NAW Interview With Katrina Leno

Katrina Leno

Katrina Leno’s debut novel The Half Life of Molly Pierce was published by Harper Collins. She is currently living in Los Angeles. Visit her here.

NAW: Tell us about your book, The Half Life of Molly Pierce. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?

THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE is about a seventeen-year-old girl who is suffering from memory loss and depression. She’s been having pretty debilitating blackouts for a while now—the book opens with her “waking up” in her car with no recollection of the past few hours. Where has she been? How did she get here? She’s completely clueless.

I came up with the idea while driving along Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. I noticed a motorcyclist in the rearview mirror who was driving really erratically, swerving in and out of traffic. I was sure he was going to crash. This became the first chapter of my book! (Although in my book, he DOES crash. In real life he did not!)

NAW: Tell us about the character of Molly. How did you develop the character? Did you carry out any research?

Oh, Molly. She’s very close to me because she’s based heavily on myself (about twelve years ago). I want to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, so I won’t give away the nature of Molly’s condition, but she is suffering from a form of mental illness that we don’t actually know much about. Some doctors even debate its very existence—which was good for me, in a way, because it meant I could take huge liberties with it. I could basically make things up as I went along. Every book I read about the disorder was filled with contrasting and contradicting information. I really felt the freedom to do what I wanted with it.

NAW: Your book has been compared to the film Memento. But Molly’s story is different as she gets her memory back, right?

It’s totally different! I think really the only comparison you can draw to MEMENTO is that each story deals with memory loss and neither narrative is linear. MEMENTO moves backward in time and THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE moves backward in memories and forward in action, if that makes sense. The comparison is flattering, but readers shouldn’t go in expecting a YA version of MEMENTO. They’re very different works!

HalfLife of Molly Pierce cover

NAW: You use a very interesting narrative technique with terse and short sentences instead of detailed prose. It has worked very well for your book. Had you originally intended the book to be so or it developed as the story progressed?

Molly’s voice developed so naturally for me. From the very first line of the book, she just fell into place. It was something that really just happened on its own—I didn’t plan for it or even really work toward that goal. And then afterward, when I’d finished the first draft, it felt so natural. Like oh, okay. This is exactly how Molly sounds. This is how she would tell a story. This is how she would think about this. This is how she would explain this to other people. Outwardly, she is very shut down, very cut off—even from her best friends and her family—but inwardly, she has this extensive internal monologue that is constantly going. A lot of people have called it stream-of-consciousness and although it isn’t really, not properly at least, there are definitely moments where it’s straight Molly, unfiltered. Some people love this kind of disjointed, choppy prose, and some people hate it! Both are fine opinions. No book is going to work for everyone. I’m glad you liked it, though!

NAW: How difficult (or easy) was it getting published? Tell us about your publishing journey.

I knew a bit about the publishing industry from interning at a literary agency while I lived in New York, so I had this very clear idea of the journey in front of me. I knew that the easiest way to spend forever on the slush pile (I used to be in charge of the slush pile, so I was very familiar with it!) was to not follow an agent’s directions for submission. I can’t tell you how many letters I read that were filled with typos, or that addressed my female boss as “Mr. Smith,” or that sent full manuscripts when our website clearly only requested the first chapter. It’s easy to get excited when you finish a novel, like—I have to send this out immediately!! But if I’ve learned anything, it’s to SLOW DOWN and do your research first. You could have written the most beautiful novel in the history of the world, but if you send your query letter handwritten on pink stationery, it’s not going to get read.

That’s the long answer! The short answer is that my publishing journey was truly a dream. I have only good, positive things to say about every single person I met along the way.

NAW: Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I love taking photographs. I have a blog where I stick all my photos and words (the ones that aren’t fit for books!). I really like combining words and pictures to tell a story about my life. I think of my blog as a little glimpse into my brain. I rarely talk about the craft of writing or books I’ve read—I keep it very specifically focused on feelings and life and emotions and experiences.

NAW: Who are your favourite writers?

I have a few all time favorites that never change—like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Donald Barthelme, Lewis Carroll, Norton Juster, CS Lewis, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh (his letters are unreal). Then I have writers that are currently writing my favorite, favorite books: like David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, Markus Zusak, JK Rowling, Daniel Handler, and so so many more. It’s a good time for writing.

NAW: What are you currently reading?

I try to only read one book at a time, because I don’t like getting distracted! So at this exact current moment, I’m reading comedian Aaron Karo’s first novel for young adults, LEXAPROS AND CONS. It came out a few years ago, and it’s SO funny. I rarely read humorous books but I’m so glad I picked this up. In the past couple weeks I’ve read LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave, ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine, and TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han. I’m on a really good book streak lately!

NAW: What are your upcoming projects? 

I’m working on my second book at the moment, and making plans to start and finish a third before the summer is over! I’m lucky to have a ton of time right now to focus exclusively on writing, so I’m trying to take advantage of that while I have it.

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