Sweet Sixteener Rebecca Podos recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Marcy Beller Paul about her debut contemporary YA novel, UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING (October 27, 2015 from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins).
About the Author:
Marcy Beller Paul still has all the notes she passed in seventh grade (and knows how to fold them). She graduated from Harvard University in Massachusetts and worked as an editor in New York before moving back to New Jersey, where she now lives with her husband and two children. Underneath Everything is her first novel.
About UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING:
Mattie quit the social scene for a reason, but by senior year she’s sick of missing things. When she drags her best–and only–friend Kris to the bonfire, Mattie is drawn back into an intoxicating–and toxic–relationship that blurs the boundary between reality and fantasy, love and loyalty, friendship and obsession.
Rebecca: In UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING, you’ve truly created a toxic relationship that readers recognize as harmful, while understanding what compels the characters trapped inside of it. What inspired you to craft the complicated story of Mattie and Jolene?
Marcy: Well, the first draft of UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING was a traditional love triangle between two boys and a girl. Then, during revision, I got to a scene between the main character and a female friend of hers. That scene immediately stood out to me as more intense and interesting than anything else.
I think maybe I was trying to tell that story in the first draft, but I was afraid to face it, so I buried it in the subplot. I’d had my own toxic friendship in middle school and high school, and after I managed to extricate myself I never looked back–I never forced myself to examine it. I knew if I was really going to write this story, I’d have to go back there, emotionally. I also knew it was going to take a lot of work. I was going to have to cut off the second half of the novel, rewrite it, then heavily revise the first half.
I didn’t have an agent or editor then, so even though I thought I’d found the heart of the story, I still had doubts. Until I hung out with a good friend from high school. When I mentioned the new direction for the book, she immediately told me three stories about a girl in our class. I had assumed we were talking about the same person, but it turns out we weren’t. That’s when I was sure of the idea. That’s when I realized we all have our Jolene. We all have our reasons for being friends with that person. I wanted to figure out what they were.
Rebecca: Did any of the characters or their relationships surprise you, from their initial conception, throughout drafting and into revising?
Marcy: As I mentioned above, Jolene’s character started out as a subplot in the first draft, but she ended up taking over the entire narrative in the first major revision, as those kinds of girls often do. Mattie wasn’t the only one under her spell, I guess.
Rebecca: Were there any books or authors in particular that influenced you while writing UNDERNEATH EVERYTHING?
Marcy: I devoured a ton of YA in the years it took me to write this book and I think they all influenced me, in a way. One book I had by my side through most of the drafting was Jo Knowles’ LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL. I must have reread the final pages of that book at least a dozen times. Other writers that opened my eyes to what YA could be: Nova Ren Suma, Laura Kasischke, Sara Zarr, Kat Rosenfield, Bennett Madison.
Rebecca: What did you learn from writing your debut novel that you’ll carry forward into your next book?
Marcy: I think the biggest lessons I learned while writing this book were when to take a break (definitely after finishing a full draft or revision), and how and when to take editorial notes. It was a revelation to me the first time I realized that I could take a critique partner or editor’s note and figure out my own solution. For example, if a character’s motivations weren’t clear in one scene, but I didn’t want to mess with that scene, I could find another place to make the motivation clear. I could find another way. And if I really disagreed with a note I could give my reasons and say so. There’s so much self-doubt that happens during the writing process that one small comment can send you into a tailspin. But I think the next time around I’ll feel even stronger about speaking up, sticking to my story, and finding creative solutions to editorial issues.
Lightning Round Questions
What’s your favorite snack while writing? Tea and almonds.
Favorite music to write to? Depends on the mood! For angry/frustrated/physical scenes: Foo Fighters and NIN. For romantic/yearning/angsty scenes: Damien Rice and Daughter. For copyediting: Hans Zimmer.
Who’s your first reader when you draft something new? My agent, Michael Bourret.
A book you loved when you were 16? CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR by Jean M. Auel
The last YA romance you rooted for? It was hidden inside a murder-mystery, but Sophie and Mina had a flat-out beautiful romance in Tess Sharpe’s FAR FROM YOU.
The last YA friendship you rooted for? Jeremy, Mira, and Sebby in Kate Scelsa’s FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE
About the Interviewer
Rebecca Podos is a graduate of the Writing Program at Emerson College, whose fiction has been published in journals like Glimmer Train, Paper Darts, and Smokelong Quarterly. By day, she’s an MG and YA agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston. Rebecca’s debut novel, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES (HarperCollins Children/ Balzer+Bray, 1/26/16) is a YA contemporary about the daughter of a bestselling mystery writer. When her father goes missing, she sets out of find him using the investigative skills she’s learned from his books, along the way uncovering truths about the loneliness that’s marked the family for generations.