author interview: Kay Honeyman talking Interference, Austen loves, magical libraries and assembling the puzzle of characters
August 18, 2016
We're so excited to share author Kay Honeyman's thoughts on her new novel, Interference, and on her writing process:
The contributors at Young Adultica just inhaled Interference, your contemporary YA novel inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma that is coming out this fall. For our readers, can you give us your one-sentence description?
I describe it as Emma meets Friday Night Lights.
Or sometimes as a warm coming of age about love, family, friendship, and good intentions.
Jane Austen’s beloved stories have inspired so many new ones, so that while Emma’s storyline is still beloved it is also familiar. You probably have some favorite readaptations yourself. What attracted you to taking on the challenge of creating a fresh world around this plot framework?
Jane Austen’s characters are so compelling. As a reader and a writer, I am fascinated by how universal they and their experiences are. You can’t pluck characters out of most books, out of their time and story and have them remain true to a core self. It’s a testimony to how well Austen designed her cast of characters.
It seems that you took on quite a few challenges in writing Interference. The book is filled with details about politics, football, photography and livestock. How did you tackle researching so many varying subjects?
I do love research. I love learning new things and then connecting that learning to other interesting bits of information. And, I think that is part of life especially when you are young. You hear things for the first time and do things for the first time. I also think I can tackle the research because I like being a beginner. It’s when there’s the most potential and possibility. So I’m excited by the potential in tiny bits of information.
Is there a resource you couldn’t live without?
The library. Kind of a big resource, I know. It’s like magic to me. I ask for a broad spectrum of books, and they appear on a reserve shelf at my library branch. I don’t know what I would do with out it.
Which of these areas did you find most challenging to write? Did you pick up any tricks that made it easier as you went along?
The football information was challenging. It’s an intricate game. And Hunter is someone who understands it deeply. I am not sure I ever reached his level of understanding, but it was fun trying.
I don’t know if you would call it a trick, but I try to find one real-world experience as I research - a one-woman animal shelter that I can visit, a darkroom class that I can take. I’m also a strong believer in having one person who is an expert resource who can answer questions that aren’t in books.
What I’m really trying to get at when I research politics or football is the society or culture, it’s norms, and potential conflict that might arise if those norms are disrupted. And what might be on the fringe of that society. That’s where I find stories.
Your prior novel, The Fire Horse Girl, is a YA historical fiction about a girl living in China but seeking to immigrate to America. You’ve spoken in previous interviews about the extensive research behind that novel, including learning to speak Chinese, reading Chinese folklore, stories and interviews given by Chinese immigrants, and travelling to China. Did you find either book more challenging to write than the other?
They were both challenging, but Fire Horse Girl was a bigger responsibility. On one hand, it is a story that’s not mine, and I desperately wanted it to ring true. In addition, I wanted it to connect to people on a deeper level than just the history. I wanted people to see themselves in Jade Moon if they were Chinese, but also if they weren’t. I want the experience to reveal historical truth and the heart to be universal. It’s a lot to want.
Tell us a little about your writing process in general. How does a story begin to take shape for you—starting with a character, a mood, a thought, a sound or a color?
I definitely start with a character. He or she is usually a collection of characters I read, know, and imagine. I’m thinking about a character for a story right now, and, keeping with the Jane Austen theme, I started with Eleanor from Sense and Sensibility. Then I was watching this documentary about college debate for research and they described one of the debaters as having ‘ice in her veins’ when she debates. Something about that clicked with the character and her world. It’s like a puzzle. I go around picking up little details and seeing if they fit.
I also think about setting and community a lot. What kind of community might challenge this character? What norms would they rub against?
The third piece I try to have when I start is an obsession for my character (and, vicariously, me). Something they filter their reality through – like stories for Jade Moon or photography and politics for Kate.
Do you have any go-tos for getting in the writing mood?
I am one of those people who gets a buzz from crossing something off a list, so I make schedules and checklists to get myself in the mood for writing.
Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have some well-vetted spots around your home city, Dallas?
I am a ‘seize the moment’ writer. I like to write in coffee shops, but sometimes I have to write while I wait for my tires to get changed. Probably not something Jane Austen had to do.
That being said, there are some great writing spots around Dallas. I love the independent bookstore Wild Detectives in the Oak cliff area, and White Rock Coffee in Lake Highlands has inspiring caramel lattes.
Back to Emma for a moment: is there a character from Austen’s story you find particularly compelling? How did this character’s traits influence Interference?
I like Knightly (and my version of him – Hunter) because they are good guys. Not perfect, but the kind of great guy you can find in the world.
Is your favorite Emma character your favorite Interference character?
I am a sucker for the smart, slightly outsider boy. But I think India might be my favorite character. She might be much more in my head than she ended up on the page, but she is fun, smart, and a little irreverent. Everything I want Kate to be when she grows up.
On your website, you list Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion as your favorite Austens, and yet by now you must have spent a lot of time with Emma. Has the ranking changed at all?
That is such a great question. And, yes. I appreciate Emma so much more now. I had an over-simplified version of Emma in my head. When I went back and re-read it, I think I started to see more of what Knightly sees in her. The best character traits are a double edged swords – they can be good or do harm. Once I saw that what Knightly loves in Emma also drives him crazy, I saw a much more complicated character. Kate and Emma are full of potential.
As in Interference, we read a lot of stories about first loves. First loves are so influential. Can you tell us about your first book love?
When I was younger, I was a big fan of Sweet Valley High – the relationships, the drama, the loyalties, and the betrayals. Ah… it makes me smile thinking about it.
Speaking of book loves, what are the last two YA novels you loved?
I read two books that I LOVED this summer. I just finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Everyone told me how wonderful this book was, but I didn’t really get what it was about. It’s a beautiful, epic love story about first loves and family. And very hard to give full credit in a description apparently.
I also read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. It’s another female character with a lot of potential who just needs to see that potential in herself. I love how Sarah Dessen takes girls who don’t seem to have a voice in their world and tells the story of them finding that voice.
And the next two YAs on your to-be-read list?
Okay, this is not YA, but my editor Cheryl Klein is coming out with a book – The Magic Words. She is so wise when it comes to telling young adult and children’s stories, and I can’t wait to read her book. She is a godsend for my stories, so I can’t wait to read her book!
I am also looking forward to reading The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsburg. I loved Openly Straight, and I think he has a gift for capturing authentic young adult experiences. Like Rainbow Rowell with male protagonists.
In a previous interview you noted that you are a tea drinker, with milk and sugar (as a good cup of black tea should be!)—at our blog, we definitely take tea seriously. Do you have a favorite tea or tea place?
You guys really do your research! I am a big fan of Yogi Tea. I like their Perfect Energy Vanilla Spice in the morning. And Honey Lavender at night.
Before we go, if you had to pick one aspect of Interference that you hope will really resonate with readers, what would it be?
I relate to Kate’s good intentions. She wants to do the right thing. It’s knowing what is the right thing that is tricky. But I hope readers find their own truth in Interference, whatever it is. That is the amazing thing about stories. They are bigger than the author. They get to live outside me.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and your insights Kay!