Thursday, July 25, 2019

Q&A with Katelyn Detweiler

Katelyn Detweiler is the author of the new young adult novel The Undoing of Thistle Tate. She also has written the YA novels Transcendent and Immaculate. She is a literary agent, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Undoing of Thistle Tate, and for your character Thistle?

A: I’ve always been fascinated/curious/jealous of the youngest of authors out there—I mean, seriously, how do they do it all?! I barely managed to balance any kind of respectable social life in high school with homework and studying and school and sleep.

So I’m wildly in awe of teenagers who somehow not only find the time to write whole novels, but are also brilliantly talented and actually writing good whole novels. But I guess I’m also a touch… skeptical? I think that’s the writer in me, looking at what’s in front of my eyes and poking holes that very well might not exist.

What *if* that teen prodigy wasn’t quite as gifted as we thought? What *if* she or he was a figurehead—a clever publicity hook? Working in publishing, I know just how all important that hook can be, and it made me wonder… what would be the motive behind someone “faking it” in this way? Why lie? And from that question, dear Thistle and her father were born.

Q: How would you characterize the relationship between Thistle and her father?

A: Definitely the most complicated father-daughter relationship I’ve written to date! Thistle loves her father very much. He’s always been her everything, the center of her universe. He was low, incredibly low, punched down by life from all sides, and she wanted—no, needed—to see him be happy again.

Telling one little lie to ensure that? It felt worth it, at least in the beginning. But as lies often do, it spirals out of control, and Thistle is left with a heavy load of regret and resentment. She loves her dad still… but that love, it isn’t so neat and easy. There’s a hard limit to what she’ll do to make him happy, and she’s there. Oh, is she there!

Q: What do you think the novel says about the concepts of creativity and truthfulness?

A: Truth usually comes out in the end. But is lying sometimes okay? For the right reasons? Maybe. I’m not sure. Even after writing this book, I still can’t say. I do know that the reasons we lie aren’t always simple, and that sometimes it’s to protect, not to hurt. Maybe the intention behind the lie can be more important than the lie itself?

Creativity can take so many shapes. And very few authors (good authors at least!) write in a vacuum. Thistle is a creative force, even if she wasn’t the “author.” The books wouldn’t exist without her. So while her name on the book isn’t totally the truth, it’s not totally a lie either. I think there are a lot of hazy truths when it comes to creating fiction.

Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: I knew more so with this book how it would end than with my previous two, but a lot still surprised me. The truth had to come out, things had to get much worse before they could get better, and Thistle would have to find herself and her dreams in the process. Alone, stripped of everything.

But the rest? Secrets about her mom, a rollercoaster of summer romance, the troubles her dad unexpectedly faces—they all came to me in the middle of the process. I like for my characters to constantly surprise me as I go.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on another YA that asks a similarly tough and uncomfortable question. (I’m all about hypotheticals! My forever muses.) I can’t go too deep in without giving away too much, but it’s about a fiery summer romance that goes shockingly, terribly awry.

The novel asks big questions about what it means to love—to be in love—and about how and when that love can go from right to wrong. Very wrong. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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