By Heather A.
Q&A with Lois Metzger! Her latest novel, Change Places With Me, was published in June. I had the opportunity to read the book (you can see my review here) and chat with Lois about it (spoiler free!). Thanks for stopping by! Check out the book trailer!
I included Change Places with Me on the list for the blog called “11 YA Books That are Destroying Teen Readers.” Do you set out to write books with emotional hooks?
Definitely! I try to make each book I write an “experience,” so the reader feels a little differently about something after it’s done. That’s how I respond to books I like. Also I want to take readers by surprise, to experience something they weren’t expecting to—a moment of sadness right in the middle of something happy, and the opposite.
Throughout the novel is the theme of grief. How do you approach writing this subject?
I was very aware I was writing about grief, and purposely did so in a not-grief-stricken way. I set out to make it fun and light-hearted, the opposite of grief—although grief is very much front and center.
Would you ever have memory enhancement surgery? Would you consider removing memories and enhancement?
I had an interesting reaction to this question. First I thought—no, never. A moment later, I reconsidered. I might have some “memory work” done—if there was something that was really upsetting after many years and absolutely wasn’t doing me any good. Why not soften some of the unpleasant feelings that keep hanging around? But—erase memories altogether? No, for the simple reason that I like to keep my memories consistent and in order; so much depends on everything else. And I already have quite a bit of “childhood amnesia.” My older brother will say things to me like, “Remember when the apartment caught fire?” and I’ll be like, “Uh, no…”
What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of since becoming a writer?
My last book was about a boy with anorexia, and I got letters from some people saying that they hadn’t realized their kids had eating disorders until they saw the signs in my book, and then they got their kids into treatment.
What do you see as the major differences between writing fiction and nonfiction?
I’ve written both, and here’s my template—write fiction as if it really happened, and write nonfiction like it’s a story. That way, the made-up fiction sounds absolutely real, and the true-to-life nonfiction is engrossing and entertaining (because, let’s face it, stories are the greatest thing ever).
What near-future setting from a movie/TV/ book would you want to live?
So often near-future settings are dystopias, so it’s not appealing to want to live there. Sometimes I’ll see a movie or TV show where you don’t have to cook or clean anything; the androids do everything for you. That I would like. Though I wouldn’t like it when the androids become self-aware and decide to kill all humans, as they invariably do.
What are you doing when you’re not writing?
I like old movies, taking naps, swimming at the Y, walks, binge watching Netflix, hanging out with my 18-year-old tuxedo cat, Mischief, doing The New York Times crossword puzzle. Oh—and reading YA fiction. It’s the best.
When I was reading, I felt a very visceral response to when Rose first has the thought, “Change places with me.” How did you develop the manuscript around this idea?
This moment came to me in reverse. I grew up in Queens, New York City, and occasionally saw some strange people on the street. When I was about 12, I passed a woman who gave me a look I could only think of as the “evil eye.” It kind of terrified me. I started thinking, what if she’s a witch and she can steal my identity and then I become her? Maybe it’s already happened to her, and she used to be someone like me, and now she can’t convince anyone who she really is, and that’s why she’s glaring at everyone like that? For this book, that got all turned around. A girl sees someone who seems to be having a fantastic life, and desperately wishes she could “change places” with her.
How did the ending change from galley to finished book?
The original ending was too abrupt. I needed to take the main character “into the future”—make it clear where she was heading and with whom, what she was going to do in the days and years ahead. With the new ending I can see her better—more importantly, she can see herself.
Lois Metzger was born in Queens, New York City. Three of her five YA novels take place in Belle Heights, an invented Queens neighborhood that’s boring on purpose to stand in stark contrast to the dramatic life of her characters. She has also written two non-fiction books about the Holocaust, and has edited five anthologies of original short stories. She lives near Washington Square Park in New York with her husband and son, and where the view out the back window is right out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”
Please visit her website at www.loismetzger.com
and on Facebook and Twitter @MetzgerLois
Disclaimer I work for HarperCollins, but I did not receive any additional compensation for reading the book or posting this Q&A.