Skip to main content

Into YA with Jennifer Dugan



I'm so excited to introduce my first repeat author for Into YA! Jennifer Dugan is back on the blog to chat about Verona Comics, one of my favorite books of the year (and probably all time). If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, you probably know about Verona Comics by now, but if you want a refresher or some context for our conversation, check out my review of it here.
Also, if you're curious about my first interview with Jennifer about Hot Dog Girl, you can find it here.  And if you want to get a copy of Verona Comics or learn more, here's a link to her author website with all the links.

1. I absolutely love that Verona Comics is such a clear nod to Romeo and Juliet. Did you set out to write a modern retelling? You explore and contextualize a lot of the more toxic elements of the original story. Were there any major changes that you had to make to Shakespeare’s outline to make it fit YA today?   
I actually didn’t go into Verona Comic’s with the idea of making it a modern retelling. I just wanted to talk about these two teens from dramatically different sides of the same industry. However, once I started fleshing it out, I realized there were a lot of parallels and decided to really lean into it. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to incorporate the more recognizable moments in a modern way, like the balcony scene which now takes place on a back deck!
I knew right away that one of the biggest changes I was going to make was going to be in terms of addressing the codependency and general toxicity of Romeo and Juliet’s whirlwind relationship in the source text. I really wanted to unpack that and depict Ridley and Jubilee going through it in a more realistic way in my book. I came to consider it more of a Romeo and Juliet “fix-it” then a true retelling.

2. One of my favorite parts of your books is that they always have the coolest settings (Hot Dog Girl is set at a rundown amusement park and Verona Comics is set at a comic convention and store). Is setting an element that helps define a book early on? How does setting shape a story? 

Settings definitely shape stories in a major way. Someone growing up sheltered in a tiny town is going to have a very different frame of reference for the world than someone traveling around to comic-cons and cello performances! For me, setting is very much tied to character building.
For this one, since I also write comics, the decision to set a novel in the comics industry was pretty simple. I spend a lot of time in comic shops and at comic cons, it’s a setting I am very familiar with—but also one that gave me lots of room to play.

3. Ridley’s dad plays a major role in the book even though we rarely see him on the page. One of Ridley’s main motivations is to gain approval or attention from his dad. Over the course of the book he learns to unpack those issues. I love that this book shows the real impact parents have on their kids even in their absence. What led you to make a point of this in the book? Was it important for you to show Ridley’s journey to truly process and work through it instead of packing it away? 

I don’t think it’s a secret that I love exploring complicated characters, and Ridley and his father are no exception. As someone who didn’t have the best homelife growing up, it was really important to me to show the ways that parents’ actions can affect their children… but it was equally important for me to show that it can get better. We can find other resources and support systems outside of our immediate family.

4. Two aspects of the book I really loved were the mental health representation and the LGBTQIA rep. Whether it was Jubilee expressing her uncertainty around labels, Ridley hesitantly telling Jubilee about being bi or him choosing to seek inpatient care for his anxiety and depression, the characters’ choices and identities were always met with overwhelming positivity where it mattered most. I think that goes a long way to normalize making the best decisions for yourself. Did you intentionally place a positive emphasis on these moments in the story? Have you gotten to see the meaningful impact that has on, particularly teen, readers? 

So many bi/pan people (and people who are still working on figuring out their labels) share the same story of not feeling queer enough when they are in differently gendered relationships. I wanted to include that in Jubilee’s arc, but it was also very important to me that Jubilee had a loving, thriving, queer community that challenged her as she processed those feelings. I wanted readers who may be in a similar place to see the validation first hand, and to understand that sexuality is not tied to whomever you’re dating at a set point in time.
In regard to Ridley seeking help, it was also crucial to me to show mental health services and support groups in a positive light. I’ve seen too many books in the past which vilified therapists or had characters scoffing at the idea of taking meds. Asking for help when you need it is one of the hardest and best things you can do for yourself. I also added a list of resources at the end of the book to encourage people to reach out.

5. You’re a comic creator yourself, much like Vera is in the book. Did your other job help inspire this story? 

I definitely borrowed from some of my real-life experiences while working on this. In between selling my comics, I end up spending time people watching while tabling at various comic cons, which really helped inspire this book. I even snuck some easter eggs into the comic con scenes for some of my friends who travel with me to events!
And while I’ve never had a Kickstarter go fully viral like Vera’s do, I did use it to fund my comic, Circadia. Kickstarter, and other crowd funding platforms, can be a great way to find diverse stories that aren’t always supported in traditional media.

6. I had been excited to read Verona Comics from the moment you teased it in our last interview. Do you have any new projects you can talk about yet?

I recently announced my next YA novel, SOME GIRLS DO, which will be out Summer of 2021. It follows Morgan, an out and proud track star who falls for Ruby, a closeted, bisexual local beauty queen with a penchant for fixing up old cars. It’s dual POV, like Verona Comics, so readers will get to see things from both of their perspectives.
I also expect to be sharing news on another project very soon. I can’t say much about that one yet, except that it’s thematically similar to my previous books, but also incredibly different. ;)



Books From This Author...

Links of Interest:


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Halsey's I Would Leave Me If I Could Poetry Review

  I Would Leave Me If I Could  by Halsey  I've started this review a couple times and scrapped all of them. I've written hundreds of reviews before, and this is the first time I have absolutely no clue how to review a book. It's not just because it's poetry. And it's not because I don't have thoughts on every single poem. I've read the book twice and scrubbed a million notes around her words and highlighted every poem on my second read through. I have so many favorites, and my heart feels like it's going to burst after finishing each poem. Halsey exceeded every expectation I had set to the high bar of her music. I almost feel like this book is too good for my review to remotely do it justice, so I don't even know where to begin.  This book is extremely vulnerable. Halsey has never held back on telling the ugly truth in her lyrics, but the poetry takes it so much farther. She has space to tell the entire story, fewer constraints than what will fit in

Swimming Lessons By Lili Reinhart Poetry Review

  Swimming Lessons  by Lili Reinhart  Overall: 5 This is the first poetry book I've ever read in its entirety outside of Shel Silverstein, so I've checked off one of my reading goals for the year with this one. I've now read a graphic novel and a book of poetry. I've been anticipating Swimming Lessons  so long that I can't believe it's actually in my hands. I've been a fan of Lili since Riverdale, and I've continued to be a fan of hers even when the show got a bit too ridiculous for me to keep watching every week. I've been excited for the chance to get to see something completely created a controlled by Lili.  I'm not sure what I expected from Swimming Lessons . I think I had almost no idea what it would be like or the topics it would cover. After the first couple poems, I was completely hooked. In the intro, Lili prefaces the collection by noting that poetry has always given her solace in knowing other people felt the same specific emotions tha

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon: YA Book Review

Super Fake Love Song  by David Yoon Overview: Sunny Dae is sick of his California neighborhood where everyone pretends to be something they're not to keep up with all the other rich families. He's happy in his own world, LARPing with his friends, even if he gets made fun of for it at school. That is until Cirrus comes into the picture. She's undeniably cool and he's undeniably a loser in everyone's eyes, so he finds a new personality. He borrows a life from the coolest person he used to know, his older brother Gray, who's on his way to becoming a rockstar. Of course, lies like that always fall apart, and the music industry is unforgiving. It's a long fall from the top. Overall: 3  Characters: 3 This is the weirdest book I've ever read, which I'll get into more later. One part of that is the book is basically only told in details. You'd think this would help with characterization, but so many characters are left completely flat. Sunny is unashamed

My Most Anticipated of 2021/2021 ARC TBR

  A few days ago, I put out a list of my favorite books of the year that I couldn't stop talking about all year long. Now I'm here to introduce you to a brand new slate of books that I'm predicting will make my favorites list next year. These are the books I can't wait to get my hands on because they sound absolutely amazing! I've decided to separate the list into an ARC TBR so far for 2021 of ARCs I have and then to make a wishlist section below that with ARCs I hope to get or books that I'll splurge to buy. I'll include preorder links to the books that are already up for preorder so that you can easily grab a couple surprise gifts to show up throughout the year if any of these books look exciting! These will be affiliate bookshop links which means shopping the links support the blog at no cost to you. Also, if you're looking for even more 2021 books, Rachel and Vicky made the most amazing database/spreadsheet/blog to collect all the 2021 debuts togethe

The Best, The Brightest, The Totally Biased List of my Favorite Books of 2020

 Welcome to my big list of 2020 favorites! Usually, I do this award show style and give out different awards in a variety of categories I made up. This year is a little different because it's 2020, and I'm out of brain power to think of categories. These books appear in no particular order, and I selected them purely based on which books are still in my head months after I read them. I didn't read nearly as many books this year as usual, but I think I managed to read more books that I fell head over heels for than ever. Publishing a book this year is a major accomplishment in itself, so these authors all deserve extra rounds of applause for launching their books into an uncertain world, and even if a book from this year doesn't make a list, it's still incredible for existing. Even though I've already talked everyone's ears off about these books all year long, I'm going to do it one more time because they got me through both a hard and hectic year and pro

evermore book tag!

As you probably know, I absolutely adore Taylor Swift, and I recently did a folklore book tag, so I figured I should make a version of evermore as well! If you want to read that post, you can find it here . And if you want all my thoughts on folklore, you can watch my original folklore reaction on my YouTube channel here.   I'm so happy to have found an evermore book tag I loved created by  Star Is All Booked Up ! That post is linked (I really enjoyed it!), and those are the prompts I'm using here.  In this tag, I just talked about books for the prompts and didn't get into the songs. If you want more of my evermore thoughts specifically, check out my blog post of favorite lyrics here and my new reaction to evermore here . You can also scroll to the bottom of the post to watch the video as well. If you want to know more about any of the books I mention, all of their titles are linked to my review.  I hope you love the post, and let me know your favorite evermore songs in the

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant: YA Book Review

  Happily Ever Afters  by Elise Bryant  Overview: Tessa gets the writing opportunity of her dreams, but her words run out at the same time. While she can't wait to take a novel writing class at her new school, the idea of sharing her work with anyone but her best friend, Caroline, makes her unable to keep writing, even for herself. Caroline devises a plan to get her to fall in love so that she can jumpstart her creative juices for the romances Tessa writes herself into. Real life inspiration is clearly not the answer, and Tessa is left even further from the answer to all of her problems. Overall: 4 Characters: 4 While I knew this book was going to have a kind of forced dating situation as Tessa tried to get this boy to fall for her, I didn't predict the love triangle till I started reading. I'm not going to fault Bryant for using a love triangle because everyone does it, but I do have to note that these characters fall into the unfortunate side effect of most love triangles

Positions Book Tag

Today, I'm sharing a new book tag created by Cielo over at Bellerose Reads who tagged me in her new Positions book tag. I love working on book tags inspired by pop music, so I was thrilled to get the tag. If I'm being totally honest, I wasn't super into Positions, Ariana Grande's latest album. I'm much more of a Thank U Next fan because that album was far more lyrically focused. Positions reminds me a lot of Sweetener. I do like "POV", the closing track of the album. Still, I'm super excited to share the tag because these are some of the best tag questions I've ever seen. Cielo did a wonderful job coming up with really cool prompts. I had a blast thinking of books that fit them. As always, just click the book title to read my review of any of the books I mentioned. And don't forget to read the original tag here .    shut up – a book you couldn’t shut up about  There are way too many. Honestly, a ton of them are already sprinkled through this po

This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry: YA Book Review

  This Will Be Funny Someday  by Katie Henry Overview: Izzy is sick of being 16. She's sick of being the "easy kid" who never causes a problem for the family or demands attention. Her mom is always busy working at her law firm, and her dad just isn't super invested. School is awful, and her controlling boyfriend makes her question what it means to be in love. And then she stumbles into a bar on comedy night, and suddenly, she finds a world so different from her own- one that's better. Though it requires maintaining more than a few lies, this new life with her college friends is too good to give up. That is, until it all comes crashing down. About growing up, being your authentic self, and navigating intense relationships for the first time, this book is incredibly relatable and quite unique in the way it approaches common YA questions. Overall: 5 Characters: 5 I relate to Izzy on a deep, deep level. From the second I read the synopsis, I knew the book was going to

Wrapping Up 2020: How'd My Reading/Blogging Go This Year

 It feels weird writing a year end post, which is probably why we're almost a week into the new year and I still haven't posted one yet. 2020 was such a hard year for the world and a weird one for me personally, and it still feels far from over. From a reading perspective, there were parts of the year that were super strong and others where I hardly picked up a book. I started the year working at a bookstore which, contrary to popular belief, made me read less than usual. I had a good run during lockdown and through the summer (though that certainly had ups and downs too), and then I started my first semester of college. That created a serious reading slump, though it wasn't like I stopped reading! In one class alone, I had 1,000 pages of reading saved in my class notebook. All the academic reading replaced my fun books, and there were moments where I honestly thought I hated reading. I wondered what was wrong with me and if I was just done with that part of my life. Over b