Letters to the Living
Contriubted by Joanne Mumley
Our very own Joanne Mumley, interviewed Ava Dellaira, author of Love Letters to the Dead, at Comic Con. This wonderful book and Joanne's interview, which you can find below, inspired all of us here at YABC! Don't believe us? Read on to find out more!
Joanne: What made you decide to use letters as a format to tell Laurel’s story?
Ava: It was actually sort of intrinsic to the idea. I thought of the title first along with the concept of the idea of a girl dealing with grief by writing letters to famous dead people. It was always inherent to the story for me. I think the reason why, with perspective, for me letters signify reaching outwards into the world. So instead of writing it in journal format, letters are a wanting to connect. I think that is something Laurel as a character wants really much to do. Even though at the beginning of the book she doesn’t know how. There is something inherently hopeful about writing a letter. There is a desire to be heard.
J: Do you find yourself writing more letters since you wrote the book?
A: I have always loved writing letters. I do still write real letters to friends. Definitely. I have saved so many letters I have gotten. I have a whole giant drawer.
J: What is one thing you want your readers to take away from your book?
A: What Laurel says at the end, “Our lives matter.” I hope people will take this away. Along with the importance or the power of words and communication and how much healing can happen by opening up and telling the truth.
J: Did you initially start off writing for YA?
A: No. I initially started out writing wise as a poet. I got my Master's degree in poetry. It was always what I loved as a teenager. Poems in my journal. After graduating from Iowa, there isn’t many ways to make a living writing poetry right now. I didn’t want to go the route of academia teaching in universities. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do. I wanted to do something that connected with a larger audience. I’ve always been interested in popular culture and film. So I moved to L.A. with the idea that I wanted to work in screen writing. I got a job as an assistant for Stephen Chbosky who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I ended up being an associate producer on that movie. It was his suggestion, when I finally got up the guts to show him one of my scripts, when he said “Hmm. I think you should try writing a book.” I wrote the book without really thinking about YA or not. It was just the book that felt natural to me at the time. That was the book that was inside me wanting to come out.
J: What kinds of pop culture inspired you as you grew up?
A: I did love Kurt Cobain. Probably at a younger age than Laurel. For me it was my entrance to middle school where I discovered Nirvana. I made an abrupt turn from listening to Mariah Carey and Brandy. I still love Mariah, but I kind of went from Mariah Carey being my first CD to Nirvana’s In Utero being my second. It was a really big jump. Middle school was a very intense and scary time for me. It felt like I became a teenager instantly. I was just walking around a corner and you are in such a different world. I think that specific music really helped me navigate that. It gave expression to so many feelings I didn’t have words for.
In high school I loved a lot of 60s music; Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan. I’ve always had broad musical taste. I like country and hip‐ hop.
J: What are some authors or books you are a fan of now?
A: From this year: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I really admire her a lot as author. She is very inspiring. Reading that book, as her second book, it made me feel like there was something to aspire to. I love Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It is a book I always want to recommend to people. I also love the Neapolitan Series, by a lesser‐ known Italian author Elena Ferrante. It isn’t really YA, although the characters start off in the first book as teenagers.
J: If you could have dinner with any three actors, authors, or musician who would it be?
A: Emily Dickinson
Not necessarily my one and only answer. But these are the ones that just first came to me.
J: Any other projects or books you are working on?
A: I am just stating on another YA book. I can’t say much about it yet. I have been writing the screenplay now for over a year. So now I finally have some time.
J: Who are your biggest supporters in your writing career?
A: I definitely had a lot of amazing English teachers who were hugely supportive and inspiring. Starting in middle school and a couple teachers I was really close to. My mom was also very supportive. I remember being in high school and submitting my poem. I wanted to get something published. So I bought a guide to submitting to literary magazines. Before the Internet I bought a book. I saved up from my summer job to pay for the submission fees. I was a senior. I really wanted to publish one of my poems. I remember my mom telling me that if it doesn’t work out and I don’t get a poem published it didn’t mean I’m not a writer. At the time I really didn’t hear that. I just wanted to succeed in the way that I imagined success right then. But sure enough I did not get it, I got rejection letters from all the magazines. Many years later, after taking classes in college, I finally got a poem published in a journal. This was after my mom passed away. Then, Love Letters to the Dead was the second thing ever published.
I tell this story because of young writers. I identify with needing recognition now. Wanting something in the outside world to say you are a writer. For me, when I was able to believe for myself that I was a writer, without someone else telling me that, it helped me write more honestly in some way. It takes time and patience, but it can happen eventually.
J: Any other projects or books you are working on?
A: I am just starting on another YA book. I can’t say much about it yet. I have been writing the screenplay now for over a year. So now I finally have some time.
A big thank you to both Ava Dellaira and Joanne Mumley!
Want to know more about Love Letters to the Dead?
It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more -- though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was -- lovely and amazing and deeply flawed -- can she begin to discover her own path in this stunning debut from Ava Dellaira, Love Letters to the Dead.
"There is something inherently hopeful about writing a letter. There is a desire to be heard."--Ava Dellaira
We want our favorite authors and characters and books to hear from us. Check back tomorrow for our first "Love Letters to Literature" post contibued by Kayla King!