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Interview: March 2009

March 2009

Inspired by her own high school experiences, Siobhan Vivian's second novel, SAME DIFFERENCE, revolves around a 16-year-old girl struggling to define herself during a summer away from home.

In this interview with Teenreads.com's Kristi Olson, Vivian elaborates on some of the book's main themes --- like the quest for self-discovery and how that search affects already well-established relationships --- and explains what draws her to write about friendships between girls. She also reveals some of the real-life counterparts to her characters, gives insight into her research and writing process, and shares details about her current project due out next year.

Teenreads.com: In your second young adult novel, SAME DIFFERENCE, the main character, Emily, finds herself caught between two worlds. Until the summer before her senior year in high school, Emily hasn’t known much more than her upper-middle class hometown of Cherry Grove, New Jersey. Yet this summer, she is selected by her art teacher to participate in a program at Philadelphia College for Fine Arts. In Philly, Emily meets a new group of friends and learns more about art and herself than she had ever imagined. What was the inspiration for this story?

Siobhan Vivian: This story was completely inspired by my own experience. Just like Emily, I left a very typical, suburban New Jersey town to attend a summer art program in Philadelphia. It was such a huge experience, transforming myself into a wild, artsy city girl for a few weeks. I loved the person that I became when I was away from home, but when I had to go back to New Jersey, I found it challenging to keep my new identity in the old place, and with my old friends.

TRC: The art school setting is very realistic. Did you yourself ever spend time in the art room?

SV: Well, to research the book, I went back to the same summer program I attended in high school and sat in on a bunch of art classes. That was beyond helpful! I also asked my boyfriend and a few other friends who went to art school a ton of questions about how they approach drawing, the kinds of tools they used, etc.

TRC: One of the major themes in this story is Emily’s struggle with identity. Her quest for self-discovery comes in part through her artwork. As a novelist, do you find that writing has helped you make any of your own self-discoveries?

SV: Absolutely. Since this story was so close to my own experience, I was able for the first time to see how my own identity changes had affected my friends. I don’t think I ever really thought about my experience from their perspective before writing SAME DIFFERENCE.

TRC: Another major theme in the book is friendship and how other people often have influence over who we are as individuals. Emily starts spending less time with her best friend Meg and more time with the art school kids. You’ve written about friendship in the past. Is this a theme you want to continue exploring in your writing?

SV: Yes! Definitely! I love love love writing about friendships between girls. I feel like friendships offer me an endless supply of interesting characters, conflicts and juicy story meat.

TRC: Emily’s new friend/frenemy Fiona is a real fireball of a character. She’s the friend you love to hate, but at the same time you crave her respect. Did you know any Fiona types in your high school years? (I know I did!)

SV: Ahem. Totally. And, if I am being completely honest, I think I actually had quite a bit of Fiona in me, too.

TRC: Emily’s love interest, Yates, also is a character who really comes alive. I think a lot of your female teen readers will find him as charming as I did. Where did inspiration for the Yates character come from?

SV: Yates is a hybrid of a few different guys I dated in my lifetime. But physically, he is modeled after a suuuuper hot guy I spotted walking down my street the day I wrote my first scene with Yates in it. Hello fate!

TRC: Are the New Jersey and Philadelphia settings based on where you spent time as a teen?

SV: The Philadelphia stuff, yes. There are many, many actual locations (with a few name changes) where I hung out when I lived in that city. Cherry Grove isn’t quite like my hometown, but there are lots of similarities.

TRC: You are a member of the Longstockings blog (http://thelongstockings.blogspot.com), which stemmed out of a writing group at The New School's MFA Program in Writing for Children. Do you still meet as a writing group, or do you lend writerly support to each other in other ways in addition to your community blogging?

SV: Oh most definitely! My friend and fellow Longstocking Jenny Han reads every single word that I type. And we all share ideas, ask brainstorming questions, and offer advice on everything from titles to covers to bookmarks. We are a fully-functioning, all-purpose writers group!

TRC: Do you think you’d ever want to write for younger readers, or is YA your niche?

SV: I have an idea for a middle grade novel churning around in my head, and I’ve already written a picture book, but nothing feels as natural to me as writing YA.

TRC: What is your writing process like?

SV: When I am working on a first draft, my goal is to write 1,000 new words a day. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t. But that’s where I set my productivity bar. I always write with music on, iced coffee nearby, and usually cookies.

TRC: What books have you recently read that you’d recommend to your readers?

SV: I am obsessed with THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Also, my friend Jenny Han has a new YA romance series out in May. It’s called The Summer I Turned Pretty and it is AH-MAZING.

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

SV: Oooh! I am so glad you asked! I am writing a new book right now! Unfortunately, I don’t have a title for it yet, but I love love love this story! It’s about a girl named Natalie, a very driven, very serious student council president, who tries to "rehabilitate" a pack of hyper-sexy freshman girls (while keeping her own first sexual relationship a secret). It’s got a lot of romance, friendship troubles and a really cute boy who owns a Christmas tree farm. It’ll be out sometime in the fall of 2010. Yay!