Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ava Dellaira Author Interview

Photo Content from Ava Dellaira

I was born in Los Angeles. One of my first memories is of looking out the window of the black Cadillac that my family drove across the wide-open desert when we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is where I grew up, and where my sister and I spent countless summer afternoons making fairy potions, battling evil witches, and playing other imaginary games that probably contributed to my proclivity to make up stories.

My first memory of writing is as a 2nd grader. I had been assigned to write a poem about the things I liked and why. I started out pretty unassumingly: “I like rainbows because they are pretty. I like kittens because they are soft.” And then I wrote, “I like my Mom—” but I couldn’t come up with an end to the sentence. I remember it vividly because it was my first awareness of that space between a feeling and the language we have to name it. No words were big enough. I thought about all of the things that I loved about her, all the fun stuff we did together, and finally I settled on, “I like my Mom because she gave birth to me.” That just seemed the most basic. (It was, in part, her beautiful life, and her sudden, untimely death that inspired me to write my first book, Love Letters to the Dead.)

After a lot of growing up (stories for another time), I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, and then received my MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, (where I lived on the bottom floor of a farm house once occupied by Kurt Vonnegut!). Upon graduating from Iowa, I moved to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter. I had the good fortune to get a job working for Stephen Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and became an associate producer on his film adaptation of the book. When I got up the guts to give him some of my writing, he said, “I think you should write a novel.” The idea had actually never occurred to me before, but that night, on my drive home, I was staring absently at the half-full moon while waiting for a red light to change, and a title popped into my head: Love Letters to the Dead. I started writing the book that night. Since its publication, I've adapted it into a screenplay for Temple Hill (the company that produced Twilight and The Fault In Our Stars) and I’m hoping to see it come to life on screen.

I now live with my husband, and spend my days writing in neighborhood coffee shops, in bed, in my shoebox office in our condo. I love the LA palm trees, especially the really tall ones that bend in the wind. I love how when a new album comes out, you hear it pouring from car windows all over the city. While I was at work on my new book, In Search Of, I spent a lot of time wandering around Los Angeles with my headphones on, listening to James and Marilyn's music, and to Angie’s, imagining them in the same spaces where I found myself.

When I'm not writing (or walking around and thinking about writing), I love to spend time reading, hiking, being at the beach, doing yoga, cooking, binge watching TV, and going to the movies (where I am always the one crunching on popcorn during the supposed-to-be-quiet moment). I love traveling, too. Since the publication of my first book, I've had the opportunity to visit Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, and many cities throughout the US. Whether in person or online, I've been blown away by the generosity of readers around the world. Thank you; getting to know you all has been an incredible joy and honor.


Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
It was more of a gradual realization. I think it started in middle school, when I began copying down song lyrics in my journal, which led me to begin writing my own (very bad!) poetry. I loved writing throughout most of my adolescence, but it took a while for me to think of it as something that I might be able to do for my job.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
There’s a Joan Didon quote that I use In Search Of Us, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” which I think answers that question perfectly. It’s how we make sense of our lives, how we understand ourselves and our humanity.

What do you hope for people to be thinking after they read your novel?
The book speaks to a lot of different things—identity, race, family, love, loss, to name a few—so I think each reader will take something different from the novel. But one of the most important themes of the book that I hope will resonate has to do with the importance of understanding our history—both personal and collective—in order to create the present and futures that we want.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why?
I don’t actually have an all time favorite book—though I did list ten of my favorites below! Different books have meant different things to me at different moments in my life—I’m one of those people who feels like each book I finish and fall in love is my new favorite.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
When I first started working for author and director Stephen Chbosky (I was his assistant and an associate producer on The Perks of Being A Wallflower), I timidly told him that I wanted to be a writer. He asked me, “Do you write?” I replied that yes, I did. And he told me, “If you write, then you are a writer.” It seems like a simple statement, but it was such an important realization for me. It helped me to stop looking outside of myself for validation, and to realize that writing is an action. Instead of being a title that I needed someone else to bestow upon me, it was the act of putting words on a page that made me a writer. This realization helped to give me the courage I needed to look inside of myself, and write more honestly than I’d even been able to before.

In your book; IN SEARCH OF US, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
The book goes back and forth in time between a mom and a daughter when they are each 17 years old, searching for their places in the world. We begin in present day with Angie, a biracial girl who’s grown up with her young, single white mom, Marilyn. The only thing Marilyn’s ever been able to tell Angie about her father, who was black, is that he died in a car accident before she was born. But when Angie discoverers evidence of an uncle she's never met, she realizes her mom has been lying to her, and she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she runs away to Los Angeles with her ex-boyfriend in hopes of finding him, and finally discovering the answers to her questions about where she comes from, and who she is.

Simultaneously, we go back Los Angeles in the late 90s, where we get to know 17-year-old Marilyn. Marilyn grew up as mildly successful child actor, never able to live up to her mother’s fantasies of stardom. When they run out of money, she and her mom are forced to move in with Marilyn’s volatile uncle. Marilyn survives by quietly counting down the days until she can leave for college and finally begin a life that belongs to her, until she meets James, the boy downstairs, and discovers a love that will change her forever. As Marilyn and Angie’s stories converge, they must finally face the truth about the past together, in order to move forward.

For those who are unfamiliar with Angie, how would you introduce her?
Angie is full of longing, of hope, of love. She believes in ghosts. She has a kind of obsession with thinking about the world population, and thinking of herself as one of more than seven billion—it allows her to feel invisible, and becomes a means of protecting herself. But deep down, she is searching for her place in the world, and for a way to understand and express her identity.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m just beginning a new book, but I find that I’m never really able to talk about new projects when I am just starting out on them, because my creative process involves needing to discover a story in private, before it’s ready for the world. I can say that I’ve gone through the process of writing a screenplay for my first book, Love Letters to the Dead, and have been working with the producers of Twilight and the Fault in Our Stars on getting the movie made. Fingers crossed!

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Marilyn?
Marilyn was full of little surprises. One of the things that was fun to discover early on was her habit of taking “mind pictures.” She wants to be a photographer but doesn’t have a camera, so she uses her hands to frame an imaginary photo, and practices blinking her eyes—like snapping a shutter—at the perfect second, freezing the image in her mind.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love for Laurel from Love Letters to the Dead to get to meet Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower—that makes me smile to think of, because Stephen’s book inspired me when I was starting out as a writer.

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Always write the stories you need to write, not the ones that you think someone else wants to read (or buy). And read, read, read, as much as possible! It’s the best way to learn. Sometimes people are afraid of letting other writers’ voices get into their heads, but I think finding inspiration in the voices and styles of other writers you love is wonderful. Your own writing will always be filtered through you, so it will always end up being yours in the end.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
One of my earliest memories is of holding my little sister at the hospital right after she was born—I was about three and a half. I was sure they’d say no when I asked, and then so proud that they trusted me with her in my arms. I felt this enormous love and protectiveness for her.

What are you most passionate about today?

I am passionate about my family, my husband, our baby. I am passionate about writing and storytelling. I am passionate about reading, about music, about art. I am passionate about the natural world and our planet. I am passionate about kindness and empathy. I am passionate about justice, about peace, about facing our histories and our present in order to create a better future...

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Haha, good question! I am 34 weeks pregnant right now, so I was thinking about how much my daughter has grown.

Can you define love in your own way?
Wow, that’s a tough one! I think there are so many different kinds of love—between a parent and a child, siblings, best friends, romantic partners, to name a few—and the deepest forms of love often feel beyond words.

If you could live in any period in history, what would it be and why?
I’d like to visit and learn from other periods of history, but I don’t think I’d choose to live in the past. I am happy to be living in the present, not because it’s an easy moment—I think many of us are feeling that this is a difficult and scary time—but because it’s now.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I actually loved being a teenager during the 90s. I think the 1960s would have been another exciting time; young people were effecting so much essential social change. I think the same thing about right now—teens are having a huge impact and are at the forefront of many important movements. Today’s kids are going to change the world!

Who has had the most influence in your life?
It feels impossible to pick just one person, but my mom (who passed away when I was 22) had and still has a monumental influence on my life and on who I am.

Where can readers find you?
I’m on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook—I love hearing from readers and always try to reply to messages!


  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem
  • Salvage The Bones
  • This Is How You Lose Her
  • Welcome to the Goon Squad
  • The Fire Next Time
  • My Brilliant Friend (+Elena Ferrante’s entire Neapolitan series—there are four books, so I’m cheating a little here...)
  • The Lovely Bones
  • The Awakening
  • Wild
  • The Joy Luck Club

The author of the beloved Love Letters to the Dead returns with a parallel story of a mother and daughter each at age seventeen. Marilyn's tale recounts the summer she fell in love and set out on her own path. Angie's story is about her search for her unknown father.

This sweeping multi-generational love story introduces readers to mother-and-daughter pair Marilyn and Angie. To seventeen-year-old Angie, who is mixed-race, Marilyn is her hardworking, devoted white single mother. But Marilyn was once young, too. When Marilyn was seventeen, she fell in love with Angie's father, James, who was African-American. But Angie's never met him, and Marilyn has always told her he died before she was born. When Angie discovers evidence of an uncle she's never met she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she sets off on a journey to find him, hitching a ride to LA from her home in New Mexico with her ex-boyfriend, Sam. Along the way, she uncovers some hard truths about herself, her mother, and what truly happened to her father.

Praise for IN SEARCH OF US

"Dellaira’s debut novel, Love Letters to the Dead, was good; her second, which tells two connected tales set 18 years apart, is spectacular. Readers will be left sobbing, both for the characters they’ve come to love and for the state of the country—Dellaira draws on persistent racial divides to craft an ending that is surprising yet inevitable, heartbreaking, and hopeful." —Publishers Weekly starred review

"A coming-of-age novel about all kinds of love, this is a realistic look into how teens’ lives intertwine with their parents’ pasts. Readers who enjoyed Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead or Emery Lord’s When We Collided will fall in love with this title." —School Library Journal

"...[A] compelling intergenerational tale. Achingly vibrant." —Kirkus

"Both stories are engaging, packed with cultural references from their respective periods. But the most poignant aspect of the story is Angie’s need to connect with the African American side of her family... this novel offers a thoughtful examination of racial identity." —Booklist

"Through both stories, Dellaira explores the complexities of relationships, particularly between mothers and daughters, while also examining racial identity. She successfully uses photography as a metaphor to demonstrate how people can view the same subjects from many different perspectives. Beautiful prose makes this novel perfect for readers who appreciate layered meaning and vivid, original imagery." —VOYA

You can purchase In Search Of Us at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you AVA DELLAIRA for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a  Copy of In Search Of Us by Ava Dellaira.


  1. Usually I think, is it too early to get up? (I work a noon shift so 6am wake ups suck unless its summer time and I can go outside and sit and enjoy my coffee)

  2. "What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?" I like to perform the ritual of drinking coffee!

  3. What is the weather like outside for my morning run?

  4. Is it time to watch Morning Joe?

  5. "I'm retired-I don't have to get up!" But I do, anyway!

  6. What is work going to be like that day and I hope it goes fast.

  7. The first thing I think about in the morning is coffee. Thanks for the giveaway!

  8. The first thing I think about is feeding the cats.

  9. It's not unusual for there to be two very sweet cats very near to me, wondering why their food dishes are empty. One of my cats actually gets hangry (but only for very rare and brief moments, thank goodness) -- I've never actually seen "hanger" before, in an animal OR a person! :p
    So, I sometimes think: "How long can I stay here under the blankets before they realize I'm not sleeping? ...Oh, they know. They always know."
    --Ann (Email: