1. THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS has gone through a few title changes, how has each one come to be and why was it ultimately rejected (or kept)?
Over its long history (I began the first version over 10 years ago) quite a lot changed. In its many draft forms the title of the novel was THE BALDERDASH SEMESTERS. I can't recall why I originally chose the title. The draft that I finally submitted for publication had almost nothing in common with that original book other than the same title and a few of the same character names. I clung to the title because I completely lacked the brain power to come up with anything even remotely decent, but I'm not sure that the title entirely fit the novel.
THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS was suggested by my publisher, Flux. I'm pretty sure I sounded like a complete idiot on the phone when I heard about the new title. I made my editor repeat the words like three times. Then I asked him to spell it. Then I had to admit that I didn't know what it meant. I have since been reassured that many folks don't know what it means. It means literally "under the rose" but is used to describe something that's secret, and that does really fit the novel better than "balderdash" which was thought to have a more old-fashioned sound to it.
2. You describe THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS as a "dark tale of high school popularity"- what exactly does that mean?
Good question. I like to use vague shorthand because I am horrible in summing up a whole novel in a couple of sentences, but I will do my best.
THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS tells the story of a high school clique that is anything but conventional. The lives of these seemingly misfit girls all seem to be headed in different directions, but they have a secret. (This is why the new title fits the novel a little better.) This secret, which has led to their popularity also turns out to be the cause of their downfall.
3. In the past you've written some short stories, what was the biggest difference between writing them and a full novel?
Well, the biggest difference between writing short stories and novels is the length. It took me from first draft to final draft over ten years to write THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS but I was only working on it off and on. A complete short story can be written in a single weekend.
The thing about novels is that characters and the story can have a lot more depth. In a short story, I don't really get to know my characters as well as I do in a novel.
4. In what ways have you put yourself into your characters?
Another great question. At first, I was thinking that none of the characters in THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS were really autobiographical in any way, but then I realized there is a character that is most like me. It wasn't immediately apparent to me, and might not be to a lot of folks because it's a guy. I have a lot in common with Alex who is the boyfriend of Hamilton, the leader of the clique. I wouldn't go so far as saying that he's me in male form, but now that I think about it I wonder if my subconscious saw some connection between the two of us when it gave him a name that was vaguely similar to my own.
5. Is there a specific message you are trying to spread by writing THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS?
I wouldn't go so far as saying that there's a specific message to THE SUBROSA SEMESTERS, but at the core of the novel is the idea that the popular high school student doesn't always have to fit into a narrow stereotype. I loathe stereotypes, and have strived hard my whole life to defy them.
Thanks so much, Alissa!
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