Author Maurene Goo dishes on debut novel, the writing process and her own teen years
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 31 years old, Los Angeles native Maurene Goo is starting her literary career off with a bang with her debut young adult novel, "Since You Asked ...." I was lucky enough to talk with the new author about her life as a teenager and her desire to become a writer, as well as the process she uses to develop her characters.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: "I didn't always know I wanted to be one, but I always wrote. I wrote short stories in high school and this never-ending saga about three friends while I was in college. But I never thought of writing creatively as a profession until the day I got an agent.
"Before that, I was fixated on being a journalist, and then eventually working in book publishing. Writing stories was always a side hobby; I never imagined that it would eventually be my end goal and that I'd succeed. I feel incredibly lucky."
Q: In the book, Holly works as a copy editor for her high school's newspaper. Did you work for your paper in high school or college?
A: "I did in high school. I was a news editor, and then I became a co-editor-in-chief my senior year. It was really fun."
Q: Was your relationship with your mother as strained as Holly's is at her age?
A: "It was super dramatic. I was such a brat. I look back at that time, and I can totally see why I was so annoying for my mom and so frustrating.
"So I drew a lot on not only me for Holly, but a ton of my friends. We all had very similar kinds of volatile relationships with our parents. There's a generation thing; there's a cultural gap for a lot of us. It was kind of a mixture of a lot of different relationships I knew, but it did help that I went through a similar kind of angsty period with my mom."
Q: It's rare to read a young adult novel that doesn't feature a white protagonist, and you give readers a glimpse into what it's like growing up as a Korean-American teenager. Did you feel it was important to have a main character who's a minority?
A: "When I started writing this book, that wasn't the main goal. Like 'I want to make an Asian-American protagonist, and therefore I will write this book!' But that's my life, that's my familiarity, that's the perspective that I know, so to write, to me, the most authentic character, it was natural for her to be Korean.
"But now, I definitely see the importance in that. And there was a huge drive in me getting my book out there because while the focus isn't about being Asian-American -- it's just about being a teenager, really -- I do feel like there is a unique perspective that [comes from] Asian-Americans or Mexican-Americans or whatever culture identity you have.
"More than that, I wanted to feel like it was more normalized. Like reading about a Korean girl is not a weird, foreign thing, but rather because it's so normal and just about her every day life, it becomes familiar and part of the normal dialogue about Asian-Americans.
"I feel like that experience is more accurate, especially [for] someone my age and younger. Maybe people had it a little rougher, but especially where I grew up, which was a super diverse city with a lot of Asian people, it was just normal. And I wanted that normal to be portrayed."
Q: You give the school itself some personality with the "Letters to the Editor" sections, where some of the book's funniest lines can be found. Was it enjoyable to give the student body a sense of character itself?
A: "Those just flowed out of me. I felt like it was fun to not have a filter. If I'm writing in Holly's voice, I'm in her character all the time; I have to think about what her motivations are, what she's thinking. But the letters to the editor was just so fun.
"I just [wrote] any weirdo or stereotypes in my head, but there's also specific people that I remember in high school or that I know in real life. A lot of letters to the editor are hidden codes for a lot of my friends. If they can recognize it, they'll see their names in there, and their voices, too. Those were really fun for me to write."
Q: Which character would you say you're most like and why?
A: "I'd have to say I'm very similar to Holly. It's a book that was born from my voice mixed with a fictional voice. She's actually probably closer to me now as an adult than as a teenager, just because I think teenager-me isn't the most fun person to read about.
"But also just writing as an adult, my current perspective and experience make their way into the book. I would say Holly is more courageous and an honest person than I was at that age."
Q: Holly finishes her sophomore year by the end of the book. Can you give us a hint as to whether or not we'll see her junior and senior years as well?
A: "I definitely have more stories in my head for her junior and senior years, and I hope that everybody will get to read about them, too."
Q: What are three books you'd recommend to teen readers?
A: "'The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao' by Juno Diaz. It's a book that I think is really beautiful and kind of older, but I think teenagers might relate to. It won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago. It's such a unique voice, like the most unique teenage voice I've ever read. It's so funny, but it's also really beautiful and tragic and serious. It's very unique, and I really admire this author. It's an adult book, but from a teenage voice. It's really an amazing book. That's one that I would highly recommend.
"One of my favorite books is "Middlesex" by Jeffery Eugenides. It also won a Pultizer. I really love Pulitzer Prize winners. It follows a hermaphrodite and her family background, growing up in Detroit in the '60s. It's the most amazing, life-changing book. It's a little adult but I think teens could handle it. It's amazing. It's one of those books that I really believe changes your life after you read it, and I don't quite know how or what it does exactly. But you just feel changed from having read this book.
"Is it a cliché to say the Harry Potter books? I just feel like if you haven't read [the series] by the time you're a teenager, you should. It's so magical and absorbing. I have a few friends who just don't read, and they can't even imagine reading Harry Potter because it's so nerdy to them. That is so sad. One of the most unique parts of the books is that you grow with these kids, and it gets darker and more interesting. It's really a very classic, quintessential reading experience. I also think if you don't like reading and you read 'Harry Potter,' you can eventually become someone who likes reading."