I'm so excited because I've had the pleasure of interviewing Kirsten Hubbard, author of the upcoming novel LIKE MANDARIN!
Tell us about the process of getting Like Mandarin published.
The history of Like Mandarin is a long one, but I'll keep it brief! It actually began as a short story for the final project of a fiction class during my freshman year at UCSD. In the years after, I couldn't get the characters out of my head. I expanded the story into a screenplay for a later class, then into a novel when I was 22. The Like Mandarin you'll read today is a second version I overhauled at age 25 -- infinite times better, though the heart of it is the same.
When I queried this version of Like Mandarin, my agent, Michelle Andelman, requested a full within half an hour and offered representation after the weekend. Following a few weeks of revision, it went to auction and sold to Delacorte in a two-book deal. It was a crazy whirlwind! Or a wildwind, I should say.
Who is your favorite character in Like Mandarin?
I adore Taffeta (Grace's little sister), empathize with Momma, and totally heart Davey Miller – a side character readers tend to fall for. What I feel for Grace is a very real love, part sister and part daughter and part what you feel for younger versions of yourself, even though I wasn't much like Grace. But I'd have to say my favorite character is Mandarin Ramey. I knew my readers wouldn't believe Grace's fascination with her if I weren't fascinated with her myself, and that feeling has never left me. I wonder about her often.
I love the cover! What was your reaction when you first saw it?
Thank you! I first saw it hanging on a bookshelf in my editor's office, during an NYC trip where I met both my agent and editor for the first time. It was completely unexpected – both being confronted with it, and the cover itself. I'd expected Mandarin, with her black hair in the wind, or a panorama of badlands. But my cover is so much better – almost movie poster iconic, with the white space, and intensity, and simplicity. I am a very lucky author.
Do you think that travelling so much has helped you as a writer?
Like nothing else. (Well, other than reading!)
Here's why. Writing is a solitary pursuit that takes a lot of repetition, and a lot of alone time. It's introverted by nature, and it's easy to fall into a stay-at-home rut, where nearly all of what you "take in" is media – movies, books, television, the internet. While all that's rich and varied and necessary, none of it beats real-life experiences as idea fodder for novels. And nothing creates experience like venturing outside your comfort zone – especially somewhere stunning, culturally and visually. Travel puts you in situations you could never imagine. It forces interaction with all kinds of people, and inspires in completely unforeseen ways. I'm also obsessed with compelling settings, and though authors are master imaginers, visiting a place always results in more vibrant writing. As a result of my trips (both deliberate for research purposes and accidental), many of my favorite scenes were written in evocative places.
For example, there's a scene in Like Mandarin where Grace is walking through the Wyoming badlands. In part:
"I followed one of the water-trails tapering into the hills. The only sounds were the crunching of my shoes, the occasional low-pitched buzz of an insect, and a gentle wind—not the slightest bit wild—ruffling the dry grasses and shrubs. As I stopped at the top of a crest, gazing out at the gradients of blue hills, brown hills, gray hills, I thought: Mandarin would have loved it out here."
I took notes for that scene on a walk through the actual Wyoming badlands. Now, when I reread it, I'm there.
What is your favorite YA book of 2010?
Can't name just one! Recently, I loved The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I think I read Finnikin of the Rock in 2009, but it's a 2010 book – Melina Marchetta is a genius.
Thanks so much, Kirsten! LIKE MANDARIN comes out March 8th. :)