Author Chat with E. Katherine Kottaras, Plus Giveaway!
Today we're excited to chat with E. Katherine Kottaras, author
of The Best Possible Answer!
Below you'll find more about E. Katherine,
her book, plus a
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: Many writers talk about books that are the “stories of their hearts.” My first book, HOW TO BE BRAVE, was most definitely that since it is told through the eyes of Georgia, a Greek-American teenager whose mother passes away. I am half-Greek, and my father died when I was seventeen, so much of the story, in terms of its exploration of grief and loss, identity and love, came directly from my heart and my life.
My second book, THE BEST POSSIBLE ANSWER, is equally the story of my heart. Viviana is a driven honors student and the daughter of a Russian-Jewish immigrant mom and an American engineer dad who have extremely high academic expectations for her. As a result of both these expectations and an exposing mistake Viviana made in sharing a nude photo with her boyfriend (who proceeded to send it to the entire school), Viviana suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks.
I am both first- and second- generation American (my father immigrated from Greece in 1952; my mother’s parents immigrated from Russia in 1913), so I am always interested in the unique pressures of being the child of immigrants, as many of my students are, and as Viviana is.
Furthermore, when I was in high school and college, I was in honors classes, including AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (the International Baccalaureate program). While some of the pressure to succeed came from my parents, much of it was simply part of the system. I continuously and secretly suffered from anxiety and paralyzing panic attacks through my twenties, both from the grief of losing my father and from the pressures of success. The thing is, I didn’t really know what was happening – that it was called GAD (general anxiety disorder) or panic attacks, or that it was something I should seek help for. In fact, I’d been told that if I ever sought psychological help via a therapist or group support, I should not use my own medical insurance for fear that my employers would find out that I was “unstable” and I might therefore lose my job. It took me many years to finally seek support and understand my own mind.
As a teacher at both the high school and community college levels, I’ve met many students who also feel the intense pressures of success, both from their families and from the mere need for financial survival, and who as a result, suffer from severe (and often secret) anxiety. I teach English where we focus on creative expression and the makings of an examined life, so students often want to share their inner lives with me, both in writing and in conversation, including their mental health. I remind them that I am not a psychologist or counselor, and I also direct them towards our free psychological services, but many students respond that their parents would – and I quote – “kill” them if they knew they had sought psychological help. Every time I hear this, my heart breaks. There is a stigma attached to the very real experience of GAD and panic attacks, as well as to psychological counseling. I wrote THE BEST POSSIBLE ANSWER for both myself when I was a teenager, and most certainly for my students and readers who are like my students, so that they can see their experience represented and also find that there does not have to be that stigma, that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of self-care and beautiful strength.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: The title actually came last, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. The book is narrated by Viviana, but many of the chapters begin with her imagining her situation as a multiple choice question, similar to something she’d find on her AP exams, or often she reflects on her secret problems as though she were writing a personal essay for Stanford.
For example, this is from the first page of the book:
AP Physics Exam: Sample Question
A girl is traveling home from the AP Physics exam on her bicycle. She is travelling at x m/s and can stop at a distance d m with a maximum negative acceleration. If the bicycle travels at 2x m/s, which of the following statements are true?
(A) The girl is so stressed, exhausted, and overworked that she falls asleep while riding her bike.
(B) That’s right; she loses momentum after taking a three-hour exam on the laws of gravity.
(C) The girl won’t know for a few months how she did on the actual test.
(D) But it couldn’t have been good considering she couldn’t get from point A to point B
without falling on her face.
(E) All of the above.
Though Viviana is a stress ball, she also sees the irony of her situation and uses these imagined multiple choice questions and pretend essays as a way to understand her world. As a writer, I always begin with questions and try to find my way to answers (which inevitably lead to more questions.) I love that the title reflects both Viviana’s journey to find self-acceptance as well as my journey as a writer.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: I feel like I already talked enough about Viviana’s psychological journey, and I am probably most proud of those scenes where she’s coming to understand the makings of her own mind and life.
So I’ll answer your question with this: There’s a really freaking good kissing scene towards the middle of the book that involves a swimming pool and tomato bombs falling from the sky. The tomato bomb scene really did happen when I was a teenager, but unfortunately, I wasn’t kissing anyone that day. That’s the best part of writing: you can steal stuff from real life, but you can also make it even better than you remembered.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: I always say that I am interested in the stories we tell, the stories we are given, and the ways we can redefine our worlds by discovering which stories are true. In other words, I love starting with questions, and I am drawn to characters who are complicated and sometimes confusing – maybe even frustrating – the ones who do not fully understand their worlds yet, but who set out to find their voice.
Each book teaches you something new about the makings of your own mind or your understanding of the world. This has most definitely been true for THE BEST POSSIBLE ANSWER. I’m learning to trust my instincts, to stand up for myself, and to stay true to my voice, both in my writing and in the world. Joan
Didion said, “We write to discover what we think.” This is why I love to write. It’s a journey of continual discovery.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: I love that it POPS! The red is fierce, and the notebook cutouts of hearts are fun, but they also reflect the conceptual element that is Viviana’s multiple choice life. I believe that best possible answer always lies within our own hearts, and I love that the cover reflects this.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or revising?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: This is a kind of a draw for me! Though I will say that drafting is incredibly fun because it’s a process of discovery. Once I have a character in mind, I do plot the overall story. However, that does not mean that what you see in the final version is what I plotted out – not in the least. I have so much fun drafting because I find that the characters are constantly surprising me! I’ll sit down at my journal or my computer and think, “Okay, Viviana needs to XY and Z today.” And then Viviana will go and do “QR and S” instead, and that will take the story in a completely unexpected direction. And I love her for it!
Revision is also a wonderful thing because you can find the depth of the story. Plus, I am often working with my agent and editor at these stages, and I love the experience of collaboration.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: Talking to strangers. I am originally from Chicago. I recently took a trip back home, and I found that the ability to talk to strangers might be uniquely Chicagoan. There, I can walk down the street and find that I’m suddenly engaged in deeply personal conversations with an absolute stranger – and yet it’s only in Chicago that the absolute strangers don’t find it absolutely strange! Sometimes if I try to talk to strangers here in L.A. or other places, there’s the first moment of awkwardness and that slightly annoyed look of why are you talking to me? Happily, their confusion often fades after they realize I’m not going to steal their wallet or try to sell them on a time-share, and soon we’re chatting it up, like we’ve known each other forever. As a teacher, it’s a useful superpower to have, since it allows me to engage with my students who might be feeling nervous about being in college for the first time. As a writer, it allows me to be in the world. I’m somewhat of an ambivert, which is half-introvert, half-extrovert. While I need my alone time, I also need to be around people, even if it’s the people behind me in line at the grocery store.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS: In addition to writing for teens and I teach English full-time at the community college level, and I am also a certified yoga teacher. As such, I am a teacher and faculty advisor to the Pasadena City College Yoga and Meditation Club, which offers four free weekly mindful practices each week, including yoga, Tai Chi, sound baths, and more. I am also currently researching the benefits of contemplative practices, or practices that encourage mindfulness, specifically those that focus on the balance between the mind and the body and allow students the chance to continually reconnect with their goals and have a solid base so they can realize success healthily. As is evidenced in both my writing and my daily work, I am interested in the relationship between the body and the mind, and I am always eager to find ways to bring inquiry about this relationship to both my readers and my students.
Meet The Best Possible Answer!
|AP Exams – check
SAT test – check
College Application – check
Date the wrong guy and ruin everything you’ve spent your whole life working for – checkUltra-high-achiever Viviana Rabinovich-Lowe has always had a plan—and no room to be anything less than perfect. But her quest for perfection comes to a screeching halt when her boyfriend leaks racy pictures of her to the entire school. Making matters worse, her parents are getting divorced and now her perfect family is falling apart. For the first time, Viv feels like a complete and utter failure.Then she gets a job working at the community pool, where she meets a new group of friends who know nothing about her past. That includes Evan, a gorgeous guy who makes her want to do something she never thought she’d do again: trust. For the first time in her life, Viv realizes she can finally be whoever she wants. But who is that? While she tries to figure it out, she learns something they never covered in her AP courses: that it’s okay to be less than perfect, because it’s our imperfections that make us who we are.
E. KATHERINE KOTTARAS is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a full handstand, or 3) writing. She lives in Los Angeles where she’s hard at work on her next book.
The Best Possible Answer
By: E. Katherine Kottaras
Release Date: November 1, 2016
The cover makes me think it's a Valentine's Day book. After reading the author's interview, though, I think it's just so much deeper than a romance. I'm interested in reading it!
I think the cover is cute, but the synopsis sounds so emotional with internal conflict for this girl. I'll have to read it and see why this cover as chosen.