Thursday, September 29, 2011

Talking with Meg Rosoff, Author of How I Live Now

If you are a regular Carpe Keyboard reader, you know I had a minor addiction to post-apocalyptic YA fiction a few weeks ago. One of the novels I read during that genre marathon was Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now.

Ms. Rosoff generously agreed to a CP interview. We discussed one of her many novels as well as the writing life she leads.

Welcome, Ms. Rosoff!

Carpe Keyboard: I thought How I Live Now was a beautiful story about family, loss and love. I was particularly interested in the shift in Daisy’s voice from the bulk of the story to the last section where we find out she’s been recovering back in NY from her war experiences. Voice for YA fiction is such a tenuous thing – and difficult for many writers to feel that they have captured an authentic young person’s voice.

How did the shift come about as you wrote this story? Did you plan all along to show Daisy’s changes and growth that way? Or was it more organic and her voice changed as you got to the end of the story?

Meg Rosoff: I don't really plan my books, so the voice develops in a completely organic way. The shift in voice was useful to indicate that time had passed, and Daisy had changed considerably from her younger self.

Why did you choose to have Daisy fall in love with her cousin? At first, I was taken aback, as an adult reader, when I realized how much Daisy and Edmond were in love. On the other hand, their situation and circumstances made their love story seem plausible. Did you have any negative feedback or concern from your agent, editor, or readers about this unconventional love story?

I'm fairly astonished that people endlessly commented on the cousin aspect of the relationship and not the fact that Daisy and Edmond were 15 and 14 at the time they were having sex. Almost no one (in the US particularly) worries about Daisy and Edmond being underage, but lots of readers freak out that they're cousins. Marriage between cousins is a traditional method of keeping dowry in the family and not "marrying out" -- it's not illegal in most places (UK and most US states as well) and I was really surprised at the reactions by some readers. It never occurred to me that it would bother anyone.

So much of How I Live Now was about family. Family to Daisy meant a distant father and an antagonistic step-mother…until she met Penn and her cousins. It was as if, in the midst of this time of war, Daisy uncovered a fundamental truth about family in a way that changed her life.

Were you writing Daisy’s story to send a message specifically about the importance of family? Were you inspired by your own life experiences or other stories to focus on meaning of family with this book?

I don't write books with agendas or to send messages. I'm interested in love, the complexities of relationships within families, adolescence, identity and coming of age, so that's what I explore in my writing.

What tools do you use when you write? Do you outline? Plot on index cards? Write character sketches?

None of the above. I plunge in and see what happens.

When do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?

I write almost every day, for most of the hours of the day -- when I'm not walking dogs or riding horses or (occasionally) paying attention to my daughter and husband. Some days/weeks/months i don't accomplish very much. I'm a very fast writer, so once I know where I want to go, I get there. Plot gives me a lot of trouble, and all my downtime is spent figuring out where to go next. I also waste a vast amount of time on facebook and wandering around on the internet or blogging (

Any advice for hopeful writers who want to “break in” to the business?

 Ha! Everyone's saying the book is dead. I don't think it is dead, but it is morphing into something a bit different. The best advice I can think of for getting published is to write something really really good. Publishers are (still) gagging for good books.

Check out Meg’s blog and her website to learn more about her other stories. You can read up on her latest novel, There is No Dog. Sounds like a great one!

Thanks so much for spending some time with us, Meg.


  1. Hi Karen, Meg - SheWrites sister here. Re: cousin sex - I think a lot of people had some kind of sexual exploration going on at 14/15, so the idea of it being full-blown intercourse, at that age, while perhaps not desirable, not so far-fetched. However, at least in the US, we've all been culturally indoctrinated since childhood that we're not supposed to pick up dates at the family reunion, and if we do, our kids may end up riding that short, "special" bus.

    That said, of course in many historical novels and other cultures cousins do marry and reproduce, often without ill effects. And certain forms of bugs are delicacies, etc. - but we're not used to thinking that way. Still sounds like an interesting book. :-)

  2. I have the same minor (umm... major?) addiction to post-apocalyptic YA fiction. Great interview and I must go get this book now. Thank you!