February 10, 2010 Interview: Lara Zielin
Lara Zielin is the debut author of Donut Days. She’s also a model for the Bluggie, and you can view her hilarious advertisement for that here. The Bluggie is like the Snuggie, but with bling! Donut Days is the story of Emma Goiner, who’s facing some serious issues after her pastor mother told their congregation Adam was a hermaphrodite. But first, Emma has to make it through the weekend at the Donut Camp, where fans of the Crispy Dream donut stores are camping. Her plan? Write a story for the local paper and win a scholarship to a non-Christian college.
I loved Donut Days, and you can read my review here. Be sure to check out Lara’s website at Larawrites.com and read Donut Days, now in hardback from Putnam Juvenile, and arriving in paperback September 16, 2010.
Lara was kind enough to offer a $10 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card to anybody who comments on this interview! Leave a comment by February 18 and I’ll draw a name via random.org on February 19!
One of the plot elements of Donut Days features a donut camp, where diehard fans eagerly await the Crispy Dream store opening. Have you ever camped out for any, such as movie tickets, etc? What was it like? If not, what would you camp out for?
Waaaeeelll, not technically. But one time? I stayed up really late (well, late for me) and went to the 12:01 showing of the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It wasn’t a campout though the wait was eternal and, let me tell you, I was surrounded by some die-hard fans wearing cloaks and swords and stuff and things that kind of scared me. It was pretty intense. But, okay, it was totally worth it. I might not wear the cloaks and Hobbit ears, but I love LOTR with a passion that admittedly borders on the obsessive.
What’s your favorite kind of donut?
I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to donuts. I love a really good powdered-sugar donut, or even a really good plain donut. Of course, if you give me a cruller or a cream-filled long john, I am SO not going to say no to it.
With a variety of characters, each contributing their own important part to Emma’s weekend adventures, was first person always your choice for Donut Days?
First-person makes a lot of sense to me when writing young-adult novels. It helps me get into the mind of the main character more, and helps me think about things from her perspective. In that way, I feel like I’m writing a more compelling protagonist who is going to be more vulnerable and authentic to readers. Of course, I don’t always execute that goal perfectly, but first-person definitely makes the most sense to me for YA.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have any lucky items, etc?
I write like I eat. I’ll go for a long while without doing anything, and then I’ll binge all at once. I wish in both areas I was a little bit more steady and didn’t behave in such a roller-coaster fashion. But with a full-time job, a house, a husband and a dog, my plate feels pretty full. So if that means I wind up writing 2,000 words over the weekend and not doing much during the week, I think I might as well stop fighting it.
I don’t have anything lucky in my writing space but … I have a writing space!! I am so happy that I have a room in the house that’s ALL MINE in which to do writing. I decorated it in pink and green, which are my power colors, and I have a huge comfy chair and an ottoman where I plunk myself down and get to work. I am so thankful for my sweet space!
There’s a heavy theme of Christianity and the inner struggle to be a “model Christian” in your novel, but it’s not marketed as Christian teen fiction. Few YA titles that are not Christian fiction approach this subject, why do you think this is?
The good news is, more and more mainstream YA novels are tackling the difficult—and often controversial—subject of faith. Eileen Cook, author of the fabulous WHAT WOULD EMMA DO?, joked with me about how similar our characters are. They are both named Emma, and they both wrestle with conformity in the church and feeling like they’re outcasts. Another awesome book is Robin Brande’s EVOLUTION, ME, AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE, which follows a Christian teenager who is caught up in the evolution debate and must figure out what she believes. And SHINE, COCONUT MOON by Neesha Meminger is an awesome book about a girl whose uncle shows up on her doorstep wearing a turban after 9/11. His “controversial” faith, which he shares with the main character in the weeks after the attacks, is dealt with thoughtfully and gracefully.
So, all that is to say that I think many authors are out there writing about faith and how hard it is for teens to sort out what they believe, especially amid pressure from people around them. And the more books on this, the better—if you ask me!
You recently wrote a blog post about the response to the Christian themes in your novel, mentioning some people told you they couldn’t relate or couldn’t even finish it. Why do you believe this mentality exists?
I think religion is one of those things that, even in our politically-correct world, doesn’t always get a fair shake. If we were talking about race in a book, for example, it would be almost unheard of for someone to write to the author to say, “The main character is African American and I’m white, so I can’t read this because I can’t relate to it.”
Also, if a main character were African American and dealt with issues of race in a novel, would you call it an African American novel? I wouldn’t. I certainly didn’t call Sherman Alexie’s novel, THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, a Native American novel. I just called it a totally awesome book.
But DONUT DAYS gets called a Christian novel all the time. Why is that? Now I’m the one asking the questions—d’oh! I’ll step down from my soapbox, but I think all this illustrates that people sometimes think about religion in very limited terms, and books that deal with faith can get labeled in ways that are sometimes unfair.
Your next novel is titled PROMGATE. Can you tell me anything about it?
The book centers around the fallout when a pregnant teen is elected prom queen in a small Midwestern town. It’s loosely based on events that happened in my Wisconsin high school when I was a sophomore, and it’s due out in summer 2011.
If you could live inside any children’s book, which title would it be and why?
WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS for sure! I was totally obsessed with that book going up. I loved the woods and hills and mountains where the book was set, and I’m a sucker for a good animal story. The two dogs in that book, Old Dan and Little Anne, were characters onto themselves. I also love the author’s personal story. He never thought he could be a writer, but with encouragement and support from his wife, he tried and look what happened! Yay!