Kath here. Andrea Ellickson, WU community member and second-place winner of our Sizzling Summer flash fiction contest, has a treat for us today: an interview with About.com travel writer and young adult author, Kirsten Hubbard (left). Her debut YA novel, Like Mandarin, was published by Delacorte Press/Random House in March 2011, and her second novel, Wanderlove, was published in March 2012. Wanderlove follows 18-year-old Bria Sandoval’s adventures through the alluring destinations of Belize and Guatemala, and the even more alluring backpacker scene that sweeps her off her feet.
Andrea J. Buchanan, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Daring Book for Girls, said:
“This journey will resonate with anyone who has braved the unknown in search of adventure — and ended up finding themselves in the process.”
Take it away, Andrea!
I stumbled across Kirsten’s writing while I was backpacking for three months through Central America and freelance writing for travel websites. Believe me, Wanderlove is the ultimate young adult travel hook. Her firsthand backpacker experiences infuse her writing with incredible settings and all too real people. As she has summed it up best in her own bio – “Kirsten Hubbard has hiked ancient ruins in Cambodia, dived with wild dolphins in Belize (one totally looked her in the eye), slept in a Slovenian jail cell, and navigated the Wyoming badlands (without a compass) in search of transcendent backdrops for her novels.” Today, she tells us more about her traveling and writing adventures.
Q: With spotty internet access and tempting white sand beaches, did you manage to write your novel while you were traveling?
I’ve found I can’t really write when I’m traveling — there’s so much moving around, so much to see and do, I rarely get the chance to just sit for hours and work. However, I take a ridiculous amount of notes, both story and setting. Those often go into my books unadulterated: exactly what I was seeing or thinking at that moment, in that place. By the time I sent the manuscript to my publisher, I think I’d been to Belize five times.
Q: From my own travels through Central America, I remember the howl of monkeys, the ancient Mayan ruins, and the backpacks like turtle shells. Many of your depictions of places and backpackers are spot on. Is it hard to stay close to the truth while navigating a fictional realm?
Thank you! Because pages are limited, I definitely had to strike a balance. I wanted to convey some of the down-and-dirty aspects of backpacking (trying to locate an outhouse toilet at night in the jungle, smelly backpackers, crowded chicken buses breaking down…), but even more of the incredible aspects. There’s a reason we keep backpacking, you know? A thousand reasons! They make the gross bathrooms worth it.
Q: In Wanderlove, we follow Bria as she rediscovers her passion for art after a turbulent breakup. On your blog, you said:
“Several bits in Wanderlove are semi-autobiographical — teeny interactions in places Bria and Rowan visit, for example, or things they see — but the art part, that’s real. That’s borrowed straight from my heart. Even as my career as travel writer and author started to take off, it’s always skewered me that I mostly quit drawing, for a host of reasons. None as good as Bria’s. But in the end, it’s the same: the longer you don’t draw (or do any sort of art), the harder it is to pick up a pencil.”
How did you regain your own love of drawing through this novel? What was the process of including your drawings in Wanderlove?
When I made Bria an artist, I always harbored this small hope that just maybe, I could illustrate Bria’s drawings myself. Somehow, this hope sparked the courage to sign up for classes at a respected art school. I started drawing again. And then, I emailed my agent to explain to her the changes I was making in Wanderlove. I suggested it could include humorous travel lists, Bria’s journal entries. . . and possibly, Bria’s sketches.
Note, I didn’t say who’d actually draw them. I was careful to keep my ego out of it. But then my amazing, brilliant, potentially psychic agent wrote back:
“As for Bria’s sketches, you’ll do them yourself, Kirsten? I ask b/c I think I remember seeing on Facebook, or your blog, that you are also a bit of an artist?”
I drew a bunch of sample art; my agent submitted it with my overhauled manuscript, and to my utter joy, my publisher said yes. Delacorte has been gloriously on board the whole time.
Q: This is 18-year-old Bria’s first excursion into the big, bright, blundering world of backpacking. Luckily, she escapes her stuffy tour group after running into Rowan and Starling, sibling backpackers who introduce her to the “Wanderlove” philosophy. It seems like there are few YA novels that inspire independent world travel. Have you received any feedback from young adults on how this might have spurred a decision to travel?
Yes! It’s my favorite thing. I do read my reviews; many talk about how they long to travel, and Wanderlove helped plant the bug. If Wanderlove is a factor in guiding readers to strap on a backpack and explore, it’s done its job.
Q: Here at Writer Unboxed, we all know how important a writing community can be. Over at YA Highway (www.yahighway.com) a community of Young Adult writers shares their journey to publication. How did YA Highway begin? How does your involvement with YA Highway shape your writing?
YA Highway was created when I asked Like Mandarin‘s beta readers — a few internet friends from the forums at Absolute Write — if they wanted to start a group blog, so critique and support was always part of the backdrop. Today, my YA Highway co-bloggers are some of my closest friends. We’ve all met numerous times, and talk daily. They’re a vital part of my publishing journey, from first light of ideas to the crazy at the end.
Thanks for the inspiring interview, Kirsten! I think we’re all feeling bitten by the travel bug. Learn more about Kirsten and her novel Wanderlove on her website and blog. Link to: www.kirstenhubbard.com.
Andrea Ellickson is currently writing her first young adult novel while working at the International House at UC Berkeley and interning at the Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit that hosts National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Follow her writing & backpacking adventures at aellickson.wordpress.com.