Q and A with Alison Umminger, AMERICAN GIRLS (US title)/MY FAVOURITE MANSON GIRL (UK title)
1. An overview of American Girls (American title)/My Favourite Manson Girl (UK title): Anna has had a miserable year. Everything feels wrong with her life. And rather than stay and face the mess, she steals a credit card and books herself a seat on the first flight out of town to Los Angeles, to crash with her sister. But soon after she lands, cold reality soon dawns on her: Hollywood isn't the escape she needs. She is trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket.
When she's offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a dubious film, she reluctantly accepts - she needs the money. But soon enough, among the fake smiles and glitter-fueled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous . . .
This is not going to be the summer Anna had in mind.
American Girls/My Favourite Manson Girl is a chilling story about being young, lost and female. This is a story about how girls disappear.
2. Anna is a very smart and irreverent 15-year-old girl - where did she come from?
That’s such a hard question to answer! You always risk sounding crazy or mystical if you say the voice “comes to you”—but Anna was one of those characters. Once she emerged, she sort of came fully formed and I felt in many parts like she was telling me her story -- like I’d caught some kind of creative wave and all I had to do was ride it. For the record, this is not something that happens to me, as a writer, on a regular basis. Usually I have to spend a good amount of time to get a character’s voice down.
3. I think this novel will appeal to adult readers as much as YA ones, but did you write it specifically with YA readers in mind?
While I did have YA readers in mind, I’m one of those people who thinks more about whether a book is good or not, as opposed to where it will be shelved. I happen to love writing teens--maybe I have a bit of the perpetual adolescent about me :) And I love many of the same books now that I did when I was fourteen, so I figure there are probably lots of other people who feel the same.
4. I love the L.A. setting where much of the book takes place. Did you spend time out there doing research for the setting-related details?
Only in the sense that I used to have friends who lived in LA and worked on various television shows. When I was working on my various graduate degrees, I’d skip out on my ramen-grubbing, grad-student existence to hang out with them at their far more exciting and lucrative jobs. I was kind of like Anna, in that respect, in that I liked being on the fringes of the entertainment industry--a spectator--but I knew that it wasn’t my path.
5. What were some of your influences, i.e. are their specific YA or older-audience novels, films, music, etc. that inspired you?
I was very inspired by Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, which is really the ultimate L.A. novel. I meant for this novel to be a kind of homage to that novel, and I paraphrase a line of West’s in the very last section. The Great Gatsby also plays a huge part in the novel, because (I think) it’s the ultimate book about chasing a dream that leaves you hollow. I’m endlessly amazed by what both of those books do in relatively short spaces. I’m a pretty huge fan of novels that clock in under 300 pages.
6. What are you working on now, if you don't mind disclosing it?
I’m working on another YA novel, but it is not coming easy or fast, and every day I seem to think of a different avenue for it -- so the best I can say is that I’m not giving up, but I think disclosing any of the details would just spook me. I’m a firm believe that the best way to kill a novel is to talk it away before you’ve written it!
Alison Umminger is the author of AMERICAN GIRLS/MY FAVOURITE MANSON GIRL -- the same novel leading a fancy double-life on opposite sides of the Atlantic. She is a Professor of English at the University of West Georgia, and she loves teaching, writing, and low-brow junk food.