Hi, everyone! It's good to be back here on the blog. I've really and truly missed this.
As many of you know, Kiersten White is one of my closest friends in the whole entire multiverse. And due to that one teeny tiny little thing that happened this summer (A BABY), she hasn't been able to tour for her latest release. So I've invited her here—as my first interviewee ever!—for a super duper, in depth, stay-at-home chat.
The Chaos of Stars was released last Tuesday, and it's the sort of supernatural-meets-contemporary story that Meg Cabot fans (like moi) will love. It's about a girl named Isadora who is the human/mortal teenaged daughter of the ancient Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. When the novel begins, Isadora is living amidst their crypts in modern day Egypt, but she's quickly shipped away to stay with her older brother in California when her mother—the goddess of fertility—becomes pregnant with a new child. In San Diego, Isadora gets an amazing job at a museum (okay, maybe her mom forces her to take it), makes friends for the first time ever, and meets a staggeringly dreamy boy with the bluest eyes she's ever seen.
Also, the boy? He writes epic poetry.
Also, also? Isadora has amazing hair that Lola would love.
Natalie Whipple, another author friend/critique partner, drew this portrait of Isadora a few years ago. I love how absolutely perfect it still is.
(That lame joke would have worked a lot better if you'd already read the interview.)
STEPH: So. Despite being about the dark family dynamics of ancient Egyptian gods, The Chaos of Stars mostly takes place on your own home turf—sunny, modern day San Diego. If I were a fancypants interviewer from The Paris Review or The New Yorker, and I flew across the country to chat with you in person, which of the restaurants featured in Chaos would you instruct me to meet you at? And what would we order?
KIERSTEN: First, I'd pretend to be excited for your new career, but secretly try to convince you to go back to writing, because the world needs more Stephanie Perkins books more than it needs more reviews.
That being said, there are so many places to choose from! I mainly featured "normal" San Diego food—the glorious and inexpensive food found at the local restaurants San Diego embraces and supports. Greek, Thai, kebob shops, sushi, hole in the wall Mexican places where you stand on the sidewalk to receive your food through an actual hole in the wall. However, for me there is only one option, and that's the restaurant I included by name: Extraordinary Desserts. Not to be too obvious, but it's extraordinary. Before we were seated, we'd look through the restaurant-length glass cases of desserts. We'd smell the various tea offerings. And then we'd look at the desserts again, because honestly: SO MANY. SO BEAUTIFUL.
After sitting, we'd get our pot of tea (chamomile or herbal mint for me), and then I'd let you order whatever you wanted while I got bread pudding. You'd think that was odd until you tried it. Rich, dark chocolate, sweet bread perfectly soaked without being soggy, and a sweet cream to balance the darkness of the chocolate. It is the ultimate comfort food, warm happiness in a bowl.
Kiersten and Steph, San Diego, 2009
Man, I look young. Now I feel old.
Congratulations! That was the CORRECT ANSWER. And I'm glad you're ordering the bread pudding, because Ry—your protagonist's swoony love interest—completely sold me on it. I'm definitely stealing a bite, if not the entire bowl. I'm such a freaking sucker for food in books.
But this novel is a bit of departure for you. On the surface, it has the same supernatural/paranormal elements of your earlier books, but it actually reads more like a contemporary. The setting, Isadora's struggles, and her family and friends are all very recognizable. Who do you think is the ideal reader for this book? Who do you hope discovers it on the shelves of their local library?
Of all my books, Chaos is the one I would give to teen Kiersten if I could. It's a story about that confusing, heartbreaking time when you figure out that your parents aren't perfect and you can't help but feel a bit betrayed by that information. They're your parents. They're supposed to love you exactly how you need to be loved, aren't they? And if your mother happens to be the freaking goddess of motherhood and still messes up, how can you ever trust anyone to love you?
This is a book for teens who worry that because no one loves them the way they need to be loved right now, no one ever will. I was that teen. I think there are a lot of them out there.
But it's also a funny book, a romantic book, and a book with awesome Egyptian mythology as a backdrop to the story, so really anyone who enjoys any of those elements.
I’ve heard you say that this is your most personal novel, so all of this rings true. And what really impressed me is the tremendous level of real, genuine character growth that Isadora goes through. The last third of this book is one hard—and beautifully stated—truth after another. Isadora is forced to go from someone closed off and tough to someone open and vulnerable, but ultimately much stronger.
As your close friend, I’m aware that some of Isadora’s path, though not necessarily the specifics, mirrors yours. And we’ve talked about this idea a lot. How we often write ourselves into our books, but . . . that we don’t usually realize we’ve done it until we reach the end. So I’m curious, at what point in this process did you realize that maybe you were also working through something? And do you think that, like Isadora, you came out of this a stronger person?
Work on this book stretched out over the course of three years, which happened to be three of the strangest, happiest, and most devastating of my adult life. I think it was after I had given up on trying to force this book to be a big, plot-driven trilogy, and accepted that it was a family drama, that I realized how much of my own journey I had created on the page.
That, and when my editor noted in the margins that Isadora was oddly angry about babies. That was an embarrassing one, as I had to admit that it wasn't Isadora who was bitter about pregnant women, but me.
In a lot of ways Isadora's journey toward accepting her mother's love has a lot to do with my relationship with God and how it evolved through several years of intense personal loss. I've always been a practicing Christian. I just didn't know what type of Christian I was until I had to reevaluate who I thought God was and how I expected Him to function in my life.
So, in a very strange, roundabout way, a book about a girl's relationship with her mother who happens to be a god helped me in my quest for a relationship with my own God. I think (hope) I came out more compassionate, less entitled, and more open to what life could give me when I stopped demanding it provide exactly what I had in mind.
Steph and Kiersten, San Diego, 2011
Same beach! It's kind of our thing.
Oh, oh, oh. I want to give you a million hugs, all over again. Let’s talk about structure for a moment. Chaos is divided into three repeating sections—the main narrative, the dream sequences, and tales of Egyptian mythology (also wryly narrated by Isadora). How did this structure come about? And how did you select which myths to include?
The structure took a long time to nail down. Initially the dream sequences were simply nightmares, rather than twisted memories from Isadora's childhood. But a few of them were those creepily altered memories, so my editor suggested they all follow that pattern, progressing closer and closer to where Isadora was in modern day to increase the sense of impending threat. Editors are so smart. My editor, Erica Sussman, is extra the smartiest. Then she had the idea of working in the mythology quips I had scattered about to the beginnings of each chapter. I loved that, because I got to play with the stories that didn't add to the plot.
It was hard to decide on the myths. There are so many of them, and they vary depending on the era they were from and who recorded them. Some of my favorites were not topical or about gods that I didn't have time to introduce in the narrative. And some are so outrageously inappropriate I couldn't justify putting them in a book for teens. One revolves around the ingestion of . . . well. Again. Inappropriate. But so culturally interesting! In the end, I went with the myths that had forward momentum and gave background information that added to the narrative.
Adjusting the structure repeatedly was a pain in the butt, but I'm so pleased with how it turned out. And then the book designers blew me away by making them all stand out in such lovely ways.
THE INGESTION OF WHAT? Is it sperm?? I bet it's sperm. Am I right?
Well, technically it was semen. One through violence, and one via a LETTUCE-SEMEN SANDWICH. Oh, those crazy gods and their competitive hijinks! So you can see why that one didn't make the cut.
As long as we are pinging your blog with really gross search terms, one comment my editor made during edits was, "I feel like we've used the word 'penis' too many times." In my defense, it was only three. And none of them were in a sexual context. But these are the things one must ponder during edits. How many penises is too many?
"Try our new foot-long lettuce-semen sandwich. Subway! Eat fresh."
But that is an excellent question. I think I'm with Erica on this one—two might be my limit, too. Though I can't seem to put enough references to erections in my novels. I don't know why. Maybe because they're amusing to me as a lady? I've always been thankful that out of all the annoying menstrual-related crap that I have to deal with as a woman, at least I'll never have to hide an in-class erection.
Wait a second. Where was I?
I love characters with strong personal interests and pursuits, and it was so much fun to read about Isadora's passion for interior design. But. I've been to your house, dude. There's a lot of white in there that Isadora wouldn't approve of! Was writing about this as much of an escape for you as it was for her? Were you secretly decorating your own house? That description of bringing the sea inside sounded exactly like something you'd do!
Ha ha ha ha ha. Ha. Ha.
When next you visit, you will find that my walls remain the exact shades they were when we moved in. We still haven't hung pictures on the walls. Heck, I don't even have a headboard for my bed. I suck at decorating. Actually, in order to suck, I'd have to decorate something, which I don't. So I'm not even at suck level. I had do to a lot of research and look at design websites to get a grasp on what Isadora would be talking and thinking about, as I am pretty much design-illiterate. It would have been easier to have Isadora into, say, oil painting, or writing, or something I'm familiar with. But interior design just fit. It's a marriage of art and practicality, and has deep, painful ties to Isadora's childhood and family history. The ancient Egyptians loved a good mural!
So, just as I had fun imagining the wonders of being six feet tall (you could see the top of the refrigerator! you could use all of the shelves in the cabinets besides just the bottom one! you could actually breathe in crowds!), I had fun imagining what it would be like to have both the talent and the energy for interior design.
Kiersten and Steph, San Diego, 2012
See? It's our version of the family portrait.
Well, you did a great job convincing me. You'd make a much better designer than you give yourself credit for! And I seriously do want to see your home turned into something ocean-inspired.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me over email. (Email! Remember when we used to email each other all day long instead of texting?!) I sincerely wish you, Isadora, and Isadora's fabulous hair the very best of luck. Especially you. Because I love you. But I love Isadora, too. So also her. And her hair.
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Okay, readers! I hope this piqued your curiosity, and I hope you're ready to check it out. Find an excerpt of The Chaos of Stars on Epic Reads, mark it to-read on your Goodreads shelf, or buy it on IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Book Depository (free international shipping).
Thanks again, Kiersten!