Interview with AVA DELLAIRA
I was born in Los Angeles. One of my first memories is of looking out the window of the Cadillac that my family drove across the desert when we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is where I grew up, and where my sister and I spent countless summer afternoons making fairy potions, battling evil witches, and playing other imaginary games that probably contributed to my proclivity to make up stories. I went to college at the University of Chicago, and then received my MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I lived on the bottom floor of a farm house once occupied by Kurt Vonnegut (how cool is that?!) and studied poetry. Now I live in Santa Monica, in an apartment the size of a shoebox close to the beach.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished A MONSTER CALLS by PATRICK NESS, a really beautiful middle reader book. It’s a gorgeous story about a boy whose mom is dying of cancer and he has this monster friend - it’s a sort of magical realism. It really made me cry.
Right now I’m reading an arc an of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by JENNIFER MATHIEU.
What first sparked your interest in writing?
I would say maybe middle school age was when I felt the spark. I always liked writing all through elementary school. My 25-page book report on Laura Ingalls Wilder proves I was obviously into writing, but as an early teenager I got very into listening to music and I kept a journal where I wrote down all this stuff about the songs. I also started making my own attempts at poetry. Hearing lyrics and connecting with them was probably the beginning.
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
Who said, “I don’t like writing but I like having written.” [Rachel’s note: Dorothy Parker]
I actually enjoy the process of writing for the most part. Of course, there are the hard days, but when I’m writing I feel something that’s hard to name, the spark of creativity or discovery and that feeling makes me really happy. What I’m discovering now that’s also really great about writing is being able to connect with people and readers. I guess that’s two things I like about writing!
I’m not sure what my least favorite thing. I’ve certainly experienced all of my normal frustrations. You have bad days. You have insecure days. However, I mostly think of those as part of the process so that helps me move through them.
Tell us a little about your writing process.
For LOVE LETTERS I started out writing while I had a full time job so I would come home from work and write at night. It was easier for me to write in the evenings for some reason. I think because in the morning I was thinking about what I needed to do for the day, but at the end of the day I felt like I could be in my own world with the story.
I started out with just the title and the concept: a girl who’s dealing with personal grief by writing to famous dead people. When I started writing, Laurel’s character introduced herself to me quickly. The first draft of the book was really a discovery process. I was getting to know the characters and letting Laurel tell her story and I was open to not knowing, open to discovery. When I finished the first draft, I spent a lot longer than it took me to write that draft editing and rewriting and shaping the story.
Eventually I started sending it out to agents and when I got my agent we reworked the book together and it was another few months before he started sending it out. And then I did a lot more work on the book with my editor as well. It went through many processes of revision, but certainly the heart of the story stayed the same. But I’m incredibly grateful to my agent and the editors who helped me. LOVE LETTERS grew a lot from that first discovery.
What are your passions?
Reading! Cooking and music, too.
What inspires you?
Reading again! Movies. Nature. I like to spend a lot of time outside and by the ocean.
Why young adult?
When I started writing the book I didn’t actually think about that. I didn’t realize I was writing a young adult book and it wasn’t until I started working with my agent that he said, “I think this should be sold as a young adult book.” Everyone in the young adult community has all been so completely wonderful and inspiring and supportive
How was LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD born?
The concept came to me pretty suddenly. I was working for Stephen Cbosky at the time and I’d given him some of my writing to read. I was trying screen writing and he said, “I think you should write a novel.” The idea had never occurred to me before, just the fact that I wanted to be a writer.
That evening when I was driving home from work the title and concept came to me out of nowhere but were reflective both of my interests in pop culture and also the fact that I had lost my mom a couple of years before. Writing about processing grief was a natural thing for me.
Why “love letters” rather than “letters”?
I had someone else ask that question on social media. I think that the letters are love letters. Obviously not in the traditional romantic sense. They’re not letters between lovers. But they are love letters in that Laurel is very connected to these people and loves their work and though the letters express a range of emotion they’re a celebration of the lives of the people.
Was any one character more fun to write than the others?
I had a lot of fun writing the Tristan character. And Hannah. They’re both very lively and vibrant and big. Tristan is like a big brother figure for Laurel and he imparts a lot of wisdom. A few of my favorite lines in the book are his. For Hannah she’s full of life and her life has sad elements but watching her grow through that was gratifying.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
The best advice I could give is write what you love and what matters for you. The difference for me with LOVE LETTERS is that it was a book I would have kept working on - forever. The first draft wasn’t great. It had good things in it but certainly didn’t read like a good novel. But I loved it enough to continue working on it and working on it. Because it felt like the kind of thing that makes writing matter to me. So my advice is to write that thing that you love so much that you can live with it forever and rewrite and rewrite forever.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I love to watch Mister Ed like Laurel does in the book.