With the recent publication of her third novel “The Boy Most Likely To” and her family life (six kids!), Huntley Fitzpatrick is one busy lady! But we were so thrilled she had time to answer five questions for YARN that we are popping up from our fall hiatus to share her answers in a BONUS installment of our 5 Questions series, which is a series of short interviews we’ve been running to celebrate YARN’s fifth anniversary. I guess that makes this our sixth short interview in the 5-Q series, which makes for a mathematical conundrum – but hey, for the chance to chat with Huntley we can do some fuzzy math!
YARN: At least a couple of years have passed between the publication of “My Life Next Door” and its new companion novel, “The Boy Most Likely To.” In between, you published another novel, “What I Thought Was True.” How easy (or difficult) was it to return to the world of “My Life Next Door”? How did you re-immerse yourself in the characters and the setting?
Huntley: Fortunately for me, my characters from any story never really leave me. Years after I’ve written a book (including those unpublished ones), I’m still thinking of where those characters would or could go, wishing I’d put in a scene or taken one out. In some ways, “My Life Next Door” was a story I’ve carried with me all my life, so returning to that world felt very natural, like coming home. I hope that sense comes through to readers, as well. It was a little hard to look at some of the characters I’d written through different perspectives, but was also fun and fascinating.
YARN: The romance in “My Life Next Door” gives readers all the feels, and is thus the sort of story many YA writers try to emulate. As flawless as you make it seem, we know it’s not so easy. How do you take a contemporary story about family, friends, and love to the next level? How do you manage to evoke so many powerful emotions about different types of relationships, in such an authentic way?
Huntley: First of all, thank you. I feel as though I have a long, long way to go, and so much to learn, about conveying feelings through plot. I think I’m lucky as a writer in that, like Samantha, and as a shy person, I’ve done a LOT of watching other people, watching how they interact, figuring out what they are saying and not saying. I’m also really near-sighted, so early on I learned to identify what people were feeling and thinking through their body language, since their faces were a blur. Finally, I have a big family, with a lot of different personalities, and their connections and relationships are constantly changing, so it’s something I think about daily. I’ve almost never based a character on an actual person, but I believe (and hope) that studying real people translates into authentic character writing.
YARN: When you’re building emotion in your stories, do you find yourself thinking back to teen you, do you draw on your current emotions in your life as an adult, do you simply use your imagination, or some combination?
Huntley: I remember my teen life very clearly, because the emotions are so strong, and also because a lot of them bleed through into your later life and character. Sometimes, when I have to write a character I don’t really understand, I have to search through all my memories, long past and more recent, to find a point of connection, somewhere where I made a similar decision. For example, Gwen in “What I Thought Was True” made several choices I never made—I was a lot more cautious with physical relationships than she was, but I suddenly remembered a few times when I’d hurt someone because I was hurting. After that, it all came more easily. So—I guess it’s a combination—imagination leads, and then memory pitches in.
YARN: One thing that makes your characters so compelling to us is their great capacity for growth. When you begin their stories, do you have a strong sense of how they are going to develop and change, where they are going to end up? Or does it come to you along the way, or in revisions?
Huntley: Again a combination. Some of the characters come equipped with the trajectory I want them to follow (Samantha in “My Life Next Door” is an example—she had to be the girl who turned from a somewhat passive watcher into a connected participant). And sometimes characters completely change and surprise me. Tim and Alice both did in “The Boy Most Likely To”—I had to find Alice’s insecurities and Tim’s real confidence beneath the bravado. The first draft, though, is always like a box of puzzle pieces all shaken together. It takes revision after revision (MLND had 8, WITWT had 13, TBMLT 7) for me to get a puzzle that makes sense to me—and, I hope, readers.
YARN: Wow, that’s a lot of revisions! Okay, here’s our final question, and it’s about summer, even though summer is now fading to memory for many of us. You are the queen of Summer Stories! What appeals to you about writing YA books set during this season? What were summers like for you as a teen?
Huntley: Summer is absolutely, hands down, my favorite season. I’ve always lived in New England—all four seasons extremely distinct—but the one I can summon up most easily with all five senses is summer. I enjoy pieces of every other season, but I honestly love every bit of summer—the long lazy days, the warm close nights, the shh of the water, the smell of sunscreen and salt and bonfires. Although my summers as a teen were somewhat less eventful than those I write about, I remember them as lasting so much longer than any other season, and somehow, always, with pivotal events. Mostly good ones. When I visualize a place that makes me happy, it’s almost always someplace where I can walk in sand and smell seaweed and stick my feet in the water. So, it’s a pleasure to give that to my characters. Plus, shirtless guys. Always fun to write about. My daughters joke about how often I have them shirtless in books—“Does Cass even own a shirt?” and it’s true. It’s a thing of mine. I’m working to cut down.
YARN: We’re okay with the no shirts! We can’t wait for your next summer read, since you make our summers last longer too. And thanks so much for taking time to answer our five Q’s!
Born to parents who read anything and everything, the young, shy and nearsighted Huntley Fitzpatrick found herself searching for books that let her fall in love… with the story and the boy. It was only natural that one day she would decide to pursue a career in writing. Huntley spent her college years majoring in Shakespeare and completing a minor in daydreaming, following which she spent time working as a waitress, a caterer, a publicist’s minion, a bartender, an account firm assistant, romance novel editor, and co-owner of a café. Along the way she, too, fell in love.
Today, Huntley lives on the coast of Massachusetts with her encouraging husband and their six energetic children who, thankfully, let her pick their brains, advising her on whatever is currently cool and reminding her of what always matters. In between – and sometimes during – the moments of chaos that surround her large family, Huntley can often be seen dashing to her computer or scribbling with whatever writing implements are on hand—lipstick or eyebrow pencil on an ATM receipt is fair game. Thoughts of young love are never far from her mind. You can find Huntley online at www.huntleyfitzpatrick.com.