Tell us about the main characters in your young adult novel, ’89 Walls.
World-weary Seth can’t escape his small Nebraska town. He carries around a love note for Quinn, a conservative Daddy’s girl and someone he considers both out of his league and beneath his dignity. Quinn thinks of Seth as that whiny-but-brilliant liberal guy in class. He makes her self-conscious about her untested, rule-following existence. Their passionate romance takes them both by surprise. They decide to keep it a secret: it’s too early to make plans and too late not to care. But it’s 1989. As politics suddenly get personal, they find themselves fighting bare-fisted for their beliefs and each other—in the clear light of day.
Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
I never planned to write a novel: I just like to read them. But a conversation with a friend in 2006 about the pros and cons of potentially attending my 20th high school reunion brought to mind the random people you run into at those things: old crushes, old “frenemies.” I suddenly had the idea for Seth and Quinn’s reluctant romance.
It wasn’t until I was half done that I realized that the story was also a partisan allegory. Seth is the Democratic Party in the late 80’s: reactive, angry, without a compass. Quinn’s father, Tom is the Republican Party: optimistic, smug, still grounded in a true small government philosophy and underestimating the rising Religious Right with its creepy fascination with people’s private lives. Mr. Levine, the teacher, is the moderator who allows two strong points of view to talk it out respectfully. Quinn is all of us, trying to find her way when tidy theories crash into reality.
How long have you been writing, and what (or who) inspired you to start?
I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon. I had a wonderfully encouraging seventh grade English teacher. I staffed the high school yearbook and wrote a column for my college newspaper. In my office jobs I contrived to write whether or not it was in my job description as a fundraiser for the Nebraska Humanities Council or lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. I’ve written a bunch of political commentaries for the Minneapolis StarTribune and have an actual fan base for my annual holiday letter. But I didn’t claim writing as my vocation until I was in my thirties. Taking a memoir class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis motivated me to finally put “writer” on my business card.
What are you working on right now?
I'm toying with a memoir of my family's sabbatical year in London during the final year of the Bush administration. The working title is, "Acting Canadian." I loved writing '89 Walls and read as much YA as I do adult fiction. I would love for another idea for a YA novel to drop in my lap.
About '89 Walls
College is not in the cards for Seth. He spends his minimum wage on groceries and fakes happiness to distract his mom from the MS they both know will kill her. It’s agony to carry around a frayed love note for a girl who’s both out of his league and beneath his dignity.
Quinn’s finishing high school on top. But that cynical, liberal guy in her social studies class makes her doubt her old assumptions. Challenging the rules now, though, would a) squander her last summer at home, b) antagonize her conservative dad, and c) make her a hypocrite.
Seth and Quinn’s passionate new romance takes them both by surprise. They keep it a secret: it’s too early to make plans and too late not to care. But it’s 1989. As politics suddenly get personal, they find themselves fighting bare-fisted for their beliefs—and each other—in the clear light of day.