Happily ever after never gets old. Stories that end in sweet smiles and kisses always get me. I know some people like unpredictability but hopeless romantics like myself prefer knowing that at the end of the day, the hours I spent reading a book has not been wasted on tears and frustrations.
Author Stephanie Perkins is a huge fan of happy endings. As such, both her novels ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR are lovely, happy reads. Her third book, ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, will come out next month and I am more than looking forward to it.
Perkins is here upon the invitation of the National Book Store for a two-day book tour. Before getting your copies signed, read all about the author who, despite feeling under the weather on the day of this interview, was all smiles and in good spirits.
Meet Stephanie Perkins.
***** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD*****
Lyn: I have been reading tweets from your fans and they are so excited already.
Stephanie: There’s a lot of enthusiasm. It’s phenomenal, it’s really special, it’s not like those others places (laughs), it’s wonderful.
S: Yeah, it is thrilling as an author. It's that kind of thing you always dream about but you don’t think will ever really happen. It’s really fun to come here and I’ve talked to so many of my author friends who have been here earlier this year and they just come back raving about it so I’ve been looking forward to this.
L: For those who are about to pick up ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, what is it about?
S: It's about a girl who’s sent to Paris for her senior year of high school and she’s not as happy to be there as most of us might be. She was really loving her life back home and she’s excited about a possible relationship that was brewing there and she feels very uprooted. She doesn’t know anything about France or French or the culture or anything so she starts off as a very fearful kind of character and very quickly she meets this very handsome boy and becomes friends with him and he kind of shows her the city and through him she becomes a braver, stronger person.
L: I heard that Etienne (St. Clair. The lead make character in Anna and the French Kiss) came from a dream of yours?
L: It reminds of Twilight!
S: I know…I know… (laughs).. it feels a little cheesy because when I say it people think of that. I think there’s a myth about writers where we just sit down and it just kind of flows through us, it’s kind of magical. But writing is really hard, it’s really really difficult. And it has taken a lot of work for me to do this. So I feel like in a way when I tell that story it almost cheapens it. But that one really did come to me, it was a gift.
L: What did you dream about exactly?
S: I dreamed I was in Paris and I was looking across the plaza at this boy who was sitting on the steps of the Pantheon. And I knew looking across this distance and staring at him that I was deeply, deeply in love with him. And in my dream I approached him and I'm talking to him and I learned that his name was Etienne St Clair, he has a French name but he spoke with an English accent and I learned that we went to an American boarding school together and when I woke up I was still very very taken with this attractive boy in my dream. So the whole book came from me puzzling together his story first. How would someone tri-cultural like that wind up at this school. And from there I created a character that would go well with him. He really started it all.
L: So how he was in your dream is exactly how you described him in the book
S: Absolutely. He was perfect
L: I wish such a man existed but we can only be so lucky (laughs). On to LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR. Can you tell us about this.
S: Lola is a companion novel so it means that it could still be read on it's own. But if you’ve already read Anna then it’s a little more fun since some of the characters that are in my first novel weave in and out through Lola’s story as well. This takes place in San Francisco which is the most romantic city in the world for me personally. It’s where I met my husband, it’s where we dated and became a couple. We got engaged there. I was still a teenager when that happened so it’s very very swoony to me when I think about San Francisco and it’s a very special city. It’s full of colorful, strange individuals so I created a character in Lola who believes in costume, not fashion, and she’s a different person everyday. She lives next door to a very sweet, kind and nerdy boy who’s really great at science. Everyone kind of sees the outer Lola, he sees the inner Lola so it’s about the progression of their relationship.
L: What I like about your books is that it’s not so much choosing one person over the other but it’s more about choosing yourself, it’s self realization, and letting go. Was it a conscious effort on your part not to make it a love triangle as a lot of other YA books tend to be?
S: Right, yes. To be honest I find that really stressful as a reader like I just like books where you know who they’re gonna end up with and you’re just kinda watching the journey. I like having someone to root for and it always makes me so sad when I’m talking about one of those books with a love triangle and I’d be talking to someone who liked the wrong boy, like how could you feel that way? This one is obviously the right choice. So I did very consciously eliminate that. I’m so glad you mentioned about it being the girl’s journey because I really believe that that’s the most important thing. You can’t really have that kind of romantic, fulfilling relationship like my characters have until you’re okay with who you are so they’re responding to the right version of you. So I did very consciously put that message into my books.
S: Yeah, the right person will respond to you if you’re being true to who you are
L: As a reader of your books I appreciate Lola having two dads, it’s so unusual. It’s like a glimpse into what a modern family is. Where did you get the inspiration for that?
S: It was really when I was working in San Francisco and I was living in Castro district, the gay district and just working with all these wonderful men everyday. And I’ve had so many really important gay role models in my life. Those were the people who taught me that it’s okay to be me, that it's okay to be different and so it was really important for me to put that relationship into my books and to not have it be a big deal because usually when you see a gay couple it’s kind of an issue book and while those books are really really important and crucial for all of those people who are dealing with those issues, I think it’s still really nice and healthy to see those kinds of relationships where it’s not an issue, that it’s just real life and everyone’s okay with it. They were kind of a blessing as well, they’re two of my favorite characters, I love her parents.
L: I know, I love them especially Andy because of his baking (laughs)
S: I do too… he’s very much my mother actually.
L: You know I like Anna, Etienne and Lola but my favorite character is Cricket because he is so nice and so innocent. Plus he is very talented in fixing hair!
S: What girl wouldn’t want that?
L: How much more of him and the rest would we see in ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER?
S: He is there a little bit. I wish that there was a way to integrate him a little bigger into this story but the challenge with that one is that they’re all in Paris and of course Cricket and Lola are in San Francisco so you couldn’t really force the issue too much. But I was able to slip them in in a very satisfying way. It just makes me happy to see them again so I couldn’t NOT include them
L: I’m looking forward to reading Isla
S: Wonderful. I like that you like Cricket. That makes me really happy.
L: I’m sure you know how much your fans like character cross overs. And I love that these are not just cameos but there are character updates in their lives especially Anna and Etienne in Lola’s book. I know you said that Isla is the last of the series so can you tell us where you see the characters going, at least in your mind if not in actual books. Where will they end up?
S: Some of that is certainly in the book but jumping ahead a few more years even, I really see them staying in the United States and probably living very close to his mother. I can see them remaining close to her and developing that relationship and they live a very happily ever after. I absolutely think they’ll both achieve their dreams and she’ll become a wonderful film critic and he’ll be the guy on television talking about Napoleon on the history channel.
L: How about Lola and Cricket’s future?
S: I definitely give my characters those happily ever after endings and I see them being together forever and ever and ever so I see them probably moving to Los Angeles and her building a career designing costumes for the stage and maybe also for cinema I’m not sure. And then him just being this fabulous inventor continuing to make these strange weird things and her being the breadwinner allowing him to create whatever magical item he wants.
L: How about Calliope? Because I love that Calliope is so over protective of her brother because I have a brother too and I can see that fierce need to see them well and happy. Do you see her winning in the Olympics?
S: We’ll find out next month (laughs) because I did set up in LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR that the Olympics are gonna be set up the following year so there is a continued thought of that in ISLA for sure. And you know I see her having a pretty successful career but for me I’m more interested in what happens once her career is over. You know when you’re a figure skater, or really any type of athlete you devote your entire life from a very young age to this thing and I think it would be strange once you reach the apex of your career and you retire and what then? That’s a really interesting story to explore and I don’t quite know yet.
S: They certainly all do. It’s really who I’ve been working on recently I relate to the most because I really put a lot of whatever I'm struggling with in life, I kind of infuse it into my books. Usually not on purpose, you generally don’t realize it until you’ve reached the end and I realize like OH, I was writing about this thing. So Anna is a lot about learning how to be braver and trying new things and at that time I had decided like, okay, I’m gonna be a writer, I'm gonna make this into a career and that’s pretty intimidating. You’re learning how to get an agent, how to get an editor. The whole publishing process can be intimidating and it requires a lot of putting yourself out there. For someone shy like me, I’d not done that before so that message of bravery was so crucial to me at that time.
Lola is about accepting who you are. She so unlike Anna and Isla as well, she’s a pretty confident person and she’s definitely an individual and her confidence was shaken a little bit in the book and she had to return to it and remind herself that Yes, this is who I am and that’s a great thing. And I was definitely dealing with a little bit of that at that time. Writing these really sweet novels and everyone’s thinking of me as this one type of person and I’m like ‘Oh but I’m all these other things too!’ And so then having to re-accept that yes that one thing is me and that I can still be all other things… it was an odd situation. And Lola was so me at that time, dyeing my hair colors and wearing big fun dresses.
L: I was gonna ask about the colors of your hair but that’s later. So, writing for you is cathartic.
S: Yeah. With Isla she’s very shy and doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence and in the last years my self-confidence had definitely been shaken. I had a difficult time writing for a few years and so it's about finding your confidence and being okay with yourself again. That message just keeps coming back up for me. So that was very important for both of us to find ourselves again
L: I read the teaser chapters of ISLA and I can’t wait to read the whole book. Josh is so sweet and I had been hoping there would be a book about him. You did put Isla in Anna for a tiny moment when she dropped her drawing of his tattoo. So what can we expect from the new book coming next month?
S: It's very literal and it’s about happily ever afters….. she’s had this crush on Josh for three years and you know when we have a crush like that, we don’t think anything is actually gonna happen, it never happens in real life and so very quickly in this book something happens that spurs them to talk and he realizes that ‘Oh this girl kinda likes me’ and he likes her, so that relationship starts very quickly and right away she gets that magical happily ever after so then it's about the reality of the situation. And so I give her the happily ever after and then I kinda have to take it away for awhile, and then it’s How you return That in a more true way where you really believe in it.
L: But that’s what I like about your books. They’re honest. Because in some books they fall in love so easy so fast but with you, you put a lot of blocks in their path and then (sigh of relief) Oh finally thank you Lord!
S: (laughs) So glad to hear that, that’s what I hope.
L: Do you do that on purpose?
S: Absolutely! I feel like with a good love story…you know Jane Austen is always gonna be the best model for that, she’s got these amazing boys but where would Mr. Darcy be without Elizabeth? And my editor who’s really great, she was the one who, when I gave her Anna, she says ‘Well I love the boy but the girl needs a lot of work’. And she told me ‘I’m always gonna be harder on the female character’ like she’s gotta grow, she’s gotta earn that happy ending. So that’s really on my mind when I write, like… How is she gonna earn that ending? If I’m giving her the world, the best possible thing, she’s gotta work for it.
L: Well I love happy endings
S: Me too…I'm glad…I love happy endings right?
S: Jane Austen is definitely at the top and obviously Pride and Prejudice. But I love NORTHANGER ABBEY which not as many people talk about and the character Mr. Tilney who historians believe is the closest character to Jane herself who’s very smart and witty so I love him. They’re definitely at the top of my list, all of her characters, all of her books and movies. I love Meg Cabot. I love her PRINCESS DIARIES series. It was hugely influential on me. It was the first book I read where I really recognized myself in it and there was such an explosive feeling in my head like ‘OH there I am, there’s someone writing about me’. She’s this shy, awkward, nerdy girl and that was refreshing. There’s a book that not many people know about called WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier. She’s an Australian writer and it’s a fairy tale. It’s a combination of the 12 DANCING PRINCESSES and THE FROG PRINCE and it’s set in historical Romania. It’s a very strange combination but it’s absolutely everything I love about fairy tales and romance and magic in one really beautiful package so I push that book on a lot of people. I love BRIDGET JONES…
L: I do too except when they killed off Darcy
S: I know! I haven’t read it because why would I want to read that?
S: Right? It’s horrible! Well, so that was hugely influential and all of the writers similar to her who came after. I read so many of them. I love Katie Fforde, she’s a British writer. Um…did I name enough? There’s just so many..
L: Speaking of writers, who are the writers or what books have influenced you in your writing style?
S: It was definitely Meg Cabot and the PRINCESS DIARIES. And John Green. When I discovered his books, he only had two out at that time. What I love about his books is that they are really fun and funny. He doesn’t get enough credit for how funny they are and they’re very romantic. And he kind of makes you forget that there’s something really big going on and you’ll just get that big sucker punch and the whole story just opens up and explodes into something so much bigger and I admire that. There’s so much about him that he can write these easily readable books and so enjoyable but there’s something so much deeper going on.
L: And it hits you in the heart
S: It does
L: So should I assume that you’ve already watched THE FAULT IN OUR STARS?
S: I have and I cried so hard. The whole time I thought I was doing a really good job of holding it in, like trying to be cool because I was with a bunch of friends. And then….. this is so bad and embarrassing… but tears were coming out of my nose! I was dry up here (pointing at her eyes), but it could not be contained.. The tears could not be contained. And then by that time, really the moment that got me was when I saw his name flashed on screen at the end and I’m like ‘I know him, I’m so proud of him, this is amazing!’ There were gut wrenching sobs like I was making noise…
L: Do you wish the same thing to happen to you and your books?
S: A movie would be amazing, I don’t know many writers who don’t want that. Unfortunately it's very difficult to get one made. A lot of people would have to want it. But I would love it. I think it would be incredible. I don’t think I would want what John Green has though…I don’t know how big he is here, but in America his career is insane. And that kind of… I’m kind of a neurotic introvert so all of that pressure…. That would terrify me. Luckily he is way better equipped for all that. I honestly would not want a career like that.
L: If it does happen, who do you see playing these lovely characters?
S: I would hope that they would pick some new fresh faces. I love it when film studios take a chance and cast new actors. My friend Gayle Forman whose book IF I STAY was turned into a film and it looks amazing. They took a chance on a new actor to play Adam, the big swoony lead who I love.
L: Yes I have never heard of him. I know Chloe Moretz but I don’t know the guy
S: Exactly. Chloe got the film made. But the boy, they took a chance on him and I know it’s gonna pay off spectacularly, he looks perfect. So I would love a similar situation. I would love some unknown actors who didn’t already have a history with the viewers really
S: I toured once in Spain
L: But never Asia?
S: No, this is my first time in Asia
L: Welcome to Asia!
S: Thank you! It is amazing. It was equal parts excited and terrified. I have never been this far from home but of course it’s been wonderful. Maybe it was that first trip going to Spain and really kind of realizing that I had….. I mean I knew on one level that I had readers overseas, but seeing them in person and having this incredible opportunity… it’s what writers dream about and this is like Spain times a hundred. It’s so amazing and crazy and big. All of these experiences are so new for me so it’s a blast
L: I can’t wait to see your face when you see your fans lined up…
S: Yeah…. Ahhhhh!!! (laughs)
S: I know right? It’s amazing. I can’t wait to meet them. I love meeting my readers
L: I know you have a lot of author friends but who are you closest to? Do you actually ever talk about plots or books?
S: We talk a lot about plots. I rely on my author friends very heavily to help me get my books right. My friends are really smart so why wouldn’t I listen to them? So they (the books) all go through several rounds with them. I'm very close to Kristen White who’s an author from San Diego and she’s one of my first readers. She reads my books more than my editor, more than my husband even and my husband reads them a lot. I love Gayle Forman. She has guided me though a lot of this and I'm so appreciative. There’s an author named Myra McEntire who not as many people are familiar with but she has got such a big heart and we talk everyday on the phone. There’s so many writers. And writers whom I just love like Rainbow Rowell. I'm such a huge fan of her books. She is such a kind hearted, generous soul. I’m really lucky just to have all of these people in my life.
L: So let’s go back to your hair color. On your Amazon page it was very red, then on your blog site it was blue. Now it’s red…
S: This is my natural shade actually.. I’m a natural redhead and I think I went back to that because Isla is a natural redhead so as I was writing it I kinda came back to myself. And you know while I was writing Lola I had all those crazy colors and stuff. So I'm very much like a chameleon with my characters
L: So basically you are your characters while you’re writing them
S: Yeah… It ‘s kind of pathetic but it's all of that, yeah, I live those characters while I write them
L: It’s not pathetic. I think all women do something with their hair when something significant is happening in their lives
S: Absolutely! like a major lifestyle change requires a major hairstyle change
L: You have a horror book coming out in 2015. Why the major shift? Do you feel any apprehension as to how your readers might shy away from it?
S: I know most of the fans won’t follow me for the horror books and that’s okay. I've always loved the genre and really it's like a palette cleanser at this point. I've been writing these really sweet love stories for so long that I just need to do something so different, I just need to kill some people (laughs)
L: Is it going to be gory? Bloody? Violent?
S: Very… very
S: There is. There’s still a cute boy and a love story but it’s not for my average reader but I’m okay with that. I think it will be a fun experiment. I hope to write more love stories in the future but I also wanna write fantasy and graphic novels, fairytales…. I love all types of books and I want to be able to write them all.
L: Do you have a title already?
S: I do have a title but I can’t say it yet. It’s a pretty gross and out there title so I’m not sure if my publisher is gonna okay it. I hope they do. I do not want subtlety for this book at all.
L: Can we have an idea of the name of the main character then?
S: Yes. The name of the main character which I have NEVER said before so you’re getting the scoop, her name is Makani, it’s a Hawaiian name. I had to have a more consonant heavy name, I had all these short vowel heavy names so I wanted something very different, a little tougher, so yeah.
L: Do you have any quotes from your books that you love or live by?
S: You know the “For us, home isn’t a place, it's a person and we’re finally home”. That one which a lot of my readers respond to is definitely a personal thing for me and my husband. You know wherever he is I feel safe and happy so that one’s really special.
L: Same here actually. Home is where my husband is.
S: I love that! That means you’ve got a good one.
S: I love that….. you know it’s so embarrassing I can never think of quotes from my own books!
L: I love the quote “It’s a person’s imperfections that make them perfect for someone else”.
S: Yeah that’s something I fully believe. My husband and I have that, whereas I can be a real worrier…I don’t wanna say pessimistic, I'm not a pessimist, but I'm the one who’s always gonna imagine the catastrophe that could happen, and my husband is super laid back and friendly like ‘It’ll be fine!’ And then on the flipside when he’s being a little too casual and I’m like ‘No really, that’s important you gotta do this thing’…then ‘oh okay, we’ll get it done’ so it’s a good balance.
L: Lastly, a message for your readers who will attend the book signing
S: Thank you. I hope a lot of you can come. I cannot wait to meet you, to give you a smile and a hug and a thanks. I’m so grateful for the readers here in the Philippines, their enthusiasm is unrivaled. It’s amazing. Thank you. And I’m so thrilled that National Book Store brought me here. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and My word, it is amazing!
Catch Stephanie Perkins this Saturday July 5, 1pm, at the National Book Store SM Cebu and on July 6, 2pm, at the National Book Store Glorietta 1. Registration starts at 10am for both events.
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Side Note: When Stephanie saw my nails, she remarked that that's the exact color Lola painted on Cricket's nails in a sweet scene in LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR. FYI it's from Revlon's Spiderman collection aptly named SUPER POWERED.
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