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Author Interview: March 2007

May 2007

Elizabeth Scott's debut novel, BLOOM, is a coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl who seemingly has everything, only to discover that she doesn't want any of it.

In this interview with Teenreads.com's Alexis Burling, Scott discusses some of the challenges that her main character, and teens in general, face --- such as the pressures of conformity, the myth of the "perfection equals happiness" equation and the difficulties of being yourself versus being what is expected of you. She also explains what prompted her to write about this particular character, shares details concerning her two upcoming young adult novels, and talks about her own experiences attending the high school where both of her parents were teachers.

Teenreads.com: BLOOM is such a wonderful title for this book. Explain its significance.

Elizabeth Scott: Thank you! I used the title because the book is all about becoming who you truly are --- and not who you or anyone else thinks you're supposed to be.

TRC: Deception abounds in BLOOM --- especially with Lauren. She clearly has a hard time being honest with herself (and others) and communicating what she thinks/wants. Why do you think this is?

ES: I think it's easier to lie than to be honest a lot of the time, especially when it come to things that we can't or don't want to really face. And for Lauren, she's got what she's supposed to want --- the perfect guy, the happily ever after --- and how do you say "this isn't what I want" to all of that?

TRC: Did you base Lauren's character on anyone in particular?

ES: No. I mean, I think there are aspects of her personality that anyone can relate to --- or at least I hope so! But when I got the idea for the book, she appealed to me because here was a girl who has everything she's supposed to want and realizes that no matter how much she tries to want it, it never feels quite right.

TRC: Lauren says, "I know people think teenagers hang naked out of cars and whatever, but you know, high school really isn't an environment that encourages you to do anything other than exactly what everyone else is doing." Was this your experience in high school, or do you think this is something new happening today?

ES: I do think high school --- and life in general --- encourages conformity. And while there are always some people who are able to do their own thing without worrying what others think, it's very easy to say, "I don't care," but a lot harder to mean it. As for what people believe about teenagers and how they live, I do think there's a perception that being a teenager is this perfect, carefree time, and it isn't. 

It so isn't! To this day, whenever I hear someone say, "Oh, you don't know how lucky you are to be 14, 15, 16, etc. You don't have to worry about anything!" I want to kick them.

TRC: The characters in BLOOM seem to be preoccupied with putting on airs --- making it seem like everything is normal when, in fact, it isn't. They act one way but feel another. For example, Lauren and Dave appear to be the perfect couple, but, in Lauren's eyes, they barely connect. Katie and Lauren face a similar problem in their friendship. Why do you think the characters (and young people in general) fixate so much on how things "appear" rather than how they are?

ES: Because it's less painful. It's so much simpler to be who people want you to be --- at least on the surface --- than to deal with the fallout that can occur when who you are/what you want isn't what you're supposed to want, or is in any way different. And for a lot of people --- and this applies to everyone, I think --- there's a belief that you should act like things are fine, that you shouldn't complain, that you should be grateful for what you have and want the things you're told you're supposed to.

TRC: In her interior monologues, Lauren makes comments like "Dave could be with anyone, and he wants to be with me. Me. I didn't understand why when we first started dating, and, to be honest, I still don't." She seems to have low self-esteem, but I get the feeling she secretly knows that she's just not into Dave like he's into her. What are you trying to communicate to your readers with what you are saying here?

ES: I do think she has self-esteem issues --- who doesn't? --- but I also think she (and all of us) has a little voice/place deep inside that knows the truth about ourselves and our relationships. The problem is facing those things and seeing the stuff we don't want to.

TRC: You use the word "perfect" a lot throughout the book, most of the time to describe what "seems to be" rather than what "is." Was this a conscious choice? Might you elaborate on what this word signifies to the main characters? Do you think teens face pressure to be perfect?

ES: I think teens face so much pressure to be perfect, not just academically, but in every aspect of their lives. I also think the pursuit of perfection is something that can be very hollow, as perfection is beyond elusive. It's impossible.

And more than that, I so often see happiness equated with perfection, and happiness isn't, and shouldn't be, about being perfect. Happiness is messy and complicated and amazing. But it isn't perfect. And I think the idea that perfect = happy is something that Lauren wrestles with in the book. I think it's something a lot of us wrestle with.

TRC: Lauren's relationship with Dave is so tame, "safe" as she calls it. Her secret affair with Evan is wild and passionate. Both are legitimate pulls on a person and easily "want-able," would you agree? How important is it to know the difference between these two impulses when in a relationship?

ES: I do think both are desirable and that's the dilemma Lauren faces --- do you stay safe, or do you take a chance? And taking chances is hard, especially because sometimes they don't work out.

As far as the difference between the two impulses --- safety vs. desire --- in a relationship, I think that, ideally, you want someone who you desire and who you feel comfortable with. And, of course, you want to be with someone who respects you and values you for who you are.

TRC: When Lauren describes her parents' history, it's as if she blames herself for their separation. Do you think many children from broken homes blame themselves for the breakup of their parents' marriages?

ES: I think some blame themselves. In Lauren's case, when it's clear that her mother decided she didn't want her family --- didn't want her --- how can she not blame herself? She shouldn't, of course --- her mother made a very selfish choice --- but she does.

TRC: Lauren learns a huge lesson when Katie finally confronts her about being absent from their friendship. Lauren assumed Katie could only talk about nail polish and her boyfriend, but found out that she could be quite deep --- and that she was deeply hurt when Lauren didn't confide in her. What can readers take from this situation?

ES: That people can surprise you and that you shouldn't write anyone off based on what you see. So many people are far more complex than they appear.

TRC: You grew up in a small town in Virginia. Your parents were both teachers at the local high school, correct? Does that mean you actually had to be in class with them? What was that experience like?

ES: I did grow up in a very small town and my parents were both high school teachers, and yes, I did have classes with both of them!

People almost always react with horror when I tell them this, but actually it wasn't that bad. (I know, but I swear it's the truth!)

I always knew that if I took certain classes, I'd have my parents as teachers because they were the only people who taught those classes. So, it wasn't like it was a surprise to see them on my schedule or anything, and as I went to a small high school, it wasn't a surprise to anyone else. I addressed them like I would any other teacher, and they treated me like any other student. In fact, during my first week of class with my mother, she moved me because I talked too much!

TRC: On your website, www.elizabethwrites.com, you publish a blog. Do you find this interferes with the time you spend working on your novels, or is it a welcome distraction?

ES: It doesn't interfere with my writing time (knock on wood!), and I like sharing links and talking with readers. For instance, thanks to my blog and comments on my MySpace page, I now have a list of about 20 movies that I haven't seen and want to!

TRC: Have you ever toyed with writing a book for adults, or do you feel you've found your niche with the YA crowd?

ES:I can't see myself writing anything but young adult novels. I read all kinds of books, but young adult novels have a special place in my heart, and, frankly, they're all I want to write.

TRC: Do you prefer to read a specific genre of books? Might you have a few favorite titles to recommend to your readers?

ES: Reading is my absolute favorite thing to do, so I actually like to read all kinds of things. Though I have far too many books I love to list, here's a few non-YA fiction authors I enjoy:

Helen Dunmore, Charles Baxter, Amy Bloom, Sarah Waters, David Mitchell, Ha Jin, Maggie Helwig, Jhumpa Lahiri and Keith Maillard.

TRC: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?

ES: I have two books coming out next year:

PERFECT YOU (Simon Pulse, March 2008) is about a girl, Kate, whose father is undergoing what may possibly be the world's most embarrassing mid-life crisis. Also, her best friend isn't talking to her anymore, and she has some major guy problems.

STEALING HEAVEN (HarperCollins, June 2008) is about a girl, Dani, who travels around the country with her mother, stealing antique silver, and what happens when they end up in the coastal town of Heaven and Dani falls for a guy who has very close ties to the law.