A Q&A with Rachel Vail:
Author of Well, That Was Awkward
February 2017, Viking BFYR
Q: Well, That Was Awkward perfectly encapsulates the angst and joy of first crushes, first friend break-ups, and first growing pains with your parents. Could you explain why you enjoy writing in the genre?
Middle school students are making very conscious choices. Who are my friends? Who is attractive to me? What am I interested in doing with my time? What do I care about? How do others see me? In elementary school things just kind of happened; the middle school experience is one of self-determination. I am endlessly interested in the way different kids (and characters) navigate that.
Q: The book is also a modern-day twist on the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand with mistaken identities and unrequited love. What made you want to want to turn the classic play on its head by setting it in a New York City middle school? Was that play your inspiration for the story? What drew you to write the character of Gracie?
The part of the play that always felt a little far-fetched to me is the idea that Cyrano could be under Roxanne’s window feeding words to Christian and then eventually just talking to Roxanne as if he’s Christian. And somehow Roxanne doesn’t realize. BUT: texting? How do you know who’s reading the texts you write? Or writing the texts you read? There have been soooo many stories in the news about adults and kids who get themselves into trouble in that exact way. So that became my real jumping off point: what if Gracie helps her friend Sienna compose texts to the cute guy? How would he ever know the truth? And it allows Gracie to tell her truth but still stay hidden. It felt pretty obvious to me that it needed to be written as a middle school novel!
Q: If there is one thing you hope readers take away from Well, That Was Awkward, what would it be?
I also was thinking a lot about perfection. How, as a parent, it is important to me that my kids know that they don’t have to be perfect – stumbling is how we learn to walk, failing and rejection and messing up are expected parts of every process. I write probably 100 words for every 1 word that makes it into what I call my “first draft” to show to an editor. Imperfection is a given; revision is how we stumble through our days. We are all rough drafts. AND YET: you are perfect. You are a marvel, a miracle, exactly right for who you are right now. Will you change? Of course you will. You will keep trying to improve, as a friend, a student, an athlete or musician or artist or scientist or whatever? Awesome. Keep at it. You are perfect and imperfect and good enough and loved through every single second.
Q: Throughout the book, Gracie, Sienna, A.J., and Emmett are navigating their first crushes. What was your first crush like? Did you have a fictional crush?
I had so many fictional crushes. I wanted to be and/or hang out with the kid in the awesome red snowsuit in A Snowy Day. I fell in love with Phineas in A Separate Peace (me and Gene, we both loved and envied him). I had a thing for a bunch of characters in Ayn Rand’s books and blame them for what was, I’m sure, a bout of intolerable arrogance on my part in 11th grade. I loved a few of the boys in The Outsiders and of course Michael in Forever… at least through a lot of that book. I think I had a thing also for Othello (in the first few acts) and Hamlet too but only at the moment he finds out Ophelia is dead (before that he’s too moody for my taste) and Bazarov in Fathers and Sons was pretty irresistible to me too. I had so many true loves who were fictional characters.
Q: The book also tackles kids’ embarrassment over their parents, their friends, their crushes, and even their frenemies. What was your most awkward moment in middle school?
Sometimes I can’t remember if I had lunch yet today. But I remember every detail of too many awkward moments in middle school. Good thing my job lets me make some use of them!
Thank you so much for your wonderful Q&A, Rachel! And now that Rachel's shared such fantastic details from the book, why not check out more about the book below?
Gracie has a crush on A.J., but when she finds out that A.J. likes her best friend Sienna, she decides that the two are perfectly suited and her role as sidekick will be to help Sienna write clever texts that will dazzle A.J. To her surprise, A.J.’s texts prove to be surprisingly smart and witty. Could it be that he is getting help from his brainy best friend Emmett? There’s many a twist and turn before the real perfect couple get together!
Set in the tumultuous world of eighth grade, Rachel Vail’s delightful take on Cyrano de Bergerac is laugh-out-loud funny, but also perceptive and touching.
Check out the rest of the tour!
2/27 – Here’s to Happy Endings – Bookish Recipe
2/28 – YA Book Central – Excerpt
3/1 – Margie’s Must Reads – Author Guest Post
3/2 – Crafty Moms Share – Review
3/3 – Once Upon a Twilight – Guest Post
3/6 – The Reading Nook Reviews – Author Guest Post
3/7 – ButterMyBooks – Quote Graphics
3/8 – Stories & Sweeties – Spotlight
3/9 – Brittany’s Book Rambles – Author Guest Post
3/10 – My Friends Are Fiction – Spotlight
About the author:
Rachel lives in New York City with her husband, their two sons, and (like Gracie) a tortoise named Lightning.
You can visit her online at www.RachelVail.com or on Twitter: @rachelvailbooks