The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Margie Gelbwasser

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Margie Gelbwasser

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Summary: I found Margie Gelbwasser's Pieces of Us to be one of the most disturbing YA books I've ever read, but it was incredibly well-written. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to find out a bit more about this talented author.
Date: 18 March 2012
Interviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James

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I found Margie Gelbwasser's Pieces of Us to be one of the most disturbing YA books I've ever read, but it was incredibly well-written. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to find out a bit more about this talented author.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Margie Gelbwasser: I see teens and adults, males and females, often parents and their teens reading my books together.

  • BB: Pieces of Us is exceptionally hard-hitting and I know you've talked eloquently about the importance of teens reading 'envelope pushing' books. What are some of your other favourite YA books dealing with tough issues?

MG: Anything by Ellen Hopkins, although IDENTICAL is my favorite. I feel she isn't afraid to put out there the dark topics teens are sometimes forced to confront. Laurie Halse Anderson's books address difficult issues as well and serve as a voice for many teens. Cheryl Rainfield's novels also don't shy away from the truths she lived as well as too many teens today. When I was a teen, I devoured books by Norma Fox Mazer and Norma Klein. They were unlike anything I ever read before because they didn't just talk about crushes or parties. They delved deeper and dealt with abuse, student-teacher relationships, incest, teenage pregnancy. The topics and characters were so real and I was so thankful to have them.

  • BB: I love Laurie Halse Anderson but have never read anything by the other four – will definitely check them out!

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to Pieces of Us?

MG: I actually need silence when I write or I can't focus. But I am often asked about playlists for my novels, and I do imagine certain songs telling the scenes in my books. It's just that I get lazy to write them down. I think I will come up with a playlist for POU, though. Suggestions welcome. :-)

  • BB: Sounds like a challenge to my readers! I'll start off with something from Black Parade-era My Chemical Romance - maybe Disenchanted?

There are serious issues in Pieces of Us between parents and their kids. Who do you think is the worst ever fictional parent? How about the best?

MG: Great question! Worst fictional parent is Snow White's stepmother. Cinderella's was bad too, but Snow White trumps because at least Cinderella's stepmom did not try to kill her. The best goes to Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. He was firm and loving and strived to show his children what fairness, justice, and kindness truly were.

  • BB: Totally agree, especially on Atticus – definitely one of my favourite ever characters!

What advice would you give to someone looking to write a novel for teens?

MG: I would tell them to read many YA novels, specifically in the kind of genre they want to write (e.g. sci-fi, supernatural, contemp, etc.) so they can get a feel for the types of YA books out there today. I would also tell them to hang out with a few teens to see how they interact and to find out what's important to them. Watching teen shows never hurts either (I do this a lot and tell myself it's not wasting time as it's for work :-)).

  • BB: Watching teen shows is always good! My personal all-time favourites are Buffy, Gilmore Girls and The OC.

If you could ask any other author any question, who would you ask and what would you ask them?

MG: I have always enjoyed Edith Wharton's work. Not only was she a phenomenal writer with the ability to put the reader so easily into a different time period, but she also really pushed the boundaries with her work back then. I read, too, that she had a really colorful life, went against the grain a lot, didn't fit into the expected mold of what women were supposed to be in the late 19th century and early 20th century. So I would like to ask her about all these things. It would be a terrific conversation over cocktails.

  • BB: Kyle's parts of Pieces of Us are written in the second person narrative, one of the very few times I've seen it used in YA fiction - what made you decide to use this?

MG: From the moment I heard Kyle's voice, it was in second person. To me, he was so damaged, that he had to remove himself from the situation to able to tell what was occurring. Originally, though, he was the first character to speak, and my editor thought it better to put him in a little later. He said he once heard, “Friends don't let friends write in second person,” which cracked me up. However, he did say he understood why Kyle was in second person and supported me. And I'm thankful I listened about moving Kyle's POV a little later into the story because a lot of people, I'm learning, have issues with stories told in 2nd person. Had I started with Kyle, I don't know how many people would have bothered to read further. :-)

  • BB: I just found the amazing piece you wrote on your top 10 Cartoon Hotties a few years ago - you clearly have similar taste in cartoons to me! Who do you think would win in a fight between Eric from Dungeons and Dragons, Lion-O, He-Man and Iceman?

MG: Calling it amazing is generous, but thanks. More like goofy. :-) Ok...as cute as I think Eric is, he does not stand a chance against Lion-O, He-Man or Iceman, so let's take him out of the running. As for the remaining three, while Iceman has superpowers, I don't think he has the whole package of skills, powers, and wisdom. We're then left with Lion-O and He-Man, which is a very close call. In the end, I'd say He-Man will win, but only if we're looking at an earlier Lion-O. When Lion-O's spaceship crashes to Third Earth, his body didn't stop aging. So we see someone who looks like a man, but he's really 12. As the series went on, he had to learn to be a leader, control his anger, perfect his powers. He-Man, on the other hand, is already a man. He knows what's at stake. He can control his emotions. If we're looking at a mature Lion-O, a few years down the road, then I'd say it's up for grabs.

  • BB: I’ll go He-Man as well, I think. Although you’ve either been watching this stuff more recently than I have or have got a MUCH better memory than me! Fab answer, thanks.

You're active on Twitter, have a great website, and have written some fantastic articles around the net. How important do you think an online presence is to an author today?

MG: Very important. And it's been hard for me. I'm really extroverted and interact with people much better in person. I love being able to sit down with someone and joke around and discuss topics. Online, it's very hard to make that come through, and it was also difficult to figure out how much you had to be on all these media. One friend told me the other day to think of Twitter as a party. You don't walk into a party and try to pick up a conversation from hours before. Just go in, see what's happening, and take it from there. I like that idea a lot and it's a lot less pressure than to think you have to be on top of hours of info. And since everyone interacts so much online and that's how most readers find out about you, it's important to build up some kind of presence. As for what that means, it's up to each author to decide what makes him/her comfortable.

  • I’ve been trying to take that advice on Twitter since I first read this answer a week or so ago and am finding it really useful – please say thanks to your friend for me!

BB: What's next for Margie Gelbwasser?

MG: I finished an MG book I'd love to get out there. I like the story a lot and it would be nice to have something younger kids can read. I'm also about 10K words into a new YA. While this one deals with an issue also (abusive relationship but where the guy is abused by his girlfriend), I promise it is not as dark as Pieces of Us. :-) And I have an idea for a cute, light YA too. We'll see what comes of that.

Thanks so much for having me! These questions have been fantastic. So original!

  • BB: Can’t wait for your next books, and thanks so much for taking the time to share those answers with us!

Also, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank JKS Communications for setting this interview up!

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