Exclusive interview with Alice Kuipers, author of Me (and) Me
About Alice Kuipers
Award-winning author of 40 Things I Want to Tell You and Life on the Refrigerator Door, is an expert chronicler of the teenage heart, and she takes her work to new heights here. A riveting, high-concept novel with heart, Me and Me is about what it feels like to be torn in pieces, and about finally finding out who you really are.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
When I was very young, I loved to read and that love of reading has never left me. I read tons of books all the time—as I’m sure a lot of you do, too. I think what happened to me then was that I started to have ideas, the books I read sparked thoughts, and then it seemed natural to write those ideas down. I never thought about sharing my stories or poems (that’s what I started writing), I just wrote. Then, as time went by, I wanted to connect with readers. I still love reading even more than I love writing. I always have a pile of paper books by my bed, and a silly-long list of books on my Kindle Wish List.
How long have you been writing?
I first wrote a novel in class when I was eleven. It was an assignment. It was thirty pages long and it was about two alien species at war. Then I wrote short stories and poems through my teens. When I turned eighteen, I travelled for a year alone. During that year, I wrote a journal, but I found my interest was set alight by writing made-up stories. When I got back from my round-the-world trip, I wanted to make time for writing. I spent most of my undergraduate degree writing a novel.
When and why did you begin writing?
I think I begin writing all over every time I start a new book. It’s so hard to figure out what the idea is, and what the story I want to tell might be. And it’s such a risk—what if people hate it? What if it’s no good? What if I do all that work and the book is terrible? Those questions plague me as a writer when I start a new project, and so I have to take a deep breath and tune out the world. I have to write the way that I did when I first began—as if no-one will read it. My new book, Me (and) Me, actually began nearly twenty years ago. I started the idea but didn’t know how to write it. I needed Lark, the main character, and it took me a long time to find her. When I did, the book flowed onto the pages.
As for why I write, well, I think it makes me calmer. I used to be a very anxious person. I suffered from panic disorder for a long time (one of my characters suffers from it too, in my second novel). Writing, for whatever reason, makes me feel a sense of deep calm. The creation of something out of nothing gives me a sense of peace.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I love it when people ask what I do and I say ‘writer’. I very first considered myself a writer when I was about nineteen. I was sitting at a fire and this guy started talking to me. He asked me what I did, and I said, “I’m a writer.” I guess I was feeling brave, or I’d just been writing something, or I’d maybe had a couple of drinks. Anyway, I’d never said it before to anyone.
“Are you published?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“You’re not a writer, then,” he said, and turned away.
Instead of making me feel small, which I think was his intention, it made me feel determined. I remember thinking, right, if I need to publish to get other people to believe that I’m a writer, then I suppose I should try and publish something. The publishing part took another eight years.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Life on the Refrigerator Door is my first published book, but it’s not the first book I wrote. I first wrote a book called Repeat, about a girl whose life splits into two. Just like Lark’s life in Me (and) Me. I loved writing Repeat, and the inspiration was that feeling of making choices—what if I’d chosen differently? What if I’d never gone traveling at eighteen? What if I hadn’t broken up with my boyfriend at the time, etc.? That question has been part of my life for a long time and I’m happy to have finally explored it on the page with Lark’s story.
What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
Living a creative life makes me better at all the other parts of my life. Whatever our own personal creative impulse, I think that by following it we make ourselves more human, more ourselves. Through fiction we can experience other lives and other choices—and so for me, storytelling is the creative outlet that makes me feel most myself. Stories, I believe, are the root of who we are—we live by the stories we tell ourselves.
How do you pick your character names?
I often start with a name that speaks to me, but then, in a later draft, a draft when I’m thinking about a reader, I think about a name that might speak to readers. Lark was named by her mother who was a singer-songwriter. Unusually, I didn’t have a single ‘fill-in’ name for her—I kept trying names and nothing worked. Then her name came to me one day. It just popped into my mind. Often I choose character names using baby naming books or websites. I type in the year the character was born and look at popular names (and less popular names) from that time.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Lark has to make a choice at the start of the novel but she can’t make it. Because of this, her life splits into two lives. It was challenging to make both lives interesting—and keeping all the differences between the lives in my mind was tricky. I often had to remind myself which life Lark and I were in. Then there’s a scene where she encounters her other self. I rewrote that scene about a thousand times. It was in my head for ages, but getting it exactly right on the page was a different matter entirely.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I enjoyed the characters in this novel. Lark is into parkour and free-climbing and she’s a songwriter. I had to research all of those elements to make her as real to a reader as she is to me. I watched people doing parkour, asked them questions, and I interviewed singer-songwriters, and I got to watch a lot of free-climbing clips on YouTube—very fun. I enjoyed all of the characters, though. It was fun hanging out with them in my office. And the other part I enjoyed was listening to all the music that Lark listens to—I got to hear a lot of great singers and bands.
What inspires you?
When I teach writing, I often say that inspiration comes from two places: observation and imagination. To me, this means looking out at the world, observing. Going to galleries, reading the news, listening to conversations, paying attention, asking questions. Then when I’m tired of the world, I need time to do nothing. I switch off my phone, head offline, look out of the window, and daydream. Ideas come to me like this. I’m also inspired by the books I read—there are some amazing books out there and they make me want to write books even half as good.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
When I was eighteen, I traveled around the world on my own for nine months. Some of the books I read during that time impacted me profoundly, partly because I was alone and had endless time, partly because I was so actively trying to change myself, partly because they were great books. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh are three that I vividly remember. As I’ve grown older and written more, I’ve continued to read. I think every book inspires me in some way as a writer—either by showing me what to do, or by showing me what not to do. Right now, I’m totally inspired as a writer by Nicola Yoon. Her work is outstanding. How could anyone read her books and not feel like the world has shifted a little?
Who designed the covers?
A woman by the name of Amy Frueh did the cover—this is her website. She did an amazing job. I love this cover!
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
While writing Me (and) Me, I learned that I can’t open the doors I’ve closed in my life. Living with regret is no way to live. Constantly considering what might have been makes me unhappy, as does wishing for something I cannot have back. In the movie LaLaLand, when Emma Stone has that reverie at the end, thinking about what life would have been like if she’d taken a different path, I was reminded of what I’d learned writing Me (and) Me. Emma Stone’s character has a sweet, loving daughter, a terrific career, a considerate (and hot!) husband, but she still wonders what might have been. It’s part of our nature to think about the path not taken, but actually seeing what that life course is like, as Lark discovers, is terrifying.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Any readers who are writers too are welcome to come over to my website to sign up for my newsletter. You get free access to my online course Freeflow: A Writing Journey, and monthly writing tips and book recommendations. There are also heaps of free workshops on the site, too. www.alicekuipers.com
About Me (and) Me
It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.
Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.
Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?