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Interview: August 21, 2018

Last year, author Maggie Ann Martin made her debut with THE BIG F, about a young woman who must retake her senior English class to get into her dream school. This year, Maggie is back and tackling some important social issues in TO BE HONEST. Her sophomore contemporary novel is about high school senior, Savannah, or Savvy, as she navigates this pivotal time in her life and deals with issues such as body image, parental pressure, first love, feeling lonely and finding your path. TO BE HONEST comes out today, and you can read Teen Board member Brynn S.'s interview with Maggie for a sneak peak into Savvy's world and the inspiration for what the author has dubbed "the fat Rom Com of [her] teenage dreams." First, tell us a bit about your second book, TO BE HONEST. How would you describe it? How would you introduce your main character?

Maggie Ann Martin: TO BE HONEST is basically the fat Rom Com of my teenage dreams. The book follows Savannah, a seventeen-year-old, plus-sized heroine who is entering her senior year of high school. She’s just dropped her older sister and best friend off at college and is now forced to live alone with her mother who has just gotten off of a weight loss reality TV show (think “The Biggest Loser”). While Savannah is just starting to find her stride in the body positive space, she is constantly being questioned by her mom who believes she should lose weight. A few things that make her life more bearable: a wonderful bestie, an adorable poodle named Fiyero, and George…a quietly funny, saxophone-playing new kid who she gets roped into tutoring.

TRC: One thing I loved about TO BE HONEST is that you tackled some hard hitting topics like weight, body shaming, and challenging family relationships while also making sure there was a good balance of light and cute scenes. How do you discuss these challenging topics while keeping this balance?

MAM: For me, life is full of that mix of serious and funny, so that comes out in my writing quite a bit. I don’t think stories either have to be super serious or slapstick comedy. I like stories that are a mix of both because I think life is generally a good mix of both.

TRC: What inspired Savannah’s story? Who would you recommend TO BE HONEST for?

MAM: The story was formed around Savannah as a character, actually. She showed up during a writing prompt exercise and I knew from that moment that she deserved her own story. I really wrote this book for a younger me who wished something like this existed when I was a teenager. I recommend this story to anyone who has ever felt judged by anyone personally or society in general for the way that they look and are ready to fight back.  

TRC: One of the scenes towards the beginning of the book takes place at an epic family reunion that is basically a giant field day. Have you ever been to a family field day in real life? Even if you haven’t, what field day event are you best at?

MAM: I wish! I think it would be so incredibly fun. The closest I’ve gotten is a school field day (which I was terribly uncoordinated at). I think like Savannah I would be best at the egg toss. It doesn’t require much physical skill, but a lot of focus.

TRC: In THE BIG F you wrote about Danielle, a girl heading into her freshman year of college. Meanwhile in TO BE HONEST, the story follows Savannah, a senior with college on the horizon and her sister beginning her freshman year of college. Is this a coincidence or is there a reason why you write stories about the age closer to college rather than stories about a sophomore or junior in high school for instance? Is there one protagonist you related to more?

MAM: I think that time either right before college or the first year of college is so interesting to explore. You’re on the cusp of really becoming who you are and experiencing independence in a way that you never have before. The growth that happens in those two years (the making of the college decision and the first year of college) is monumental. I think that’s why I’m always drawn to those years in particular.

TRC: Music is something I always find interesting when discussing how books were written. Were there any songs that became anthems for the book as you were writing? Based off Savannah’s love for Eminem, I’m guessing some of his songs were involved.

MAM: Ha! I’m not as big of an Eminem fan as she is (though I do know all the words to a few songs). I’d say the song that was sort of George and Savvy’s anthem for me while writing was “See You” by Thriving Ivory because I feel like they both truly see each other in a way that neither of them have experienced before. I actually have a whole playlist of songs that I listened to on repeat while writing and editing TO BE HONEST if you want to give it a listen!

Playlist link:

TRC: Another thing I thought was fantastic about the book was that each scene on its own felt like it had a purpose in the book and was entertaining. Was there any plot points you had to cut out or interesting scenes that never made it to the final draft?

MAM: There are a lot of scenes that ended up being cut or changed from the first draft (scenes that should never ever see the light of day!) One of my favorites that no longer makes sense with some other characters/ plot points that got cut was a surprise party that was basically a huge comedy of errors. I love a good family dynamic and that one had a bunch of family layers in it. So fun to write.

TRC: TO BE HONEST is your second book published, almost immediately following your debut last summer, THE BIG F. What was the process of writing this book in comparison to THE BIG F? Were there any major similarities or differences?

MAM: They were very different! I had years to edit and play with the draft of THE BIG F before it got picked up. For TO BE HONEST, I wrote the first draft in a few months and didn’t have as much time to play with it. I also wrote THE BIG F while I was still a student in college, so my schedule was much more flexible. When I wrote TO BE HONEST I was working full time, so it was a huge practice in time management.

TRC:  Do you have any advice for aspiring authors ‐‐‐ either on finding inspiration or tackling the publishing process?

MAM: Persistence is totally the name of the game. People whose books you see on the shelf are people who never gave up no matter how many rejections they got. I know it’s hard, especially when your story is the book of your heart, but keep pushing through.

TRC: Lastly, what are you working on now?

MAM: I can’t give many details right now, but I can say that it’s in the college range, features some fierce fat characters, and will have my signature mix of humor and heart.