I found the cover of HERETICS ANONYMOUS on Twitter. This is an excellent book with an amazing premise, releasing on August 7:
Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.
But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.
Though you spent your teen years in Northern California, you decided to stay on the east coast after college. What do you love most about where you currently live?
I’ve lived on the island of Manhattan for the last ten years, with a brief stint in Dublin, Ireland halfway through. I had just turned eighteen when I moved here, so this has been my home for my entire adult life. What I love most about New York City is the sheer breadth of opportunities in such a small geographic area. And not just the big things, like Broadway and the Met, but wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurants and book readings in tiny bookstore basements. You have access to just about anything you could possibly want. Except personal space. And good avocados.
As a Californian, I’m not sure how I would deal with the avocado situation. And personal space is definitely necessary! HERETICS ANONYMOUS offers a humorous take on unlikely rebels. How did you know this needed to be a lighthearted story?
I’ve always written comedies. It started out as a tactical move, when I was writing plays. When you’re sitting in a dark theater, the only cues you have about whether an audience is enjoying themselves is laughter or audible sobbing. I went with laughter, and that’s the tone I’m most comfortable with now. Also, stories about religion tend to be very heavy. That makes sense, of course–faith (and lack of faith) is deeply meaningful to people, and it’s easy to hurt someone’s feelings. But I wanted to write a story where faith was funny, but no one was being made fun of. I hope I succeeded.
I’m always glad for a humorous tone–especially in what I read. You also write plays. How is this different from writing novels, and what do you like most about each medium?
I love how many people are involved in the creation of a play. And of course, many people are involved in the creation of a book, too, but theater has an extra focus on creative collaboration. There are so many times while writing a book where I come to a setting description or a detail about someone’s clothes, and I think, “Oh, whatever, the set designer or costumer will deal with that.” But oh wait, no, they won’t, because this is fiction and all those things are my job now. The very first drafts of my books are about 90% characters talking to each other, 8% interior monologue, and 2% description. It’s a struggle.
In plays, 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. One important thing I learned while getting my playwriting degree is that no one ever tells the whole truth, not even fictional people. I love writing dialogue and I love figuring out how to tell the audience what they need to know, even if the character doesn’t know it. 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 dig deep into their thought process. It adds a layer of depth to a character you might not get in theater, simply because that’s how the medium works.
I love that! What are some of your current projects?
My second YA book (another contemporary stand-alone) is releasing from HarperCollins in Summer 2019. I can’t say much about it yet, but I can tell you I’ve been working on it like there’s tomorrow.