Sweet Sixteener Evelyn Skye recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Kate Scelsa about her debut contemporary YA novel, FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE (September 8, 2015 from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins).
About the Author:
Kate Scelsa grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Sarah Lawrence College, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats. She spent much of 2002-2013 traveling the world with theater company Elevator Repair Service, performing in their trilogy of works based on great American novels, including an eight hour long show called “Gatz” that used the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate is currently collaborating with her dad, the legendary free form radio DJ Vin Scelsa, on a podcast called “The Kate and Vin Scelsa Podcast,” now available on iTunes and Soundcloud.
About FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE:
Ten months after her recurring depression landed her in the hospital, Mira is starting over as a new student at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to act like a normal, functioning human this time around, not a girl who sometimes can’t get out of bed for days on end. Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. Sebby, Mira’s gay best friend, is a boy who seems to carry sunlight around with him like a backlit halo.
As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.
Evelyn: When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Kate: I always wrote as a kid, but I didn’t think about writing professionally until college. And then I wanted to write for theater (which I still love to do). I was taking playwriting classes and classes in experimental theater, and I thought that I might like to start my own company. When I graduated I went to intern for this collaborative experimental theater company called Elevator Repair Service in order to learn the ins and outs of company life. And what I learned was that having a company is a ton of really relentless work, and I would be better off just sticking around these awesome people and working with them. So I became a member of the company and I performed and toured all over the world with ERS from 2002-2013. Working with this beautiful, dysfunctional family was sometimes a lot for this only child, and I started writing prose in my free time in order to have something creative that was all my own. So it was really only in my mid twenties that I started to understand how important writing was to me.
Evelyn: I hear you have an interesting story of how and when you wrote FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE. Do tell!
Kate: During my time in ERS, our most popular show was an eight hour long version of The Great Gatsby called “Gatz.” The show includes every word of the book, every description, every “he said” and “she said.” The setting is a dingy Long Island office. A scruffy office worker comes in to his paper-pushing job one morning, finds that his ancient computer won’t turn on, pulls out a copy of The Great Gatsby and starts reading it out loud. As he reads, the people around him in the office start to take on the personas of the characters in the book. The cute mail girl becomes Jordan, the burly janitor is Tom, and the boss of course is Gatsby himself. We performed the show at the Sydney Opera House, at theaters in Norway, Singapore, Vienna, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Zurich, on the West End, all over the world.
I played the secretary in the office, a mostly humorless woman who would suddenly come to life when alcohol appeared and it was time to reenact a tipsy office party version of one of Gatsby’s famous gatherings. But I spent most of the show onstage in a cubicle where I could only be seen by the audience from the shoulders up. For the first few years, still nervous about making sure I got all of my cues right, I would sit and do “fake work,” pretending to edit the piles of scrap paper that found their way to our set from the offices of the many theaters we visited around the world. As I got more comfortable with the show I started reading magazines, making sure to stop a moment before I was needed on stage to deliver a line. And then for the last two years I got a tiny MacBook Air, and I sat onstage and wrote and edited FANS. It was as if I actually were a bored secretary, clocking in at the beginning of another eight hour long workday, secretly writing her novel in her office when her boss wasn’t looking. And I’m proud to say that in eight years of performing that show, I never missed a cue.
Evelyn: Jeremy, Mira and Sebby are all so vivid. Are your characters inspired by people you know?
Kate: They started out being partially inspired by people I knew, partially inspired by characters in the book Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and partially borrowing from parts of myself. As I wrote and revised they kept circling around these different elements. I had a big breakthrough when I put more of myself into Mira. Then something would happen with Jeremy that would bring him closer to Brideshead. Then I would get a glimpse of an old friend in my Instagram feed and Sebby would steal something from them. In the end they are very much their own people, and there’s no one I could point to and say, “That’s him.” But the emotions and the friendships and the heartbreak are all real.
Evelyn: FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE is so beautiful and poignant. When I read it, I thought, “This book is true, in the most painful and hopeful and genuine sense of the word.” How did you do that? How did you capture the truth of life, the joys and the hurts of it, so… honestly?
Kate: This means a lot to me to hear this. I have to say, many of the more difficult parts of the book were actually written in difficult moments. Or in moments when I was letting myself tap into those really overwhelming feelings as a way of almost purging them. So then you’re taking this stuff that comes from somewhere deep and maybe not so pretty that we’re all normally too afraid to show to other people and just laying it out there, saying, “This is the way it is, right?” And of course the therapeutic thing is to then have some people say, “right!” I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that, to show the darkest parts of yourself and have other people say, “I recognize this. I feel this too.” Even to show the ways in which you experience joy and happiness and love and to have other people recognize it is so powerful.
That’s what real friendship is too, right? Showing someone those parts of yourself that you think are unlovable and having them love you anyway. I think in the end that’s really what the book is about. Mira, Sebby, and Jeremy’s lives are dependent on how willing they are to show their true selves to each other. If you don’t let yourself be truly seen, no one can mirror back to you that ways in which your experiences of pain and joy and love are actually the same things that everyone experiences. That you’re not alone in it.
Lightning Round Questions
What is the coolest job you’ve ever had? Performing and touring with a theater company for eleven years. It was often difficult but also often amazing.
What was the first book you fell in love with? Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block.
A band you loved when you were 16 that you still listen to? Or something similar—a playwright that you loved that you still read/perform, etc. At sixteen it was a lot of Indigo Girls. My friends and I skipped junior prom to go see them play. One friend had already bought a dress though, so we all wore prom dresses to the show and took pictures on my parents’ front lawn for our “Indigo Girls Prom.” Yes, I am a lesbian.
You have two black cats. What are their names? Thank you for asking. Millie (as in “Thoroughly Modern”) and Elby, which is short for Little Bear, but we spell it out phonetically. Millie is very thin and Elby is very fat. It has been suggested that they look like before and after diet photos.
Do you ever let your wife read your drafts? Yes, she’s read pretty much all of them (and there have been A LOT). So have my mom and my good friend (and fellow awesome writer) Laura von Holt. They are my audience trifecta.
What do you absolutely need when you’re writing? COFFEE!!! And water… I’ve only recently begun to understand that I need both, which I believe to be a mark of great maturity.
About the Interviewer
Evelyn Skye is the author of THE CROWN’S GAME. She is also an event host at Kepler’s Books; Social Media Manager for SCBWI’s San Francisco region; and the ringleader of YA Lunch Break, a popular Bay Area book club. When she’s not writing, she can be found chasing after her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. You can find Evelyn online at www.evelynskye.com and on Twitter.
THE CROWN’S GAME is a YA fantasy in which star-crossed lovers battle in a lush, magical version of tsarist Russia (HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, May 2016).