Ask the Author: Gabrielle Zevin

“Ask me a question.” Gabrielle Zevin

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Gabrielle Zevin 1) something with peaches—a crostini? a tart? Though I don't think peaches are in season in March. 2) Japanese convenience store food: egg salad sandwiches or an eggplant katsu sandwich on white bread. Milk tea. Inari. Onigiri. 3) The obvious choice is pizza! Sadie prefers a thin crust. 4) Korean BBQ, with an emphasis on banchan (the sides), which are always my favorite part.
Gabrielle Zevin Yes, because I think John Green is a brilliant person and writer, and beyond all that, a voice of goodness and intelligence in this world. We called it "John Green Day" in my house.
Gabrielle Zevin Thanks for this question, which is exactly the kind of thing I like to be asked! The bird motif began with the decision to make Marx’s mother a textile designer/professor. You’ll remember that she said her favorite print was William Morris’ Strawberry Thief. Once I knew that, I went down a rabbit hole of researching William Morris and Strawberry Thief, which, of course, features a thrush stealing a strawberry from a field. At that point, I decided to incorporate the Strawberry Thief pattern into the story of how Marx came up with Mapleworld. The second appearance of the Strawberry Thief bird is in Marx’s dream, which he describes to Sadie.

I wrote the book in largely chronological order. When I arrived at The NPC section, it seemed natural to turn Strawberry Thief into the “game” that is the beginning of The NPC. The opening description of the land Marx is flying over is roughly based on William Morris’ house in Oxfordshire and what Oxfordshire might have looked like in the 19th century. So, in a sense, the bird motif emerges from a repetition of the Strawberry Thief pattern.

To an extent, I resist telling readers what anything means. That said, a thing to consider is that the Japanese word for strawberry is Ichigo. The thing that “traps” Marx into his life as a game producer is Ichigo. And the thing that traps bird Marx is the lure of the strawberry as well. So, to answer your question, I think the first time bird Marx descends represents Marx's decision to make Ichigo with Sam and Sadie. At the end of the chapter, when Marx flies on, he is leaving them (and the strawberry field, which represents Ichigo and all the other games) behind. It can be interpreted as both Marx moving on and Marx choosing a different path than he did the first time around.
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Gabrielle Zevin By date, it looks like this was the first 'Tomorrow' question on Goodreads, and it's a great, if complicated, one.

Sam is someone who experiences intermittent, intense romantic attraction, and rare to nonexistent sexual attraction, so the ACE label, as I understand it, is accurate. But I think Sam is the kind of person who eschews labels, and the fact that he was born in 1974 means that he grew up with a historically limited set of identities. So I don't think, even by the book's end, the terms ace or aceflux have ever crossed his mind. But if they did, he might think, "Yes, that's me, but I didn't know that could be me." And I do think, through games and play, Sam finds a way to more precisely express himself and his desires.

That said -- Though I wrote Sam, there are things I don't know about Sam, because these are also things Sam doesn't know about himself. Sam's defining characteristic is, in many ways, that he is unable to solve the puzzle of himself. For instance, I cannot conclusively say how much of Sam's identity is tied to his injury and his ongoing health problems, or if Sam's identity would have been the same in the absence of his injury, or if Sam's identity will shift again as he ages past the end of the book.

But yes, I feel like we're completely good for PopSugar!
Gabrielle Zevin Yes, my grandmother's childhood best friend lived in Tiburon, and when we visited her, I thought it was beautiful. I filed the experience into my mental list of places I've been that I might like to write some day. I think all writers keep such lists! Generally speaking, I've visited northern California a lot -- my parents live south of San Francisco -- and it's one of my favorite regions to write and to visit.
Gabrielle Zevin I love that you're asking this question because I take it to mean that the Marx character has resonated with you! But no, I don't think so. His story feels complete to me. (I did end up cutting a small amount of Marx material that I might put in a special edition some day.)
Gabrielle Zevin Is there such a thing as a book that is fun to write? It's possible that I have been doing it wrong! Seriously, I am trying to remember if I have ever had fun while writing a book. When it's going well, I definitely feel a sense of intense engagement and there's nothing else I would rather be doing. I feel eager to write in the morning and eager to grapple with the problems of the novel at hand. When I think I have done a good job solving the problems, I feel proud and sometimes satisfied. I have occasionally felt pleasure at a phrase I think is particularly precise or an insight I think is original. But fun... FUN. Maybe I am not a "fun" person? Even when I was a little kid, I never really understood, for instance, recess. That said, I think the novel I felt the most satisfied while I was working on it is the one I just finished, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which will be published in July. ALSO, there are parts of the publishing process that can be fun -- I enjoy the reveal of the cover (though this can occasionally be fraught); I enjoy conversations with a smart editor. Thank you for this question! (I think I had fun answering it, but I'm not sure.)
Gabrielle Zevin There is no sequel to Elsewhere. In my mind, there is a prequel to Elsewhere, but that is the only place such a book currently exists.
Gabrielle Zevin Hey yourself! Here are some numbers:

Women are 50.8% of the population, and they make up a whopping 58.3% of the US civilian labor force.

Yet, in 2018, women occupied around 20% of the seats in the US House, and 23% of the seats in the US Senate. Just under half of all states have never elected a female governor, including New York, the state where I was born, and California, the state where I currently live. 96.5% of all supreme court judges have been men. And yes, because I know you were thinking about it -- women still earn 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Can it really be a representational democracy if the government doesn't reflect the people who live there? I think about this a lot, don't you?
Gabrielle Zevin This is actually several questions! 1) I doubt I will ever write more Anya Balanchine books. I've talked about this a few other places, but in short, the series had disappointing sales. It came out during a time where there were many dystopian books on the market, and on some level, the books were confusing to an audience who was hungry -- ha ha -- for books like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Anya's story was more of a coming of age story and it wasn't really a dystopian novel in the way people thought of them at the time. And so, even though I feel like I could probably write more Anya (Anya as an old woman or a mother is still interesting to me), I doubt I ever will. However, there has been discussion of turning it into television, and it could be fun to revisit her then. 2) I wrote The Hole We're In from 2005-2008 (it published in 2010) long before I wrote the Anya books. Obviously, this was a novel for adults, and it was a political book and a social satire and very, very dark. So, if you consider books like A.J. Fikry and the Anya series to fall on the more "whimsical" side of things, then rest assured, I have already gone back to things with a higher "whimsy" quotient. I don't ever set out to be dark -- the books I write reflect to an extent how I am feeling about the world. However, the older I get, the more I feel it's a personal responsibility to write honestly, but also, to attempt to see the good in the world and the people who live in it. 3) I don't know that it's either possible or desirable to put whimsy away for good. That said, I know I have changed since my first books came out. I started publishing when I was in my mid-twenties and I recently turned forty. So, I think it's natural that my books have changed and grown with me. Be suspicious of authors whose books always stay the same... (I'm just kidding. ) (But maybe, it's true.) 4) Thank you for reading my books. Thank you for being willing to try things like The Hole We're In. I am so grateful for readers like you.
Gabrielle Zevin Massachusetts. Take the ferry from Hyannisport. It's an imaginary stop between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Gabrielle Zevin Just last week, I was doing an interview with an Italian newspaper, and the reporter said, "I thought you were 60 years old!" I said, "I am 60 years old. I have always been 60 years old." Even when I was a small child, I felt incredibly old. I wouldn't have called it old then--I just felt a strange awareness that my mind existed separately from my body--indeed that all minds exist separately from bodies! A person, upon seeing me, would see a small child, but inside, I felt terribly complicated! On account of this, I spent most of my childhood feeling lightly misunderstood. In any case, I have never had trouble imagining what it is to be old, and maybe this is the reason I am a novelist. Part of the novelist's craft--maybe the most important part--is empathy. We must imagine ages we have yet to be, places we have never traveled, people we have never met (or been). When I have trouble writing a character, it is because I have failed to imagine that person fully. It is a failure of empathy. If I can't imagine what it is to be old--something I will inevitably be--what luck will I have imagining the life of anyone beyond myself?

But I digress... I am glad you are reading the full text of A.J.'s literary references. I spent a good amount of time putting them together, and until this very moment, I have had no solid evidence that anyone has ever looked at them.

Thank you for writing! And say hello to the book club.
Gabrielle Zevin
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Gabrielle Zevin Thanks for the question. A.J. and Maya are both biracial, as am I! A.J. is half-Indian and half-caucasian, and Maya is half-African American and half-caucasian (is this a spoiler?) From my point-of-view, the customer is being curious, if awkward, when she phrases the question that way. She's trying to say, "You don't look related, but clearly this little girl is behaving as if you are her father -- so what exactly is your relation?" I don't think the customer has bad intentions, but A.J. definitely takes the question and its phrasing to be racist, intrusive, and offensive. He takes it to mean, "You two don't look like you belong together." As a biracial person, I have spent much of my life being asked the question WHAT ARE YOU, and so I am personally familiar with the many ways (both tactful and tactless) this question can be put.
Gabrielle Zevin Thank you very much, and I am glad someone asked me this question! A.J. is only half-Indian, but indeed, he does not have a middle name in keeping with the traditions of that side of his heritage. A.J. is actually Ajay (he is only referred to this way once during the book during the dream he has of Nicole in the first chapter), and he uses this homophonic(?) version of his name as a way of trying to fit in. He probably began doing it when he was in school -- I imagine him, as a boy, having grown tired of a name he perceived to be exotic and hard to pronounce, a name that drew attention to the fact that he was "other" than the white people who were his classmates in New Jersey. By the time he was an adult, he had been calling himself A.J. so long that he had become A.J.
Gabrielle Zevin I read "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" as a freshman in college, and I suspect A.J. may have encountered it at a similar time in his life. This is to say -- we were both young and impressionable and so the story may have had a greater impact than if we had encountered it later. (Studies suggest it is easier to make a favorite when one is relatively early in one's reading life.) And yet -- I believe his life experience is the reason it has remained his favorite and not, say, been relegated to the dustbin of "stories I loved when I was nineteen." Its cleverness, its minimalism -- these are the things that appeal to the young man. The young AJ, the AJ who has not loved and lost and loved and lost, cannot understand the story in the way the older AJ can. So, to answer your question: yes and yes.
Gabrielle Zevin Thank you! There are several possible answers to this question, and I almost hate to narrow it down to one. Perhaps it's silly, but I like readers to be able to imagine whichever quote they'd like on Jacob Gardner's wrist. However, if pressed, I think it most likely comes from the dedication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: "some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."—gz
Gabrielle Zevin Thanks very much! Alas, I'm sorry to say that a comprehensive list has not been written. When I have a little time, I think I'll try to compile one. I remember there was talk — perhaps on Twitter or Facebook — of a group of readers forming to read all the books and short stories referenced in Fikry, so I imagine they might have made a list.

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