JUNE 7, 2019
ALEXIS BASS’S MAIN OBJECTIVE in her new novel, Happily and Madly, was to create something unique, a departure from her 2014 high school romance novel, Love and Other Theories. She decided to transport her readers from the somewhat clichéd YA setting of high school into a more imaginative locale: a beach town for the rich and privileged called Cross Cove. A YA novel with mystery/thriller elements, Bass’s latest title follows female protagonist Maris Brown, who finds herself swept up in a romance with fellow Cross Cove resident — and boyfriend of her new stepsister — Edison Duval. Unbeknownst to her, however, Edison harbors dark secrets that eventually come to light and threaten to destroy Maris’s happiness.
With this tale of love and deception, Alexis Bass emerges as an important voice whose work both embraces and transcends kidlit romance. Her dedication to the craft of writing and her ability to create original works set her apart from the crowd. Bass strives to incorporate real-life experiences into her stories, such as the messiness that comes with first love and teenaged relationships.
Bass sat down with LARB to share her thoughts on writing and the YA genre.
BRIANNA BRANCH: Can you describe the exact moment you decided you wanted to write a book?
ALEXIS BASS: I’ve loved writing since I was very young. When I was in elementary school, I had a friend who lived across the street who was also passionate about writing. We wrote and illustrated our own picture books. When I was a teenager, I started writing offshoots of familiar stories for fun. For example, at age 13 I rewrote the movie Cruel Intentions (1999), adding several conversations between Annette and Sebastian because, as it was written, I wasn’t convinced they were really in love. And it was pure luck that I found a friend in middle school who not only liked writing as much as I did, but also liked Jurassic Park (1993) as much as I did. We wrote several versions of what could be referred to today as Jurassic Park fanfiction. These stories always starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
I always dreamed of being published, but actively pursuing this goal — revising, getting critiques, researching agents, sending out query letters — probably happened when I was about 25. I had a completed manuscript that I was excited to share, but I knew the draft would need a lot of work before it would be ready for an agent to read. Up until that point, I was a first-draft junkie with a few completed novels under my belt, none of which had been revised or edited. When I decided to become serious about getting a novel ready to send to agents, I treated it like it was a second job. I lost a lot of sleep, took a lot of working lunches, and my laptop came with me on any and all vacations. But I loved it, so it was worth it.
Your newest YA title, Happily and Madly, has been placed in the mystery category. How did you create protagonist Maris Brown?
Maris was fun to create because she is so unlike me. First of all, she loves danger and adrenaline rushes — seeks them out even. She’s given advice early on by a fortune-teller — someone she identifies as one of the only adults who isn’t lying to her — that life is short. To Maris, that means having no regrets and taking big risks. This is what propels her to uncover the mystery in the story, and what draws her to the boy that most people would have stayed away from.
How has your writing style changed since you published Love and Other Theories in 2014?
Love and Other Theories is so grounded in high school that not a lot of focus was on the setting. Happily and Madly takes place in a fictional, wealthy beach town, and I wanted readers to get a sense of escapism. The setting and the atmosphere are a large part of the story.
All your novels deal with young love in one way or another. How do you feel about the way romance is portrayed in YA fiction?
There are so many great romances in YA fiction that explore the emotional roller coaster of young love. I really like that many books don’t hold back about how it can be messy and complicated. There’s an underlying theme I explore when I write about romance in YA and that’s who to trust with your heart — because falling in love always seems like such a big risk, especially when you’re young and falling for someone for the first time.
I’m dying to hear more about the cover art for Happily and Madly. Are there any hidden messages within your cover(s)?
Daniela Medina designed this beautiful cover. I was absolutely in love with it from the moment I saw it. It captures the mood of the story perfectly. The water is such a big part of the setting that I’m glad it was included on the cover in such an ominous way. The ripped pages are very symbolic of how many characters are functioning throughout the story with bits and pieces of information withheld from them.
What’s the hardest thing about getting a YA novel picked up by an agent?
It’s all hard! But really, probably the most difficult thing about pitching your novel to agents is keeping that drive and focus and perseverance you had when you first got the idea for the book. Every book can feel precious and close to our hearts, and rejection is the biggest part of this business. It can get very discouraging. But you have to keep going.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger about crafting YA?
I wish I’d known not to be so hard on myself about what elements I believed a story had to have in order to be “good.” It’s so tempting to put limits on what to write based on what’s trending or what’s already been done, and easy to spend lots of time worrying about smaller components, like if there’s enough plot, if the story will be interesting to anyone but me. Part of the process is trusting that the work you’ve put into studying craft and storytelling will show up for you when you’re working and I wish I’d known to have more faith in that.
What suggestions do you have for those wishing to publish a YA novel?
Take time away from a draft before you begin to revise because the story’s problems will be easier to see from a distance. Don’t beat yourself up if a story isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to shelve a book to make way for a new one. You can always put hope in the next project. Also, read a lot and across genres.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
My writing Kryptonite is self-doubt. The downfall to having published books is knowing where the potential for disappointment exists. Sometimes it’s hard to start a new project, seeing those letdowns that might be waiting for you once the book is out there in the world.