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Certain Experiences Carve Out Pieces of You: A Conversation with Kathleen Hale

by on June 24, 2014

In Kathleen Hale’s exceptional debut novel, No One Else Can Have You, sixteen year-old Kippy Bushman sets out to solve the gruesome murder of her best friend, Ruth Fried. As Kippy investigates those closest to Ruth, she realizes everyone in her seemingly cheerful hometown harbors dark secrets, from Kippy’s peppy guidance counselor father to Ruth’s recently returned soldier brother. Through it all, Hale assuredly navigates the labyrinthine plot, consistently keeping the reader on edge with each new revelation. Hale spoke to Brendan Dowling for Public Libraries magazine via email on June 21, 2014.

Public Libraries: One of the really fun aspects of reading the book is its tone. Kippy Bushman is such an appealingly goofy protagonist yet she’s thrust into this world where horrific violence takes place. How did you arrive at this balance where the screwball comedy offsets the horror, and vice versa?

Kathleen Hale: I think that psychological intensity and gore create a lot more opportunities for comedy than one would expect. When an audience is scared or grossed out or uncomfortable, they want to laugh. They want release from that feeling.

PL: Kippy’s a very complex character. She’s bright and funny but, as the novel progresses, the reader uncovers much darker aspects of her personality. Did she arrive so fully formed when you began writing the novel or were there aspects of her personality that emerged through the revision process?

KH: She evolved, definitely. The more I wrote, the more I realized, “This girl has been through a lot,” so I had to take that into consideration. You can be brave, and have guts, but certain experiences nevertheless carve out pieces of you. Mostly, I wanted to explore grief in a realistic way. It’s not just sadness. It’s multi-layered. And often there is laughter involved.

PL: You’ve mentioned in other interviews how outlining helped you while writing this novel. Can you talk about how you went about outlining the book? Are there still aspects of the story that you discover along the way?

KH: When I outline, I basically just sketch out Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3, highlighting the set-ups and the pay-offs, and trying to keep each movement plot-driven.

That said, I discovered most of this story as I wrote it. In the initial outline, Kippy was a lesbian and her sidekick was a girl. I was psyched about that, but was instructed by people who will remain unnamed that it wouldn’t fly. All I’m trying to say is that my initial conception of this novel was much different than the finished product, and that a lot changed during the writing process.

PL: Your piece defending YA Literature for Nerve just attracted a lot of attention. What do you think accounts for the recent trends in not only adults reading books intended for a teen audience, but also being criticized for doing so?

KH: “Commercial” novels, “genre” fiction, “YA”…Like I said in my piece, these are market designators that shift over time. And I honestly don’t think that adults reading to be entertained is a new development—nor do I think that adults criticizing each other for different readerly inclinations (often in order to validate their own tastes) is new. I think these things seem new because the Internet gives everyone a highly visible platform, making covered ground seem radical simply due to widespread accessibility combined with the average person’s ability to weigh in on the conversation, or the conversation about the conversation, and so on.

PL: You have a prolific presence on social media. What has it been like to interact with your readers since the book was published?

KH: At first it was really scary. I’m sort of an introvert, so talking to people has always been exhausting. In some ways, the Internet has offered relief from that—I love g-chatting, for instance. It’s one of the ways that I stay close to people. But in terms of like, Twitter, or Instagram, it was weird to go from this place of working on a piece of writing in private for a really long time, to suddenly showing something to everyone as soon as I did it. Even if it was just 140 characters, or a caption for a photo, it made me feel self-conscious and exposed and dumb.

Like with anything, though, I acclimated. I’m less self-conscious now about responding to strangers when they talk to me on Twitter, for instance (I used to delete, and delete, and delete), and when readers get in touch, I am so psyched. It really makes my day. Even if they’re like, “I read your book. Some of it was boring but some of it wasn’t.” I’m like, “I love you! I can’t believe it when people read the stuff I write!” And in that sense it’s been great to be on social media, because it allows me to tell these readers, “Oh my god, thank you,” and to reach out to the writers I read, too.

PL: I know you’re writing a sequel to No One Else Can Have You. Can you give a preview of what readers can expect with the next book?

KH: Sure! It’s called Nothing Bad is Going to Happen. It involves the same characters as No One Else Can Have You, but there’s a lot more sex and murder.

PL: And since this is for Public Libraries magazine, what roles have libraries and librarians played in your life?

KH: Oh my God, yes. I love librarians. When I was fourteen, I went from public school to private school (I had some behavioral problems, and so my parents were like, “Send her to the nerds!”)—and, like I said, I’m kind of introverted and socially weird, so I had trouble adjusting. The people at that private school had all known each other since Kindergarten.

Anyway, during social parts of the day I’d go to the library, and the librarian, Mrs. Rosetto, would recommend books. After a while, she got to know my tastes and started having novels set aside for me next to the scanner thingy.

I don’t know how I would have gotten through that year without her. She never said anything about the fact that I was always alone or lonely-looking (and thank God, because I would have died from embarrassment) but she must have known, and she was so kind to me, and, most importantly, she turned me into a reader.

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