Today we have another amazing author joining us. Becky Albertalli is the author of the acclaimed novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and – coming April 2017 - The Upside of Unrequited. She is a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and teens. Currently, Becky lives with her family in Atlanta, where she spends her days writing books for teens. We are so excited to have Becky join us today!
James: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda deals with coming out, bullying, and gossip, all of which are real-life issues that impact everyday teens. Was there a specific incident that inspired you to write about these topics?
Becky: I wish I had a straightforward answer to this question! I find that my inspiration tends to be more character-based than event-based, so there wasn’t a specific incident that inspired the plot. Instead, I got to know Simon in my head, and I tried to tell a story that was faithful to his feelings and experiences. I think bullying and gossip are (unfortunately) part of the fabric of most people’s high school experiences, and in particular, I wanted to capture the role the internet plays in that dynamic.
James: Which of your characters is the most like you?
Becky: Definitely Simon (though Molly, the main character of my second book may be even more like me!). When my friends and family read the book, they’re always amused by how much of myself I poured into Simon. So many of his thoughts and feelings are pulled from my own experiences, and I even lifted a few specific moments directly from my own high school memories. However, there’s a lot of me in several of my secondary characters – most notably Simon’s mom, his friend Leah, and his sister Alice.
James: What was your favorite scene to write?
Becky: Hands down, my favorite scene to write was the scene where Nick and Abby take Simon to the gay bar in Midtown. I don’t know what this says about me as a writer or a person, but Simon’s drunk voice came to me REALLY naturally. The version of that scene that appears in the final version is almost exactly the same as my first draft. That scene wrote itself.
James: What kind of future do you imagine for Martin?
Becky: This is a tricky question to answer, since I’m currently working on a SIMON spinoff set during the characters’ senior year at Creekwood High School. I definitely don’t want to spoil anything (or give details that end up changing during the revision process). In a general sense, though, I absolutely think Martin will learn and grow from his mistakes in SIMON VS. I think he’s probably the kind of kid who will mature a lot in college and during his twenties.
James: Do you love Oreos as much as Simon does? Or do you have a different guilty pleasure?
Becky: Simon’s love of Oreos is 100% autobiographical. In fact, Simon’s fantasy about the Shoreo is based on an actual fantasy from my childhood. It’s really wonderful, because my readers constantly alert me to new Oreo developments and recipes. Sometimes people ask me if I get sick of all the Oreo pictures and tweets. It definitely hasn’t happened yet, so keep them coming!
James: What advice would you give to teens who, like Simon at the beginning of the novel, aren't quite ready to tell others about their sexuality?
Becky: I want to be really careful here, because I don’t think it’s possible to give advice that applies to every situation. So much depends on context and environment, and advice that helps one teen could put a different teen in danger. I think the most important thing for teens to know is that they have a right to be in control of their own process. If you don’t feel ready to come out for any reason, that’s one hundred percent okay. No one has a right to rush you, and there’s no timeline you should be following. You get to do what feels right for you. For those who don’t have (or are unable to
connect with) a support system in “real life,” I recommend reaching out in online spaces. The Trevor Project even offers a forum especially for teens who want to connect with other LGBTQIAP+ teens.
James: What's the most meaningful compliment you've ever received from a reader?
Becky: I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have heard from readers – teens and adults – all over the world. I’ve actually received quite a few messages from teens who came out to friends and family members after reading SIMON. I can’t even explain how honored I am to be a part of that process
for my readers. I love hearing that Simon’s story makes my readers feel hopeful, understood, or less alone.
James: What books do you always find yourself recommending to other people?
Becky: I have SO many favorite books. For SIMON readers, a few of my go-to recs are:
-MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera (voicey, honest, and heartbreaking coming-of- age story about a gay boy)
-HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART by J.C. Lillis (romantic, laugh-out- loud funny gay love story)
-TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL by Sara Farizan (pitch-perfect rom-com starring two girls)
-EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon (adorable, mega-charming hetero love story with an online component)
-UNDER THE LIGHTS by Dahlia Adler (swoony, witty f/f love story)
-TRUE LETTERS FROM A FICTIONAL LIFE by Kenneth Logan (complex, absorbing gay coming-of- age story)
James: Last October, Fox 2000 acquired film rights for your book. If you got to cast the movie, which actors would you choose to portray Simon and Blue?
Becky: I’m actually not sure I’m allowed to answer this one (though I have secret pinterest boards that definitely explore this question)! It’s honestly been so much fun getting a glimpse of the film adaptation process. There have been a few exciting developments behind the scenes, and I hope I get to share them soon!
James: You have a new book coming out soon, The Upside of Unrequited. It looks absolutely amazing! What can you tell us about that?
Becky: UPSIDE was such a tricky book to write, and I’m so happy it’s finally on its way to being an actual book! It’s about an anxious, fat, Jewish girl named Molly, who is grappling with crushes and body image and changing dynamics in her family. It’s set in the same universe as SIMON (Molly is actually Abby’s first cousin), so there are lots of cameo appearances from familiar faces. I also think of it as a loose retelling of Jane Austen’s EMMA, told from Harriet Smith’s point of view (or, for those who are more familiar with Clueless, from Tai’s point of view).
That's it for today's interview with Becky. But if you have any questions for Becky or want to let her know how Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda has impacted you, be sure to check out her website and reach out to her on Twitter. And be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to the terrifyingly brilliant Cat Winters!