Read on this fun interview with Author Kris Dinnison and get a sneak peek of her debut novel, You and Me and Him.
When and where did the idea of writing You and Me and Him begun?
I’d just been rejected by an MFA program, and I had to decide whether or not I was going to try and be a writer anyway. About the same time I decided to keep writing, I saw this Neil Gaiman quote that just said “finish something”. I made that my mantra. I had a note in my writing ideas notebook that just said “a girl who works in a record store.” When I wrote it down I thought she was someone else, but when I started writing, Maggie’s voice came right away, complete with a set of experiences that went way beyond the record store. I started writing and didn’t allow myself to edit until I had a complete first draft written. That was hard because so much of that first draft was really horrible writing.
Were there any struggles you experienced in writing You and Me and Him?
Oh my gosh, yes. There were lots of struggles. Sometimes it feels like the whole thing is made up of struggles. I love writing, but it’s hard work, and there were so many things I didn’t know about writing a novel. I did dozens of drafts, and it still felt really rough to me. I was lucky to have some amazing mentors along the way, but there was also a lot of rejection and a lot of having to keep working even when I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.
What/Who inspired you to write your debut novel?
In terms of my main character, I was really inspired by the idea that so many of the YA books about overweight teens are stories of a physical transformation: the character loses weight and that solves most of his or her problems. I wanted to write a book about a girl who is overweight, but who isn’t defined by that, who understands her physical body is just one aspect of who she is. Maggie taught me so much about that along the way.
I’m sensing Tom is the “Him” in the title of your novel, then who is the “You” and the “Me” between Maggie and Nash?
Well, actually the “Him” could be either Tom or Nash depending on where you are in the book and who Maggie’s feeling closest to in that moment. The “Me” is definitely Maggie since she’s the first person narrator in the book.
This is a question I love asking writers. Is there a particular character in your novel that you see yourself in? If yes, who and why?
Maggie is the most obvious answer to this question. People who know me will think that right away, but actually there is a lot of me in almost all the characters. Maggie is sort of how I wish I’d been in high school, but I moved during high school, like Tom, and I had really high standards for my friends, like Nash, and I had crushes on people who would never like me back, like CeCe, so I feel like all of the characters are me and not me in different ways.
Maggie is overweight and Nash is gay. Was it easy for you to write these characters that the book defined as “outsiders”?
I’ve had struggles with body image my whole life, so Maggie’s experiences were a little easier for me to access than Nash’s. I actually struggled quite a bit with feeling like I didn’t have the right to tell Nash’s story. But I did a lot of research, a lot of interviews, and I realized that my job as a writer is to tell my character’s story, not to tell a story that represents every person in a particular demographic. I modeled Nash after some guys I interviewed, and I made some really intentional decisions about which experiences he would have and not have. But in the end, he’s an individual, not a type. That’s what I want in all my characters.
Have you always seen yourself as a writer in the YA demographic?
I haven’t really seen myself as a writer at all until recently. But because I taught high school, and then I was a librarian, I read a lot of YA and have been really blown away by the quality of YA writing and the amazing compelling stories YA writers are telling these days. I also feel really fascinated by that moment of life where you go from being a kid to an adult, a moment that happens almost instantly in some cultures, but which gets stretched out over years in ours. Having a foot in each world, like so many teens do, is a really interesting place to tell stories about.
Describe You and Me and Him in 1 word.
Are you currently working on a new project?
Of course! I have two books in different stages of being finished, plus another I have outlined that I’m really excited to start. I’ve also been working on a lot of shorter fiction and essays and trying to get stuff accepted to different journals and magazines.
What shall we expect in You and Me and Him?
I think you can expect characters that might infuriate you but who are making mistakes and getting their hearts broken in ways that feel real.
YOU AND ME AND HIM
by Kris Dinnison
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015
Let’s get one thing straight from the very beginning: I am not one of those shrinking-violet fat girls. I don’t sit alone in my bedroom playing Billie Holiday albums while drowning my sorrows in a carton of ice cream. Okay, once—maybe twice—a year, but not every weekend. I have friends, a great job in a vintage record store, and even some minor social status. But I am an overweight teenage girl going to an American high school. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to figure out there are going to be some issues.
The current issue: Which outfit will maximize the four and half pounds I lost this summer and minimize the remaining flesh? As usual, my mom’s annual summer diet plan for me didn’t result in any magical transformations, so for the debut of my junior year, I decide on my flowy hippie-chick skirt and a black T-shirt with sleeves too long for the heat of early September. I don’t love this outfit. But it fits, kind of. And it’s not hideous. Most of the clothes in my size look like they were designed for retirees in Miami Beach, Florida. I do not like my shirts bedazzled in any way. Someone in the plus-size fashion industry thinks if you put shiny stuff on a T-shirt, no one will notice the size of the person underneath. This particular first-day outfit is nothing tragic, but it’s more of a fashion whisper than a fashion statement.
I climb on the bus and make a beeline for Nash.
“Maggie.” He gives me a slight wave, then covers it by smoothing down his rockabilly sideburns. (He grooms them, no lie, with mustache wax.) I slide into the seat beside him. Nash shifts upward as the seat sags in my direction.
“Move your skinny ass over,” I say.
“Like my skinny ass has a choice?” He moves. “Nice skirt.” Nash squinches up his face like something smells bad.
I sigh. Nash is all about edgy, and my sixties Woodstock wear does not scream edgy. I feel a trickle of sweat drip down between my shoulder blades.
“Nice hair,” I say.
Nash pats his shellacked do, making sure it has kept its height through the bus ride. Finding all the follicles in place, he turns his attention to me. He fishes a peppermint lip balm out of his pocket and hands it over. He then picks three or four of my long, brown hairs off my shirt. Nash always grooms me like some fastidious chimpanzee mother. Finally, he straightens the silver charm on its chain around my neck. The charm was Nash’s gift to me on the first day of high school. It’s this cool spiral; he says it’s to remind me that he’s got my back. Always. I pretty much never take the thing off.
“Thanks,” I say when he’s done making me presentable.
Nash holds out his hand. “Did you bring the goods?”
I dig in my bag and pull out a Ziploc baggie. Inside is one of my signature breakfast bars, tailored especially for Nash: cashews, chunky peanut butter, oats, cinnamon, dried cherries, and a few dark chocolate chips. I know. Shocking, right? A fat girl who bakes. So cliché. But I started making these bars for Nash a few years back when his dad left and things went to shit at his house. He was living on ramen noodles and cold cereal, so now the bars are part of our morning routine.
I wave the baggie over my head, keeping his breakfast just out of reach. “Who loves you, baby?”
He snatches the bag from my hand and pinches off a corner of the bar, popping it in his mouth. “Mmmmmm.” His mouth is full. “What’s different?”
“A little cardamom. Fewer cherries. It was too sweet.”
“Well done, Mags.”
I wait as he chews, looking out the window at the rows of identical cedar split-levels lining the streets. It’s a decent neighborhood, but it’s in between: not new, but not old enough or cool enough to be vintage, either.
As soon as he finishes breakfast, Nash glances around to see if anyone is listening and leans in close. “Check out the hottie in row two.”
I tilt my head up above the back of the seats and catch a glimpse of tousled, longish brown hair in the left-hand seat. Ducking back down, I ask, “Who is it?” without letting my lips move.
Nash shrugs, and we fan ourselves with our hands. Nash and I have the same taste in almost everything: teachers, music, art, literature, and boys. The good news is we can mock anyone who doesn’t share our aesthetic. The bad news is we have to lay claim to guys we both crush on. There just aren’t that many crush-worthy possibilities in Cedar Ridge.
“Dibs!” we say at the same time.
Nash narrows his eyes at me. We’ve been doing the dibs thing since elementary school, but we didn’t start using it on boys until seventh grade. It’s kind of a running joke with us, this idea that we can have a guy just by claiming him. Never once have any of the crushes reciprocated, but the ritual allows the one with dibs to discuss the object of his or her affection as if romance was a realistic possibility.
“Okay.” I hold my hands up against Nash’s world-famous death stare. “You can have him.” Not a big deal. I’m long past believing in the fairy tale of the handsome stranger who sees past my not-quite-modelesque figure to discover the fabulous Maggie within. After all, that would be some headline: “fat girl snags new guy.” I gaze out the window as the bus turns the corner and rolls along the lakefront. The evergreens still cast long shadows a good distance into the lake from the shore. But starting about thirty feet out, the water glitters with early morning sunlight. I steal another glance at the new guy and cross my fingers that Nash has an actual chance with this one.
Kris Dinnison has spent nearly two decades as a teacher and librarian while dreaming of becoming a writer. Nowadays, she helps run the retail and café businesses she owns with her husband, hikes, and spins classic vinyl. You and Me and Him is her debut YA novel. She lives and writes in Spokane, Washington.
Maggie and Nash are outsiders: She’s overweight. He’s out of the closet. They’re best friends, and they’ve helped each other survive their small-minded small town. But when Tom moves to Cedar Ridge at the start of the school year they have something unexpected in common—feelings for the same guy. As emotions take hold, Maggie and Nash’s friendship is put to the ultimate test . . . Up until now they have always chosen each other, but what if winning someone’s heart means losing your soul mate?
Purchase links for You and Me and Him:
Amazon | Auntie’s Bookstore | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million| IndieBound | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | iTunes | Powell’s
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