One of our favorite things to do is invite the authors whose covers we revealed back to the site to talk more about their work. Today, we welcome back Stephanie Kate Strohm to talk about her new novel It’s Not Me It’s You!
It’s Not Me It’s You is a look at one girl’s epic dating history as told by her friends, family, and foes. Avery Dennis, head of the prom committee, has just been dumped right before prom and the whole school is talking about it! But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Avery decides to face her problems head on and use this experience to figure out why none of her romantic relationships have ever worked. The only way to do that — interview all of her exes to see what went wrong.
Tell us a little about our leading lady Avery Dennis.
In some ways, Avery Dennis is your stereotypical queen bee at San Anslemo Prep. She’s the head of the prom committee, a killer tennis player, and never without a boyfriend. She also writes beautiful lab reports and is both a devoted friend and a bit of a bossy control freak. Avery is the kind of person who makes things happen, and she has been incredibly fun to write.
Avery’s role in school – as popular, head of the prom committee, and how could she not show up without a date?! – is almost a cliche. How do you subvert that in YA fiction? Do you think some of the cliches about high school dynamics and popular girls hold true?
Avery is definitely set up to appear as a popular girl cliché. When I was in high school, I felt so mystified by the popular girls. I couldn’t understand what made some people popular and everyone else not. I was convinced that all my problems would go away if I had a boyfriend and could somehow magically become part of the popular clique. The whole idea of Avery came from this misconception I had in high school – Avery might appear to be one thing on the outside, but she is certainly not perfect, and she learns a lot about herself as the story unfolds. I think the key to subverting clichés is to create characters who are specific and true to themselves. Avery is popular, and she’s also driven, funny, competitive, and a bit of a nerd. No one is just one thing.
However, I do think some of the clichés about high school hold true. Let’s just say that none of the guys on the lacrosse team were begging hang out with me and the rest of the theater kids. Something I did want to get across, though, is what Avery’s lab partner, Hutch, says in It’s Not Me, It’s You – that he doesn’t care about being popular. He likes his friends, he likes playing D&D on the weekends, and he doesn’t care what parties he’s invited too. Just because I was desperately concerned with the fact that I wasn’t popular doesn’t mean everyone is! I think cliques just naturally form in high school, but that there isn’t necessarily always some food chain of popularity with jocks on top and nerds on the bottom. Sometimes it’s just different groups of friends happily coexisting in the same space. Like Avery, I went to a very small high school – there were only sixty people in my graduating class – and that creates a very odd, specific dynamic that is definitely reflected in It’s Not Me, It’s You.
Avery decides to talk to every guy she has ever dates. How many is that? Can you tell us a little about one or two of them?
If I counted correctly, Avery interviews twelve of her ex-boyfriends. There were originally even more than that who didn’t make the final cut! They include several athletes, a cowboy, an Italian, a ballet dancer, a yogi, and a somewhat-famous celebrity. One of my favorite sections in the book is about an ex whose parents are just a little bit too involved in his life. Another favorite ex is the one who cracks under the pressure of Avery’s over-involved schedule. Much like Avery, I need to be constantly doing activities, so I really emphasized with her drive to get her boyfriend to do just as many activities as she does!
You mention Dungeons & Dragons AND Settlers of Catan in It’s Not Me It’s You. Do you play?
I have played both, but I wouldn’t consider myself a legitimate or skilled gamer. My fiancé is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about board games and has introduced me to so many awesome games. My D&D career was not particularly successful. I succeeded only in thoroughly annoying everyone on my campaign. D&D requires more stamina and a longer attention span than I possess! I like Catan, but it has been suggested that I no longer play for the sake of my relationship, as I once chucked a bunch of tiny game pieces at my fiancé when I lost. I also love Smallworld, Black Fleet, Takenoko, Ticket to Ride, and most of all, Lords of Waterdeep. I will lure you over to my apartment with the promise of freshly baked cookies and trap you into playing Lords of Waterdeep. And you will love it.
You’ve written other books, including The Taming of the Drew, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew that also references the play. What is it about contemporary YA that calls you? Do you plan every novel the same way, or do each take its own plotting strategy? (If you plot. Do you plot?)
I…don’t plot. I always feel sort of embarrassed admitting this! I wish I was a plotter; I have enormous respect for them. It would probably make my revision process easier as well, but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to do it. The writing process for this book, though, was really different than my other contemporary YAs because the format of the oral history is so specific. It required a lot more revisions to make sure that everything made sense as an oral history. In some ways, the revision process felt more technical, but I also really enjoyed using each character’s specific voice. Dialogue is my favorite thing to write, so I adored writing a book that was all dialogue! As for contemporary YA, it’s the genre that feels most suited to my natural writing voice. When I first started writing several years ago, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to write, and it just came out as a contemporary YA. I love writing love stories, and I love writing comedy, and I feel that contemporary YA is well-suited to those two things. Especially with writing romance, it’s always so much fun to write first loves. The stakes are so high!
What else do you want readers to know about It’s Not Me It’s You?
Whether you loved prom, hated prom, refused to go, or planned the whole dang thing yourself, there will be someone in It’s Not Me, It’s You that you identify with.
What YA books would you recommend for readers to tide them over until they can read It’s Not Me It’s You?
There are so many great ones! If you’re looking for a contemporary, check out The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill, The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, and The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions) by Amy Spalding. If you’re a history buff/Austenite like me, definitely check out The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennett!