Interview with Becky Albertalli

In our interview with Becky, Josh chats to Becky about her book, her inspirations, what got her started plus you get to find out more about what’s next for Becky as well! 

Congratulations on such a success of a book that you had in Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda! What inspired you to write it?

Thank you so much! It’s hard to pinpoint my exact inspiration. I’d been working as a psychologist for several years, but I left my full-time job at a school when my older son was born in 2012. When he was about a year old, I used his nap times to write SIMON. I’d always wanted to write a novel, but I never thought I’d actually get around to doing it.

The book has a high representation of the LGBTQ+ community, what with a gay main character. Was it always your intention to have a diverse book?

It’s funny – I’m often asked if this book was inspired by the We Need Diverse Books movement. SIMON (like most 2015 books) was actually written before WNDB existed. That being said, the focus on diversity issues in SIMON was intentional. Conversations about sexual, gender, racial, and other aspects of identity are incredibly important, and I was really interested in engaging with that discussion.

YA is notoriously diverse, and personally I think that’s a good thing. Are there any communities that you think we’ve missed in YA though and that we need to be writing about and reading about?

Absolutely! I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the YA community, and I love seeing more and more diverse books flourishing this year. Still, I think marginalized groups need so much more representation. In particular, I’d love to read more #ownvoices stories (stories written by the members of the groups being portrayed) across the board, and more representation of intersectional diversity.

I have to ask: In Simon Vs, Simon and the mysterious ‘Blue’ communicate via email and we get to see this exchange of messages. Simon’s email address, however, is hourtohour.notetonote@gmail.com. Why did you pick this as his email address?

I always felt that Simon was the type of person to get obsessive and evangelical about his music. I knew he’d want an Elliott Smith email address, and I picked one that was available in Gmail (the email addresses in my book are real, and Simon, Blue, and Martin write back – though they’re not always super prompt).

Was there anything you wrote in the book that has a connection to something in your own life? Did you take inspiration from your own life?

SO much of this book was inspired by events from my own life. There are actually two passages in the book (I won’t say which) that are lifted almost directly from my high school journals. In general, I drew heavily on my memories of high school theater. I also grew up in a close-knit liberal family outside Atlanta, and I had a golden retriever and a big, diverse group of friends.

Simon goes through a struggle in school from what I see, especially as there is the risk that the emails with Blue could be exposed. Where did the idea for this struggle come from?

Actually, my first drafts had more of an emphasis on Simon’s own anxiety about coming out. The idea to focus more on his concerns about Blue was an insight from an agent critique I received from Kate McKean at the Atlanta Writers’ Conference. This ended up being such an important part of Simon’s character – because he actually IS pretty anxious about coming out, but that anxiety isn’t entirely conscious for him. Simon really struggles with self-awareness sometimes!

How did you get into writing? Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved writing stories, but I never thought I’d make a career out of it. There was so much luck involved in the process for me.

On Goodreads, Simon Vs has an average 4.29 stars rating and as I scrolled down everyone is acting in a really positive manner towards your book, including me! What do you make of this success your book has achieved, and did you ever anticipate it?

Oh my gosh – I try to stay away from Goodreads! I think it’s hard for authors to have an accurate sense of how their books are being received. If I read a negative comment on Twitter, my mind tends to give it the same weight as a Kirkus review. But I’ve received some incredible emails and messages from readers, and that’s what makes me feel successful. It is so, unbelievably far beyond what I anticipated. I’m very grateful.

What’s next for you? Do you intend to carry on writing, and is this the last we’ll hear about Simon or is this just the beginning?

I do intend to keep writing! SIMON was actually sold in a two-book deal to Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins (USA), so a second book is expected to release next fall. I can’t reveal too much about it, but it’s a companion book to Simon, and it stars the friends and family Abby left behind in DC.

What tips do you have for any aspiring writers who might be reading?

I think my best advice is to really embrace the writing community. I drafted SIMON in complete isolation, and wasn’t involved in the community at all. Since then, I’ve had the chance to get to know so many fellow authors, bloggers, readers, booksellers, librarians, and industry professionals. The friendships I’ve made have made my writing stronger – and have completely saved my sanity.

Find out more about Becky and her books here. Buy Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda here if you’re in the UK, here in the USA and everywhere else in the world here!

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