Interview with Author Kristen-Paige Madonia
Kristen-Paige Madonia’s first novel, Fingerprints of You, has been getting rave reviews from everyone…including the amazing Judy Blume. As soon as I heard about this cool new book, I knew I had to snap it up and read it. And, yes, it is excellent!
The main character, Lemon Raines, is 17 years old and pregnant. It’s the result of a fleeting encounter with a tattoo artist, but she decides to have the baby anyway. Her mom, Stella, is supportive, but not exactly your typical mom. Lemon has a weird, almost competitive relationship with Stella; sometimes it seems like Lemon is the more responsible of the two. Lemon has never known her father, and Stella hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with details about him. All Lemon knows is that he lives in San Francisco. She’s not even sure if he knows she exists.
The main focus of the book is Lemon’s journey across the country to find her father. It’s an eye-opening trip where she learns a lot about her parents’ history, gets to know the dad she never had, and experiences what it’s like to be on her own for the first time. Along the way, she explores San Francisco and meets some incredible people.
Question & Answer with Kristen-Paige Madonia: Writing, Living, and Breathing San Francisco
I was so excited about this book that I wrote to author Kristen-Paige Madonia to ask about her career as an author. She was very kind and enthusiastic about sharing her thoughts in the following interview:
You used to live in San Francisco. What do you miss most? Will you be doing a book tour in California to promote Fingerprints of You?
Oh, there are so many things that I miss! The general hum of the city, seeing shows at the Fillmore and free concerts at Golden Gate Park, and the food! I miss hopping on the bus and being at the beach in less than five minutes, being able to drive over the bridge and hang out in the Redwoods, or having an afternoon to spend at the Botanical Gardens. And Haight Street - I miss Haight Street, too. Part of me will always belong in San Francisco, so yes, I always jump at the chance to visit. I was there in October after the hardback was released, and I hope to return again in 2013 after the paperback is published. In fact, I'm now working on a new YA novel set in San Francisco, so I absolutely think another visit is in order!
Music, especially live music in San Francisco, is a vital part of Fingerprints of You—several characters work in clubs, write music reviews, and manage bands. Were there any particularly memorable shows that you saw while living in San Francisco? What venue did you like the most?
I always made a point to go to Michael Franti's Power to the Peaceful show in Golden Gate every fall, and I think the park is a great place to see music. I lived in walking distance to the Fillmore, the Independent, and the BooM BooM RooM, so I saw a ton of live music at those venues. But some of my favorite shows were at Great American Music Hall, the space is so beautiful and distinct. The night before my husband and I moved back east, we saw Dark Star Orchestra play the Fillmore, and I think, if I had to pick, I'd say that was one of my most memorable concerts in the city. Bittersweet and absolutely perfect.
Yes, her taste and my taste are inevitably similar, but it just depends on my mood and what's happening in my life at the time. I love the slow amazing-lyrics stuff like Iron and Wine and Avett Brothers, Sea Wolf, Railroad Earth, and Lord Huron, but I also love the jam bands and will always be a Dead Head at heart. Phish, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, and Disco Biscuits. These days I can't stop listening to Mumford & Sons, SOJA, and the Lumineers. But in terms of writing, it just depends on the stage of the work. When I edit, I read out loud, so no music at all. But when I'm writing new material, I do tend to use music for inspiration.
Reading is a huge part of life for Lemon and her dad. There are tons of references to book titles and literary quotes throughout Fingerprints of You. You even included one from Kakfa--it surprisingly makes him sound like a carefree wild man: “The world will freely offer itself to you. To be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” You must be a bigtime reader. With all the choices out there, how do you decide what book to read next?
Oh, there's no rhyme or reason.... I read books by authors I've met on book tour, books recommended by friends I trust, sometimes I reread works that I know will inspire me if I'm struggling with my own writing. Because Fingerprints of You was marketed as a YA novel, I've been reading a lot of YA books -- it's amazing how many brilliant YA authors are out there! I also read things depending on the topic and setting of my own writing; for example, right now I'm writing a YA novel set in San Francisco with a character who is in a punk band, so I'm reading books about musicians and books set in the city, all things I can lean on for motivation and inspiration. I'm also reading books that my central character would read as a way of feeling more connected to her and her interests (which is history and music).
What role do libraries play in your life?
I'm such a library junky! We have a gorgeous library in Charlottesville, VA, where I live.... The central branch of the Jefferson-Madison Library system is in the middle of downtown, and it is such a beautiful building. Plus, it's huge, and I happen to be friends with one of the managers, so I love to get recommendations from him. I often write in coffee shops in the area, so I'll usually stop by the library on any given day to see what's new in stock. And I use their on-line system constantly -- it's amazing! You can order the books you want and pick them up at the counter if you're in a hurry, and you can request that they purchase books if they don't have what you want. I can't imagine being a writer or a reader without our local library system.
Road trips, meeting new people, “going Kafka” by grabbing at what life has to offer—this must be huge to you too. Were you always an avid traveler?
I was. I grew up in a small town, Martinsville, VA, and as important as that environment was, I also always enjoyed exploring new places. My family traveled frequently when I was a child, and when I was in college I spent time in Ireland and London through school programs. After I graduated, I moved around a lot, which I loved, and also made time to drive cross-country a handful of times and to spend a few months on the road in Alaska.
In terms of my writing, I tend to work better when I'm outside of my comfort zone, so I often apply for fellowships at writing residencies or colonies all over the country. In fact, I wrote the first draft of Fingerprints of You during a five week residency with the Studios of Key West. And the publication of the book was a great excuse to travel! I spent about four months on the road, non-stop, when it first came out.... I don't mind sleeping on couches or air-mattresses, so I tried to schedule events in places where I could also visit friends and family.
What little things do you do everyday to balance out the solitude that comes with writing and reading?
I'm so fortunate to live in an area with a rich literary community, but I'm married to a geologist, so I also have a lot of people in my life that aren't related to the literary world at all. And I think that works well to help me find balance. My husband drives a motorcycle, and we love to take rides in the Blue Ridge Mountains, stop for a hike or to go wine tasting, that kind of thing. I try to see a lot of live music, and I have a wonderful group of girlfriends in the area.
We recently started a movie-club, like a book-club, and we have monthly movie dates at the theater when we gorge ourselves on popcorn and catch a new release, which is really fun. I've also always worked, worked outside of writing, I mean, and that helps balance out the solitude. I'm currently teaching creative writing and also taking freelance clients, working with other writers I'll coach or edit, which is super rewarding. It's a strange thing, to spend so much time in imaginary worlds with imaginary people, so I think, like everything in life, it's all about balance.
Final question: did you end up getting a tattoo?
I'll never tell.
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Karen Choy is the youth services librarian in Half Moon Bay.