Published 1/20/15 by: Kaitlin
Avid readers are aware that the current book market is saturated with young adult novels, mysteries, romances and coming of age stories. It’s easy for people to identify what they see a lot of. What’s harder to do is identify what’s missing. Up and coming author Stephanie Blackburn has a knack for locating the missing pieces of what could potentially be a very popular genre: Tales of the Twenty-Something. In her latest self-published novel “Kissing Frogs”, Blackburn captures that awkward period of time when you sign your first apartment lease, have your first post-college romantic rendezvous, and navigate a new city independently while trying to maintain your lousy first job. Most people over this hump would sentimentally refer to it as the best worst time they’ve ever had. Blackburn’s narrator 24-year-old narrator Elliot Roux is attempting to have the time of her life, while being moderately broke, single and living with three gals who may or may not have great judgment. Their dating escapades and Elliot’s erupting family life lead the reader through an experience that will ring true with many folks who are currently navigating their twenty-somethings, or just recovered from them.
I was lucky enough to chat with Stephanie about her latest novel. I’d love to hear your feedback on the book as well, so please snag it here, and fill me in on your thoughts in the comments!
KM: While most of us have had a slew of bad dates in our lifetimes, what inspired you to write a book about it? Some of us would rather pretend those awkward moments never existed, while you seem to relish in reminiscing about them.
SB: Often we think that bad dates are only happening to us, that our friends meet a guy and hit it off and it seems like we are just unlucky in love. I wanted to highlight bad dates so readers could think, No way! I had an equally bad date. This one time… I wanted to start a dialogue so readers don’t feel alone in the land of terrible dates. Trust me, there are a lot of us there. And hopefully, as is the case with me, you put a little distance between yourself and the bad date and can look back on it and just laugh. I think that’s key.
KM: As a writer, how important do you think setting is? You chose Boston as your backdrop, which is obviously where you currently reside, but you could’ve chosen anywhere. Did you think it was important to tell those stories where they occurred, or was it a comfortability with already knowing how to describe these places?
SB: I choose places I know. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” took place on the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border because that’s where I grew up and I know the landscape intimately. With “Kissing Frogs” I chose Boston because I’ve lived here all of my adult life and I know the landscape – the different neighborhoods, places to get certain types of food, how amazing Fall feels in the Public Garden, etc. I wanted to stick with what I know and can describe without having to look something up on the internet. Also, I remember watching Sex & The City and falling in love with New York because of how integral the setting was – like a character. I think a lot of viewers did and I thought in a way that it was a love letter to New York. Well, I adore Boston and I wanted to create my own sort of love letter where readers could fall in love with this amazing city. Hopefully that was achieved.
KM: How do you create your characters? I heard from a little bird that you might have created some of the male characters based on real people. How do you navigate this slippery slope?
SB: In fairness, I may have borrowed some dating stories from people I know. Sometimes you’re sitting at brunch with girlfriends and they tell a really juicy story and you think (or at least I do) This is too good not to be shared! Some stories are just so outrageous – for example the guy who tasered himself for fun – that it doesn’t seem real, but I have a feeling there are more guys in the world who do stuff like that to entertain themselves. As for the female characters, I knew that Elliott was going to be trying to figure herself out, her dating life, and her family situation. And since she’d be all over the place in terms of actions and emotions I needed characters that were having equally dramatic experiences (Dylan and Shea) and other characters (Morgan, Alex and Sasha) to maintain a sense of calm. As for the mother and Gram, I needed them to be so drastically opposite to balance each other out. Gram is like Elliott’s moral center and her mother unmoors her.
KM: I’ve been told that “Kissing Frogs” is book one of a trilogy. Could you speak to the process of deciding that, and what you see as exciting or potentially aggravating about sticking with these characters for three books?
SB: So the story goes that I came up with the concept for this series about six years ago. I talked about it with friends for so long that it got annoying. And then a little over a year ago I decided it was time to finally start writing them (mostly because my friends weren’t excited about reading my YA manuscripts). I actually started by writing a chapter that happens in the middle of the second book. And after that I wrote a chapter that happens in the third book. I sent both of them to a couple of friends and they got so excited about it and kept asking for me that I thought, Well, I guess I’d better start from the beginning. I’ve spent so much time contemplating the characters that the entire plot is done, it’s just a matter of writing every chapter out. I knew the ending before I even put my fingers to the keyboard. It does feel a bit daunting, knowing how many words are left to write, but in all honesty, it’s fun writing about these characters and their dating drama so I don’t think I’ll get sick of it before it’s complete. Fingers crossed!
KM: The subject matter in this book can be fairly scandalous, but then you have such tender moments between the narrator Elliot, and her grandmother. So who is your intended audience for “Kissing Frogs”?
SB: I had a couple of weeks right before publishing “Kissing Frogs” in which I had quite a bit of anxiety, solely based on the “scandalous” content. Both of my grandmothers have read my two previous novels and I didn’t want them to look at me differently if they read this one. They are not my intended audience, which I would say is twenty and thirty-somethings. But I knew that family would likely read it and I worried about their reactions.
Excluding the saucy stuff, I think that any age group can relate to the moments between friends, drama between family, trying to figure out who you are and your place in the world. One of my grandmothers did end up reading it (I should note that she also read the Fifty Shades trilogy so I wasn’t too worried about her) and said that while she wished I didn’t have such knowledge regarding sexual content, that the story made her laugh and cry. That’s what I hope for. Not necessarily to harp on the dating snafus, but to make the reader feel something in regards to the female relationships. Connect with the roommate situation and the girlfriends or the family drama or going to that person who puts you back on your feet when you feel out of sorts. If I make people laugh and cry then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. And if I shock them with the story of Pokerface that’s just an added bonus. I would probably add that if you can’t get into a Rated R movie then you shouldn’t be reading this book.