Today we have the fabulous debut YA author Arlaina Tibensky here tell us about her book AND THEN THINGS FALL APART. I was lucky enough to meet Arlaina for coffee while she was visiting Chicago a couple of weeks ago. See, aren't we adorable?
I can tell you firsthand that she is made of awesome and I am really excited to her book and I'm guessing that if you love my books you will love Arlaina and her book, too. So let's meet her, shall we?
Q: Please tell us what AND THEN THINGS FALL APART is about and what inspired you to write it.
ARLAINA: The book is about how Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher an angsty reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life.
That’s the tagline but it’s about a lot of things, great literature, misbehaved parents, the coolest grandmother ever. Garage sales, vintage clothes, Chicago, expensive nail polish…
When I was 15 my parents were getting divorced and I was staying at my grandma’s house when I got the chicken pox. I had been writing other novels and short stories forever but this idea about a sick literate girl stuck in bed without a computer really stuck with me. One day I heard an interview with Libba Bray on a podcast of Meet the Writers where she talked about making a playlist for all her books. I had never even heard of her and she was so warm and funny and we seemed to have a similar sensibility and I thought hmmm. YA, huh? Why not! I went home, made a playlist and started typing. And as soon as I hacked out three pages in like, 5 minutes, it felt like the planets had aligned and I was finally writing what I was supposed to be writing. FINALLY.
Q: If there was a soundtrack for AND THEN THINGS FALL APART what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?
ARLAINA: Smokestack Lightnin' by Howlin' Wolf
This one makes me feel the kind of sad I get at Christmas, which is a feeling I adore and think of as a particularly teenaged feeling.
You Know I'm No Good by Amy Winehouse
This song is so open and raw- love it. It best exemplifies the kind of tough Keek wishes she could be, especially in matters of the heart. Don’t get me started on the heartbreak of her dying on me…
Stand And Deliver by Adam Ant
My love of Adam Ant knows no bounds. This song was also a kind of battle cry for Keek, daring her to stand up for herself. And it’s kind of funny and Keek has nothing if not a sense of humor.
Remember (Walkin' In The Sand) by The Shangri-Las
This one tears you a new aorta. It reminds me that the passionate turmoil of being a teenager is timeless and really embodies the kind of hurt and betrayal Keek feels over both Matt and Amanda.
Like Cockatoos by the Cure
I hear this song and I am instantly16 and in an attic making out with my hot goth boyfriend. INSTANTLY. So it really helped ground me in that time and place so I could write with authenticity.
Q: We have a lot of things in common like being raised in the Chicago suburbs and going to punk shows at the Fireside Bowl. But it also sounds like you loved Sylvia Plath as much as I did in high school. Can you please talk about how she influenced you?
ARLAINA: Sylvia Plath was one of the first writers I read where I actually noticed the writing. There’s this whole idea, especially in high school English class, that when the writing is really “good” you don’t notice it. Plath’s poems and the best places in The Bell Jar just captivated me with the surreal and punk rock beauty of the words and the way that she chose to put them together. The words called attention to themselves in the best possible way. It made me see, probably for the first time, that writing was an art. And of course, her suicide glamoured me into loving her too, the maudlin idea of a beautiful, tortured young poet, dead at 30. It fit perfectly into my romantic notion of the suffering artist.
Q: Who else has influenced you as a writer? It could be anyone from other artists to parents and teachers. We love hearing about inspiring women on Women Who Rock Wednesday, but feel free to include men as well.
ARLAINA: I can’t leave out Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. That book was a huge influence on And Then Things Fall Apart (and me). Holden’s voice is so powerful and has a flat-footed oddness to it that made me notice the words as I was totally caught up in the momentum. Dorothy Parker. Jane Bowels. The Hernandez Brothers of Love and Rockets. Bukowski. Those are four more big influences. I’m really drawn to slightly off-kilter dark yet redemptive characters with a sense of humor. I guess because they mirror how I see myself. Or something.
And of course there are all the badass women (including two nuns!) who taught me how to diagram sentences and conjugate verbs and write lucid and entertaining 5 paragraph essays. My English teachers expected the best from me and encouraged all my writing endeavors and I wouldn’t be writing today if it weren’t for them and their red pencils.
Q: I know AND THEN THINGS FALL APART just came out, but as soon as we devour it, I know we're gonna want more, so what is next for you?
ARLAINA: I have two ideas arm-wrestling for dominance in my brain… One is a mother daughter thing and the other is an effed up family with a brother and a sister. I love them both and can’t seem to figure out which one I should dance with first. The short answer is: another book. Soon…
Q: I have two questions that I always ask my Women Who Rock, the first is a two-parter.
What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge, we like to see the roots of our women who rock!
ARLAINA: First album I bought on purpose was the soundtrack to Fame- the original… I used to listen to it in my grandma’s oversized sea-foam green carpeted bathroom and construct these elaborate routines in the mirror. “I sing, the body electric…” And it was a cassette tape.
The first concert was U2. I know! It was a big big show at Rosemont Horizon. I want to say it was the Joshua Tree tour but it’s kind of a blur.
I was so caught up with the drama of the guy who invited me (we had just broken up and I didn’t know if it was a date or what and that kind of thing totally unnerved me then) but it was big and fun and electric. I saw the Cure there too on the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Tour, not long after…
Q: Tell us about your biggest rock star moment, perhaps it's a moment of real success in your career, a time when you met someone super cool and had that Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" moment, or just a time where you felt like you got the rock star treatment.
ARLAINA: When I was in high school my mom and I went on a safari in Africa. To prepare we had to attend a pre-trip meeting at the Rosemont Hilton. The meeting room was near the pool and was very exciting. We learned about the shots we would need and the unique places we were going to stay and we were all dazed and drunk with the glamour of international travel when we got into the elevator to take us back to the parking lot. As we were waiting for the doors to close, a very tattooed and skinny eyelinered and wet man got in the elevator with us, a towel around his neck. Dude. I RECOGNIZED the giant blue dragon tattoo. And my mother (who is the true rock star here) asks him, “Excuse me, but aren’t you a musician?” and he says- in total British accent, kind of like a question, I kid you not “I’m Ozzy Osborne.” And I’m practically inside out with embarrassment and awe and then my mom says: “Oh, my brother really enjoys your music.” And he says, “Thanks very much” and we got out at the lobby.
This was like, 1989 when he was still a rock star and not a reality TV star. But the moment was very rock star all the way around, my badass mom, the badass trip my mom couldn’t really afford, the nonchalant half nakedness of the encounter. I think of that experience often because it made me realize in a concrete way that you are always the rock star of your own life.
After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want AND THEN THINGS FALL APART and you are in luck! Arlaina is offering up a copy!
This contest is open to international entries!
To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:
+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about AND THEN THINGS FALL APART
+5 for blogging about AND THEN THINGS FALL APART
Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will be drawing the winner on August 31 when I bring you the next Women Who Rock Wednesday interview, which will be with Kody Keplinger!