|Deborah Davis||An interview with Deborah Davis, May 2007|
Ages 13 and Up
"Starting a new chapter" is how Kayla's mother, Marilyn, has always referred to their abrupt moves—five in the past two years. But what 15-year-old Kayla hates even more than moving is Marilyn's drinking. It once landed Kayla in foster care, and she'll do anything to keep that from happening again, even if it means making sacrifices in her own life to keep her mother from falling apart.
Now Marilyn has moved them to New Mexico and promised, yet again, to quit booze for good. Kayla knows better than to believe her, but something about this move does feel different. Kayla is putting down roots, earning money as a dog walker, and spending time with Remy, a 24-year-old musician. And after years of taking care of her mother, Kayla is starting to think of herself and who she wants to be. She knows for sure who she doesn't want to be. But is she willing to do whatever it takes to create a different life for herself—even if it means leaving her mother behind?
Sharply honest and beautifully written, this powerful novel is about loving someone else enough to stay with her through anything—and loving yourself enough to let her go.
Here is the hard-won wisdom of more than 30 young women who didn't give up on their dreams once they found out they were pregnant. Rather, they went on to live the lives they'd always wanted. One woman had her baby, finished high school, then college, and is now in law school. One abused woman in Northern Canada managed to escape her abuser, raise her child, and start a career in music. The true stories of these resourceful women are mind-boggling, poignant, even inspiring.
ETC: What inspired you to write Not Like You?
DAVIS: I began with an emotion-packed image-most of my books begin that way-of a teenage girl finding her mother drunk and sick and passed out on the floor of their New Mexico trailer. She felt furious but also scared, and I was intrigued by the question of how a teen can love-and live with-a parent who is neglectful, irresponsible, and even hurtful. How would this girl take care of herself? How would she reconcile her love and her anger toward her mother? I knew that many people, teens and adults, would relate to these questions and to this girl's story. In the United States, one in four children under the age of 18 suffers from living with a parent who abuses alcohol, drugs, or both. So when this idea for Not Like You came to me, it seemed worth pursuing.
ETC: Was your life as a teen anything like Kayla's?
DAVIS: There are elements of Kayla's-and her mother's-story that were inspired by events and experiences from my own life, but as a teen I did not have an alcoholic mother, I was never in foster care, and I never seriously considered running away. On the other hand, like Kayla, as a teen I had an older boyfriend, I hid a lot of my "bad" behavior from my mother, and I often felt lonely. I share Kayla's love of dogs. I have moved a lot, so I know what it's like to try to put down roots when you're not used to staying too long in one place. I didn't grow up in New Mexico, but I lived there right after college, and that beautiful landscape inspired and comforted me and gave me a sense of possibilities, just as it does for Kayla. And like Kayla's mom, as an adult I decided I didn't like the person I became when I drank, so I put drinking behind me.
ETC: How do you write your books?
DAVIS: I start with only the bare bones of the story in my mind. I write the first 50 to 100 pages without an outline, just seeing where the story wants to go and what the characters do or say. It's sort of like setting out on a cross-country trip where you know more or less where you want to end up but not exactly which route you'll take or what adventures you'll have and which characters you'll meet along the way. Once I have a strong beginning, I try to write an outline, sketching out the most important chapters. As I continue to write, I then go back and forth between writing and revising the outline, because my outlines point me exactly where the story needs to go. They only keep me from straying to far, just like a map will tell you how to get from New York to San Francisco, and it'll keep you from winding up in Saskatchewan, but it won't tell you that you'll eat the best burger of your life in a dive diner you stumble across when you take a wrong exit in Cleveland.
ETC: Do you have an ideal time and place for writing?
DAVIS: I like to write in the morning, after I've taken a walk or a dance class or gone running. I try to write five days a week so I keep close to the story and keep my momentum up. Usually, about three hours of writing in one day is plenty, although when I'm finishing a novel I may write for eight or more hours. While I mostly write in my home office, I can write anyplace where I'm not being disturbed. Once a year I go on a writing retreat: I go someplace far from my husband and son, sometimes with no easy email access, and I do almost nothing but write and take walks for several weeks. I wrote 200 pages of Not Like You while on a three-week writing retreat, and I took the manuscript apart and rewrote it during another long retreat. On retreat, I'll write 5 to 10, up to 20 pages a day. Most days at home, however, I'm pleased with five and thrilled if I go over that.
ETC: Where do your ideas for books come from?
DAVIS: I often draw on my most miserable memories and experiences when I'm writing. And also some of my best. Good and bad things that happened to me as a teenager. My relationships with guys before I got married. Working with teens after college. Travel-that's a great idea generator. A three-week winter expedition in northern Minnesota in sub-zero weather helped when I wrote my first book, The Secret of the Seal, which is set in the Arctic. My current novel-in-progress is set in India, where my family lived for four months in 2002. My best and worst experiences with friends-trust and secrets shared and boosting each other up and letting each other down and occasional betrayals-all that goes well into books. Two years ago I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I hope that setting emerges in a future novel.
ETC: How did you get started writing?
DAVIS: When I was seven or eight years old, my family left our home in New Jersey for a camping trip in Maine. I had a brand new notebook with me, and I felt compelled to record the trip. I didn't get very far-only two pages-but that feeling of having to write down thoughts and dreams and stories has stayed with me, fairly consistently, since then. And even before I could write, as a very little girl, I loved to make up stories. I lost some of that passion during high school and college, but after college it came back, and I took several writing classes and workshops to help me build my skills and confidence.
ETC: Are there any books by other authors that you wish you'd written?
DAVIS: Too many to count! To Kill a Mockingbird. Charlotte's Web. The Book Thief. Inexcusable. All the Frog and Toad books. Any poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye. A Drowned Maiden's Hair. A True and Faithful Narrative. And maybe a Captain Underpants or two. Just for fun. Those books are such a riot!
ETC: What are your hopes for Not Like You?
DAVIS: I hope it reaches a wide, wide audience, not only of teens but also adults. I hope it becomes known as a powerful mother-daughter story, an inspiring alcohol recovery story, an engaging first love story. I hope that girls and moms who have struggled with each other will read it and realize it's possible to recreate their relationships. And for teens struggling with an alcoholic parent, I hope they will become confident that they deserve and can create a wonderful, fulfilling life, regardless of whether their parent gets better or not. I know, that's a lot of hopes, but that's what writing does for me: it gives me hope, and I like to pass it along.