Texas Book Festival: Q&A With Alexandra Coutts

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Tumble and Fall is Young Adult author Alexandra Coutts‘ third book. She took some time out of her day at the 2013 Texas Book Festival to chat with L Style G Style about Martha’s Vineyard, and how she would spend her final days if the world was coming to an end.

Can you give a brief description of Tumble and Fall?
Tumble and Fall is my third book and the first under this name. I wanted to do something that was very grounded and very contemporary, so I came to this idea that I was going to do something really big and really small at the same time. It’s my attempt to kind of bring this big end of the world and bridge that with just three stories of regular teenagers who are just trying to figure out how if the world were really ending, what they would do in this scenario. It takes place on Martha’s Vineyard, which is where I’m from.

I was looking at your Tumble and Fall Challenge, which is basically a bucket list. What have you enjoyed most?
Skateboarding was very fun to try, though I’m terrible. Paddle boarding was also fun. The most fulfilling was probably interviewing my parents: I can’t tell you how surprising it was. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with it yet, but it was just so cool to spend so much time talking to them asking these questions that didn’t come up in normal conversation.

Anything you’d add to the list now?
Yeah. I didn’t want the book to be really big things. If you didn’t have that much time, you would choose to be with your friends and family and wouldn’t go to Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal. Some people would, but that’s not who I am. I think I would be really into things that were emotionally important to me. There’s actually something I haven’t done on the list yet: take a dance lesson and throw a big dance party.

So you have a history in playwriting. What made you switch from that to fiction?
I do a little of it, but not as much as I’d like. I wish I were better at having lots of projects going at once. I went to grad school at NYU for playwriting and screenplay. When I finished, I got a job as a personal assistant to a playwright. It was my first experience in the theatre world, and I realized that I was very bad at living in New York not as a student working. I was a terrible personal assistant! So I decided to spend some time on Martha’s Vineyard because it was a place I’d always visit growing up. I wanted to just write while I was out there, and I didn’t know a lot about young adult writing (YA). Were you at the panel yesterday?

Yeah, did you have to Google “YA” as well?
It’s funny, I did. I’ve just been writing YA and haven’t gone back to the plays, though I love them.

Do you have any favorite playwrights?
Well that playwright I mentioned being a personal assistant to was Tony Kushner, and he is my all time favorite playwright. He did Angels in America.

What. Okay. I’m a little impressed I have to say.
I don’t like to name drop-

No, that’s a good name to drop.
Well I also don’t like to name drop because I was the worst assistant and am so mortified about it. And he is just amazing.

So you mentioned on your panel that you were drawn to YA because you were recently that age. Are there any other reasons why?
It’s just the way I happen to tell the story. As I’ve gotten more interested in the genre and read a lot more, I’m always just so struck by how voice is so important. Adult literary fiction has a lot going on—they’re doing a lot with the structure and a lot of writing, which is wonderful, but I just love character. That’s why I like playwriting, and that’s why I’m drawn to YA: I like dialogue and great characters.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on another contemporary YA book that takes place on the Vineyard. It’s about facing the fact that this is where you are in your life, and it’s going to be over sometime but it’s not over now. I think that’s a pretty powerful lesson and I’m really looking forward to finishing it.

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