1. There aren’t many YA books that handle religion in such a head on, open way. What inspired you to write this story? Was writing characters with such diverse beliefs challenging?
I've always been fascinated by belief--what people believe, why they believe it, and the impact it has on the world. In college, I discovered the world of Catholic feminist and liberation theology. Basically, this means interpreting the Bible and Catholic social teaching in a way that centers the experiences of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups. It was mind-blowing to see scripture I thought I knew very well used in such a new way. Lucy's speech about whether girl saints were "well-behaved" (Spoiler alert: they were not) is the first thing I wrote. That's where the story began.
As for writing characters with different beliefs, it definitely was challenging. You want to do it right, and you want people to see themselves in these characters. I did a lot of research, and I listened to a lot of people talk about their faith (or lack thereof) and how it's shaped them. I was also lucky enough to have an amazing agent and editor who both thoughtfully, gently let me know when a character's faith wasn't as deeply explored as it needed to be. I'm very grateful for that.
2. There are so many awesome and nuanced characters in the Heretics Anonymous group. Did you ever write or consider writing the book from a perspective other than Michael’s?
Before HERETICS ANONYMOUS was a book, it was actually a TV pilot. And while Michael was the central character of that first episode, in the world of this imagined show, the other characters would get episodes that focused on them, too. When I started writing the story as a YA novel, I knew Michael would be the narrator, but I sometimes like to think of Lucy as the book's protagonist.
3. You were a playwright before you became a novelist. What was the transition from stage to books like? Do you prefer one over the other?
I love both! But they are very different. With plays, a writer's focus is on the dialogue and the plot. Everything else will likely be taken care of by the director or a designer. Sure, you can have an opinion on what a character looks like or the set, but the casting director is going to find the actors and the set designer is going to have their own take. When writing a book, those things are up to you, and you're responsible for painting the picture. The very first drafts of my books are about 90% characters talking to each other, 8% interior monologue, and 2% description.
But I do like the extra freedom you get with fiction. In a play, everything about your characters has to be expressed through dialogue. If you need the audience to know something, it has to be spoken out loud or conveyed through subtext. But something I love about fiction is that you're expected to give your protagonist an internal monologue. You can show what's happening in someone's head and really explore their thought process and what makes them tick.
4. I loved the scenes with Michael’s family. They add so deeply to his character and motivations. Was the family aspect always a major part of the book, or did it come later?
The family dynamics were always a part of the story. Personally, my evolving relationships with my parents and my younger sibling were such a huge part of my teenage experience, I felt like it was something I had to include. There's this miraculous thing that happens when you realize your parents are people, flaws and all, and a similar miraculous thing when they begin to see you as a fully separate human being, not just their child. I wanted to capture that moment from both sides.
5. I absolutely love your voice and laughed nonstop while I read the book. Do you have more projects on the way?
I do! My second YA contemporary will release from HarperCollins in Summer 2019. But that's all I can say for right now.