Monday, April 20, 2020

TBR: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is the story of a 15-year-old girl who is ready to grow up, but maybe not as ready as she thinks. In addition to being dark and a little sexy, it’s an exploration of the dysfunction of family, the fragility of female friendships, and the hope we are able to find when we learn to take stock in ourselves. 

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?

Once I unlocked who my main character JL was, and realized she was probably closer to young me than any other character I’ve written, she was enjoyable to write -- or actually rewrite. She’s like an ember about to burst aflame, and I really loved trying to capture that sense of both electricity and vulnerability, a person on the very verge.

And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

I think all the characters in this story were a challenge because they’re all flawed and deeply human. Additionally, the mother is suffering from a clinical disorder (if even her therapist hasn’t actually pinned down exactly which one or how to fully help her). I wanted to portray her in a way to make the reader see how she could be there and seemingly “normal” one moment, and lost in her disorder the next. Walking that balance was difficult. Making her feel authentic.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Oh, a very rough version of this manuscript had been around for a LONG while before it was finally bought by my current editor. And that’s where the real work began. An early draft was one of my agent’s favorite works in progress of mine . . . but had always been my least favorite. I just couldn’t get JL fully right, nor wrap my head around where the story needed to go to matter. Plus, when we had shown that early version to a prior editor, she had unequivocally turned it down.

Then I wrote MEMORY OF THINGS and IN SIGHT OF STARS and loved both those stories so much. As did my current editor who bought them both, in that order. At some point after she bought STARS, I asked her if she wanted to read the crappy draft of KEROUAC. I remember her saying, “You keep saying you hate it, but you keep bringing it up, too, so there must be something there.” I decided I’d let her take a look and if she didn’t love it, I would put it to bed forever. Instead, she not only read it and loved JL, but knew exactly where the story needed to go -- and how to push me to make it come fully alive.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Hands down, Teddy Roosevelt’s “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I have to remind myself CONSTANTLY. And then my agent has to remind me too.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

The last thirty pages or so (beginning on p. 245 of the Advance Review Copy), that start, “The cold shocks me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know this is crazy. It’s June. I shouldn’t be shaking like I am.” For me, no matter how many times I reread them, they are breathless and stunning, and I don’t quite know where they came from, but I felt the rhythm of them somewhere deep in my bones while I was writing them. Especially, the scene in the Shawnee motel. As if I had once been in that seedy motel -- metaphorically, if not literally. That may be some of my best writing in all the books and unsold manuscripts I’ve written.

How did you find the title of your book?

I actually woke up with the title in my head one morning years ago, shortly after I sold my debut novel The Pull of Gravity which has a main Of Mice and Men thread running through it so the classics were on my mind. Of course, I wouldn’t normally write a whole novel around a title but for some reason, this one really spoke to me. Of course, I was writing YA and knew that Kerouac would be pretty irrelevant to most teenagers, so I began to ask myself, “Why not my character? Why might my main character – let’s say, a 15 year old girl -- not only know who Kerouac was, but hate him? And the plot for the novel began to come to me, if not quite the heart of the story which, as I mentioned above, came to me only later.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Hmmm, now I need to think. There’s some cold pizza, and a meal of roast chicken and mashed potatoes. Not exactly a gourmand’s book. LOL.



DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.