Sweet Sixteener Marisa Reichardt recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Kate McGovern about her debut contemporary YA novel, RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES (November 24, 2015 from Macmillan/FSG).
About the Author:
Kate McGovern has taught theatre and language arts to middle schoolers in Boston, New York, and London. A graduate of Yale and Oxford, she currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was born and raised.
RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES is her first novel.
photo credit: Liz Vidyarthi
About RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES:
Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she’s going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington’s disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother.
Marisa: Congratulations on your wonderful debut! RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES was a powerful read and I know your characters and this story are going to stick with me for a long time. Can you talk a little bit about the jumping off point for this story? Was it the characters? The idea? The execution? What grabbed onto you and made you say, “THIS is the story I need to tell.”?
Kate: Thanks, Marisa! The inspiration for RULES came from an article I read in the New York Times in 2007, about a young woman who was deciding whether or not to get tested for the Huntington’s gene. She was so articulate about what this information would mean for her aspirations and life choices. I couldn’t get her story out of my head. I’ve always been fascinated by medicine, genetic medicine in particular. In 2011, I was in a big transition moment in my life, living back to the US after three years abroad, single again after getting out of a long relationship. I was thinking seriously about going back to school to become a genetic counselor. Spoiler alert: That didn’t happen, but I did start writing RULES. I wrote the first page, put it down for a year, and came back to it in 2012. I wrote the rest of the draft in about six months.
Marisa: . Can you tell us a bit about your publication journey? From agent to finished product? What was your editing process like for RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES?
Kate: This whole journey, even though it’s been in the works for a few years now, still feels surreal. I’m incredibly grateful to work with both my agent (Mollie Glick) and my (slash our!) editor, Joy Peskin. They’re both so sharp, and they both got the book right away—so I always felt that through the revision process, the book became more and more of what it was supposed to be.
I started with the usual agent querying process, but I went into it with the benefit of having worked on my query letter in a YA novel workshop at GrubStreet in Boston, so I’d gotten some really good feedback on it. (Side note: I wrote about a third of RULES in that workshop, which was taught by Elaine Dimopoulos, a fellow Fearless Fifteener! Her fabulous debut, MATERIAL GIRLS, is out now from HMH). Mollie was my dream agent, just based on the stalking (er, research) I did online. She is both incredibly encouraging and brutally honest–an ideal combination for an agent, I think.
The biggest piece of the revision process was the removal of a pretty significant subplot and secondary character. Mollie and I reworked that section several times before we took the manuscript out on submission, but Mollie wasn’t crazy about it all along, and ultimately neither was Joy. In my first phone call with Joy, we talked about cutting it altogether. Both Mollie and Joy were able to see what I couldn’t on my own–that the book didn’t need it. It was like this other character had wandered into Rose’s world from her own novel. (Maybe one day I’ll write that novel, but not yet.)
Marisa: Trains and train routes play an important role in your book. You made me want to take a cross-country train trip! Do you share the same fascination? Have you ever taken such a trip? What would you recommend to a newbie?
Kate: Yes! I LOVE trains. Like Rose, I got my train fascination from my mom, who took me across the country via Amtrak when I was seven. I always wanted to do it again as an adult, so in 2012 I took the California Zephyr, the same train Rose takes, from Chicago to San Francisco. It is THE MOST amazing way to see the country.
I am forever blabbing about this to people. I’ve now gone across the country three times by train. My advice to a newbie is to not bother bringing much to read or do, because all you’ll want to do is stare out the window. (I do recommend books on tape, though. That way you can read and look out the window at the same time…bonus.)
More of my musings on long-distance train travel are available here.
Marisa: What do you hope readers take away from Rose and her experience?
Kate: As I’ve talked to a lot of folks in the Huntington’s community, I’ve heard over and over again how little people understand about Huntington’s, and how isolating that can be—especially for teenagers who are living with this huge thing in their families. Many of them don’t know any other kids who share their experience. I really hope readers will empathize with Rose, and recognize that she is doing her best with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances. She is brave and scared at the same time. I also hope readers will genuinely ask themselves, “What would I do?” It’s a harder question than it seems. The vast majority of folks who are eligible to be tested for HD choose not to. I hope readers will grapple with the ramifications of having—or not having—that knowledge. Most of us are not in Rose’s particular situation, but for all of us, our genes determine pieces of our futures. How much do you want to know?
Lightning Round Questions
Planner or Pantser?
Captain Kirk or Captain von Trapp?
Definitely von Trapp.
Stick close to home or travel the globe?
Love to travel but really love to come home.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Revelations. I try to see it every year.
If you could pick a theme song for RULES FOR 50/50 CHANCES, what would it be?
“Stand by Me,” Ben E. King.
I’m working on another contemporary YA. It’s a love story, but it also tackles some complex questions of race and violence. I’ll be able to say more about it soon!
Marisa Reichardt is a SoCal native and high school writing instructor. She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual undergraduate degrees in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego. She spent her college years shucking oysters, waiting tables, and peddling swimwear. She has spent her post-grad years writing, tutoring, and teaching. She currently lives in Los Angeles and can usually be found huddled over her laptop in coffeehouses or swimming in the ocean.
In her YA contemporary debut, UNDERWATER (January 12, 2016 from FSG/Macmillan), the aftermath of a deadly high school shooting leaves 17-year-old Morgan an agoraphobic trapped in the apartment she shares with her mother and brother; when surfer boy Evan moves in next door, she has to face the life she’s been missing.