Robin Reul’s second novel, Where The Road Leads Us (Sourcebooks Fire) hits shelves tomorrow! I was lucky enough to get the chance to read early via NetGalley and LOVED this. It’s the story of a pair of teens travelling together on a memorable road trip. The girl wants to meet a dying friend, while the boy is trying to find his estranged brother. Accompanied by a cab driver aiming to stop his ex’s wedding, they head off on a long journey. It’s a heavily character-driven novel, which is always a strong plus for me. I love how well developed both the two POV characters and the supporting cast are. I was thrilled when Robin agreed to be interviewed to celebrate the release.
One of the things I highlighted when reviewing the book was how exceptionally strong the dialogue was, and I know you’ve said before in interviews that dialogue is your jam. Which other YA authors do you consider to be especially good at capturing teens’ voices?
There are so many it’s impossible to narrow it down without leaving out someone equally great so instead I will say that I think the key to teen voice is authenticity and relatability. Throwing in a bunch of current teen-speak won’t fool a savvy teen reader into believing that voice; more likely it will remind them an adult is writing the story. I think dialogue is probably the biggest place that becomes apparent, how self-aware the character is, how they interact others. I love clever banter. It’s such a great opportunity to make a character three-dimensional and make the reader truly emotionally invested.The first author I read when I started writing for young adults was John Green, and his writing style influenced me greatly. I tend to write male protagonists and I learned a lot from reading his novels about voice, particularly how to write from a boy’s perspective, because that’s how most of my main characters tend to show up. In fact, WHERE THE ROAD LEADS US was originally written completely from Jack’s point-of-view.
Another thing that I really appreciated was Jack considering what to do next in his life, and talking to people about it. How important do you think it is that teens see the variety of options available after high school for them?
Beyond important. There is no one-size-fits-all game plan. I think that college isn’t for everybody, and the pressure young people today face about getting into college, and which one, and having their whole lives figured out at eighteen is too much. And the toll on teen mental health is staggering. I myself changed majors multiple times in college, and transferred colleges three times, only to end up doing what my father did because it felt like the safer path than pursuing my actual dream. At that time I didn’t have enough faith in myself to believe that it could ever happen or that the choices I was making weren’t actually binding. I think schools should bring back vocational programs to show teens there are all sorts of options out there, many different roads to success. I think taking a year to get perspective, to travel, to experiment with life is a fabulous if not potentially life-changing idea for some. I wish I had done something like that.
On that note, I’d say one of the key themes of the novel is finding who you are as a person, regardless of what others (in particular your parents) expect from you. When you were a teen, would the people around you have expected you to become an author?
My answer to that is: probably depends on who you ask. Certainly my family and childhood friends, yes. Growing up, my friends at school always knew I wanted to be a writer. I would make my own Scholastic Book Fair-esque flyers of stories I had written and would offer them to my classmates for free. I had my first meeting with a publisher at thirteen (Refna Wilkin, head of the Children’s division at Putnam back in the early 80’s and I called her at home since I was in New York and asked for a meeting. She was so amused she gave me one). But oddly, when I entered middle school and high school, I never really shared my writing anymore. I went to a very competitive, private arts high school in Los Angeles and there were so many brilliantly talented kids there that I felt so inadequate by comparison. I think for sure a few friends knew but it wasn’t as big a part of my life in those years.
I know from your awesome website that you’re a huge John Hughes fan. Which 2 Breakfast Club characters would you want with you if you were going on a road trip of your own?
Ha! Oh my goodness, what a choice. And also – I completely want to take this road trip!!!!! So number one, John Bender, of course. And I think probably Allison Reynolds. I think her character is amazing and quirky and I very much had her in my head as I crafted the character of Peyton in my first novel, MY KIND OF CRAZY. I feel like there would be some good stories in that car.
On the subject of your website, how important do you think a website/social media presence is to an author today? Would you say it’s more or less so than when you debuted a few years ago?
I think it’s hugely important. Social media allows readers a level of access and information flow that makes them feel more connected to the author as a person, more invested in their work and that window into their lives gives a sense of personality that makes them feel totally human. I’m a pretty private person, so all of that can be a bit overwhelming to me, honestly. I think it has become significantly more so since my first book debuted in 2016. Now, I think some sort of online presence is an expectation and a requirement. People are hungry for more information, and who better to deliver it than the author themselves in the form of exclusive content, playlists, photos, glimpses into their personal lives or what they are working on. It helps sell books and build audiences. I think it’s a great opportunity if you know how to do it well and have a reach, but it can be incredibly time-consuming and a lot of pressure to deliver relevant content in those in-between moments when you’re just living your life and there isn’t much to say. I’d personally rather channel that time and energy into writing more books.
If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why?
Another question with about five hundred different answers I could gush. I would have to say Becky Albertalli. I absolutely love her voice, she makes me laugh out loud, and I feel like we could create something really funny with quirky characters. Her characters just jump off the page to me and as an author, to be able to bounce off of her imagination and banter would be a blast.
What do you enjoy most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?
I love writing dialogue the most. I approach writing very cinematically; I see it play out like a scene from a movie in my head and I often tend to write the dialogue of the scene before even filling in all the action or description. In fact, my writing is probably more heavily influenced by film or TV writing than anything. I try to bring that visual sense to the page through dialogue and imagery, like paying attention to the small details of what someone is wearing or finding a way to make their otherwise normal surroundings uniquely interesting. It’s like painting a picture, and when it all comes together right, it is an indescribable feeling I could happily live in. As for what I’d rather not do at all, that would definitely be marketing. I am uncomfortable with self-promotion and the feeling that I am out there pushing my book and asking people to buy it. And as I said before, I struggle with embracing the whole social media thing for that purpose especially, but it’s all part of being an author. At the end of the day, no one will be more passionate about getting the word out about my book than me.
Have you read anything that you’ve really loved recently?
Yes. I’ve been reading all sorts of things lately – mostly adult fiction – and a few that have given me absolute writer’s envy lately are THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid, OONA OUT OF ORDER by Margarita Montimore and THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matthew Haig. I would have to say hands down though my favorite recent read was THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD by Claire Lombardo. Her writing…wow.
What can we look forward to next from you?
I’m working on a couple of different projects but I’m not ready to talk about them just yet. 🙂
Whatever they are, I can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview, Robin. And have an amazing release week!