June 5, 2013 by Alice in Readerland
As soon as I finished reading (and excitedly talking about how much I loved) How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski (my review) I just knew that I had to read her second book! In this post, you’ll find out about Famous Last Words and my thoughts after it. Afterwards, you’ll get to read the most fun author interview I’ve ever had, where Jennifer shares fun stories about her past jobs (which involves a gerbil named Killer and her job as a freelance music journalist), gives writing advice, tells you her favorite part about being a writer, and more!
About the Book:
Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo has death on the brain. Her summer internship at the local newspaper has her writing obituaries instead of soaking up the sun at the beach. Between Shelby , Sam’s boy-crazy best friend; her boss Harry, a true-blue newspaper man; and AJ, her fellow “intern scum” (aka the cute drummer for a band called Love Gas), Sam has her hands full. But once she figures out what—or who—is the best part of her summer, will she mess it all up?
As Sam learns her way around both the news room and the real world, she starts to make some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most important—herself.
Pub Date: July 2nd, 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Sam’s bored with her job at the Herald Tribune. After all, it’s not like her boss is giving her the chance to investigate the mystery going on with the mayor. But as Sam writes the obituaries, she thinks about how she herself is not really “obituary material.” She isn’t wild or the teacher’s pet; she’s destined to be one of those students who go without a special mention in the yearbook. But at least she has one interesting thing to say about herself now: at sixteen, she’s the Herald Tribune’s youngest obituary writer ever.
But Sam’s in for more than she bargained for this summer; she’ll have to juggle between her crazy best friend and her job, a new crush and a helpful fellow intern, and special writing assignments with her own investigative journalism. Along with way, Sam will discover more about herself, and what she really wants.
Who knew that writing obituaries could teach you so much?
Something that I loved about this book is that we dive into Jennifer’s signature humor right from the first paragraph. There are a lot of funny lines in Famous Last Words that really help the story to stand out. Something else I enjoyed about this book was this whole news room we get to see. There are so many different and interesting characters who make up the Herald Tribune staff, from Bernie (who’s known for calling people “moron” or “moronica”) to Harry (who stamped armadillos on Sam’s hand when he hired her). Since Sam works at the Herald Tribune, I also liked how I got to learn more news lingo and a bit more about how newspapers handle things.
Sam’s discoveries about the world around her and herself were very well-written. I loved watching her start to care a lot more about her job and the people who she was writing about. It was such a great transformation to watch, and I love the quote that Harry tells her about what Sam is really writing about. (But I won’t spoil it for you; you’ll have to read it yourself to find out!) Another thing I liked seeing was Sam’s family. In so many YA novels I’ve read lately, the parents of the main character are absent (or, if they’re in the story, they’re abusive in some way) but the family situation in Famous Last Words was great. Not only were Sam’s parents/family present throughout the story, but they also had a good relationship with her and offered support (not to mention some funny lines)!
All in all, this was another fun novel from Jennifer! If you were a big fan (like me) of her previous book, How My Summer Went Up in Flames, then you’ll definitely want to get Famous Last Words today!
Alice: Something that I loved about both of your books is how you completely draw the reader into the settings that you used. How My Summer Went Up in Flames was a road trip, so we got to travel a bit and see different sites; the main character in Famous Last Words works at a newspaper so we got to see what goes on in a newsroom. Did you visit and/or do research on the places that you wrote about?
Jennifer: Thank you! I’m glad you liked both settings. Like a lot of writers, I went with what I knew. I started my writing career as a print journalist and I spent a lot of time in a newsroom. However, it had been a while, so a good friend of mine at the Daily News in New York helped me with some details. I wanted to make sure I got it right in Famous Last Words. I took a cross-country trip similar to the one Rosie and the guys take in How My Summer Went Up in Flames. I visited nearly all the same places and researched the ones I hadn’t seen. There’s almost nothing that can’t be found on YouTube!
Alice: What is your writing process like? What was the best piece of writing advice someone gave you?
Jennifer: I try to write every day, but that isn’t always possible. But even on days that I’m not in front of the computer, I’m always thinking about what I’m working on. Sometimes the best ideas come to me when I’m doing something other than writing, like running or dusting furniture. As for writing advice, I re-read Stephen King’s On Writing all the time. In one section, he talks about not waiting around for the muse. I’m paraphrasing, but basically he says if you create a place to work, and show up there every day, the muse will know where to find you. I also read a really inspiring interview with Meg Cabot a few years ago in which she talked embracing your strengths. She made me realize it’s important to be myself when I write and not try to imitate someone else’s style or chase a trend. She also said that when she’s writing a story, she thinks about what she’d like to have happen to her. I loved that idea!
Alice: You have so many fun, unique, secondary characters in your books, and two different leads with their own quirky, strong, and independent voices. How did you come up with these characters and tap into their voices?
Jennifer: I guess anyone who knows me would say that Sam from Famous Last Words sounds a lot like me. J I’m definitely more similar to Sam than Rosie, so finding that voice was easy. Rosie’s voice clicked for me when I came up with the opening sentence of How My Summer Went Up in Flames. I found myself imagining what kind of girl does find herself on the receiving end of a temporary restraining order.
Alice: Your debut novel just came out last month, and then Famous Last Words comes out next month! First of all, what was your first reaction to learning your book sold? Secondly, what kind of schedule did you have with both books coming out so close together?
Jennifer: Although Famous Last Words is being published second, it actually sold first. I’ll never forget that day. My agent, Kerry Sparks, called with the news when I was at the mall, standing in front of Mega Movies, holding a stuffed Donald Duck dressed like the Easter Bunny. (He yells “Put me down!” when you pick him up by the ears.) I got such an adrenaline rush. It was the call I had been waiting for years. I wanted to scream and high five strangers, but I’m totally shy and not one to draw attention to myself. Plus, I was holding Donald. When I called my sister to tell her, she burst into tears, I was so touched. I later told my agent I wish I’d been able to give her that same reaction.
Alice: So you’ve actually worked as an obituary writer just like Sam, as well as having worked as a speech writer, bank teller, ghostwriter, bookkeeper in a lampshade factory, pet shop clerk, and music zine editor! Do you have a fun story you can share about one of your jobs?
Jennifer: There’s at least one fun story about every job I’ve held. A gerbil named “Killer” comes to mind when I think about my days at the pet shop. And when I was a freelance music journalist, I once put Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty on hold while I took a call from another band. (Who knew he’d be famous someday?) But editing my own music ‘zine for a few years probably generated the most funny anecdotes (One involves legendary Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, but that’s a very loooong story.). Me and my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, started the `zine together. We both had day jobs, but still managed to put in a ridiculous amount of hours writing and editing the music `zine we called New Brunswick Underground. We didn’t make any money and our ads barely covered printing costs, but I got to meet and work with so many bands and music fans. It was awesome. I was always amazed by the number of people who were willing to donate their time and talents to putting out every issue of our `zine. Our base of operations was this club called The Budapest Cocktail Lounge, where every weekend they had a line-up of local bands and no shortage of interesting characters. I know there’s a novel in here somewhere!
Alice: What is your favorite part about writing?
Jennifer: Well, like I mentioned, I tend to be kind of shy, so writing has always given me the opportunity to connect with people. (Like Sam in Famous Last Words, I think I’m better on paper.) And since beginning this journey, I’ve met so many wonderful and supportive people—writers, bloggers, readers, teachers, librarians—and of course my amazing agent and editors. Plus just the thought that people are reading something I’ve written is still so mind-blowing to me. It’s an opportunity I don’t take lightly. I keep hoping readers see themselves in my characters, or that they come to think of them as people they’d like to have as friends. I also hope they experience butterflies in their stomachs, or laugh-out-loud moments. At the very least, I hope these stories make them smile. That would make me happy!
Thanks so much for the interview, Jennifer! Be sure to check out How My Summer Went Up in Flames (already released) and Famous Last Words (coming July 2nd)!