Hey guys, it’s me Amy! I recently got a chance to sit down AIM style with Miss Kody Keplinger, 17 year old debut author whose novel The DUFF is coming out fall 2010 with Little Brown/Poppy. Read on to discover more about Kody’s inspiration, writing process, and to see if she ever Googles herself.
1) First off, tell us about what a ‘DUFF’ is and how you wanted to use the term for Bianca.
Well, DUFF stands for “designated ugly fat friend.” Contrary to what you may think, I did NOT make that word up. I heard it in high school. A friend was angry because someone had called her “the Duff.” When she told me what it meant, I was like “Wow….I should write a book called ‘The Duff’.” Joking at the time, but then I did. I found the word funny at first, but then infuriating. But when I actually got the plot for the book, I was listening to a song by the Veronica’s called “I Can’t Stay Away.” Then it all just came to me. I knew Bianca wasn’t going to be the stereotypical I’m-a-good-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of “Duff”. That was cliché to me. And she became…well, Bianca became kind of tough. She’s sarcastic and cynical…and my hero, truthfully. She might be seen as “the Duff”, but she’s smart enough to know it’s kind of a dumb, horrible concept, even though it bothers her. I didn’t go in with many goals concerning body image or the word, but Bianca kind of took charge and helped me realize that we’re all Duffs. Every one of us.
2) So true! Tell us a little about the main themes used in The Duff.
Um….wow. I didn’t go into planning to write “themes” to be honest. My characters kind of took the wheel–which makes me sound uber-schizophrenic, but it’s true. By the time I’d finished, I wound up with a couple of pretty heavy “themes”. Body image, obviously, is a major theme. Casual sex is another. And one of my favorite themes, though less obvious, is the idea of how running away from your problems can really cause more problems for you in the end. I felt like I learned the lessons my characters learned right along with them. I didn’t–and never–go into a project with a moral or a lesson in mind. I don’t like being preached to, and I know my peers don’t either. But my characters learned things, and so did I. It was a fascinating experience dealing with some of these “themes.”
3) Tell us a little about your writing process. Outline? No outline? Do you set timeframe goals?
Ha! I’m the WORST person to talk to about writing processes. I don’t outline. I don’t set timeframes. I don’t do anything. I’ll admit–with mild shame–that I’ve started projects without even knowing how they’d end! The most I do is a rough, rough, ROUGH synopsis. Which is always subject to change. But I think that is part of my lack of plot interest. I’m very much a character-driven person. I know my characters inside out. They lead the story. They do the work. I just write it. Lucky for me, I write quite quickly, and I don’t mind editing and revising at all. I love spending time with characters. As I said, I’m uber-schizo. They’re like real people to me…..twisted, right?
4) Not at all! In fact, that risk factor sounds like the very thing that gives your work its electrical charge. Do you have any advice for other YA writers trying to break in?
Oh, trust me, I do. Haha. No, seriously. I did so much research and learned so much from others. I wouldn’t be here without the advice of peers, so I’m glad to pass a few tips on. First, I say revise, revise, REVISE! I know that sounds hypocritical since I started The DUFF in January and had an agent by May, but the thing is, I edited as I went AND had a few beta readers help. That thing was uber-polished by the time I queried it. So don’t–for your own sake–send first drafts out. Read them over. Fix things. Not just grammar, but anything that doesn’t work. Have others help. Same for query letters– don’t send the first draft! Trust me, those things take weeks to polish. But my biggest piece of advice is research. Talk to other people. Google other writers. Find out things. Ask questions. Don’t jump into anything without knowing what you’re getting into. And, of course, have fun. It sounds cliché, I know, but if you aren’t enjoying writing, why do it? Don’t let the goal of publication take the fun out of writing. Don’t write to publish. Write for YOU. If it happens to get published, SWEET! If not, you still accomplished something many people never do–you wrote a book.
5) Spoken like a true bad ass author. What would you say has been the most difficult part about the entire process? The most fun?
The most difficult? Ugh. The writer’s block. People will laugh at me for saying that after seeing how quickly I wrote The DUFF. (Under two months for the first draft). But it’s true. I always–for every project–get these random bits of writer’s block in the last third of the first draft. I mean, I start freaking out over how to get two characters to walk up the stairs! It’s ridiculous and annoying, but I push through it eventually. The most fun part is easy– Revising! I know, that makes me crazy, but I love it! I love making the book even better. I love hanging out with my characters–all of whom I adore! I love reworking scenes or adding in new chapters. Some writers see it as a chore, but I see it as a last chance to bond with characters I may never write again. It’s my favorite part of it.
6) What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading “Bass Ackwards and Belly Up” by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain. It’s kind of perfect for me right now. It’s about 4 girls following their dreams after high school, and that’s right at the point I’m living. It’s so funny and true. I love it.
7) Is YA your favorite genre to read? Do you have plans to write any books that aren’t YA?
Honestly, I don’t have a favorite genre. I like everything from Jane Austen to Judy Blume to STAR WARS books. If it has a good plot and great characters (characters being the most important to me), I love it. As for non-YA…. not at this time. I love my genre. I just lived it. I’d like to do something college-age in a couple of years…but that’s a tough market. Maybe when I am an adult, like completely adult-adult, I’ll write a mainstream novel. In the mean time, teenagers are my thing. They’re just crazy enough to be interesting and just old enough to know better. It’s a great combo.
8) You mentioned earlier that you drew inspiration from a Veronica’s song for The Duff. Do you often get inspired by music and other entertainment stuff?
OMG, yes, yes, YES! It’s sad. I feel like a thief sometimes!! But seriously, I do get a lot of inspiration from other forms of entertainment. I do soundtracks for my books because I’m so music obsessed. That’s how The DUFF was born. Now, my second novel, A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHTMARE, was born in a very…. unique way. I was watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and the scene where Carmen is playing tennis with her stepbrother came on. I had this crazy thought of “What if they had gotten together?” A few days later, I was watching my DVDs of The OC, and I saw Willa Holland, and BOOM!!! I had a story about a girl who has a one-night stand with a boy who later becomes her stepbrother. My next project is very much inspired by the dark, twistedness of my favorite movie EVER–Cruel Intentions. So, to answer shortly, yes. I am insanely inspired by every form of media. It’s intense.
9) Have you ever gotten a tad worried to imagine your family/friends IRL reading your racier passages?
Oh, God, yes! The book isn’t graphic or anything. I mean, its YA. Edgy YA, but still meant for teens. But I come from the south. A very wholesome community, to be exact. My Mom is super laid back, and she’s read most of the book, so I’m not worried about her. My Dad and some of my grandparents…. that’s another story. I don’t know if they’ll be able to see past the sexual content and swearing to see the point. I hope they will. But my biggest fear is that my book won’t make it into my own high school’s library. I mean, it’s a huge possibility. I’m very aware that there is a great deal of censorship in the part of the country I was raised in. It worries me. It bothers me. But not enough to change. I know I’m not doing anything wrong by writing what I’m writing. I write things that are very real. If some people don’t like that, I’m sorry. If my family doesn’t like it, I’m really, really sorry. But I won’t change the book for them. I won’t change it for anyone. It’s truthful.
10) Amazing! What’s your favorite writer fuel?
Chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Mountain Dew helps, too.
11) Now for the kicker. Since all of this has happened, have you ever Googled yourself?
Truth? Um…yes. Daily. I can’t help it. I used to not because nothing came up, but then Janet Reid did a blog post about my book and I–silly me–was the last to know! After that, I started Googling myself. My blog comes up as well as Teens Writing For Teens and a guest blog I did for Kristin Briana Otts. But now some awesome things are popping up. My Publisher’s Marketplace announcement, some twitter accounts, the Children’s Bookshelf announcement, my agent’s Publisher’s Marketplace page…. it’s insane. I never know where my name might pop up–so I pay attention now. So, yes. I Google myself. Everyone should. It’s just a good idea….and fun. Teehee.