25 May 2009

Author Monday:: Interview with YA author Veronica Goldbach [Part One]

This entry marks the beginning of my Author Mondays, where I shall endeavor to post something author-esque each Monday. Whether it's an interview or a one-shot question, here is a chance for various authors to have their say.

On Friday, May 22nd, Veronica Goldbach and I shared some happy drinks and melded our high school history with our new friendship as author/librarian. (I type this as I listen to My Morning Jacket's sumptuous song "Librarian.")

So when we were nice and warmed up, this is what followed.

TBiblio: So this is TeenBibliotecaria’s Author Monday—even though today’s not Monday. I have this plan now where the first Monday, starting in June, until as long as I can carry it, I’m going to have some kind of author-related blog post. And I’m gonna see how this one goes.
So my guest today [*laughter*] is young adult author Veronica Goldbach. She is a San Antonio native and she has just published a really charming young adult novel called Deep in the Heart of High School. And it’s published by… The pronunciation? I never get it right.

VG: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.

TBiblio: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.

VG: I don’t know, I could be getting it wrong, too.

TBiblio: No, no, that’s pretty cool. So, first of all, what kind of pushed you to write this book?

VG: Hmm. Okay, well, I was teaching at Irving Middle School here in San Antonio and I got some money from Title I funds—federal funds—to buy books for my classroom library. And I went to Barnes and Noble and started looking for books, and at the time, I couldn’t find a lot of teen books that I felt my 7th and 8th graders could relate to. It seemed like everything was set up north, with upper middle class families with upper middle class characters. And I was looking for something, you know, more working class—more like my own background and my students’ background. So I thought, hmmmm. Maybe I could write a book set here in San Antonio and have my characters be more like people I know.

: And was it always a young adult novel from the very beginning or did that come later?

: Yeah, it was always a young adult novel ‘cause I was aiming it at my students, my Irving students. And I like young adult novels.

TBiblio: Good! A convert!

VG: [*laughter*] Yes. For researching, I started reading just a lot of YA, and I kind of skipped that when I was, you know, in middle school. I went from [Ann M. Martin’s] The Baby-sitters Club to romance novels. I kind of skipped the whole young adult genre.

TBiblio: Do you think that was because there wasn’t that great [a selection of young adult] literature back then?

VG: It feels like it. I didn’t see a lot of stuff that I was really drawn to.

TBiblio: Now with this young adult explosion, there’s kind of this need to either be romantic or have vampires or be really high-tech.

VG: Yeah.

TBiblio: But your book has some of those elements, but at the same time it’s very organic, there’s not as much technology. Was that intentional from the get-go?

VG: No, it wasn’t really intentional. I just didn’t really… I’m not really a big technology person so maybe that’s why, you know. I’ve got a cell phone. A computer that sometimes works. [*laughter*] That’s about it.

TBiblio: But that’s also what makes it not a fad.

VG: That’s what I was… You know, I was worried about making it sound dated. I thought if I threw iPods in there all the time and then, you know, a few years from now when iPods are passé, it’s gonna be, like, you know.

TBiblio: Exactly. I like the fact that the story could happen at any time ‘cause the characters themselves are pretty timeless archetypes, if that makes any sense.

VG: Cool.

TBiblio: So some writers say that their characters feel like children and that it’s really hard to choose a favorite one. Did you have a favorite one or was there one that you felt you had to be really careful with in terms of what happened to this character?

VG: I shouldn’t say I had a favorite. I’ve said that before but it was more of a misstatement. Fatima has a special place in my heart because she was my editor’s favorite. And so I feel like she kind of got me in with my editor, and a lot of people like her so she’s kind of got a special place in my heart. Olivia, I was real careful what I did with her. She needed a lot of care, I thought. Perhaps I was a little bit too careful with her and her story got a little boring at first, but during many rewrites, I had to toughen her up a little bit. And then I was kind of harsh on her, but she needed it [*laughter*].

: School Library Journal mentioned how they liked the development of your male characters? What do you think made them different from what’s out there in young adult fiction right now or from what’s expected of male characters? […] Because they’re lovable but they’re also flawed. They’re not Edward Cullen. […] What do you think made them different from, say, something in Gossip Girl or something in Twilight?

VG: Well, they’re kind of insecure. They’re not really that cool. Carlos thinks he is, but the rest of them… They’re not really very cool. They’re just… But they’re lovable.

TBiblio: They are lovable. Like I said in my review before, one of them doesn’t even have money to pay for a movie ticket. So he may think he’s all that, and he’s in a band, and he feels that all the girls worship him, but—

VG: They’re insecure. I guess they don’t have the money of the Gossip Girls or even the Edward Cullens. What are you gonna do?

TBiblio: Exactly. Another thing I noticed about Olivia, at least, is that one point she mentions that even though she’s half Hispanic, she has a Jewish last name so she feels like she doesn’t get the street cred for being Hispanic. Was that from a personal experience?

VG: [*laughter*]. Yes. Yeah, going to school where we went to school, a Goldbach was not exactly, you know... I’m a light-skinned Goldbach and people didn’t exactly believe that I was Hispanic. Sometimes I’d introduce people to my mom and they’d be, like, “Ooooooh, so you really are Hispanic.” [*laughter*] Just don’t listen to me, okay?

TBiblio: Right right.

VG: Maybe that’s another insecurity of mine, big time. My sister goes out of her way to seem really Hispanic and I pass myself off as Irish sometimes. It just depends, you know. [It's easier to let people think i'm Irish or whatever than to try and explain my complex background. I get tired of trying to prove my Mexicanness and some people never believe me which can be annoying and sometimes hurtful. Then it just gets weird because I feel like I'm trying too hard to be Hispanic so does that mean I'm ashamed of my German or Italian or Irishness? I could go on and on about this.]

TBiblio: [Your book is set in] San Antonio. Vanna starts off idealizing Plano and having a hard time adjusting to San Antonio but then she winds up falling for its charm. What would you say to people who have, maybe, slightly negative preconceived notions of San Antonio or Texas?

VG: There are a lot of those out there.

TBiblio: There are a lot of those out there. Oh my god. They’re shameless!

VG: Yeah. I lived in California for a year and you would not believe what they think of Texas and San Antonio. Thanks to the LA/Spurs tension. People still think we have horses and guns and crazies, and there are some horses and guns and crazies here but… [*laughter*] I’d always tell them, because they’d be like, “Oh you’re from Texas? You don’t have an accent?” In San Antonio we don’t have an accent. In South Texas, it’s different. And I just love San Antonio. I couldn’t stay away from it. I tried for a year but it’s a really great place. We have so much culture and so many different things going on.

TBiblio: What did you miss the most when you were gone?

VG: Well, of course, the Tex Mex food but you’d be surprised. Chicken fried steak! In California, their chicken fried steak is country fried steak and a lot of people don’t know the difference. But there’s a difference! Food, oh, food, big time. And just the pace of San Antonio. We think we’re a small town. Everybody talks to everybody. You can have these long conversations at the checkout, with people you barely know, about the Spurs or whatever’s going on. Whereas in other cities it just seems like, you know, they’re nice. They’re just busy, faster. San Antonio has this nice sorta slow feel. We walk slower, we talk slower. I just like it.

TBiblio: Another thing about San Antonio is, in some ways it’s Little Mexico because we’re practically in Mexico. So there have been political issues regarding immigration and you took a pretty risky step by making Fatima, one of the main characters, part of an immigrant family. Was that intentional or did it just kind of come about?

VG: Like I said, it was written for my students at Irving and I taught ESL there. My students were immigrants. I felt that maybe that needed to be portrayed and not be so… You know, just make it normal. Because there are lots of immigrant families in San Antonio and it’s a pretty normal thing. It’s not, you know, a big deal. And I didn’t realize it was such a risky stance until later on when all the [protests against harsh immigrations laws] were going on. It worked for [Fatima].

TBiblio: That’s wonderful, though, because more stories like that need to be told, I think.


This is just the first third of our glorious 30-minute chat. If you're patient, you'll wait for me to put up the rest of the interview in the future. (Actually, you're in luck. Check out part two and part three here.) If you're immediately curious, feel free to click here for the audio podcast, with all its imperfections.

Wow. I had no idea how many times I say the word "um" when on tape, or that I had the recorder closer to me than to Veronica. Well done. Ha ha.

Enjoy and may the force and the YA fandom be with you.