Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bookshelf: Interview with E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart is the author of The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, Fly on the Wall, Dramarama and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Visit her on the web at
INN: What draws you to YA lit as a genre?

EL: I am not sure it is a genre. I think of it as an age category that encompasses many genres: fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, literary fiction, comedies, mysteries etc. Usually, the protagonists are teenaged -- but not always. For example, Montmorency: Theif, Liar, Gentleman has an adult hero and it is YA, while many adult books have teenage heroes and are not. That said, I'm drawn to YA as a writer partly because it feels natural to me to write for young audiences and about young characters, and partly because the writing and publishing communities are very strong and supportive.

INN: What inspired you to write The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks?

EL: This book was very hard for me, because it has big action sequences and complex boarding school pranks, plus a serious plot -- none of which came easily. What comes easily to me is goofy conversations in the school cafeteria, dialog, flirtation. So I can't say much of Disreputable History comes from inspiration -- more like from sweat. However, the driving force of the book was my own feminist frustration with the still-existing old boys network, and with how difficult it can still be, in these days of equality, to fall in love without losing one's sense of self.

INN: How did you break into publishing?

EL: It took years. I got an agent with a book proposal I wrote for an adult project, but that project never sold. Meanwhile, that agent did manage to sell a middle-grade novel I'd written that went in and quickly out of print. The agent dropped me and I managed to get another with a fresh book proposal. That book sold and I wrote it, but it wasn't successful. All the editors I'd worked with had quit the business or moved on to different publishing houses. I was back to (almost) square one, and again without an agent. I managed to sell a picture book through the slush pile, and this time ended up with an editor who was experienced and very supportive of my writing. I did some more work for little kids through her, and wrote an adult novel -- which got me a third agent, and which sold after 6 months of trying. That book was published very quietly, but by this time I had written enough that I had some credibility as a published author. I tried my hand at writing for young adults, and the sailing has been smoother since then.

INN: What books did you read as a teen? (Any recommendations?)

EL: I read all the classic YA books by authors like S.E. Hinton, Judy Blume, M.E. Kerr, and Paul Zindel. I also read a lot of Piers Anthony, Tom Robbins and Douglas Adams. I haven't reread most of these as an adult, so I'm not sure how they hold up, but if you haven't treated yourself to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, please do not wait any longer.

INN: In "Fly on the Wall," Gretchen draws Spiderman and talks a lot about comic books and superheroes. Are you a fan of comics as well, and if so, what are your faves?

EL: I don't read many comics now, but for quite a while in my 20s I subscribed to Spider-man, and when I was a kid my uncle had huge stacks of comics and would take me and my cousins to the used comic book store on weekends. I spent my own money on Archies, but I read his Fantastic Four, Spidey, Batman, and Hulk. He and my dad also had replicas of the old EC horror comics, which I read voraciously. For Fly on the Wall, I bought a ton of old Spider-man comics on eBay.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

EL: Read. I see many aspiring writers who haven't really taken the time to understand their chosen genre. What else is out there? What has been done, and what hasn't? Who are your favorite authors of the kind of book you want to write, and WHY? I also think it's essential to have wide-ranging familiarity with many types of writing, because how else are you, the writer, to know the different possible modes in which you might tell your story, the many techniques that are available to you? When I set out to write my first novel, I took apart the first thirds of three of my favorite books, to see how the authors structured their stories, how they handled exposition, how they built suspense and introduced characters. I used David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving, and Geek Love by Kathleen Dunn -- but any three books you love would do.

The other piece of advice I have, which is maybe more appropriate to older writers looking to turn professional, is: finish it. The biggest difference between me and my equally talented but unpublished writer friends is that I finish my books, while they have several half-done projects languishing in drawers. My books are not better. My books are just done.

Thank you!

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks hits bookstores March 25th, but if you want to pre-order your copy, offers a discount. Don't forget to visit E. Lockhart's awesome website and blog at


Melissa Walker said...

Great interview! I love how E. shared her bumpy road in publishing--it's inspiring that her story wound up in such a successful spot!

Madeline said...

Fly on the wall was hilarious. I've already shared it with several of my friends. I'm so glad you interviewed E., and I absolutely love her YA books.