Interview with Stephanie Perkins

Posted by Goodreads on August 12, 2014
Stephanie Perkins writes romances that make you fall in love with the idea of love itself—messy, thrilling, and real. For years after graduating from college, she worked as a librarian by day and wrote by night. After laboring on one manuscript—which later became the basis for Lola and the Boy Next Door—for nearly a decade, she put it aside and wrote Anna and the French Kiss, her bestselling story of the relationship between an American girl and a British guy at a Parisian boarding school.

Her latest novel, out this month, Isla and the Happily Ever After, brings us back to senior year in Paris with dreamy Isla and her crush, a sweet artist named Josh. Stephanie answers your questions about writing crossover characters (Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket all appear in this book!), the John Green effect, and the answer to the big question— Étienne, Cricket, or Josh?

Keri Leon: I am a huge fan and have been anxiously awaiting Isla's story! Can you think of the hardest part about writing Isla's story? Was it difficult, since Anna and Lola's were hits, that Isla would have to live up to them? Astoria also wonders: Reading Anna and the French Kiss, the first time I realized Isla liked Josh, and so did Anna. Were you always aware that you wanted to write their story? And how did you come up with the idea of Kurt?

Thank you! The hardest part about writing it was figuring out its structure. Anna and Lola are both traditional romances in the sense that the characters don't get together until the end. In Isla the characters get together in the beginning. It was a challenge to figure out how to sustain and build that proper level of swoony tension. It took years—and a lot of help from authors smarter than me (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, GAYLE FORMAN. I'M LOOKING AT YOU, HOLLY BLACK.)—to figure it out.

And heavens. Yes. It's difficult trying to live up to reader expectations. (You actually can't.) But it would've been just as difficult if Anna and Lola had not been widely read; I would have been worried about other things. My next job, for instance. There's always plenty to worry about, if you go looking for it.

When I wrote Anna, yeah, I was aware that I wanted to write Isla and Josh's story. The seeds of it were planted with great intention! I had become rather taken by Josh, and I wanted to explore his character through the eyes of someone who loved him as I did. Someone who saw what I saw.

It's odd, but I don't remember how Kurt came about. I know I wanted Isla's best friend to be male, and I know I wanted it to be strictly a friendship. (No secret, silent yearning!) But as far as him having high-functioning autism, I'm not sure. It's quite possible that it's because I was watching a lot of episodes of Bones at the time, which has featured several smart and delightful Aspergian-type characters.

Readers love the fact that your characters appear in each other's books! Becca (Pretty Little Memoirs): Hi, Stephanie! After Anna's story, she also appeared in Lola's story. Are Lola and Anna going to play a huge part in Isla's story—and if they are, was it easy to weave them into each other's lives? Madison: Is weaving your books together as effortless as you make it seem, or does it really require you to dig deep?

A huge part? No. It's definitely Isla's story, not theirs! But Anna and Lola are certainly present, and they certainly have a role to play.

No part of writing a book is effortless for me—it ALL takes a LOT of effort—but their stories have a natural overlap, which gives me plenty of room to tinker and create. I like that. I can find a connection between almost anyone.

Becky Green: Why the choice to include an element of cheating in both Anna and Lola? Do you think it adds further evidence of a character's love, having them choose their partner over someone else? No, I don't think it adds further evidence of love. Cheating is ugly and hurtful. Always. Étienne and Lola both made mistakes, and they both hurt their partners—present and future. But humans make mistakes. And the good ones learn from their mistakes. They grow up, and they make better choices. Étienne and Lola grew up.

That particular element of Lola's story was created so that I could explore that same situation from a main character's point of view. How something like that can even happen. So there's no cheating in Isla. I felt like I'd already covered it from both sides.

At the Millard Branch of the Omaha Public Library, photo by Jarrod Perkins

Cahaya Asyifa: How do you make a boy with flaws yet still lovable? Danielle: Would you ever consider writing a spinoff series to all three books in the Anna and the French Kiss series in the male character's point of view? Amy: If you met Étienne, Cricket, and Josh when you were 17, who do you think you would fall for?

Flawed boys are REAL boys. No one—male or female—is perfect. And if I may be grotesque enough to quote myself, "Perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring." I don't think readers actually fall in love with perfect characters. We see through them. We're annoyed by their falseness, their blandness. We may think we want perfection, but we want someone who makes mistakes, like we do.

It's probably not the answer you were looking for, but I have no desire to write these novels from the boys' points of view. I'm happy with how the stories are currently told. I would feel like I was repeating myself, something I try not to do.

I would flirt with Étienne. I would crush on Cricket. I would date (and marry!) Josh.

Lorena: Why did you make Étienne smaller than Anna? Was there some hidden meaning or lesson for us girls to learn? Because it made me consider, if I met a guy like him, I wouldn't mind the height issue at all.

I made Étienne shorter than Anna because…well, I just knew that he was! It was never meant to be an outright lesson for my readers, that would be tedious, but I do think it's sad that some girls (and guys) are so instantly dismissive of height. To reject someone because of their height is the same as rejecting someone because of their weight or hair color or skin color or anything else outside of their control. A person's height is not who they are.

Stephanie: You've been very open with your personal struggle with depression and anxiety. Is this a topic that you would consider writing about in a YA novel, either as catharsis or otherwise?


Princess Bubblegum: For those of us interested in a writing career: How long was the process from finished novel to acquiring an agent to the agent selling your book to having it published? Can you elaborate on any of the steps? And any advice to the aspiring YA author? Anightreveur: Does it ever annoy you that people can read one of your books in less than a day, considering how much time and effort went into their production?

To be honest, I was fortunate. (I also worked really, really hard.) It took me several years to finish a manuscript, but from the finished manuscript to acquiring an agent, only three or four months. It took three more months for my agent to sell it. And then—as it almost always does in publishing—it took a couple more years before I actually saw it on the shelf.

I'm especially fortunate because I'm working with both my dream agent and my dream editor. But! These dreams weren't plucked out of the sky. They came from years of careful research, and they were people who I thought: (A) might enjoy my manuscript and (B) would know how to work with it. This is crucial.

To aspiring authors, I recommend research. Follow tons of agents and editors on Twitter, and then listen to what they have to say. If you have a question for them, be polite and courteous. Read the acknowledgments in books that are similar to yours and see who the author thanks—their agent and editor are probably in there!

But the most important thing will always be the manuscript itself. Revise it. Revise it again. Again. Again. Again. AGAIN. All three of my novels have had more than 20 drafts. Don't settle. Don't sell yourself short. Make it great.

As for it being annoying that people can read my books in less than a day (after all of that effort and production)…nope! It doesn't bother me. I'm a fast reader, too.

At the top of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, photo by Jeff Zentner

Elisa Owens: On 12/13/10, John Green uploaded a video to the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. During said video, he informed Nerdfighteria about the awesomeness of your book Anna and the French Kiss. What are your thoughts regarding the influence of the Internet (particularly through Nerdfighteria and other large Internet-based communities) on yourself and other authors, your work, and your readers?

Yes, I am aware of this video! I love John. And I am so incredibly grateful for his early support. I'd say 85 percent of my email from readers during my first year of publication began with the sentence, "I read your book because John Green recommended it." What a blessing.

The Internet is a gift to authors, especially young adult authors, because our audience is so active online. I wish it had been that way when I was a teenager. I'm a Nerdfighter now, but I think I would have been a happier teenager if this type of thoughtful, intelligent, friendly community had been available to me back then. I wouldn't have felt so alone.

Sara: What book that you read in your early days of literature do you most attribute to your success as an author?

I think I'm defined more by authors than specific books. As a child, Roald Dahl made me fall in love with words. As a teenager, J.K. Rowling made me fall in love with characters. As an adult, Meg Cabot made me fall in love with romance. And there have been many, many others.

This summer I've been reading Carsick by John Waters, Landline by Rainbow Rowell, and the Robert Galbraith books. I've loved them all!

Serenity Bohon: Your young-love stories are so happy-making. Do you have any tricks for seeing life with that same sense of possibility?

Thank you. I'm not sure how to answer this, to be honest. It's hard. The best advice I can give is twofold: Practice trying new things…and then practice self-forgiveness. Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they don't. But the happiest people I know are those who are willing to put themselves out there. They're willing to keep trying. Good luck.

Want a chance to win a copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After, plus swag? Stephanie's publisher, Penguin, is running a giveaway on Goodreads! Enter it here.

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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Wendy ⏃: ✦Nerdy Book Reviews✦ Anxiously counting the hours, minutes, seconds to finally have Isla in my hands. I'm a huge fan & I've loved 'Anna and the French Kiss' long before anyone knew about the book. So happy for all the success you've achieved with these novels. They hold warm & special place in my heart. Thank you.

message 2: by Astoria (last edited Aug 13, 2014 07:38PM) (new)

Astoria The bookstore hasn't called me to let me know I can pick my copy tomorrow ^~^ me not happy.

Really happy that my questions made it!!! ^_^


message 3: by Denise (new)

Denise Deegan 'Practice trying new things...and then practice self-forgiveness.' I love this. Thank you.

message 4: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Clevinger Bernard I can't wait to read this book!!!

message 5: by Tanisha (new)


message 6: by Starry (new)

Starry Thanks, Stephanie Perkins! I love love love your hair!

message 7: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary Derwent Is this a book for Teens or Young Romancers ? Or can a Granny read it please? ! It's ok i don't need anyone's permission to READ a Book BUT Just looking for an age-range of those who do....!

message 8: by Albert (new)

Albert Barnedo You made me fall inlove with romance, Stephanie. Thanks because you inspire me to write books. Thanks!!!

message 9: by Tica (new)

Tica Winston Loved Anna and the French Kiss. Romantic comedy at its best for teens and adults. I am a mother of two teenage girls and they got me to read this. Enjoyed it!
author of On the Way to Cotillion, a southern novel, Amazon kindle

message 10: by Olivia (new)

Olivia Yay for the good guys!

message 11: by Douglas (new)

Douglas Rugambwa Rosemary wrote: "Is this a book for Teens or Young Romancers ? Or can a Granny read it please? ! It's ok i don't need anyone's permission to READ a Book BUT Just looking for an age-range of those who do....!"

Don't bicker with age ranges, a good book is always a good book!

message 12: by Mohamed (new)

Mohamed Dari

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