Saturday, January 10, 2015

2 Katie Coyle, author of VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, on writing what you want to read

What was your inspiration for writing VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

A few years ago, a man named Harold Camping predicted a Rapture/apocalypse scenario similar to the one that happens in Vivian Apple. On the day the supposed Rapture failed to occur, my husband handed me a newspaper article about a local family—the parents were followers of Camping, and they believed the world was coming to an end, and the kids weren’t. I found that split so fascinating. It echoed for me, on a really grand scale, that division that comes around pretty naturally for most parents and teenagers; that point where you, as a teenager, start to really assert your identity. If you’re lucky, as I was, your parents support you no matter what, but obviously there are families where that division becomes permanent. I was interested in exploring that area—in focusing on a girl who all of the sudden has to come into her own, and figure out how to support herself and stand up for herself, without her parents to guide her.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Without spoiling anything, there’s a scene towards the end of the book in which Vivian has to confront someone who has hurt her tremendously. That’s the scene I wrote and rewrote and rewrote the most, and I struggled with it largely because it took me a while to understand just how much pain Viv would be in during this conversation. And once I did understand, I was a bit intimidated by it. I’m proud of that scene, but I think the one I love the most is at the beginning of the first chapter, when Viv realizes her parents have disappeared. Every now and then in writing I’m lucky enough to stumble upon some particular image or turn of phrase that just sort of buzzes with energy, and that scene was that kind of an experience. I wrote the book more or less in chronological order, so that scene was the first moment in which I thought I might be able to turn this idea I’d been toying with into something special.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

Hard to say! Vivian Apple is a weird contemporary/dystopian/road trip/romance/girl power/pun-heavy hybrid, so if any of those phrases sound appealing to a given reader, he or she might want to give it a shot! The book owes a lot to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and George Saunders’s short stories, which I love.

How long did you work on VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

I first tried writing it as a short story, and when that didn’t work, I put it aside for a year to work on other projects. When I finally picked it back up, it took me about six months to write a very rough first draft, and another six months to edit it.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I had pretty much assumed I’d always be a short story writer before attempting Vivian Apple—I wanted to write novels; I’d written half-a-dozen first chapters to half-a-dozen theoretical novels, but never seemed to be able to get any further. This book was the first time I really committed myself to an idea, and the circumstances under which I wrote it (as an entry for the Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize) forced me to actually complete it. It may not be true for everyone, but I personally learned that I have to just get words down on paper, no matter how awful they seem, in order to get anything done.

I can be my own worst enemy in terms of self-editing; part of the reason all those other novels died after one chapter is that I let their many small flaws doom them. But with Vivian Apple I just kept writing, one scene after another, moving the story further and further, and not worrying whether this sentence was well-crafted enough or whether that joke fell flat. I learned that, for me, the goal of the first draft is just to finish it.

What do you hope readers will take away from VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

If a majority of readers find reading Vivian Apple an entertaining way to spend a few hours, I’ll be happy. But for me, it’s always been a story about how teen girls have the capacity to be strong and brave and kick-ass in ordinary or extraordinary circumstances. In my dream scenario, my readers will realize that, too.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

I had a weirdly fast and short road to publication, because Vivian Apple was published through a contest—the Young Writers Prize—sponsored by my UK publisher, Hot Key Books. In less than a year, I found out about the contest, wrote the first draft, entered, and found out that I’d won and it would be published. The actual writing of the book was hard work, but it was an unusually speedy process otherwise. This is the first novel I ever completed, although in graduate school I put together a collection of short stories that may or may not ever see the light of day.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

Very much the opposite—I think my process is more one of throwing everything at the page and hoping that somewhere down the line I’ll be able to fashion it into a coherent story. The AHA! moment was probably only when I wrote the last few pages and realized I’d actually finished it.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I can write pretty much anywhere, but I alternate between home and coffee shops. I try to write at least four to five hours a day, and I cannot write without tea, chocolate chips cookies, and an obsessively curated Spotify playlist featuring various original motion picture scores.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

To me, the only important writing advice in the world is that you have to write what you want to read. It is possible that you will never sell it, or that you will sell it and people will hate it, but none of that matters so long as you focus your energies on writing about characters and ideas that are important to you. If you can do that—which is not always easy—if you can make it good and true and you, your writing will find its audience in whatever form that’s supposed to take.

What are you working on now?

I’m about 200 pages into a novel about teen cosplayers. It is very wacky and very messy at the moment, but it’s so much fun and apocalypse-free.


Vivian Apple at the End of the World
by Katie Coyle
HMH Books for Young Readers
Released 1/6/2015

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.

Purchase Vivian Apple at the End of the World at Amazon
Purchase Vivian Apple at the End of the World at IndieBound
View Vivian Apple at the End of the World on Goodreads


Katie Coyle grew up in Fair Haven, New Jersey and has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her debut novel VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD (previously released in the UK as VIVIAN VERSUS THE APOCALYPSE) will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in January 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in One Story, The Southeast Review, Cobalt, and Critical Quarterly. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, and blogs at


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