We are so thrilled to bring you an interview with Trish Doller, the amazing author of Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine. Check out our behind the scenes look and then go check out those books!
Your two books have very different narrators both with distinct voices. One is a Marine, just barely off the plane home and one is a ferociously independent teen girl dealing with major changes in who she considers family. How did you decide on those voices? Was it easier to get in Callie’s or Travis’ head?
Something Like Normal was initially meant to be from the perspective of a girl like Harper, who had been wronged by Travis and spent most of her high school years as an outcast. Travis was supposed to come home from war damaged and understanding how it feels to be an outcast. Except I realized his story was far more compelling, so I let him tell it.
In Where the StarsStill Shine, I knew Callie’s story would take place in Tarpon Springs—that was the first piece of the story—and I knew she would be returning to a family she didn’t remember, but it took some listening before I figured out that her mother had abducted her.
Callie’s character keeps so much to herself, and I found that it took me a lot more work to get to the heart of her story. Travis, on the other hand, was very forthcoming and it was much easier to be in his head.
There is a very strong family and community in WTSSS. Callie’s dad’s family is Greek and comes from a town where everyone knows everything about each other. Was it fun to write a big family? Are you from one?
Callie’s big fat Greek family is probably my favorite part of her story. I love writing little kids and old people and parents, so it was incredibly fun writing all of them. When I was growing up, my immediate family was just my mom and me, but I have 19 cousins with whom I spent so much time that it was like being part of a big family. And I drew a lot on the family reunion experience because I think no matter what your ethnicity, every family has bossy old ladies, gossips, and at least one aunt who leaves angry, taking her Tupperware with her.
There are some seriously strong friendships in your books. Something Like Normal is a love letter to Travis’ fallen best friend, Charlie and Kat in WTSS lets Callie be a regular teen for the first time basically ever. How different is it to write a deep friendship than a romantic relationship?
I think it’s harder to write friendship because those are the people who love us even when we’re terrible to them. That’s not to say romantic relationships don’t reach that point—my husband can vouch for that—but I think in literature we’re often focused on the falling, rather than what happens after. But with deep friendships, we see the ugly underside as well as the love.
One of the things that I love about both of your books is that many of the characters do not follow a traditional educational path after high school. Callie’s working on her GED, Alex is working on his father’s sponge boat and, of course, Travis in Something like Normal joins the Marines. Was it important to you to show that life after high school doesn’t necessarily mean a four year degree?
It’s something that became important, I think, as I realized that most of my characters (including Cadie, who you’ll meet in The Devil You Know) weren’t choosing college. There are alternate paths and you can have a fulfilled and successful life without a four year degree.
Redemption here is not a guarantee. Even the parents in these books are not necessarily going to do the right thing. It’s still pretty rare in YA for the parents to play any major role but in both these books the parents are struggling as much as the protagonists. Did Travis’ and Callie’s parents always play such large roles in their arcs?
In Where the Stars Still Shine, I always knew Callie’s dad, Greg, was going to be a big part of her story. She’d spent a lifetime away from him and I wanted to explore what it would be like to suddenly have a caring, engaged parent. What I didn’t know was that Callie’s mom would be part of the story. I envisioned her off-screen, until I realized that all of these fragile connections Callie had made with her father, Kat, Alex, and her grandmother, could potentially be undone if her mother showed up, I let it happen…just to see how Callie would handle it.
Something Like Normalwas a little trickier because I didn’t imagine Travis’ family falling apart in his absence. But once I saw how his mom was struggling to find her identity independent of her husband and sons, I knew there was potential for her and Travis to become the loving, supportive family she always wanted. In the end, I really love how their relationship grew.
The fact that your stories do not wrap up in neat packages is very refreshing. We know the path that the characters are on, but not their ultimate destinations. Do you know what’s going to happen to them after the book closes? Have you thought at all about revisiting either of them later in their stories?
I sometimes joke that “hopefully ever after endings” have become my authorial thing, but life doesn’t always give us a big red bow, so I don’t feel like my stories need them, either. I have an idea of what happens to my characters after I’ve written the final chapter, but I don’t know that I want to revisit them. I’ve left them in places where the reader gets to decide.
You have a definite knack for dialogue. Travis and his friends sound very much like dudes I remember from high school, cracking “your mom” jokes and finding the most ridiculous ways to put each other down. Also, Callie has the most realistically awkward first date I’ve read in a while. Do you spend any time listening to real teens to get this stuff so spot on?
The relationship between Travis and his friends was pretty heavily inspired by my son and his friends. And some of the characters are loosely based on the boys that spent time hanging out in my backyard. Since I’ve been listening to them for years, it was ridiculously easy to write Travis and his high school friends and even the Marines. Also, my day job is at a bookstore, so I do pay attention to what teenagers are saying and how they’re saying it.
You use Tumblr and Pinterest as inspiration boards so I’m guessing you’re a pretty visual person. Have you thought at all about who you’d like to cast in movie versions of your books? (We’d love to see them on the big screen!)
I am hopeless at casting by books because I do not have a wide knowledge of actors and actresses in that age range. So what I was thinking is…let’s have your readers cast the movie versions of one (or both) of my books. Anyone who participates will be entered in a drawing to win their personalized choice of my books . (reblog with your ideas by October 10 to enter)
We have to wait until June for your next book, but we are already curious! Can you tell us a little bit about The Devil You Know?
The Devil You Know is about Arcadia “Cadie” Wells, a small town Florida girl who has been loaded with responsibility since her mother died. She’s recently graduated high school and is yearning for adventure, but she’s also working, raising her little brother, and trying to keep her grieving father afloat. On a rare night out, Cadie goes to a party at the local state park where she meets Noah and Matt MacNeal, cousins who are camping their way through Florida. When they invite Cadie to join them, she jumps at the chance. But when things go tragically wrong, Cadie just might not make it home alive.
Devil is a psychological thriller, but it’s also social commentary on how difficult it is to be a girl in today’s world.
What has been the best part about being a YA author, so far?
Fan letters. There is nothing—I mean nothing—better than getting an email from someone who connected with your book.
Do you read YA yourself? Do you have any favorite authors to recommend to our readers?
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I have a desk, but I always seem to write while sitting in the same spot on my living room couch. But we recently bought a boat, so I’m hoping that will be my new favorite place.
Do you have any advice for teens who want to pursue writing as a career?
I think my best advice is read widely. Read out of your comfort zone. Read books you don’t think you’ll like because you might be surprised. Read the boring books your teachers assign because there are lessons to be learned about writing in boring books, too . And keep writing. I don’t necessarily agree with people who think teenagers shouldn’t try to get published, but I do think that as your life experiences accumulate and your vocabulary grows, your skills as a writer (usually) improves. So focus on the writing and when you’re ready to try to be published, you’ll know.