Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Interview with Author Anna Humphrey!

Anna Humphrey is the author of two amazing young adult novels: Rhymes with Cupid (HarperTeen), and most recently, Mission (Un)Popular (Disney/Hyperion). Rhymes with Cupid is a light-hearted romance that takes place around Valentine's Day. Let me just say that this little book had me grinning from ear-to-ear the whole time. Seriously. Grinning like an idiot.

Mission (Un)Popular is the story of Margot Button, a newly-minted seventh grader who struggles to reinvent herself in the seemingly perfect setting of a new school, a.k.a., new beginning. But her new best friend, Em, is trouble with with a capital T: wildly manipulative, selfish and hiding a troubled past. I loved how Margot's character deals with the turmoil: not neatly, in a 1/2 hour sitcom kind of way, but messily, realistically and honestly.

Anna's a busy mother of two on top of her full-time job as a writer, and as you'll see below, she is made of awesome. I hope you enjoy our chat!

Erica: Hi Anna. Thanks for making time today.

Anna: Hi Erica!

Erica: 2011 has been a big year for you... two books in one year!

Anna: It's definitely been busy! I also had a baby somewhere in there. It's all been a bit of a blur.

Erica: I bet! You have two young children at home. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working from home?

Anna: There are so many advantages, really. I love that I (mostly) get to set my own schedule and that I can fit the stuff of life (laundry, errands, etc.) around my writing time. I also love the flexibility it gives me when it comes to my kids. They go to daycare part time, but we still get to spend the afternoons together.

Anna: And as for the disadvantages... my office supplies have a way of ending up in my daughter's craft box... but that's about the worst of it.

Erica: Aww. So cute. Your second novel (or second to be published), Mission (Un)Popular, takes place in junior high school. The main character, Margot Button, refers to the eve of a new school year as “School Year’s Eve”. I love this expression! Why do you think the transition between grade six and grade seven is such a magical (yet terrifying!) time?

Anna: I think it's magical (or, it was for me, and it is for Margot) because changing schools seems like such a fresh start--a real opportunity to reinvent yourself. But it's definitely terrifying, too. First of all, because kids can be SO ruthless and mean at that age. And also because trying to become a new, improved version of yourself isn't easy, and it never comes without risk.

Erica: I absolutely agree. There is a power shift that occurs in young girls not just in middle school, but even as young as kindergarten. Divisions happen, cliques form and girls are pitted against one another. Why are girls so mean to each other? And why is this so much more intense in the pre-teen years?

Anna: God! I wish I knew... Maybe then I could protect my daughter from it. I worry about girls. I really do. My daughter's in kindergarten and, like you say, it's already happening to some degree. If I had to guess why girls get mean, I guess I'd say it all comes down to our fear of not being good enough, or worthy enough. We take each other down to make ourselves feel better and safer, socially speaking. It's sad and wrong, but I think every one of us has been guilty of doing it at one point or another. And it gets especially bad in the preteen years, I think, because that's when you start taking a really close look at your peers and trying to figure out where you fit in, or IF you fit in.

Erica: Your book has some pretty powerful stuff to say about self-esteem and conforming to peer pressure. How do you hope your book will be received by girls that are Margot’s age?

Anna: I hope they'll be able to read it, and laugh in places, and not feel preached to in any way. Kids that age have enough people telling them what to do. If they're able to relate to Margot and what she's going through, and maybe cheer her on as she comes to realize what's right for her... well, that'd be more than enough for me.

Erica: I think you've hit the nail on the head. Kids this age don't want to be preached to. Lord knows that I didn't listen when my parents told me that the mean girls in grade seven were just "jealous." "Jealous of what?" was all I could think!

Erica: One of the things that I noted while reading Mission (Un)Popular was that Margot’s character is really believable. Thank you for not writing Margot as a child. Twelve year olds, whether we like it or not, know and experience a lot more than we’d like to admit. Do you think twelve-year-old girls have changed significantly over the years?

Erica: I mean, from our experience of seventh grade to what it's like today?

Anna: Agreed. Twelve year olds definitely know more (and have been through more) than most parents or other adults like to admit... And I'm willing to bet that today's twelve year olds are up against even more than we were at that age. I mean, everything just seems to move faster these days, don't you think?

Erica: Yes. The internet has become a whole new tool for social interaction and bullying. In fact, in your novel, Margot and her best friend, Erika, sort of breakup over the internet. On your blog, you have some pretty cute musings on what it means to be a best friend. What is your best friend like?

Anna: My best friend is made of rainbows. Seriously. She's amazing. Loyal and honest and smart and funny and always, always there for me. She's the one I call when everyone in the entire house has the flu, and she shows up every time. I've known her since I was 15 . Actually, Mission (Un)Popular is dedicated to her.

Erica: Yes! I noticed the dedication. She sounds AMAZING. You're really lucky!

Erica: I noticed some serious Sarah Dessen love on your blog! What other authors would you love to have coffee with?

Anna: I also have a great big author-crush on Susan Juby. She wrote Alice, I Think, and its two sequels. She's hilarious. She's also Canadian, and that makes me love her even more. Also, Gordon Korman. I could read I Want to Go Home a hundred times and not be sick of it.

Erica: Susan Juby! Totally worthy of an author crush! Gordon Korman's great too! One last question: You'll be leading writing workshops for 9 to 12 year olds this fall at TPL (Toronto Public Library). Magical or terrifying?

Anna: Oh. SO terrifying. Don't tell the Toronto Public Library this, but I have no idea what I'm doing, and public speaking makes me feel barfy. That said, I'm also really excited about the opportunity to write with a group of girls. I think that, once I get over my nerves, we're going to have an amazing time together.

Anna: Or guys... sorry. I should add that guys are totally welcome to sign up, too! I hope some will!

Erica: Thanks for your time, Anna! You are my new author crush.

Anna: Awe. Shucks. Thanks, Erica. It was great talking with you!

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