Swanky Seventeener Lauren Karcz recently interviewed Kat Helgeson, author of the YA Contemporary GENA/FINN, published by Chronicle Books on May 17, 2016.
About the Book:
Gena and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie. But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online, and with each other.
About the Author:
Kat Helgeson is a Chicago-based author of novels for young adults. She is a 1980’s cake walk champion and claims a career total of 2 points scored during regulation basketball, and she’s undefeated at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. Having retired from the circus at age fourteen, she now creates content for social media channels by day and writes by night. Kat lives with her husband, her dog, and a healthy preoccupation with fictional characters. Find her online at kathelgeson.com, or on Twitter at @katmankat.
Lauren: I love novels written in unique formats, and GENA / FINN is one of the most ambitious ones I’ve read that relied entirely on nontraditional forms of narrative. Were you and Hannah committed to that format from the beginning? What was the toughest thing about executing the story in that format?
Kat: Yep, it was always the plan. We wanted the novel to reflect Gena’s and Finn’s actual experiences, so readers could live the story with them. The hardest parts were when we had official documents, like Gena’s psychiatrist’s report, because we had to research what those would look like and figure out how to create them. Hannah did most of that, and the team at Chronicle did a great job making things look good. Another tough part was figuring out all the email addresses for the characters and the subject lines for their emails. That was mostly me. One of my favorite parts is a series of emails between Gena and another character in Part II – the email subjects there were so much fun to come up with.
Lauren: How much did you and Hannah plan out the story before you began writing? Were there plot points she surprised you with, and vice versa?
Kat: We definitely surprised each other. One of my favorite stories involves a time Gena and Finn get into a fight. We both knew there was going to be some kind of conflict in that chapter, but neither of us anticipated how harsh it would be. Suddenly I found myself writing an email in which Finn yells at and berates Gena. I sent it to Hannah (along with profuse apologies!) and she responded with an equally caustic Gena email. We had to take a short break from writing after that!
You can see some more subtle unplanned things in the dialogue in a few places. For example, there’s a point where Finn mocks the East Coast for having such small states. That’s a real conversation Hannah and I have had. At another point, Gena brings up lacrosse and Finn claims not to know what lacrosse is. That was real too – I’ve since been educated, but at the time I only knew it was some kind of sport.
Lauren: One of the aspects of the book I liked most was the idea of choice — both main characters made choices (outside of their online lives) that led to terrible consequences. But within the world of their Up Below fandom, both main characters found a place where they had agency, and where their choices led to a deep friendship. Can you talk a little about how you built in this aspect of the book?
Kat: One of the key themes of the book is that your life story – your sentence about yourself, as Gena says – consists of the choices you make and the things you prioritize. Gena and Finn both struggle to figure out which relationships and friendships they have room for in their lives, and how to balance all the things and people they love.
Lauren: What’s your favorite (non-spoilery!) line from GENA / FINN?
Kat: “Be Evanson or you can’t be in our cosplay.”
Lightning Round Questions!
Coffee or tea?
Your first-ever fandom?
Favorite book read in the past year?
THE ART OF NOT BREATHING by Sarah Alexander
Favorite cancelled TV show?
Freaks & Geeks
Music or silence when writing?
Best one sentence of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
“That’s a next-draft problem.” -Hannah Moskowitz
About the Interviewer:
Lauren Karcz grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where she and her sister created a huge cast of fictional characters as children. Lauren still writes about them; her sister doesn’t. She studied English and Psychology at the University of Georgia and went on to work in the linguistics field, first as an ESL teacher, and now as a writer and coordinator of language tests and training programs. Her favorite place is the beginning of the second act of a Broadway show. Lauren’s debut YA magical realism novel, THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS, is forthcoming from HarperTeen in summer 2017.