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Interview: Robin Benway

April 22, 2008

Robin Benway is the author of Audrey, Wait!, published earlier this month by Razorbill (my review here). It’s a fabulous, funny, music-loving book, and Robin was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book. And a lot more about music.

First things first, what are you listening to now?
Well, well, well. Right now, I’m days away from finishing my second book, so I’m listening to the playlist that I made for it whenever I’m writing or in the car. (I don’t want to say what the songs are yet, but don’t worry, I’ll post it when it’s time!) But if you look at my page, it should give you an idea of what some of them are. 🙂

Other than that, though, I’ve found that I’m in a “song” mood rather than an “album” mood lately. I’ve been listening to a lot of earlier R.E.M., and I’m especially obsessed with “Leave” off of “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”. Other songs are Saul Williams’ “List of Demands”, The Shins’ “Australia”, and What Made Milwaukee Famous’s “Prevailing Wind”. Also, it’s spring in Los Angeles, which always makes me want to listen to Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers, so those have been on rotation in between everything else.

For nighttime, though, it’s a lot of softer, folkier stuff: the Weepies, Ray LaMontagne, and AA Bondy. I have a playlist on iTunes called “Exhausted” and that serves me well. 🙂

I loved how every chapter began with song lyrics. Why/how did you decide to do this? And how did you go about picking the lyrics that ultimately appear in the book?
When I first started to edit “Audrey, Wait!”, my publisher asked if I would create titles for each chapter. I came back and said, “What about song lyrics?” because not only would that fit the theme of the book, but there were so many songs whose lyrics I felt described the book’s varying moods. So my publisher agreed, and I got started. However, I hadn’t realized that there were OVER FORTY CHAPTERS, haha!

I’ve always kept a Word document filled with my favorite song lyrics, even before I started writing “Audrey,” so I consulted that and then just started listening to even more music. As far as the different types of artists, it made me so happy that I could feature words from some of my favorite musicians. I loved the Belle & Sebastian lyrics, and the ones from Patti Smith (“amazed to stumble where gods get lost”) have always been some of my all-time favorites. When I heard the Arcade Fire song “Windowsill” that says, “MTV, what have you done to me?” I was like, “YES! THANK YOU, ARCADE FIRE!”

I just wanted to show as many different types of music as possible. What if a reader decides to listen to Belle & Sebastian or The Smiths or a band they’ve never heard before, just because they liked the lyrics? That would be amazing, I would absolutely love that!

Now that Audrey, Wait! has just been published, what song lyrics would head this chapter in your life?
Hmmm….I would have to say lyrics from the New Pornographers, “July Jones”: “Behind the daylight / Who knew what it could feel like?”

I just feel like I’m seeing a whole different side of my life, one where I get to do what I love, and it’s revealing facets that I never thought I would see. It’s like I’ve peeked behind the curtain and been able to live in a world that I had only imagined up until now. And it’s fantastic! (But for all I know, the songwriter meant the lyrics to be really depressing or something, haha).

How difficult was writing the lyrics to “Audrey, Wait!”?
Surprisingly easy! I just figured I needed a couple of rhyming words and it grew from there. I didn’t even really think about it, the lyrics just happened. Thank goodness! The last thing I am is a songwriter.

If someone were to write a song about you, what would it be about?
Hopefully, it’d be a long 12-minute rambly ballad about my life adventures. My friends would sing the chorus and Bob Dylan would write the lyrics and Neko Case would make a guest appearance. Another option would be if 50 Cent and Kanye started some sort of rap battle about who could write a better song about me. That would be awesome! Hee! 🙂

I think the plot of Audrey, Wait! could also work in an adult novel. Why write it as a YA novel?
I wrote it as YA because that seemed like the perfect audience for the book. I wanted readers who were completely limitless in their enthusiasm, and I know from personal experience that sometimes that enthusiasm gets tempered in adulthood. Also, sometimes I think that when teenagers are written about in adult novels, there’s a certain self-awareness about them that you don’t have as a teenager. I wanted “Audrey” to be written in the moment of being sixteen years old and loving music more than anything in the world and being on the precipice of having the rest of your life happen to you.

What kind of music did you listen to as a teen? In other words, was your taste in music as cool as Audrey’s?
My musical experience blew up when I was about sixteen years old for several reasons: I got “Automatic For the People” by R.E.M. for Christmas and listened to it obsessively. I also heard “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails and could not BELIEVE what I was hearing. That album, more than any other CD, changed how I listened to music. I also used to send away for live Smashing Pumpkins bootlegs in the mail, haha!

Then my friend Anna-Lynne Williams (who’s now in the band Trespassers William) started making me mix tapes during our junior year of high school. I still have every single one of them. On the first one, she put songs by Velvet Underground, Nico, The Smiths, The Cure, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel, and Patti Smith. And that was just one side of the tape! It was transformative and I’m always grateful that she gave me that music.

So I don’t know if it as as “cool” as Audrey’s, but it was certainly varied.

Audrey, Wait! is such a fun book to read. Was it also fun to write?
Definitely! After writing the first chapter, I had no idea what was going to happen to Audrey, so I just kept writing and the plot started to unfold. But there were moments & scenes (such as the part with the Lolitas and the last few chapters of the book) that were such a joy to write. I also loved listening to music and all of a sudden thinking, “That song has GOT to be in the book!” That’s how “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J snuck in there.

Guilty pleasure (music) you don’t actually feel guilty about enjoying?
This is actually a good question for me, since I’m trying to do away with referring to some music as a “guilty pleasure”. Few things annoy me more than musical elitism, so I try not to contribute to it. That being said, I really enjoy Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. I always get crap for liking them (from both teenagers AND adults) but I can’t help it! I saw both of them live last year and they were great shows. People were dancing everywhere! It was way better than going to see some “cool” band and having everyone stand there with their arms folded.

One song that I just love John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads”. And I can also sing the entire “Annie” soundtrack from start to finish. I will NEVER feel guilty about that! 🙂

What is your writing routine like?
A lot of procrastination, followed by a lot of panic!

No, actually, it’s pretty good, and I’ve learned to just be patient and let the characters sort themselves out. Some days I can write 20 pages, while other times I’ll only have 2 or 3. What I try to do is get some coffee, put on some music, and re-read the last ten pages or so. Then I just say, “Okay, what would happen next? What is the very next thing they would do?” and I take it from there. I don’t write an outline until I’m about 75 pages away from the end of the book, and I never know what’s going to happen. It’s like traveling down a long road. You know you’re going to get to your destination, but you can’t see it yet. It’s the same for me & writing: I can only see so far ahead.

Thanks, Robin!

Robin Benway has also been interviewed at Teen Book Review. Visit Robin’s blog to see what’s on heavy rotation on her iPod, the five songs that are currently saving her life, and more.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mark lanzarotta permalink
    October 3, 2010 3:15 pm

    A long time ago, I had a tremendous crush on Robin, but I was too shy to tell her. And then when I told her, I got into serious trouble! But I blamed myself, not her. She was always a brilliant person, I am so happy she is a success. Robin, I hope you remember me kindly. I wish you every success in life, and I am going to read your book.

  2. mark lanzarotta permalink
    October 3, 2010 3:17 pm

    I will read the book.


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