8 questions for local teen lit author Siobhan Vivian
Highland Park-based writer Siobhan Vivian is looking forward to the April 26th launch of her seventh young adult novel, The Last Boy and Girl in the World, published by Simon & Schuster.
Kidsburgh talks with Vivian about writing for teenage girls, raising a family in Pittsburgh and juggling deadlines with the needs of a newborn.
Your new book, The Last Girl and Boy in the World, takes place in a small Pennsylvania town. Can you talk about the setting?
[The book]’s not necessarily set in Pennsylvania, but it’s inspired by Pennsylvania and the town formerly known as Livermore, Pa., which is up the river. In the 1930s, it suffered a severe flood and the government figured out that it wasn’t safe for people to live there. It was a poor town so they decided to buy out everyone and dam the river and create the lake and protect the interest of Pittsburgh. A friend did a painting of a bunch of young girls staring at the water. You could see the roofs of houses in the water. I started to think about what it would be like to have a mass exodus of a town. I thought it would be like senioritis on steroids.
I could read the names of the people who lived there and how much they settled for. All evidence of this town is gone. I felt like the place was truly forgotten because it’s been gone for so long. This was once a vibrant town full of people.
You’ve been writing young adult literature for 10 years now. Why does this genre appeal to you?
I can’t imagine writing anything else. The energy and the stakes that come from young people discovering who they are and what they’re going to be is such a rich place to explore as a writer. There’s this magical thing. Some people dismissively say every young adult story is a romance or every story is a coming of age. But everybody falls in love for the first time and everybody has their heart broken for the first time. I don’t think those experiences are the same for everyone. You feel that no one is hurting as bad as you. It leads you to discover who you want to be. I love the voice of young adult literature. That’s where my voice leads me.
How does living in Pittsburgh influence your work?
I wrote my last solo book called The List very soon after I left New York and moved here and that was influenced by Pittsburgh as well. I love living in Pittsburgh because living in New York, if you told anyone you were a writer, they were not impressed. It is more of a special thing here. It has opened up other things for me. (The University of Pittsburgh) always wanted a Writing for Children class in their English department, but they just didn’t have anyone to teach it. I’m always falling into opportunities here that would be less forthcoming than other places.
What are the undergrads like in your Writing for Children class at the University of Pittsburgh?
I love my class. It’s full of people who don’t get there accidentally. It’s all kids who want to write books for teenagers. They feel embarrassed or shy to share that in a regular fiction workshop. Sometimes they’re dismissed by their peers for being juvenile, but when they come to my class, it’s a meeting of like-minded people. It’s a really warm place to create, and everyone’s super enthusiastic.
How is your work different from what else is out there for teens and young adults to read?
I write books for girls. I like realistic books for girls that feel real to me. When I was an editor, I edited a lot of “rich girl” books. That was not my life and was not the life of anyone I knew. I wanted to set my compass to telling the authentic stories of teenage girls. My work embraces a feminist message. I’m more inspired by the relationship between girls than romance. When I was in high school, I could fall in love with a different boy every day. But when my friends were upset with me, those were the things that turned my stomach. I like to explore the complexities between girls and what it means to be a girl in this moment.
You recently had a baby. What’s it been like juggling a young family with finishing up a novel?
Horrible (laughs). I did two of the final drafts when Marie was three weeks old. My mom moved in, and I had a babysitter. I worked all day long from 9 to 9 and then I’d be up all night with Marie. I made time to do the work. Things have settled down now that Marie is 10 months old. I’m working on a new book. I wouldn’t duplicate that situation of finishing a book with a newborn and a 2-year-old. But I can’t complain.
Why did you choose Pittsburgh?
My husband grew up in Evans City. Nick and I met in New York, and he was always speaking affectionately about a magical place called Pittsburgh where houses were affordable. I had never spent much time here, but we lost our apartment and made the move. I can work remotely from wherever I am, and I fell in love with [Pittsburgh] super-fast. I took to it quickly and I’m super prideful of Pittsburgh. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Any favorite spots in the city?
Every morning I walk to my local coffee shop, Tazza D’Oro. And I have 15 places that I cycle through with my kids. One of my new favorites is Hatch Art Studio. I’ve been there twice with Viv. It’s fun to make a mess in a place that’s not my house.
The public is invited to a family-friendly launch party and book signing for The Last Boy and Girl in the World at 6 p.m. April 26 at Livermore in East Liberty. Vivian will also speak at a Made Local event for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Series on July 26th at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Main Branch in Oakland. She’ll appear at the B&N Teen Book Fest on June 11th at the Barnes & Noble in Settlers Ridge, Robinson Township.