A teen girl dealing with the suicide of her best friend, a group of high school grads sorting out their relationships on a road trip, and now YA author Nina LaCour is tackling a new topic in her latest novel: when two girls fall in love working in the Hollywood film business. The San Franciscan author of Hold Still and The Disenchantments spoke with us about her love of YA, the personal inspiration behind her novels, and how she came up with the themes for her next book, Everything Leads to You (out in May). Keep reading for the exclusive cover reveal and to find out who Nina could see playing the novel's love interest on the big screen!
POPSUGAR: What drew you to writing YA novels rather than adult fiction?
Nina LaCour: I started graduate school thinking I was going to write adult fiction. I got an MFA in creative writing, and I went in with a lot of pages of this adult novel I had been working on, but it didn't really take off. Something was holding me back. Then I took a class on young adult literature. I had always been interested in that and interested in writing about teenage experiences and something just clicked when I took that class. I started reading all of these great novels by John Green, Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson; all of these writers I really respect, and I started working on something. It was just a chapter, and then it kind of took off, and it ended up being my first novel, Hold Still, which is also my thesis.
PS: Do you see yourself staying within the YA genre for the rest of your career or branching out into other areas?
NL: I think the answer's yes to both of those questions. I love writing young adult novels, and I think that I will continue to do so for a long time. I also recently have also gone back to working on some of the ideas from that first novel I had started so many years ago and have been really enjoying writing adult characters as well.
I've noticed that with my young adult books, my characters are getting older and older. The one that's coming out this year, the characters are finished with high school; they're 18. So I'm really interested in that kind of age where you're on the cusp of adulthood and trying to figure everything out.
PS: Your first book, Hold Still, dealt with some pretty heavy themes of loss; the main character, Caitlin, has lost her best friend to suicide. Did you draw on your own experiences for that story?
NL: A lot of that book was inspired by real things, but it certainly wasn't at all autobiographical. There were a couple of suicides when I was in high school that definitely affected me. Neither of the people who committed suicide was a best friend, but there were people who I knew that had taken their lives that made me question what they might have been thinking and feel for the people that they left behind that were close to them.
PS: In The Disenchantments, the story is told from the perspective of the main character, Colby, who is a teenage boy. What was the process like for you to write from a teen male perspective? How did you research that?
NL: It was interesting. At first I had a lot of concerns, like I was concerned that his voice wasn't going to be masculine enough for that. How was I ever going to set it right trying to write from a teen boy perspective when I've never been a teen boy? Then I kind of let that go as the story came to me, and as I got to know the character better. There are so many different ways of being a teenager and being a person. So I didn't feel like I had to worry so much whether I was getting it right or wrong because there are so many different kinds of teenage boys. I just tried to stay true to who I felt Colby was as a person and trust myself. He was a pretty emotional and thoughtful guy whose best friends are girls; who has grown up in a household with free-spirited parents; and he's an artist. So that gave me some license to let some of my feminine perspective in.
PS: Your upcoming release, Everything Leads to You, addresses some themes you haven't touched on much before; for one thing, the central love story is between two female characters. Was it a deliberate choice to introduce a same-sex relationship into your story, or was that how the characters naturally evolved for you?
NL: In my first novel, one of the main characters, this girl named Dylan, has a girlfriend named Maddie. Dylan is a big character and Maddie is only in a few scenes. I would get fan mail from my readers who would ask for more Dylan and Maddie or if I was going to write a book about Dylan and Maddie. That struck me as really sweet and something that I wanted to explore further. I did want to write a book about two girls falling in love, and I just had to wait and figure out what the story would be and who those girls would be. Then when I had this idea of Los Angeles and the movie business and kind of the behind-the-scenes part of film that you don't really see, I thought that would be a great setting for a romance and then I went from there.
PS: What makes Emi and Ava's relationship really stand out?
NL: I wanted to write a love story between two girls that wasn't about coming to terms with one's sexuality or coming out. There are so many good books that deal with the complexities of both of those aspects of falling in love, but there aren't enough YA lesbian romances where the characters are already out and accepting of themselves, where the story is simply about two girls falling in love. I think it's important that young readers — all readers, really — find representations of all kinds of love in their books.
PS: All of your books so far have involved some way of bringing the book to life: in Hold Still, we actually got to see pages of Ingrid's journal. For The Disenchantments, you created posters for the shows the band was playing around California. And for both of those books, you created trailers to tease them. Where did you get the ideas for those experiences? And are you planning anything similar for Everything Leads to You?
NL: I've always been interested in many different kinds of art and creative expression, and writing fulfills a big part of that for me. But I also want to work on film projects and work with art, whether or not I'm actually producing it and whether I get to be part of it's creation. It's exciting for me because after the books are finished I don't have to completely say goodbye to the book but do other creative things with them. I'm not sure exactly what's on the horizon for Everything Leads to You, but I'm sure that there will be something and probably something that has to do with film because that's what the book is focused on.
PS: Tell me a little about how you came up with the Hollywood setting and theme.
NL: The Hollywood setting was so much fun to write about. Emi, the narrator, is an aspiring production designer, so there was a natural theme in the book of the creation and collapse of illusions. That theme lead naturally to a story about falling in love, because before you really know someone, you only know certain aspects about them: what they do, what they look like, who they are in the world. And then, gradually, you get to know the true person. Emi is so swept up in much of the book in creating beautiful, perfect sets, and so in love with the mystique of Hollywood, that it's sometimes difficult for her to see things — and people — as they really are.
PS: If it became a movie, do you have any actresses in mind for the main characters?
NL: Gosh, I haven't thought about that. I think I would have to do more research considering how young the characters are. I feel a little out of touch [laughs]. The love interest, Ava, has red hair and a kind of raspy voice. I could see someone like Emma Stone. I could see someone like her, given she's not 18 anymore.
Below is the exclusive cover reveal for Nina's latest book, Everything Leads to You.