Catherine spoke with fellow author Melissa Roske about her first young adult novel, which was just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Catherine’s a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online group dedicated to YA and MG authors debuting in 2016. Melissa rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs…until they’re not.
Told through alternating points of view, HOW IT ENDS chronicles two best friends’ tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys, and backstabbing and what can happen when friends choose assumptions and fear over each other.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When she’s not writing, Catherine Lo works as a high school teacher in Ontario, Canada.
She lives in Mississauga with her husband and two children, Ethan and Mackenzie. Represented by Mackenzie Brady of New Leaf Literary & Media, you can find Catherine at her catherine-lo.com, on Twitter, Instagram and on Goodreads.
TALKING ABOUT ‘HOW IT ENDS’
Melissa: I read in an online interview that HOW IT ENDS was originally about teen suicide. How did the novel morph into the story of friendship it is now?
Catherine: It was always written in the dual perspective, with the narration alternating between two best friends, Jessie and Annie. In the earlier version, Annie’s voice was all in diary entries – and she dies at the end. When the book sold to Houghton Mifflin, my editor, Sarah Landis, said she loved the story and the characters, but she didn’t like the ending. She felt that I kept trying to force the story in one direction when it wanted to go in another. She was right, because that’s exactly how I felt when I was writing it. The problem was, it was my first novel and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was writing the story I thought I had to write. So, when Sarah challenged me to ditch Annie’s diary entries and turn her into a living, breathing character, I did just that. It felt freeing, and I let the story go where it needed to go. As the story evolved, the girls’ friendship started to take center stage. This taught me to have faith in the process – and not to force things.
Melissa: How did your experience as a teacher working with at-risk teens affect your approach to exploring your characters’ emotional struggles? ( i.e., Jessie struggles with anxiety, and Annie is grieving the death of her mom.)
Catherine: I’ve worked with many teens with anxiety, and I’ve struggled with anxiety myself, so I think I do a pretty good job of getting inside my characters’ heads. I also spend all day, every day, in a high school environment, which helps. Obviously, neither Jessie nor Annie is based on any one person, but they do have bits and pieces borrowed from my students over the years. I can then latch onto these details and get more creative with other aspects of the story.
Back in teachers’ college, when I was taking a course on how to teach English, I remember the professor saying that students should be able to find themselves – or find something they can connect with – in every book they read. This is something that’s always stuck with me. It’s my hope that a reader will find something to connect with in my book, and recognize a part of themselves in the pages.
Melissa: In this novel, both Jessie and Annie are made to feel powerless by the adults in their lives. Jessie’s mom won’t allow her to have access to her anti-anxiety meds, and Annie’s stepmom, Madeleine, strong-arms Annie into terminating her pregnancy. How does the theme of powerlessness resonate with a YA audience?
Catherine: The teen years are tough. You’re beginning to feel ready for more independence, but you’re still living in your parents’ house and required to follow their rules. It’s also a time when you start identifying your own ideas and your own goals, but they’re not always in alignment with those of the rest of your family. Plus, parents can be very well meaning but it’s not always perceived that way. Jessie’s mom, for instance, has good intentions but treats her daughter like a little kid. Jessie just wants her mom to see her for who she is. And that, I think, is a very common thing.
Melissa: HOW IT ENDS is told through the eyes of two best friends, Jessie and Annie, in alternating points of view. How did you pull off the dual narration? Did you write each character’s story individually, or did you do them both at once?
Catherine: When my agent first showed an interest in HOW IT ENDS – and I’d done a couple of R&Rs for her – one of the things we worked on was differentiating the two voices. They were different in my head, but on the page…? Not so much. It took some rewriting, and some reimagining the story from their different perspectives, in order to get it right. In the later stages, I would do the characters separately. I’d write all Jessie for a while and then write all Annie. Sometimes I’d switch back and forth, because it was easier to see the differences between them when they were offset against each other. It was tricky, that’s for sure, and required a lot of revision! I’m proud of the final result, though. Jessie and Annie really are two different girls. There’s a lot that divides them, but a lot that’s similar too. I guess that’s the way it is with all of us: The same is more powerful than what’s different.
Melissa: Did you have an intense best-friend relationship when you were a teen? If so, how did it shape your high school experience?
Catherine: It’s funny, but I’m still friends with my best friend from high school, Lynn. We met in grade 9, in English class. I was quiet and shy – more like Jessie than Annie – while Lynn was outgoing. We found each other, and clicked. That makes all the difference; having close friendships that see you through tough times. Looking back, I learned so much from Lynn – and from my other friends as well. They helped me realize my potential, and cheered me on. And I cheered them on. Friends are important, and sometimes we take them for granted. But they can be a powerful influence in our lives. A little part of this book is about that.
Melissa: You and I are serious Judy Blume fangirls. So, I have to ask: What’s your favorite Judy Blume book?
Catherine: One favorite? Oh no! I grew up with Judy Blume books, and different books spoke to me at different ages. When I was really little, I loved Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Fudge, and Superfudge. But there’s something amazing about Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I remember reading it and going, “Wow… Someone’s talking about this stuff!” It was mindboggling.
Favorite writing snack?
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
I took Santa Claus pictures at the mall. It was fun, except when kids were screaming because they were scared of Santa and their parents wanted a smile. It was a high-pressure job. There’s a lot riding on that photograph!
Two cats, Ricky and Ginny. They’re both tabby cats, one’s a ginger and one’s gray.
Music to write by?
I would love to be one of those people who writes to music and creates these great playlists, and talks about the songs that inspire them. But I really need quiet. Not total silence necessarily – I can be in a coffee shop with a din around me – but I can’t listen to music. I’m distracted by the lyrics and can’t get that flow.
Early bird or night owl?
I’m an early bird who wishes she were a night ow
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. She is represented by Patricia Nelson of MLLA and is a proud member of SCBWI.
Before hanging out with fictional characters, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she wrote for Just Seventeen magazine, where she was later offered a job as an advice columnist. Upon returning to her native New York, she selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, wrote and contributed to several books and magazines, and got certified as a life coach. Melissa lives in Manhattan with her husband and teenage daughter. Her debut novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, releases from Charlesbridge on May 2, 2017. Find Melissa at her website (melissaroske.com) and on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.