Alternative music and comic books occupy center stage in Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. Here's an interview with the author:
What inspired you to write a misfits-in-love story like Eleanor & Park I have always, always wanted to write a first love story. I feel like, when you're 16, you have the greatest-ever capacity for romantic love. You fall in love with every cell of your body. But, at the same time, at that age, you have so little to offer the person you love. You don't belong to yourself quite yetyou still have school and your parents, you don't even
have your own space And you also know that what you're feeling probably won't last. First love usually doesn't. There's a built-in tragedy to falling (truly) in love when you're 16. It's like every 16-year-old in love is either Romeo or Juliet. That is what I wanted to write about.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters? Ha! I see myself in all the characters! I think I was a lot like Eleanor when I was in high school. I was cynical about love and romance - and the future. But I was never as tough or
as hard as she is. I was never that cool. And I identify with Park, too - that feeling Park has that he can't afford to draw attention to himself. I remember feeling like that.
Eleanor & Park covers a lot of ground, from difficult family situations to the way music can open up a new world. But most of all, it's about first love. Is that what you set out to write about? My motivation was to make people actually feel love, to give them a realistic view of it. If they're young
and never been in love, for them to know yes, this how it feels. And if they're older and they have, to feel it as a sense memory.
You seem to incorporate a lot of experimenting with different settings time-wise in your writing. Was it important to you that Eleanor & Park be set in the '80s and [your first novel, aimed at older readers] Attachments be set in 1999? How so? Attachments had to be set in 1999 because it's about an IT guy who falls in love with a girl while he's monitoring her office emailand I needed the characters to be naive about email and Internet privacy.
With Eleanor & Park, I wanted to capture that time in the mid-'80s when alternative music and comic books were finally seeping into Middle America. That feelingit was almost forebodingthat INTERESTING THINGS were happening out there.
Eleanor & Park is a book driven by music. Does your writing process include listening to songs, and did you choose any particular types of music while working on it? Yes! I always build character playlists while I'm writing. It's like a game I play with myself when I'm sitting alone with the manuscript for hours. Sometimes I use a specific song to help keep me inside a scene, even if it takes a few days or weeks to write it. The song becomes an emotional anchor for me. With Eleanor & Park, I listened to a lot of '80s musicsome of that early alternative music that was so exciting to me at the time. But I also listened to a lot of music that just felt like the characters.
For Eleanor, that was The Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats. Also, lots of Modest Mouse. For Park, it was The Cure and The Cure and The Cure. (Robert Smith is definitely Park's patronus.) Also lots of open- hearted, melodic British music. The Magic Numbers and Badly Drawn Boy.
The other pop culture element that Park and Eleanor share is comics, which is interesting, because comics are often understood to be something that appeals more to boys. I was turned on to comics by a boy who lived near me and who would read them on the bus, like Park. My dad was a fan, but he was saving his old comics for my brothers. But I loved the X-Men and also a more alternative comic called Marshal Law for the way they challenged the existing world. As soon as I had any money of my own, I bought comics.
But Eleanor has a critique as well: she's aware that the female superheroes, despite their powers, are more passive than their male counterparts. Absolutely. When I read them I was aware of all the women drawn as pinups, and I was conscious that
they were created by men for boys. That's changing now, I think, but I had that critique all ready for Eleanor.
The jacket copy says: "Two misfits: One extraordinary love." Do you see Park as a misfit? He is in terms of the music that he listens to, so he's a misfit in that John Hughes movie way. Eleanor, though, is "other" in another way: she's a person who can't be invisible.
Give us a quick summary of how your own experiences at first love played out. I didn't have anything in high school as dramatic as what Eleanor and Park have. I did have a high school boyfriend whom I liked a lotand who was pretty romantic, especially in retrospect. (We went to lots of indie movies and laser light shows.) But my dramatic love story is with my husband. We met in the seventh grade and were close friends all through junior high, high school and college. When we finally
confessed our feelings for each other, it made everything that had come before seem like one long build-up. Like we'd been dancing around each other for eight years.
Can you tell us something about what are you writing right now? Sure! I'm working on another adult book, sort of a romantic comedy like my first book, Attachments. And I have another young adult book coming out in the U.S. this year -- it's called Fangirl, and it's a coming-of-age story about fan fiction, family and first love.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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