Gwendolyn Heasley is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of Missouri-Columbia where she earned her master’s degree in journalism. When she was a little girl, she desperately wanted to be the next Ann M. Martin- the author of the beloved The Baby-Sitter’s Club series. She’s incredibly grateful that the recession rendered her unemployed and made her chase her nearly forgotten dream. She lives in New York City, teaches college and eats entirely too much mac and cheese for an adult. She’s also currently at work on her third novel for Harper Collins.
Rachel Brand recently had a chance to sit down with Young Adult author Gwendolyn Heasley. Listen in.
TCM: Did you always know you would write young adult fiction, or did you dabble in other genres when you were starting to write?
Gwendolyn Heasley: I recently wrote a picture book manuscript that I hope gets published…and I dream about writing everything: chic lit, adult fiction, TV, movies, nonfiction, but I’m very happy where I’m right now. I will always watch teen TV/film and read YA, and I’d be thrilled if I also worked it for the rest of my life…But if I got a great idea for another genre, I’d definitely try it out too!
TCM: Who was more fun to write about: Corrinne or Kitsy? Or is that like asking you to choose between your children?
Gwendolyn Heasley: Kitsy is my hero. Really. If I were a superhero, I’d pick her. She’s both very human and very incredible at the same time. While I loved writing Corrinne and showing her grow, I deeply admire Kitsy as a person, so I’d have to pick her.
TCM: Would you say you share some qualities with both Corrinne and Kitsy, or are you definitely more like one character than the other?
Gwendolyn Heasley: On my best days, I’m peppy and lively like Kitsy. On my worst days, I can act spoiled like Corrinne. But on my worst days, I can also act insecure like Kitsy and on my best days, I open myself to new experiences like Corrinne. The best and worst of both of them definitely live inside of me. I have a Kitsy angel, a Kitsy devil, a Corrinne angel and a Corrinne devil living on my shoulder…
TCM: Both Corrinne and Kitsy spend time in Broken Spoke and Manhattan in their respective novels. Which location would you rather reside in? Why?
Gwendolyn Heasley: I live in Manhattan (and have been here nearly four years) and certain days, I’m certain there’s no better place on earth. That said, if I had grown up in a small town, I think I might still be there: I think there’s a lot of great things about living in a small, tight-knit community.
TCM: Where did the inspiration for Broken Spoke come from?
Gwendolyn Heasley: My love for the TV show Friday Night Lights definitely had a huge impact, and I have a lot of Texan friends. I grew up in Minnesota (which is a lovely place) but when I got to college, I was shocked (and jealous) of the state pride that Texans have. Many of my Texan college friends slept under their state flags! I loved writing about that pride.
TCM: If you could only visit three of the places Kitsy explored in Manhattan, which three would you have to choose?
Gwendolyn Heasley: MoMa and go see Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lilies.
Ellis Island because it’s an amazing symbol for the United States.
But my best advice is get a hot dog and just sit on a bench. It’s truly the people, not the city, that makes New York New York.
TCM: Both “Where I Belong” and “A Long Way from You” feature topics that I imagine must have required some research, such as sheep-riding competitions and making pottery. Which subjects did you need to recruit experts to help you with?
Gwendolyn Heasley: YouTube is my best friend. Truly. I especially love “how-to” videos on YouTube. I use them in real life as well: I think it’s great that there are people out there making videos to help other people learn stuff. That’s how I learned about how to drive stick (which Corrinne learns in WHERE I BELONG) and how to throw pottery (which Kitsy learns in A LONG WAY FROM YOU.)
I also definitely talk to friends and family who have expertise in something I’m writing about. For example, my mom helped me a lot with the art sections in A LONG WAY FROM YOU because she loves art and has studied it for decades. And I’ve asked friends questions about photography, fashion, food, regional speak etc.
TCM: Your novels differ from a lot of young adult books on the market right now in that neither of them ends with the protagonist falling in love and living happily ever after with the boy of her dreams. Did you make a deliberate choice not to have a conventional romantic HEA to your novels? What was your reasoning for this?
Gwendolyn Heasley: Romance is only a subplot in both WHERE I BELONG and A LONG WAY FROM YOU. I felt by creating super happy romantic endings that I might underscore the personal growth that occurs in the novels. I want people to remember Corrinne and Kitsy, not the boys that they met.
Some people do fall in love in high school and grow from that. Other people fall out of love in high school and grow from that. But there are also many people who grow in ways that have nothing to do with romance and I wanted those people to be the center of my novels.
TCM: For those of us who can’t wait until your next novel is released, what are some of your favourite young adult novels that you would recommend to fans of Corrinne and Kitsy?
Gwendolyn Heasley: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin is my ultimate YA favorite. I also love Sarah Dessen and Sara Pennypacker.
TCM: Will your next novel feature another secondary character from “Where I Belong” and “A Long Way from You”, or will you be starting afresh with an entirely new character?
Gwendolyn Heasley: I will be writing a first person novel but it won’t feature any of the characters from WHERE I BELONG or A LONG WAY FROM YOU. It will be similar in tone though!