Thursday, July 9, 2020

Carrie Firestone

Carrie Firestone is the author of the acclaimed young adult novels The Loose Ends List, which Kirkus Reviews called “a poignant and important story about compassion, love, and the decision to live life on your own terms” in a starred review, and The Unlikelies, which Bustle declared “the summer read that’ll remind you how much good there really is in the world.” A former New York City high school teacher, Firestone currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, their two daughters, and their pets.

Firestone's new novel is Dress Coded.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I have a feeling anyone who has ever been dress coded will see this title and know exactly what Dress Coded is about. Originally, the working title was Shame Garden. I wanted to send a powerful message about the culture of shame and humiliation that has evolved around unfair school dress code policies. When my editor suggested Dress Coded, however, I knew it was the right title for the book. While the story centers around the fallout from an especially egregious dress coding incident, the ultimate message is one of young people finding their voices and fighting for justice. There's no shame in that!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I write books for my teenage self. I think teenage me would be surprised to see how little "we've" changed in thirty years. I was always both a writer and an activist and have often found ways to combine those passions. Dress Coded is a book about young people changing their world through activism. Teenage me would probably be a big fan.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Going into Dress Coded, I knew it would be about an eighth grade girl who, after witnessing her friend being dress coded by two school officials, would start a podcast that would lead to a middle school rebellion. And I knew the outcome of that rebellion. The tricky part was finding an ending that would be both triumphant and plausible. I wanted readers to walk away thinking, "Yeah! I can change the world, too!" So endings, for sure. Also, beginnings are important because you want to pull the reader in, but the endings are what stay (or don't stay) with readers.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Dress Coded is my third novel for young people. All of my protagonists include pieces of me. Molly is someone who wouldn't necessary advocate for herself, but when her classmate is the victim of injustice, she finds her voice and speaks out on her friend's behalf. I'd like to think I would do the same. My teenage daughters are reading Dress Coded and they are pointing out countless moments in the book that I admittedly harvested from their middle school experiences. My daughter just said, "It's like reading a creepy alternate reality of my own life."

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

So many! My books always start with an issue that is important to me and my community work. With The Loose Ends list it was Death With Dignity. With The Unlikelies it was heroin addiction. And with Dress Coded it was both dress coding and vaping. I began writing the novel right around the time vaping was becoming a huge problem in middle schools.

I do a lot of research on the issues and, more specifically, how big-picture issues impact relationships. I also watch a lot of TV and movies and I often watch with pacing and dialogue in mind. And whenever I start a book, I need a playlist to anchor the book vibe. While the other two novels were soulful multi-generational sad songs and straight Beatles, Dress Coded was all about girl-power anthems.
Visit Carrie Firestone's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dress Coded.

--Marshal Zeringue