Thursday, July 13, 2023

Q&A with Kristin Nilsen



Kristin Nilsen is the author of the new middle grade novel Worldwide Crush. She co-hosts the Pop Culture Preservation Society podcast, and she lives in Minneapolis.


Q: You write that the inspiration for Worldwide Crush came from your own childhood crush on teen idol Sean Cassidy. How did that eventually lead to your writing this novel, and how did you create your character Rory Calhoun?


A: I’ve always been fascinated by the teen idol crush phenomenon; first because it appears to be so universal and, second, because it’s fun to see people light up when you ask about their first crush. I just felt like these two things indicated that there was greater meaning behind it all.


And research shows (putting on my Crushologist hat now) that I was right; these celebrity crushes are a tender first step into the world of adolescence without having to commit to being a fully sexual being. They are innocent and joyful and devoid of all the risks of the IRL relationships that are coming our way soon enough.


In our fantasies, we are always the cool people and say exactly the right thing and our crushes always like us back (in completely age-appropriate ways!). It’s really very sweet. I can’t tell you exactly how that fascination lead to writing the novel except to say that I never considered writing about anything else. 


In creating Rory Calhoun, I tapped into my own cache of memories. I dug out my record albums and paged through Tiger Beat magazine trying to access the feelings I had when I fell in love for the first time.


For me, fiction is truth; there is very little I write about that doesn’t come from something real. I’m serious when I say it wouldn’t be possible for me to write Millie’s feelings accurately if Rory didn’t resemble my own crush.


Even his personality, his likes and dislikes, all resemble the Shaun Cassidy I created in my tween-age imagination.


Q: How would you describe your character Millie's feelings about Rory?


A: She’s sort of stunned by his beauty while simultaneously being charmed by the lyrics in his songs. And because of social media, she can get a daily glimpse into his personality, which charms her even further; he’s good and caring, which makes her feel very safe.


She spends a lot of time fantasizing about being together in racy scenarios like walking on the beach, sharing an ice cream cone, and making waffles together. This is all she’s ready for so this is as crazy as her fantasy life gets.


And to a certain degree, there’s an unrealistic hope that this relationship is truly possible in real life. Just like when I was 10 and fully intended to marry Shaun Cassidy. In my world, this was possible.


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


A: I wrote the ending first. It was the culmination of the feelings I was trying to explore and so that’s where I started. Figuring out how to get to the ending was the hard part and that storyline changed SO! MANY! TIMES (tears hair out)!


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: That your first crush is totally legit and your feelings are real and you’re following in the footsteps of generations of people who have experienced this same kind of love.


Everyone’s feelings should be honored in this space instead of dismissed because it’s an important part of growing up that helps people get to the next stage of life.


It’s way too common for adults to look down their noses at the stars who capture our kids’ hearts, especially girls. It’s unfair. And sexist. And it teaches kids to doubt themselves and keep their feelings to themselves.


Instead, I want readers to feel free to like who they like even if those people aren’t real. Enjoy it. Don’t judge it. And someday you might look back on this relationship and feel so grateful for all the good times you had together.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A sequel to Worldwide Crush is already in the can and waiting for the final touches. It was an absolute joy to pick up the last page of Worldwide Crush and keep the story rolling – I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to all these good people! Millie and Rory, her Grandma Cheryl and best friend Shauna. And her dog, Pringles, gets an even bigger role in this next installment.


I said at the top that I’m fascinated with the teen idol crush phenomenon – and that’s true! – but as I wrote Millie’s story, I started to grow up with her and my fascination moved into the next stage of life also. You’ll have to wait to find out what that growing up looks like for both of us.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As I finish up this Q&A, I’m pivoting toward the next task in my planner which says (and I quote) “polish questions for Shaun Cassidy interview.” NOT. EVEN. LYING. As one of the co-hosts of The Pop Culture Preservation Society podcast, I am preparing for an interview with my first crush in just one week!


My mind is mush. I’m paralyzed. Must be professional. BUT HOW?! He knows he was the inspiration for Rory Calhoun – now we’ll get to see what he thinks about that. 😅


If you had told me in 1977 that I would one day talk face to face with Shaun Cassidy in a phone call type thing where you could see each other’s faces on a screen? Like on the Jetsons? I would’ve died.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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