Gwendolyn Heasley is the debut author of Where I Belong, and today I have an interview with her about writing, her life, and Where I Belong. So without a further ado....
In your opinion, what are the top three reasons why teens (or even adults) should consider picking up Where I Belong the next time they see it online or in stores?
The book tackles serious issues (the recession, new high schools, and questions of belonging), but it always maintains its humor. I think that it’s nice to read a contemporary YA book that’s upbeat, and you can read without cringing. Sometimes you want to cry when you read, but sometimes you just want to laugh. WHERE I BELONG is “I want to laugh” novel.
Where I Belong tells the story of Corrinne so would you tell us a little about her? Also, if you could offer her any type of advice what would you say?
Corrinne is a very privileged Manhattanite teen. Because of the recession, she has to relocate to small town Texas to be part of a grandfamily. Corrinne’s resistant to change initially, but she eventually challenges herself, both mentally and physically.
My advice to Corrinne would be that life is long. Every day, just try to be the best version of yourself.
What was your absolute favorite part of writing Where I Belong?
My editing process was an incredibly amazing experience, especially for a debut author. My editor, Catherine Onder, looked at my manuscript and saw something much larger than what was actually on the page. Her guidance shaped the manuscript into a true novel. I believe that all writing is elevated through collaboration.
Where I Belong takes place in Broken Spoke, Texas, which leaves me to wonder the following: what did you choose to have that be the setting?
I love Texas, and I love Texans. I wanted a setting that was both vibrant and fictional. I also wanted a place that’s values and customs were in direct conflict with Corrinne’s previous setting. I have lived in seven states, so I know how much geography shapes people just as much as it shapes landscapes. I hope that’s reflected in this novel.
From reading reviews and the summary, of Where I Belong I gathered that the book is about change, as well as acceptance and self-discovery, so why did you choose to have those themes be a big part of the story?
I think makeovers are a prominent theme in many novels, not just YA novels. People love to read about characters reinvent themselves. Too many times, however, I think novels focus on appearance makeovers rather than internal makeovers. This novel is not about taking out a ponytail, switching contacts and then finding a new life. This novel is about looking yourself as person and figuring out who you were, who you are, and who you now want to be. Corrinne’s biggest villain in this novel is Corrinne, and she has to learn how to overcome her internal weaknesses in order to thrive in Texas.
If Where I Belong had a theme song, what would it be?
“Billie Jean”by Michael Jackson is an important song in the novel, so I would say that’s probably the best theme song. Billie Jean the Second is also the name of a truck in the novel. I went to college in the South, and some boys really did name their trucks!
I saw in your bio on your website that you teach for college students in New Jersey, which leaves me to wonder the following: do what you see and hear in the classroom and on campus inspire some parts of your books?
I teach at two very different universities in New Jersey. At one, I teach 18-year old freshmen and at one I teach adult learners, most of my students there are going back to college after a break in their education.
My freshmen definitely keep me “in the know” of what teens are wearing, what teens are using for technology, what teens are interested in, and what “issues” teens are facing. But what I have learned from my students is that no two teens are actually similar. Each of my students is incredibly unique in the way that she or he learns, speaks, expresses emotion etc. It reminds me to try to build unique rather than stock characters and that voice is the best narrative tool to achieve this. It doesn’t’ matter so much what a character’s story is as how the character tells the story. Perspective is everything.
What is one of your favorite parts of writing for YA?
Going back to high school but through different characters in different places. I get to go back to high school this year when my class has our 10-year reunion in May! I am planning it, and I am beyond excited. Some people dread high school reunions, but I love any opportunity to reconnect with people from my life.
With Where I Belong's release date fast approaching, do you have any plans on how you'll spend the day?
I’ll be going to a fantastic bookstore RJ Julia in Madison, CT for my first book signing. And I might peak my head into a few bookstores to see if any copies of my book are on display yet. The best part is that a few of my friends are coming to NYC to attend some of my book events! I am so lucky and grateful.
This is a list of my book events. Check back soon for updates.
Name three facts that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
Face one: There was a period of time when I stopped reading YA novels. I used to go to the bookstore, look at the new Baby-Sitter Club books and leave the store empty handed because I thought I was “too old” for YA. I now know ridiculous that was.
I am loving reading the last fifteen to twenty years of YA books that I missed. YA might be about young adults, but it is for everyone.
Fact two: I think that ocean cures pretty much everything.
Fact three: I love traveling and seeing new places. My friend and I road tripped from Massachusetts to Colorado one August without AC. We had to choose every day if we wanted to talk or have the windows down. We mostly chose to sweat it out and talk to each other! We also kept a road trip log and think we each had 15 large Diet Cokes from McDonalds over the three day trip. And we were pulled over twice in 24 hours, but we never actually got a ticket.
What's up next for you book wise?
I am writing another book for HarperCollins THE IN BETWEEN DAYS, which is about teen suicide.
I am also hoping that one day Kitsy from WHERE I BELONG will get to be the star of her own novel.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to add how amazing I think it is that bloggers are so passionate about reading, writing, and sharing those experiences. When I read as a child and a teen, it was a much more solitary experience. I know that I would have benefited from having a community to belong to where I could make friends and find other teens with common interests. I am jealous of teens today in that regard.
I am going to start a YA book club with some of my friends because I think discussing and sharing your thoughts on books is such an amazing experience.
Thanks so much Gwendolyn! It was fun to find out more about Where I Belong and you.
You can visit Gwendolyn's website here and her book is now available for purchase at Amazon/Barnes and Noble/etc.