Holiday House sat down with author Katelyn Detweiler, to talk about her new novel The People We Choose.
How did you come up with the unique idea for The People We Choose?
My hope for this story has always been to show how families are created in so many different ways, and to explore the ways that love and genetics are tied together—or not tied together. How we form our identities and our relationships, how we love, and the differences between romantic love, friendship love, and family love—where they intersect, and where they very much divide.
Your characters are very complex and have so much depth; do you have a particular process for how you develop them?
Oh, thank you! That is one of the best compliments. Infusing every character with their own personalities, their own dreams, goals, fears, talents, struggles, and quirks is really first and foremost in breathing life into any story, even before plot. I want each character, even the secondary ones, to feel like real, breathing people. I would say that half of the character base comes to me immediately—is already fully formed in my mind, born from some mysterious inner creative spring. The other half, the details and nuances, trickles in through each round of revision, as everyone (hopefully) gets sharper and shinier.
How do you balance being a literary agent and a writer? When do you find time to write?
Some days are easier than others, especially working from home full time with a toddler. To be honest, I’m not an author who has a daily writing regimen—partly because there aren’t enough hours in the day, partly because my creative process has ebbs and flows. Some months I do write every day in whatever morning/evening/weekend pockets I can find; some months I don’t write a word. Both kinds of months are equally important for the overall process.
What advice would you give to young people aspiring to be YA writers?
READ constantly, and read widely—all different voices, cultures, backgrounds, styles, genres. Know your audience, and what purpose you want your story to serve. What you want it to add to the larger conversation. But it’s also important to write what you love and what excites you personally, because your story should first and foremost be for you and the joy that the process brings. Publishing is a fickle business with many highs and lows, and if you set out to write solely for fame and fortune, you’re likely to disappoint yourself, and to exhaust yourself before the real journey even begins.
What was your favorite book growing up?
I’m so jealous of teens today because they have SO MUCH brilliant, exciting, highly original middle grade and YA at their fingertips. There was much less to choose from in the children’s/teen space when I was growing up, but I was rabidly obsessed with the Sweet Valley Twins series. (I was a total Elizabeth through and through.) But beyond that, lots of the classics – Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Judy Blume…
What is your favorite memory from childhood?
Oh, so many! But some of my most favorite times involve playing house with my two best friends, twin sisters, outside in our yards (fields and woods, really)—making mud pies and building “homes” out of branches and leaves and whatever we could find, eating off chipped old plates we took from our parents’ kitchens. That’s where my imagination really began, making up elaborate stories that could entertain us for hours, and it’s such a rich source of material for my stories today. I’ve lived in NYC since 2008 and love it dearly, but my heart holds so much love for the wild green spaces.
Did/do you have any pets? If so, which one was/is your favorite?
I don’t have any of my own right now (a toddler is enough for a Brooklyn apartment!), though there are some beloved canines in my wider family. My dearest pet growing up was a yellow Labrador, Hannah—she had SO MUCH spunk and personality, and was always vibrating with energy. But she was sweet and soulful, too, and deeply empathetic. I will always miss her.
Name three of your favorite authors/children’s book authors of all time.
Ah, it’s too hard to pick! Being a literary agent leaves very little time for purely pleasure reading, but when I do have time for a non-work read, I like a healthy mix of fantasy and contemporary. Mostly I’m looking for a good escape, whether that escape is light and fun or dark and creepy.
What book(s) have you most wanted to read, but haven’t yet?
Life as a literary agent means there is always a very long to-read list. Always. I have more unread than read books on my shelves, sadly. (Having a toddler certainly doesn’t help!)
Who is your favorite children’s book character and why?
Considering my childhood favorites, I’d have to say a tie between Anne Shirley and Pippi Longstocking. I had a soft spot for smart and spunky redheads, I suppose! But they both represented fierce girl power to me, creative and colorful and living outside the normal lines. I always wanted to embody that.
If you could live in any book, which would it be?
I’m not sure there’s any book I’d want to be permanently trapped inside of…! But I wish I could dip into a rotating selection, though, while I dream.
If you could have a magical talent what would it be?
I think I’d like to travel back in time—even if I couldn’t change anything. At the very least, it would be lovely to re-live the best memories over and over again. (Like my wedding and honeymoon!)
What is your favorite food?
Peanut butter and 90% dark chocolate, together, apart, always, every day.
Has it changed since childhood?
Peanut butter and chocolate have always been staples. But starting at a very early age I used to eat loads of cheeseburgers (three times a day sometimes in college, I swear—it actually inspired me to get a cheeseburger tattoo!) and now I am lactose intolerant and rarely eat red meat. Sob.
What food did you hate growing up but came to love in adulthood?
I used to hate all seafood except for canned tuna. Now I love pretty much everything from the sea.
Who was your hero growing up? Who is it now?
Growing up: my mom and dad. Now: my mom and dad, my husband—and my son, whose extreme curiosity and joy and zest for life is a daily wonder to behold.
About the author
Katelyn Detweiler is the author of several books for young adults, including The Undoing of Thistle Tate. She is also a literary agent and lives in Brooklyn, New York.