Book Nerd Interview
Ann Stampler was the mild mannered author of literary picture books when she broke out, tore off her tasteful string of pearls, and started writing edgy, contemporary young adult novels set in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and writer's-helper rescue dog - without whose compelling distraction she would have no doubt penned dozens of novels by now.
"Readers will root for Emma as she negotiates difficult choices and a first romance, and grapples with finding her moral compass. But in her heartbreaking portrayal of Siobhan, a young woman spinning out of control with no one able to catch her—not even her best friend—author Ann Redisch Stampler reminds us that losing a friendship can be just as painful as a failed romance." - BookPage
I was one of those little kids who stockpiled black-and-white marbled-cover notebooks and special writing pencils, certain that one day I would be a writer. And while a several other half-hearted careers intervened, it never really felt as if I was doing what I was meant to do until my first picture book was published.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Not that I go in for sweeping generalizations, but storytelling is at the center of our beings; we would scarcely be human without it.
Storytelling is the way we make sense of ourselves, our lives, and our culture. It’s the way we pass along our values and our beliefs to the next generation, and the way we share our deepest feelings and thoughts with others, the way we learn to understand ourselves. Sometimes I even wonder if the stories we tell ourselves about what we do can become more important than our actual actions.
I grew up in an oral story-telling tradition; my first books are retellings of folk tales. And honestly, I don’t see how a civilization can hold on without its stories.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. I think the thing that pulled me in and charmed me is Elizabeth Bennett’s voice, but the story is perfectly satisfying.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
To my mind, Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott is an entire book of the best pieces of advice I’ve every gotten from another author. I think it’s brilliant, moving, wise. I love this book. Lamott’s recommendations are both soul-touching and remarkably practical. Not only do I want to pass out copies of the book to all aspiring writers, I want Anne Lamott at my house for Thanksgiving.
In your new book; Afterparty, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
Afterparty is a coming of age novel that explores the dark side of an intense, complicated friendship between two girls that goes terribly wrong. The protagonist and narrator, Emma, arrives in a new city longing to reinvent herself. Her new best friend, wild child Siobhan helps Emma break away from her father’s restrictive vision of how a good girl should behave, and to face her fear that if she lets herself go, she’ll end up like her black sheep mother. But Siobhan also leads her into a double life of secret promises, painful betrayals, and dangerous pacts. And as Emma begins to make her own decisions and pull away, the fallout threatens her relationship with her father, her first love, and ultimately, her life.
As for the other characters, after writing a male character who was just a tick short of sociopathic in my first novel, Where It Began, I really wanted to give Afterparty some guys who were, at worst, flawed but basically decent – or at least trying to be. I really do like Arif, Joe, and Emma’s cool, elusive crush, Dylan, even when he massively screws up. Also, after the godawful, disconnected parents of Where It Began, I wanted to have some parents who erred in the other direction, to deal with the struggles of a girl with a loving parent who was nevertheless smothering her.
In terms of the setting, I love L.A. Seriously, I do. The glamour and glitz are so seductive, but with such a clear downside for kids who are given – or take – unlimited freedom to explore its more decadent underside. I loved the contrasts inherent in putting this sweet, mutinous girl from Montreal in a charming little Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills with a dad baking her tiny pumpkin breads and attempting to control her every move, but with the lights and sounds of the Sunset Strip beckoning her through the trees in the canyon that borders her back yard.
And with regard to why Book Nerds should read this book, well, if any of this sounds interesting to you, this might be your book. If you’d like to check out the first few chapters, Simon & Schuster has put them up on Scribed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/183272047/Afterparty-by-Ann-Redisch-Stampler-Excerpt.
For those who are unfamiliar with Emma, how would you introduce her?
Emma is smart and funny and totally oppressed by her father. She sees their move to Los Angeles as a chance to lead a more normal teen life. But her dad becomes increasingly restrictive just as Emma is having to cope with the harsh social scene at her elite high school, where she needs an ally. Emma turns to a wild child friend who is both supremely supportive and dangerously out of control. Soon Emma is alternating between being Emma the Good – polite, respectful, volunteering at a food bank and hanging out with Megan, the even move over-protected girl her dad has selected as an appropriate friend -- and a secret life orchestrated by wild child Siobhan, beyond the scope of anything Emma the Good could even imagine.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Ooooh, I’d like to introduce Dylan from Afterparty to Pony Tail, Gabby’s therapist in Where It Began. Because I don’t think his problems are going to be solved by leaving town. And maybe we could introduce Aiden from Afterparty to Aliza from Where It Began, because they deserve each other.
(And here’s some inside info: Dylan already knows Andy and Andie from Where It Began. The over-the-top Valentine’s Day party in Afterparty takes place at Andy’s house. That pool house where Dylan thinks his brother is – Gabby from Where It Began has slept over in that pool house many times.)
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Dylan?
As I got more and more deeply involved in writing Dylan, I understood the impact of being raised in his awful family more and more, the depth of his rage and the implications of the lack of any kind of reasonable guidance. I saw more and more how, although he’d escaped to his best friend Arif’s house as a little kid, he had never really escaped.
The most surprising thing happened when, as I was writing the scene at the Valentine’s Day party, at the point you think that every terrible thing that Dylan could learn about the people closest to him has already been revealed, as he’s walking toward his car, needing to get out of there and get out quickly, he sees one more thing. Something of the straw that pierced the camel’s heart variety. And I’ve got to admit, I didn’t see it coming. But as I visualized Dylan traversing the dark lawn, emotionally spent, the image showed up in my head. I’d kind of known it all along, but it explained so much!
I love it when those unexpected, perfect things appear on the page.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
My first writing job was the summer I spent as a reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press. Even writing out the name of the newspaper feels just right to me, feels like home, even though in some ways it was a terrible summer. The work part of it was sublime, though. It was my first fully adult, fully responsible job. The fact that the words I wrote appeared in our local newspaper during a time when the newspaper had so much respect gave those words a gravitas that was both anxiety-provoking and inspiring. I loved that job.
Who was your first boyfriend?
I went out a lot before I got together with him, but I have to say that my first true boyfriend was the first man with whom I was ever deeply and mutually in love. I was twenty. And I realized in the glowing intensity of it that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that had happened before with me and men counted. At all. And that even though he was not, in fact, my first kiss or my first time for a lot of things, it was the first time any of it mattered. We actually got engaged, although neither of us would be ready to marry for a good decade, and then not to each other. But the fact that the possibility of loving and being loved back was out there was such a revelation, such a sustaining thing to take with me into my twenties and thirties, which is when I finally met the man I like to think of as my last boyfriend: my wonderful husband.
Tell me about your first kiss
I was seven years old at the time, and the object of my affections was a highly attractive bad boy (read: he wrote on his sneakers in indelible marker) called Vinston Gergpatrick. (Was he Vincent Fitzpatrick? Or was he Winston Kirkpatrick? Who knows?) He kissed me smack on the lips and gave me a box of raisins. Sadly, our relationship ended when he demanded that I cry out, “Save me, Vinston!” when I was dangling halfway across the monkey bars in our elementary school playground. I refused.
Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love with heartbreak. The possibility of going through life without ever experiencing true love would be its own heartbreak. Always go with the option that has love in it.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
Good lord, is there any real choice here? The ‘Sixties!!!! I mean, I realize that things were still pretty damned sexist and racist and the Vietnam war was raging and Apartheid still hadn’t gone down and there was the Greek junta and Franco was still fomenting fascism in Spain and it was a miserable time to be GLTB, but the seeds of change were there. It was such a hopeful period, carrying with it such a sense that youth could change the world. And, not to be superficial here, but the music!!! Oh lord, the music!!! And the transition from constricting little dresses and white gloves and hats to jeans and gorgeously embroidered peasant blouses. And long, flowing, naturally beautiful hair! Oh, take me there!
TOP TEN LIST; THINGS YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT YOUR TEENAGE YEARS1. I wouldn’t let my mother buy my clothes. Or consult with me about what clothes to buy. Or comment on the clothes I bought. Any of them, not a single sock. (Or, if she insisted on coming along, my mantra would be : No orange polyester…no orange polyester…no orange polyester.)
2. I’d have gotten a paying job. Not just all that great, enlightening stuff I volunteered at. But a job that included the earning of money. I think I would have felt far more powerful and more of a sense of self-determination if I’d had my own money. Even a little bit of it.
3. I would have gone to Bologna. I don’t care who I thought I was in love with forever or where he was going to be while I was spending my year in Italy or how much I wanted to be with him. Do I, at this moment, know where he is, or love him, or even, in retrospect, like him that much? Uh, no.
And do I speak fluent Italian? Also, no.
4. I should have kissed Marcus Francis. (Only if he wanted to, or at least didn’t resist or act repulsed.)
Here’s the set-up. When I was 15 and living in the Caribbean, I had a thing for the English guy across the street. Walking cuteness. He, on the other hand, had a thing for the tall, thin, blonde, beautiful girl down the road. The tall, thin, beautiful girl down the road had a thing for some unidentified older-to-the-point-of-being-an-adult guy, but let’s assume he was French, and cool, and extremely romantic. And not at all creepy even though – to hear her tell it – he was completely infatuated with a sixteen year old: her.
Anyway, in the middle of this Tempest-like scenario, there was The Country Club Dance. The three of us went together. Whose idea was this? Anyway, when the tall, gorgeous girl was off getting her drink freshened, totally uninterested in the two of us remaining behind at our sad little table, there should have been some kissing.
5. Listen to the radio! I don’t care how lowbrow my father thought it was to listen to the radio. And it gets worse. There I was at summer camp, encouraging other girls to stop listening to the radio so I could read a book in absolute silence. Seriously?
6. I wish I’d talked with my dad more and learned more about him, more stories about his life, more about what he believed in. He was gone when I was still a teenager, and I’ll never have the chance to know him better. I still miss him.
7. I shouldn’t have quit piano. Yes, I know, I was truly terrible and my dreadful piano teacher thought it would be inspirational to keep yakking about this 10 year old who was better than me. But I hate that I can’t play and sing (also terribly). Hmmm. I could take lessons now…?
8. I wish that when something I wanted to do had felt awkward or potentially embarrassing, I’d learned to tell myself “so what?” and I’d done it anyway. I would have had so many more adventures.
9. I wish that when I was being pressured to do something that felt terribly wrong, I’d had the presence of mind to say WTF and run in the other direction.
10. Number ten is for the hugely embarrassing, horrible things that seemed like game changers at the time, and that maybe were game changers. I suspect that most teenagers have them. God knows, I did, and the girls I write about certainly do. The point being that a wonderful life ensued, and all that (excuse me) shit was reduced to the status of memories I wish I didn’t have. And nothing more. (Hang in there. It gets better.)
Emma is tired of being good. Always the dutiful daughter to an overprotective father, she is the antithesis of her mother — whose name her dad won’t even say out loud. That’s why meeting Siobhan is the best thing that ever happened to her…and the most dangerous. Because Siobhan is fun and alluring and experienced and lives on the edge. In other words, she’s everything Emma is not.
And it may be more than Emma can handle.
Because as intoxicating as her secret life may be, when Emma begins to make her own decisions, Siobhan starts to unravel. It’s more than just Dylan, the boy who comes between them. Their high-stakes pacts are spinning out of control. Elaborate lies become second nature. Loyalties and boundaries are blurred. And it all comes to a head at the infamous Afterparty, where debauchery rages and an intense, inescapable confrontation ends in a plummet from the rooftop…
This explosive, sexy, and harrowing follow-up to Ann Redisch Stampler’s spectacular teen debut, Where It Began, reveals how those who know us best can hurt us most.
You can purchase Afterpartyat the following Retailers: