own struggles with self-image and how it influenced your story?
Like I said above, I was first inspired by the idea of what it would feel like to be a teenage girl with a father who makes his living performing plastic surgery on other women. I made Montana’s father a doctor who really specializes in cosmetic plastic surgery, and who is very consumed by ways to make women “perfect.” 

When I was nineteen, I read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, and it really opened me up to thinking about the pressure women feel to look a certain way, and where that pressure comes from. So in some ways I think I’ve been itching to write Making Pretty for more than a decade, since I first started thinking seriously about those questions. 

I struggle a lot with self image, and it’s something that evolves and gets harder and easier over time. I was an actress for years—from a young age—and that had a really big effect on my own awareness of my body and face and how it was perceived by other people. In the industry, people get away with commenting on your looks very casually. Every time I went to an audition or a meeting, my looks were up for discussion. Was I pretty enough to be the lead? Was I too short to play a girl my own age? Was I too pale for film? Would I be willing to strap down my breasts to play a 12 year old when I was eighteen? Could I wear more makeup? All these things were fair game, and it ended up making me a little obsessed with my own looks, and constantly disappointed that I didn’t measure up. 

Every time I got cast, I took it as an indication of who I was, how to feel about myself. If I was cast as a sexy vixen, I felt good about my body. If I got cast as a smart girl, I worried I wasn’t pretty enough. My thoughts were so confused, and it wasn’t the way I wanted to view myself or the world. I wanted to value my brain and my kindness and my inner life, not worry about if I was pretty enough or sexy enough or too sexy. 

The relief I felt when I left acting was intense. And now I bring all those anxieties and the difficulties of that period of time into my work. I think I always will! I thought a lot about that period of time when I was writing Montana’s story, and tried to capture the pain of worrying that someone will see your flaws.

Friendship was another essential piece of the puzzle in Montana’s story. I really liked how you portrayed her friendship with Karissa, where she wanted Karissa to like her and be exclusively hers. But I also really liked seeing the dynamic between Montana, Arizona and Roxanne, where they do have a history and do get along, but having new experiences has caused them all to start changing. Did you intentionally set out to show these two different friendship experiences?

I didn’t realize at first how much of the story would be about friendship. It wasn’t until a third or fourth draft that I started really focusing on the idea of Belonging. Sometimes it takes me a while to find a character’s motivation, and I didn’t see at first how badly Montana just wants to belong—belong somewhere and belong to someone. Once I found that side of her and knew to write from that strong desire, I was able to flesh out her friendships and show more how her desire to belong interacts with her new and old friendships. I like thinking about how different people bring out different parts of ourselves, and Karissa certainly brings out a very different side of Montana than Arizona and Roxanne do. That’s part of what fascinates me about friendships—how much they can shape us, and also how toxic friendships can really bring out our worst sides.

And, of course, we can’t forget about romance! The way you wrote Montana and Bernardo’s relationship felt so realistic, particularly the heady rush of feeling and the way you cling hard to the connection you’ve formed. Was it intentional to give Bernardo different circumstances in life? It almost felt like a catalyst for Montana’s reflections at times, and to highlight how odd her own situation is. 

Bernardo and Montana is my favorite romantic relationship I’ve written so far. I wanted Bernardo to come from a family that felt idyllic to Montana, even though it probably isn’t idyllic on the inside (families never are!) I’m from a small family myself, and when I’m in friendships or relationships with people from bigger families with strong family identities, it brings out so many feelings—jealousy, discomfort, excitement, fear, joy. I wanted to give Montana an experience of falling in love with someone who isn’t from her exact world—someone who she wishes she could be like and maybe changes herself too much for.

Was it fun to write a book set in New York City? It’s such a complicated, dynamic place, and I think you’ve captured that feeling perfectly. 

I loved writing a book set in New York City, and I think I will continue to write stories there. I’ve lived here for almost fifteen years, so it’s certainly my home. And it’s the only place I feel truly comfortable. Growing up I never felt free to be myself, but in NYC I immediately felt like I could wear what I wanted and do what I liked to do. In New York there are a million ways to be cool, and I’ve always loved that. And it was fun to set romantic scenes in the sweaty, crowded city. NYC isn’t a romantic place in so many ways—it’s dirty and so hot in the summer and you’re constantly being trampled on by everyone and it’s hard to find a place to be alone. But the romance is in the way you create your own bubble in the midst of all that chaos. I love that about NYC and I love how that worked as a background for this story.

One of the things that I admire most about your stories is that you’re not afraid of writing complex main characters who are real and good and flawed all at once. It’s something I rarely encounter in the novels I read, and so I’m very excited that you are able to do this. Is this something you set purposely set out to do? And do you have any tips about how to make sure the characters feel real to the reader? 

I love this question, because I’m so happy my characters feel complicated and real, but I also don’t really set out to write them that way. I wouldn’t know how to write a character who is all one thing. I’m certainly not! My main interest in writing—especially in first person narratives—is in exploring the things we don’t always talk about but are happening inside our heads. It makes me feel less alone, to write characters that feel all the not-so-nice feelings I feel: anger and jealousy and judgment and resentment. Those things exist in all people, even the really nice ones! The joy of fiction vs. real life is that in fiction we can see the full range of what’s going on for someone emotionally. In real life, we often have to hide our embarrassing, not so nice feelings, and I think in doing so we miss out on lots of moments of connection. I feel less alone when I’m reading complicated characters—in real life I’m so busy admiring who graceful and easy everything looks for other people. In fiction I get to see how false that really is—I really believe everyone is messy and complicated. Some people are just better at hiding it! 

Can you tell my readers what’s next for you? I know that Rules for Stealing Stars will be coming out this year! 

Yes! I am so excited for my first middle grade novel, Rules for Stealing Stars to hit stores and libraries and classrooms on September 29th. It’s the book I feel closest to, and one that I’m really proud of. I’m working on another middle grade novel that should be out in 2016 or early 2017, and I’m also writing another YA novel that’s in early stages still but is a little bit of a departure for me, which feels very exciting! I’m also looking forward to this fall because my old high school is producing a play adaptation I wrote of my first novel, OCD Love Story! I can’t wait to see what these kids do with the production, and I’m hopeful that maybe other high schools around the country will follow suit and show interest in producing it! 

Thank you so much for visiting the blog, Corey! Your answers were so thoughtful, and definitely make me love you (and your novels) even more than I already do. 

For more of Corey Anne Haydu, check out her website and Twitter.
Want to learn more about her novels? The links below lead to my review or to Goodreads:


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