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01 March 2012

Author Interview: Meredith Zeitlin

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters
Its my pleasure to interview Meredith Zeitlin, author of Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, on the blog today.  She was so nice and up for anything, that having her as my first ever author interview really calmed my nerves! 

Before I get started with the interview, here is the blurb for Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters from Goodreads:
Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course...

And here we go! 
Can you tell us a little about your freshman year?  
My freshman year was both really hard and ultimately really rewarding. I started at a brand new school that year - and it was an all-girls' school, which I was NOT thrilled about. I had to maneuver my way around a totally unfamiliar campus (it was made up of many different buildings and not just one like my old school) and make all new friends, which was especially tricky because many of the girls had been going to school together since they were babies. Suffice it to say, there were rock-solid cliques that had existed for years. And of course I missed my friends from middle school. But I actually ended up loving it - I did make lots of friends, and figure out where to sit at lunch, and got cast in a lead role in the school play, and somehow ended up on the lacrosse team - a sport I'd never even heard of before. (In a related story, I was TERRIBLE at it. But I stuck it out!) Of course, this is me as an adult looking back - at the time I know I was incredibly frustrated much of the time - it's hard to be new. It took a long time for things to be mostly fun instead of mostly terrifying. 

Is there anything you’d do different?
Again, looking back as an adult, it’s so easy to pinpoint all the things I’d’ve done differently... the number one thing being: Not trying so hard. If I had just relaxed and been myself, I think I would’ve ended up being far more self-confident and not wasted so much time worrying about whether or not I was fitting in and what people were thinking of me. But of course, EVERYONE is second-guessing themselves in high school, pretty much. I think that’s all part of it - just like looking back and thinking, “Oh, THAT’S what I should’ve done...” is part of coming out on the other side.   

What was your favorite song your freshman year?  
Wow, great question! I actually had to go look up what songs were popular waaaaaaay back then, because I honestly don’t remember! I listened to a lot of mix-tapes that my friends made and Z-100 every morning, I know that. I grew up listening to my dad’s old records, which were mostly musicals and folk music from the 60s... so I’ve never been on top of the latest tunes (hence the self-education via Z-100). I do recall that “Ice Ice Baby” was still a favorite - my friend Tawney and I performed it a la SNL’s Will Ferrell and Cheri O’Teri (as the crazy cheerleaders) in the school talent show that year. And yes - I still remember all the words today. Seriously.

Do you have any similarities to Kelsey?
Oh, yes. In fact, all of them. The book is not so far from being an autobiography, as anyone who knows me personally will be delighted to vouch for. Almost every disaster that befalls Kelsey in the story actually happened to me in real life - details have been changed, of course, but for the most part, it’s all true. The other characters and the overall story are made up, but Kelsey... well, they tell you to “write what you know,” after all!

Was Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters the original title?
No, it wasn’t! The original title was “The World vs. Kelsey Finkelstein” - and that was long before I’d never head of Scott Pilgrim! Later it was “This Just In: Kelsey Finkelstein is Freaking Out.” But editors have mysterious ideas about what will work, and they wanted me to think of something else...

How did you come up with it?
I did a LOT of brainstorming. My friends helped. I discovered the David Cross show, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” (which is AMAZING, btw) and I thought that title was brilliant, so I tried to think of something with a similar feeling to it. I submitted lists of ideas. They all got a thumbs-down. Then my editor came back and suggested “Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters” - a title I had submitted months earlier that they rejected! I said, “Definitely. It’s genius. I’m glad you thought of it.” And here we are today.

Can you please explain Travis’ name?  I’ve never come across a girl with that name, and I’m sure its a great story :) (for those of you who haven't read the book---Travis is Kelsey's little sister)
I wish I had a specific story about it! I had a friend in college named Travis - a guy - and I just loved the name. I wanted Kelsey’s sister to have a unique name, and especially one that didn’t really go with “Finkelstein.” So I used it. What IS a more interesting story is that a few years back, I revisited a totally different project I’d started ages ago and never finished - a thriller that is NOTHING like “Freshman Year...” and discovered that I’d named the two main characters in that story “Kelsey” and “Travis” too - and I didn’t even remember doing it!!

What are you doing to celebrate the release of Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters?  Personally, I’d get a big old ice cream cake!  
I am having a big fancy book party! My awesome friend Steve is letting me use his rad house to host it (he built it himself and it was featured in NY Magazine) and my mom and sister are flying in for it (from Florida) and I will have food and drinks and book-signing and sparkly fabulousness. But now that you mention it, an ice cream cake sounds like a GREAT idea - maybe a Carvel one with crunchies in-between the layers. With mint chip ice cream! Maybe I’ll have it for breakfast on March 1 - I’m a big fan of celebrating things by having cake for breakfast. Maybe I’ll invite my best friends over to share it before they go to work!

How excited are you for The Hunger Games movie?  
Hm. Well, I definitely plan to go see it, because it looks very cool. I read the trilogy and LOVED the first book, enjoyed the second, and was infuriated by the third - I thought the ending was a total cop-out on the part of the author and I’m still mad about it. (I could go on about this topic for an hour if you let me!) But in general, I tend to think that movies of books are supplementary most of the time - the books are the real deal and the movies are just a fun extra.

Can we do a quick “this or that”?

-Harry Potter or Twilight?  
HARRY POTTER - no contest.   (Good...we can be friends)

-Coke or Pepsi?  
COKE. Esp Cherry Coke!  (hmmm...I'll let that slide)

-Ice Cream or Cake?  ICE CREAM.

-Big or little purse?  Depends on the occasion. Big for everyday. Little for fancy parties.

-ebook reader or paper book?
This is a tough one. I was staunchly against e-readers for years because I love real books so much - the smell, the feel of the pages, the covers... but I finally caved and got a Nook this winter b/c I am just out of bookshelf room! And I actually love it - especially for reading on the subway and carrying around. It’s so much lighter, and I always have to have a book with me. But at home I still read regular books. So I guess... it’s a tie!

A BIG muchas gracias to Meredith!  Thank you so much for being so awesome! 

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