Interview: Book club featured author, Paula Stokes.
Last year, we were thrilled by her young adult novel, Liars, Inc.
This year, Paula Stokes brings us a story full of hope, fun, romance, intrigue, and a slew of relatable characters in her new novel, Girl Against the Universe.
TBM: You were with us last year for the Liars, Inc. book club. Can you share your experience with us?
PS: You guys were my first ever author Skype event and I was super-nervous. I remember it was really hot and I shut off my air conditioner so that you’d be able to hear me better, so between the nerves and the heat, I was kind of a sweaty mess by the end. But the crowd was awesome! I have never had even half as many people at a live event as I had at the Epic Reads Book Club with The Bookmark-PR. Thank you so much to everyone who attended 🙂 I was also surprised by how many great questions the audience asked. Sometimes people at events are really quiet and shy, but the book club guests keep me talking.
Overall it was a great time 😀
TBM: What inspired you to write Girl Against the Universe?
PS: Girl Against the Universe was inspired by a vacation I took to Mexico where multiple bad things happened around me (but not to me) in the span of a week. I was the only person at both accidents and even though I know it isn’t rational, just like Maguire I felt cursed. I kept thinking about the things that had happened for weeks, and then gradually extrapolating them out—what if it had been 3 or 4 things instead of 2, what if people had actually gotten injured or died, what if I were a teenager instead of an adult? It’s pretty common for me to take painful experiences from my life and use them as the basis for fictional stories. In that way, writing is like therapy for me.
TBM: How is Girl Against the Universe different from your previous novel, Liars, Inc?
PS: Girl Against the Universe is different from Liars, Inc. in several ways. GATU isn’t a mystery—it’s a feel-good story about two people becoming stronger and more self-aware by tackling therapy challenges tailored to their specific issues. Think of it like Since You’ve Been Gone meets Every Last Word, with a dash of your favorite Miranda Kenneally book thrown in. Other reviewers have compared the book to Fangirl and Everything, Everything. GATU is less edgy than LIARS, and would be appropriate for ages 12 and older. GATU has a female protagonist, but like Max she is sarcastic and funny and feels like a real person. And just like LIARS, this book has fast-paced prose, snappy dialogue, supportive family members, and first-person narration via a likable main character.
TBM: In comparison to your other novels, what does Girl Against the Universe reveal about you as an author?
PS: This is a really hard question. I guess I would say it reveals that I wanted to write something more serious and meaningful than my previous two novels, as well as a willingness to make huge revisions for the good of the story. I rewrote almost half this book in revision to thread in the character of Dr. Daniel Leed and take this story to a deeper level with respect to Maguire’s anxiety and PTSD.
TBM: What do you hope readers will learn from this book?
PS: I don’t generally write books hoping readers will learn things. I write books that I hope will entertain and/or comfort readers, books that will help someone who is struggling to escape their problems for a few hours or feel less alone. However, I think there are a lot of things that readers could learn from GATU. For example:
- Books about mental illness can be fun. They can be funny and heartfelt and hopeful and inspiring. If you’re dodging the book because you think it’s a downer, you’re missing out. It’s a very uplifting story.
- Mental illness doesn’t always look like Girl Interrupted or Fight Club. Often people with psychological issues such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. look just like you and me and Maguire.
- Therapy is not reserved for people who are suicidal or hallucinating or extremely disturbed. A lot of people have mild to moderate mental illness, and those people might really benefit from therapy. If you think you need help dealing with something, then you need help, and you deserve it. Don’t let anyone tell you to “suck it up.” This is your life, and as far as I know, you only get one.
- Asking for help takes courage. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maguire is in therapy. Jordy is in therapy. At one point Maguire tries to hide it and her friend Jade tells her that it’s no big deal, that half the school is in therapy, or probably wishes they were.
- Your friends and family might turn out to be more supportive than you think. You are less alone than you think. There are people in your world who want to help you, who will help you, if you just reach out to them.
TBM: In one sentence, how would you describe Girl Against the Universe?
PS: I’m going to defer to Tamara Ireland Stone, who did a better job of describing the book in one sentence than I ever could 😉
“Filled with equal amounts of empathy, humor, and heart, Girl Against the Universe is an empowering story about finding the courage to piece your life back together, even when it feels irreparably broken.”
— Tamara Ireland Stone, NYT bestselling author of Every Last Word
Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently Girl Against the Universe and Liars, Inc., the latter of which received a starred review from Kirkus. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.
She will be joining us a second time via Skype on Wednesday, August 31th at 6:30PM.