Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me?
Gae Polisner: The initial inspiration was the title – I actually woke up with it in my head one morning years ago, shortly after I sold my debut novel The Pull of Gravity (fsg 2011), which has a main Of Mice and Men theme running through it. I guess the classics were on my mind. Of course, I wouldn’t normally write a whole novel around a title but for some reason, this one really spoke to me. So I began to ask myself, “Why?” Why would my main character – let’s say, a 15 year old girl — not only know who Kerouac was, but hate him? And the plot for the novel began to come to me.
But the heart of the story – which I hope is a lyrical and non-didactic exploration of the fragility of female friendship — came to me via conversations with my editor as the #metoo conversations in our country were escalating, because growing up, especially in high school, I was repeatedly assaulted, bullied and judged, but not by boys . . . but by girls. And, so, I wondered how that shaped and affected my vulnerability to men and misogyny in later years. I strongly felt there was a correlation, and as I began to speak publicly about it, more and more women came to me and thanked me for speaking out. The bottom line is female friendships matter. A lot. AND they are too fragile. We need to stand by one another and lift each other up. For JL, my MC, I wonder how her whole story would be different if Aubrey had stood by her and not judged her so harshly as she was making her way through such difficult waters. . .
What character do you most relate to and why?
Oh, JL for sure. JL is the most like me of all my YA characters (even though my parents were nothing like hers! I swear!)
Why do you feel books with powerful and relatable characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I think powerful and relatable characters have always been popular? I mean, I have always loved them… and, of course, what is relatable to me, may not be relatable to someone else. Or may be relatable to others for a whole different reason. . . the bottom line is, once we set our characters free into the world, they don’t really belong to us anymore (do they?). This can be really hard at times. We have no control over how our stories are perceived once they make their way to the shelves.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.
I think the tagline my editor wrote sums it up beautifully: “An unforgettable look at romance and friendship through the eyes of a teen girl who’s ready to grow up, but maybe not as ready as she thinks.” As I wrote it, I continually conjured a visceral White Oleander vibe (without remembering the exact story, only how it made me feel), but we’ve been getting some Judy Blume comparisons from early readers, like to her Forever – one of my own teen me favorites, for sure – so I’ll take it!
What’s next for you in the book world?
I have my debut middle grade novel, Seven Clues to Home, co-written with my friend, the talented Nora Raleigh Baskin, coming out in June! We’re very excited about that. We also have our option middle grade title out on submission as well as a poignant, emotional quirky novel in verse I’ve written which my agent and I are deciding how to move forward with. The key in this business is always to keep writing, even when that is hard.
Who is your favorite writer right now and why?
Barbara Kingsolver is always on this list for her sweeping stories, incredible prose, and heartbreakingly real characters. Fredrik Backman blew me away with Beartown this year. I mean, it’s a long list. I could go on. I have named two writers who write so differently than anything I could do, even if I aspired to try.