I’m happy to host my once colleague (she left FHS to concentrate on her writing) and now amazing, soon-to-be-published novelist Kate Hattemer as she answers the “The Next Big Thing” interview questions:
What is the title of the book?
The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
When a sleazy reality show hijacks their school’s culture, Ethan and his friends write a seditious long poem to foment rebellion — until Ethan’s best friend gets pulled onto the show and betrays them all.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a realistic, literary, young-adult novel.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Whenever I start something new, I feel as though I’m flailing around at sea, and I end up grabbing hold of anything that’s even possibly driftwood. So I started with a list of three totally arbitrary things that I thought I just had to include:
1) A strong and funny first-person narrator. (This one actually stuck around.)
2) Embedded text from different genres. (This one didn’t. But it gave me the idea that Ethan and his friends would write a long poem in the tradition of Ezra Pound to protest a reality show’s intrusion into their school. I originally had excerpts from both the poem and the episode scripts, but thankfully, those all got scrapped.)
3) Pets named after condiments. (As I mentioned, arbitrary. I’d just met a dog named Pickles, and thought idly, “Somebody should vow to name all their pets after condiments.” That’s how the heroic gerbil Baconnaise was born, and it’s from my narrator’s devotion to this rodent that the book gets many of its thematic concerns.)
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Let me start with the disclaimer that I’m terrible with actors, and that answering this question involved googling “teen actors who are smart and possibly secret nerds.” Logan Lerman might work for Ethan, my narrator. Ethan’s charismatic best friend Luke — the man to Ethan’s hench — could be any number of those handsome Hollywood types. Michael Cera — is he still a thing? — could possibly up his awkwardness quotient enough to play Jackson. Jackson’s cousin Elizabeth could be Katerina Graham. And Ethan’s crush, ballerina Maura Heldsman, is obviously Emma Watson, because I would like to be her.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I was working part-time, and the very first draft took about two months. That draft included lots of parenthetical notes such as, and I quote, “Oh my gosh, this is so terrible” and “Have fun dealing with this crap, Future Kate.” I had to spend several months rewriting before I could show it to anyone. I almost got hit by a car a few times while I was running or biking, and what flashed before my eyes was not my life but rather my wretched first draft. I could just imagine my teary parents opening up my files. “Oh,” they’d say. “Well, that’s a disappointment.”
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The vast majority of the high school students I’ve gotten to know lately — from my siblings to my students — are intelligent, hilarious, and deeply engaged in their worlds. They’ve got this really endearing mix of irony and sincerity. I wanted to write a book with characters like that — who joke about calculus and about farts, who sometimes spend English class arguing that Ezra Pound’s fascism shouldn’t affect our interpretation of his poetry and sometimes spend English class zoning out as they stare at their crushes’ necks.
At the time, I hadn’t read much recent YA, and when my sister gave me a John Green novel I was poleaxed by his hyperverbal, hyperintelligent characters. It reminded me of the first time I read a David Foster Wallace essay: I don’t want to apotheosize either one of them, but both times, it felt as though I were experiencing a new way to use words and genre. Reading An Abundance of Katherines clicked with my distaste for some bad YA I’d read (I hate books that pander) and my perhaps regressive love of hanging out with my teenage siblings and students. That’s when I started to write.
I try to keep in mind that my favorite books don’t sacrifice readability to literariness nor literariness to readability. That’s always my ultimate goal.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My agent, Uwe Stender of TriadaUS, recently dubbed “The Nicest Man in Publishing,” sold Vigilante Poets to Erin Clarke of Knopf a few months ago. It’ll be published next spring.
(“The Next Big Thing” book interview project asks writers to answer a series of questions about their recent or forthcoming book, post it on their blog/web-space, and tag others for the next week.)