Interview with Huntley Fitzpatrick

August, 2015
Huntley Fitzpatrick Readers fell so head over heels in love with Jase Garrett and his warm, boisterous family in My Life Next Door that the anticipation is huge for Huntley Fitzpatrick's follow-up, The Boy Most Likely To. Although the new book focuses on Jase's sister, Alice, and his best friend, the well-meaning screwup Tim Mason, fave couple Jase and Sam are definitely a presence in the story. Also, Fitzpatrick promises, "I'm still pondering a My Life Next Door sequel." Until then, read on for the author's favorite books, worst date, and character insights.


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Shakespearesgirl: I've noticed you've framed your books around two Shakespearean plays. First Romeo and Juliet for My Life Next Door, then Much Ado About Nothing for What I Thought Was True. Is that a trend you intend to continue? I ask because I'm a big Shakespeare fan (as you might have guessed from my username), and part of the fun of reading your books has been slowly realizing I recognize the plot and trying to guess how you're going to work it out by the end!

Huntley Fitzpatrick: Can I first tell you how absolutely thrilled I am that you recognized Much Ado About Nothing? It's my favorite Shakespeare play, and it slays me all over again every time I read it or see it. I majored in English lit, with a concentration in Shakespeare, so I'm a big fan, too.

The Boy Most Likely To has some elements thrown in, but perhaps doesn't echo one particular Shakespeare play as much as the others. That said, there's definitely a Bolingbroke/Henry V struggle between Tim and his father, and a few Taming of the Shrew elements scattered into Tim and Alice. They also owe something to Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado—because I love that play so much. Shakespeare is in my blood, so I suspect everything I write will have some element of his (I would argue that almost everything everyone writes does).

Dani: Is there any way that you are still looking for beta readers?

HF: I haven't had a beta reader before—as in, anyone besides my agent and editor—reading the whole manuscript before it is complete. I do rely on critique partners, particularly another author whom I can always rely on to find the flaws and point out the strong parts. I've actually been looking for readers who know YA to run plot points (and the manuscript) by, because almost all the writers in my immediate circle write in some other genre.

Megan: I have been on the trail to become a writer, and I looked to your books as guidance. I do wonder what is the first step in becoming noticed as a writer?

My quickest answer would be to become noticed as a reader. I got my writing career "jump-start" working in publishing. I'd majored in English and had written fiction for almost my entire life, but I didn't really understand key things like story arc, voice, characterization, etc.…until I had to read slush manuscripts and write authors in response. In order to tell them the strengths and weaknesses of their work, I had to figure those out on my own. That helped me enormously when I turned from editor to writer. My other advice would be to write anywhere you can—school newspaper, school literary magazine, journals, submitting your work to contests, etc.…the more you do this, the more feedback you'll get on what you need to work on, and even more key, the more others will see you as a writer, and the more you'll believe it and fight for that belief yourself.


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Andrea: How did you get the idea of the Garretts? They are all so vivid and unique characters, and the family bond is so strong. Do you have a big family?

HF: In a way I've been studying and writing about the Garretts ever since I started writing at all. As a kid, I was fascinated by the dynamics of big families, and I read book after book about them—the Mitfords, the Brontës (when there were six, not four), the Kennedys, the Gilbreths from Cheaper by the Dozen (book, not movie). I was raised kind of like an only child, and I was often lonely, so I adopted families fictional and historical. I always wanted to be part of one. Now I am—with six children of my own. Most of what I believed about large families has been proved true. It's crazy, it's chaotic, it's fast and furious, and it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. We keep one another on our toes, call one another out, have each other's backs. I wanted the Garretts to show this dynamic in practice, so they share a little piece of every big family I've loved.

Lauren: How did you make Jase so swoonworthy?

HF: Jase started out as a character in my head, because I got so tired of having heroines in books ditch or diss the nice guy because the bad boy who messed with their heads was more exciting. As far as I'm concerned, that's a book trope that makes a really lousy real-life example. I've never seen anything romantic about the guy who crashes into your life intent on either controlling you or breaking you down. I wanted Jase to have all those "hero" qualities in a real boy—funny, warm, dependable, devoted to his family, nurturing—but also have flaws—flashes of anger, impatience, moments when he is deliberately obtuse. Plus, I've always loved guys who were good with their hands, and guys who had a passion for something in life, something that they were willing to devote themselves to—besides the girl. Jase says about his mechanical skills, "I guess I like things that take time and attention. More worthwhile that way." And when Samantha hears this and thinks, "I don't know what it is about this that makes me blush, but something does," I completely agree with her.

bookwormsoph: Did any of your characters originally have different names? I'm always so curious about the naming process!

HF: What a great question! I, too, think that names are hugely important—I struggle every time. The names in What I Thought Was True both changed. Cass was originally Will Summers, and Gwen was originally Cate Cruz. When he was Will, he was dark-haired and shy, and I was having a terrible time writing him because he was too shy to DO anything. So I changed him into a bit more of a golden boy—and the name Cassidy came to mind and just stuck. Gwen needed a more romantic name because I just knew her novel-reading mom would want that for her, so I came up with Guinevere, Gwen for short. The Garretts were the Garretts from the start—in fact, just recently I found a fragment of a story I wrote when I was 16. The boy's name was Jesse, and he was talking to his mom, and it was quite clear that it was really Jase just waiting to come into his own, for the right story and the right name.

Anna: I love all the characters from My Life Next Door and The Boy Most Likely To and think they are very real and relatable. So my question is, Have you always had the idea for these kinds of characters in your head? And do you think of the characters first and then create the plot around them or is it the other way around?

HF: I'm so glad you connect to the characters from my books, Anna. Good questions. Tough to answer, because the answers are kind of...both. I've had little pieces of the characters in my head forever, yes, because the same kind of people have always interested/attracted me or horrified/interested me. But when I sit down and write, I usually start with the boy (not sure I want to analyze that, but it is my process) and radiate outward, to who he would love, the family he would come from, what he'd want, how things would change. Then I do the same for the heroine. Sometimes they both wind up completely differently than I'd planned. I did not expect Tim Mason to have more than a few lines of dialogue when I brought him in to My Life Next Door, and now he has a whole book about himself as The Boy Most Likely To. The same goes for Alice, who was just "protective sister" at the start and almost immediately crashed through that and took on a life of her own. The short answer here is that I begin with character and move to plot. But they both interact with one another, transform, shape-shift, and with any luck, evolve.

Natalie: Is it easier or more difficult to work with characters you have already written as opposed to brand-new characters?

HF: This is another "it's both" answer! It's easier in that I know their basic selves and all the general things about them—height and weight and hair color, birthday and best friend and what they eat for breakfast—and some of the deep things—their best memory, their biggest mental scar, what they'd do for love. But different stories bring out such different parts of the characters—and they grow and change both in the book—and maybe even in the gaps between books. It took me a while to settle in to writing Tim and Alice for The Boy Most Likely To because I was only used to hearing them speak from another person's point of view (Samantha's in My Life Next Door) and, for the most part, we sound very differently in our own head from we do in what we say. Both Tim and Alice were far more confused and vulnerable inside than they would reveal—until they really fell in love. That's something I definitely try to do with every story. Show that part of loving someone is letting them see the self we try to hide. As Tim says, it's like "being able, knowing enough, to warm your hands at something you built, stick by stick."

Bookaholic: What are some of your favorite books, and why?

HF: I have to narrow the scope of this question down to at least some degree or it completely boggles my mind: so many favorites! In YA I've found that some authors are so reliable yet dazzlingly inventive and surprising that each new book instantly becomes my favorite, until I do a reread of the earlier ones: so that's Heather Demetrios, Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Jandy Nelson, Trish Doller, Miranda Kenneally, Kasie West, Tammara Webber…someone stop me! They all write edgy, daring, original, sexy, romantic, real romance—and I feel privileged to be in the same genre as they are.

Libby: What would your ideal job be other than being an author?

HF: It would still—it would always—have to do with books. In school I loved both history and science, but it was always the stories behind the facts that grabbed me. Being an editor, working with authors to try to help them bring out the story they wanted to tell—hands down the best job I've ever had (and I've had a lot). It's the only job I still miss and actually do for free when I get a chance. It's the flip side of being an author, and you get to work with words and ideas and authors and books and readers—heaven.

Gabriella: What's the worst date you've ever been on?

HF: One immediately popped into my head when I reread your question. My sophomore year of college I was, for all sorts of practical reasons, trying hard to fall out of love with a boy I'd been in love with since I was 15. This mostly involved trying not to listen to any song we'd ever heard together, read any book that had a character vaguely like him, and avoid his friends as much as possible. None of that worked, so I moved on to "moving on" and agreed to go out with this guy I knew only from sitting behind him in Philosophy lectures. In short, I knew nothing about him. And at the end of the date, this was STILL TRUE, because it turned out that this random dude had grown up with the boy I was trying to forget, and the entire date was him telling stories about their childhood and teenage exploits, all the endearing, daring things my former boyfriend had done, his witty banter, his charm, etc., etc., and on and on and on like that. At the time I thought it was proof that both this guy and the universe thought my ex as central to life as I did. Later I realized the poor boy probably realized talking about the ex was the only time I showed any interest in anything he said.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Petra (Safari Poet) (last edited Aug 15, 2015 05:47AM) (new)

Petra (Safari Poet) A possible sequel! My Life Next Door is my favourite YA contemporary. I always hoped there would be a sequel or at least a companion novel to it, so I can't wait to read The Boy Most Likely To and will keep hoping for a sequel to My Life Next Door.

Agree with you on the bad boy trope.


message 2: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Bilen I picked it up today - can't wait to read it!!


message 3: by Livia (new)

Livia Huntley, thank you for sharing Jase in all his nice guy goodness! ♡


message 4: by Olivia (new)

Olivia I would love a sequel to My Life Next Door, I would love to hear more about jase and samanthathas love life. How the Garretts turn out in the end.


message 5: by Anah (new)

Anah Meliu Petra (Safari Poet) wrote: "A possible sequel! My Life Next Door is my favourite YA contemporary. I always hoped there would be a sequel or at least a companion novel to it, so I can't wait to read The Boy Most Likely To and ..."


Heyy. Is there gonna be a sequel??????????????


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