Thursday, June 2, 2011

Interview with Liz Gallagher!

Liz Gallagher, the author of The Opposite of Invisible, published by Wendy Lamb Books in 2008, and My Not-So-Still Life, published by Wendy Lamb Books on May 10, 2011 (see my review from yesterday), stopped by to answer a few questions.  Here goes:  

When you wrote your first book, The Opposite of Invisible, about Alice and Jewel, did you already know you wanted to write a companion novel about Vanessa?

It was actually my editor's idea to do the companion. I was planning on Opposite standing alone. Then I was asked if I could do more in the same world and I had the freedom to choose exactly what shape that would take. Right away, I liked the idea of getting to know Vanessa better. I also knew early on that I wanted her story to be set in the spring because I wanted to present a different Seattle than the fall one in Opposite. 

Vanessa has an unusual way of expressing herself, both in her hair and clothing and in her art.  Can you tell us where you got the idea for this?  Do you know someone like Vanessa or is she a totally invented character?

She's invented, but I've always wanted to write a girl like that. I actually did have pink hair for a while, but it was when I was in college, older than Vanessa. I never had the guts to dress like her, but if I were sixteen now, that might be how I'd dress. I've always connected to people across social groups, so I think that's partially why I was interested in writing a sort of edgy-looking girl. To show that she's really just a girl, like everyone else. That's also why her best girlfriend is totally clean-cut.  

Have you always wanted to write for teens?

I've always wanted to write books, but it wasn't until maybe 2002 that I really fell in love with YA. After college, I went to the University of Denver Publishing Institute, where you get to find out all about working different jobs in the publishing world. That's where I realized I was most drawn to kids' books. So when I moved to Seattle I got a job at All for Kids, a bookstore. Then I was reading all the YA galleys and just devouring them. It was MT Anderson's FEED that made me really fall hard for the genre. I think the voice in my head is a perpetual teenager too.  

Tell us a little about your journey as an author.  You have an MFA, right?  Do you think that degree helped you get published?

When I read FEED and all those other YA books, I noticed a trend -- a lot of the authors were graduates of or teachers at the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults.  M.T. Anderson was the faculty head at the time. So it was a no brainer to apply! I ended up going and getting to work with him and other literary heroes of mine. I don't know that the actual degree helped me get published, but the program definitely did. Without deadlines and valuable feedback, I don't think I'd have written a novel. I actually wrote Opposite in the program.

Wow, lucky you!  Working with M.T. Anderson must have been cool.   So tell us, how many drafts did you write of this novel?

I don't know how to keep track of drafts! I have kind of amorphous blobs going on until it's "done". I can tell you that I spent about two years working on this one. I probably wrote three whole novels to get to this finished one. 

What about The Opposite of Invisible?    

About the same as this one. Writing, re-writing. I write myself into the story, so I produce way more words than I can actually use to tell a coherent story.  

Was the second book easier to write than the first or harder?

It was much harder! I had a bit of a mental hang-up because the second one was under contract, so I kept thinking about how my editor had to like it, my agent had to like it, people would actually read it. I had to make myself forget all that. But it was hard. I was also missing the frequent feedback from my MFA program.   

Vanessa is bored with high school and anxious to grow up and start her "real" life.  Did you feel that way in high school?   

I wasn't as anxious as she is. I think I was actually a little scared. I remember going off to college and thinking that would be my last "first" for some reason. I guess I measured my life to that point in new teachers, new classmates, etc. I was scared to stay the same forever more. Of course, that was silly. If we're lucky, we keep growing and experiencing new things throughout our adult lives too.  

What advice would you give teens who are bored with high school ?

Just to hang in there. You have to get your education for so many reasons. But that doesn't mean it has to be your whole life. Do other things that you love. Indulge in your favorite things. And remember that time passes. Just try to enjoy where you are for what it is. 

You grew up in PA but you now live in Seattle.  What do you love most about Seattle?

Ooh, good question. I think I love my lifestyle here. I get to write in little coffee shops and the rain actually makes me feel very cozy. There's also just a good, relaxed vibe here.  

What do you miss most about PA?

The pizza! Might sound weird, but there is not a truly yummy slice of pizza on the west coast, as far as I can find. Also my family members who are still there. I also miss the sense of being near an "old" city like Philadelphia. I feel like people there have a stronger sense of pride for having grown up there. In Seattle, a lot of us are transplants. 

Thanks so much for your time, Liz!  Much appreciated. 

Thank you!


  1. Great interview! I love hearing what inspires authors and how they started writing.

  2. I also love hearing author's stories. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Thanks, Steph and Barbara! Glad you enjoyed it.


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