Today we're excited to hear from Claire LaZebnik, author of Things I Should Have Known!
Below you'll find more about Claire, her book, plus a giveaway!
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Like any good mom, I will state publicly that I love them all equally. But in private, I will admit to being extra fond of Ethan’s brother David. I love writing characters who are fearlessly blunt, especially when their fierceness hides a tender and vulnerable heart. David says the kind of things I wish I had the guts to say but don’t. I think anyone who loves someone who’s considered “different” (and that’s most of us) can understand David’s anger and frustration with a world that refuses to simply accept and embrace his brother. When he’s out in public with Ethan and sees people raising their eyebrows or pulling away, it’s so painful to him that he erupts in anger—because anger is an easier emotion to channel than pain. But it all comes out of his deep love for Ethan. On the other hand, the chip on his shoulder sometimes grows a little TOO big. Chloe, the narrator, helps him see that and he starts to learn to control some of his fierceness.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel came WAY before the title. In fact, it had two different working titles: the first was a very simple “Ivy and Chloe” (Possibly influenced by Elizabeth Strout’s wonderful novel AMY AND ISABELLE?) but by the time I submitted it to my agent, I had renamed it “The Elusive Art of Saving Yourself”—a title I was very fond of, but I understood when my editor felt it was a little longwinded and complicated. We batted around a bunch of other possibilities for a surprisingly long period of time--one of the things you do when you’re trying to come up with a title is write absolutely everything and anything down, because, even if an idea isn't great, it might spark something else that’s better. It took us a while, but I couldn’t be happier with the end result—it’s both universal (who among us doesn’t look back and realize we didn’t know as much as we thought we did?) and specific (Chloe ignores some very important clues in this book). Plus the cover designer did that incredibly cool thing with the words, so they can be read two different ways—I LOVE that.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
Am I allowed to pick something that’s a plot twist? What if I write SPOILER in really big letters? Like this?
******SPOILER ALERT****** I’m really proud of the scene following Ivy’s offhanded announcement to her mother that she’s gay. First of all, I love the way she announces it—so blithely and happily—and how dumbfounded her mother is, because it’s so abrupt. And then the way it all falls out—with their mother feeling concerned and their stepfather assuming it’s all some joke that Chloe’s playing on them. When he and Chloe get into a fight over this, Ivy assumes—understandably—that everyone’s upset that she’s gay. It’s just a painful misunderstanding on everyone’s part and emotions are running high and no one’s acting out of malice and yet they’re all stepping on each other’s toes and saying the wrong thing . . . I was happy with how naturally everything sort of explodes after her announcement, even though no one in the family actually has a problem with homosexuality. *******SPOILER ALERT******
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
KEEP THE STORY MOVING FORWARD. I have this tendency to get a bit bogged down in how the characters are going to get from A to B to C. The truth is, if B isn’t all that interesting, just skip from A to C, because if you’re feeling bored while you’re writing it, the odds are pretty good your readers will be bored reading it. I sort of have to relearn this every time I write a book. I had an editor once who really pushed me to keep the story bouncing along and it was great—painful, but great. She taught me a lot. Everyone quotes the “kill your darlings” phrase (i.e. you may love some of the sentences you write, but if they don’t serve the story, cut them) and that’s because it’s smart. You need to keep things moving.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2015?
I’m answering this with a non-answer. I just went and looked at a list of books published in 2015, and realized I haven’t read most of them yet. I’m really bad about keeping current. I joined a couple of those newsletters that tell you which e-books are $1.99 on any given day, and that’s how I choose ninety percent of the books I read. Which means they’re usually at least a year or two old—new bestsellers rarely go on sale. I’m like that with movies too, by the way—I usually wait for them to be on Netflix to see them. So I’m always talking excitedly about something I just read or saw and my friends are like, “Um . . . I read/saw that three years ago. I barely remember it.” In fact, I just finished THE GLASS CASTLE, which is from 2005. (And incredibly good, I might add. I should have read it back then.)
YABC: What’s up next for you?
I’m working on another YA novel, this one told from multiple points of view, each one with a different narrative style. I’m trying to dig deep for this one, really get into the stress of being a teenager at a college prep school who’s being pushed too hard by parents. I see a lot of that going on and it makes me crazy: why are we putting so much pressure on our kids to get into a specific handful of schools? Why do we make them feel like they've failed if they don’t? Where are our priorities when so many kids in this country aren’t even getting a decent high school education? Oops, sorry—the book isn’t about THAT. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. The novel will, of course, be romantic and fun—it’s all set on one night, at a slightly crazy post-ACT party.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Ivy, the narrator's older sister, who has autism. It was so important to me that she be a fully-realized character and not some kind of caricature or stereotype. I struggled to nail her voice: I wanted her to be innocent in some ways—but not others—and very precise and literal and anxious, but not childish. There were moments where I felt I really GOT it and was so happy and then there were sections I’d reread and think, “Just . . . no” and have to completely rewrite. I hope that in the end I succeeded in making her feel real.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
I was briefly stumped by this question—I guess I’m naturally modest?—so I asked my son what my superpower was and he INSTANTLY replied, “Picking out the right-size plastic storage container for leftovers.” Then, later, I asked my husband the same question—and got the same answer. And it’s true: I am amazing at putting away leftovers: I can eyeball a pan of stir-fry after a meal and pluck the exact right-size container out of the cabinet, so that it ends up filled to the top but not overflowing. I’ll admit it's not exactly being able to fly or turn invisible, but you take what you get.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
So hard to narrow to one! Can I have a few? I love The Trevor Project, which provides support to the young LGBTQ community. It’s so hard to grow up different in parts of this country and these teens need to know that they’re not alone, even if it feels like it sometimes, and that they deserve to be loved and cherished. And these days I’m wildly committed to the ACLU, which fights for the rights of ALL Americans to be treated equally. Too many people are trying to define what a “real” American is these days, and to confine basic human rights to their own narrow definition. We can’t let that happen. Oh—one more—Planned Parenthood. Women all over this country need easy and inexpensive access to healthcare and contraception. PP has been vilified repeatedly and they do so much good. It’s ridiculous.
Meet Claire LaZebnik!
Claire LaZebnik has written many adult and YA novels, has coauthored two books on autism, and has contributed to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She lives with her TV writer husband and four children, one of whom has autism. She lives in Los Angeles.
Meet Things I Should Have Known!
From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy. Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.
By: Claire LaZebnik
Release Date: March 28, 2017