As Authentic as Possible: Meredith Moore's I AM HER REVENGE

Article by ben

by Benjamin Rybeck

First, let me tell you this: I do not often read young adult fiction. Am I a snob? Yes, about many things, so maybe about this too? I hope not. It’s just that I rarely reach for it, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just because, when I was a teenager, I was barely engaged in the experience of being a teenager. I read Tom Clancy novels when I was in third grade. I watched Ingmar Bergman movies in high school. I was an insufferable teenager, and I’m probably an insufferable grownup too.

Yet Meredith Moore’s novel I AM HER REVENGE grabbed me when I opened it. Set at a private school in England, it tells the story of a young woman named Vivian, who has built her own personality (“the edgy confident girl”) in such a way that she becomes a cruel machine, hoping to enact revenge on behalf of her villainous mother for reasons I won’t even begin to hint at here. I fell into the novel’s atmosphere immediately—the hilltop with the stone structures, the fog, the dampness of the landscape that suggests old wounds and lingering ghosts. It helped that the book is loaded with references to Tennyson and the male gaze, because…well, let me point you back to that paragraph about how insufferable I am.

As my interview with Moore reveals, she approached YA fiction from an angle too. She always wanted to be a writer, ever since she was little—but only, she jokes, after exploring a few other career paths, such as princess, and then detective. After college, she worked in publishing for a year, but fled New York because she just didn’t love it as much as she loved Houston, her hometown. Now, we have her back, and her debut novel, I AM HER REVENGE, shows that she’s a vital YA author in our sweltering, un-England-like landscape.


Brazos Bookstore: Having worked in publishing, what has surprised you the most about now being on the author side of things?

Meredith Moore: Well, the length of the process is always surprising: I signed the contract a year and a half ago. But really, I love having all these people who have read the book, who are interested in the book, and who I can talk to about promoting it. I think that’s been great. I didn’t really know much about the business side when I was working in publishing, so it’s been fun to see that.

BB: As a writer, do you like being involved with readers on social media? Or would you rather just be alone?

MM: There are definitely days where I just want to be writing, but [social media] is also really addictive. You’ve got, you know, twenty people that you’re talking to on twitter, and you don’t feel like a recluse so much, which is good.

BB: So what was the start of the voice of this book?

MM: It’s kind of embarrassing. I had a dream, and it was a girl who was in this dark room with her mother. And there was a shadowy figure in the corner, and the girl was trying to explain to her mother why she hadn’t gotten a boy to fall in love with her fast enough. And I woke up, wrote it down, and started playing with it. And Vivian was definitely the first character who really came to me fully formed, because in the dream, she was a little bit wishy-washy. I wanted to make sure that she had this strength in her to be manipulated but also to grow from out of that.

BB: Is it fun to write a character as villainous as Vivian’s mother?

MM: It was an interesting process, because, you know, she is this sort of crazy, evil character. But I didn’t want her to be one-note. I did want to kind of give her a lot of parallels with Vivian’s own life. She had a mother who was extremely harsh, and so I wanted to build on that. I love the mother-daughter dynamic. I seem to put that into all of my stories. I loved my mother--she was the best, nothing like [Vivian’s mother]. But it was fun to explore that strange love that can be a bit obsessive and destructive.

BB: Well, there’s something classical in it too, right? It feels very Shakespearean.

MM: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of the Miss Havisham/Estella relationship from GREAT EXPECTATIONS. That definitely played a part in it.

BB: You studied lit in college?

MM: I minored in it, yes, but it has always been a passion of mine. I kind of grew up on Dickens and Hardy and Brontës.

BB: What draws you to the nineteenth century?

MM: The atmosphere. It’s real world but heightened in a way. I love the gothic feel of everything. It’s something I’ve tried to put in my own writing.

BB: Did you want I AM HER REVENGE to be a modern gothic?

MM: Yeah. I’m trying to build on that sort of idea in every book that I write.

BB: With Vivian, you’ve created a character that’s smart, so you can let her talk about Tennyson or Laura Mulvey or whatever else. Is that just sort of where you go as a person--your interests dictate those quirks?

MM: Yeah. I mean, I’ve talked to a few high school creative writing classes, and I’ve told them to find out what you’re a nerd about, what you’re passionate about, what little quirks of history or literature or art or something make you kind of geek out. And I remember when I was revising, and I busted out my old college books. It was like the best day ever; I was so excited to go back into all of that.

BB: What other support systems do you have as a writer? I mean, it’s a life where you have to get used to being alone a lot of the time and have to work with uncertainty a lot. How do you support yourself throughout that process?

MM: Well, being here in Houston has been great: my family is here and they’ve provided a lot of emotional support. When I’m tired of writing, I go over to my brother and sister-in-law’s, and they hand me a baby.

What I’ve found works really well for me is going to coffee shops and writing from there and having that peer pressure of people working. And that’s one of the best things that I like about Houston, because you’ve got all these people who are energetic, who are artistic, who are, you know, at universities or out of town. A lot of people are interested in things, and surrounding myself with that is kind of fun. So I try to take in different art forms as well—theater, ballet, museums, galleries—and draw inspiration from them.

BB: So what’s on your Houston top five list?

MM: I love Agora. I love the Houston ballet.

BB: Are you a dancer yourself?

MM: I cannot dance: I quit ballet when I was about six. But I love just watching the athleticism and beauty of it.

BB: So you fell naturally into writing YA because you were drawn to characters in that age range?

MM: Yeah. And I actually never read young adult when I was a young adult. And so I started reading it when I had my first story idea, and I was a seventeen-year-old girl. I started with TWILIGHT, because that was big at the time, and then I got into the real marrow of YA literature, finding authors that I loved and wanted to emulate. Since then, I’ve never turned back.

BB: There are always these criticisms of the genre, like whether adults should be reading YA. Do you buy the fact that there’s a schism between literary fiction and YA fiction, or has that not been your experience?

MM: I think there could be a case made that YA fiction is a little more plot-driven. There are a lot of amazing characters, and a lot of amazing character-driven stories, but as a genre, plot is a very big part of it: we want the reader to have a transcendent experience, but also to flip the pages and be excited about it. And I think that can happen at any age. I mean, I read almost exclusively young-girl literature, and I’ve found everything that I love about literary fiction in it.

BB: And there’s plenty of bad literary fiction, right? I mean, literary fiction is equally beholden to certain generic tropes or what have you. So when you’re writing YA fiction, how beholden do you feel to hitting particular tropes of the genre?

MM: I don’t, really. Because YA has developed so much, and I think people are pushing the boundaries of it. So you don’t necessarily have to do the various tropes that have always been in there. You can write in the margins. You can do a surprise ending. You can bring anything that you want to it.

BB: What are some of those books that you think are pushing at the margins?

MM: Well, I have to name check John Green, actually. Sara Zarr is another young adult author I love. She does a lot with female characters that I particularly appreciate. She and Courtney Summers write unlikeable female protagonists, which I like a lot, ‘cause mine…I mean, you understand where she’s coming from, but she’s not particularly likeable. And I think that’s very important to show readers, especially young girl readers: you don’t have to play the game of being kind and polite all the time. You can be harsh, and that has been fun to explore.

BB: Does plot come naturally to you?

MM: Yeah.

BB: So there’s plot, but there’s also these great moments when Vivian is alone—like when they go into the town, and she’s exploring. It’s only a couple pages, but it feels like you’re happy to linger in those moments.

MM: England is one of my favorite countries. I got the idea for this book after I visited. I wanted to make sure that [I AM HER REVENGE] had that gothic appeal, and I think description is a large part of that. And so it’s fun to sort of try to remember what it smelled like, what it felt like, what I saw--going through old photos, and that sort of thing.

BB: So you still have the research impulse?

MM: Yeah. My second book is set in Scotland and I went for two and a half weeks in September and explored the Highlands and the Islands by myself, just sort of going around and seeing everything and trying to experience everything and writing it down and trying to make that as authentic as possible.

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