Where do you look for inspiration for the supernatural and paranormal elements in your books?
I’m not sure I go looking for ghostly and strange inspiration for my stories — it just keeps on finding me. I honestly don’t like to be scared in my usual everyday life and would prefer to keep the creeping otherworldly fears and scares on the page only, but if you have an eye open to it, you’ll find supernatural inspiration everywhere. Almost as if it follows some of us. For example, while away for a reading last week I discovered that I was booked into the most haunted hotel in the city I was visiting — and I hadn’t even asked for it! With trepidation, and also because I couldn’t help myself, I Googled to find out the history of the hotel and discovered that a haunting disturbance happened on the 14th floor … which, you guessed it, was the floor my room was on. I had trouble falling asleep, so anxious I’d experience something. But when I woke up in the morning, completely unscathed and having seen nothing, I was kind of disappointed, too. Now a little idea from that hotel has entered my mind, and I can’t seem to shake it. See how I didn’t go looking for it and it found me anyway?
How do you stay connected with your teen audience when teen culture constantly evolves?
My last year in high school, I was voted “Most Individualistic” for the yearbook… which is just another way of saying I was weird. I think these are the teen readers my books connect to most of all: the teen readers who know they’re different, who don’t fit in, and who want stories that don’t fit so easily into a box either. The wonderfully weird and unique teen readers—my books are meant for them. And that crosses all generations.
What books are on your nightstand?
There is a teetering tower of books beside my blue reading chair, some of which I’ve started, and some of which I long to start. They include: Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Hunger by Roxane Gay, Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera, The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin, and a YA short story anthology edited by Lamar Giles called Fresh Ink. But very top on the pile is the latest issue of Tin House magazine, on the theme of “Poison,” which landed in my mailbox yesterday.
What’s the most exciting part of the work you do?
I started off writing stories only for myself — I never imagined so many people would read them. When I sit down and think about that, really think about that, it terrifies me the way it would have if I’d actually seen a ghost in that hotel room on the 14th floor last week. But it also thrills me at the same time. Late last night I got a personal, heartfelt email from someone who loved one of my books, and has read it over and over. They said it saved them at a difficult point in the past. I haven’t been able to reply yet because it moved me so much. The most exciting thing in the world is writing a book that could mean that much to someone else.
What are you looking forward to at the Portland Book Festival?
I’ve been wanting to attend the Portland Book Festival since I became a published author, back when it was still called Wordstock, so this feels like a long-held dream finally come true. I’m excited for my own panel with Elizabeth Acevedo and Brendan Kiely, because I think it will be such a great conversation, but also top on my list is to just be in the audience soaking in the wisdom of some of my favorite writers, including Alexander Chee, Eileen Myles, and Lidia Yuknavitch.