Exclusive Interview: YA Author Hannah Moskowitz
The 20-year old author of the upcoming 'Zombie Tag' talks to SL about her early success, the publishing world, and Jewish book characters
The average writer is considered lucky if they’re published by age thirty - but Hannah Moskowitz is anything but average.
Simon Pulse, Simon and Schuster’s teen imprint, published her first book, Break (2009), when Hannah was just eighteen. Since then, she’s published Invincible Summer (2011) with a debut middle grade book Zombie Tag (Roaring Brook Press) slated for a mid-December release, and three more on the way.
Wary of being branded ‘another teen author,’ Hannah balances writing and an English major at the University of Maryland. She’s also an active member of the online young adult literature community through her official site www.untilhannah.com and her blog www.hannahmosk.blogspot.com.
“I really can’t believe this is my life,” she says. “Sometimes I have to remind myself this is actually happening.”
ShalomLife sat down with Hannah to talk books, the publishing world, and Passover.
How did you first get involved in the publishing world?
From a really young age, it was the dream. In fifth grade, they read us a very cool book called The School Story by Andrew Clements, which is about a girl in middle school who decides to get published, and teaches you all about the publishing process. And I think the whole idea of wanting to get published at a young age came from that. It wasn’t even about doing it while I was young as much as it was about not wanting to wait, and I happened to be young. So when I was in high school I started writing seriously. I started sending letters out to agents when I was fifteen, signed with my first agent at sixteen, and sold my first book at seventeen, which came out at eighteen.
So you always knew you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a singer, actually. That was the dream. But then I found out that I couldn’t sing. I kept waiting for somebody to tell me I couldn’t write well enough too, for someone to tell me, this is a pipe dream, you don’t really get to live this. But it’s fantastic that I do. I’m so lucky.
You’re twenty now, and an English major at the University of Maryland. Was it important for you to get a degree even though you could just keep writing?
I hate school. Honestly, I’m in it for my parents. I’m very close with them, and it means a lot to them that I have a degree and a backup plan, which makes a ton of sense. Writing is scary, especially now with all the changes in publishing and the electronic world, so having a backup plan is definitely a good idea. Having a degree is going to open up a lot of doors for me.
What would that backup plan involve if not writing?
Right now I’m thinking of getting a Masters of Education and try teaching school. I’d be okay with that.
A unique thing about your books is that a good number of their characters are young homosexual males. Why are these characters so important for you to write about?
I think what we have now in terms of gay life in young adult literature is great, and in a way I wanted to be part of that movement of authors that are making a difference. Right now, things are changing so much that being a queer teen is very different than it was five or ten years ago, and it’s important that we keep up with that. So while we’ll always need the ‘coming out’ stories as long as kids are coming out, it’s good to have books about living with being gay in an accepting world or a non-accepting world, with characters going through the same problems straight characters would. I don’t want to say my characters just happen to be gay as if it’s something they threw on - my characters are gay down to their core, so it’s not really what their stories are centred around.
What do you do to make sure you’re portraying them in the most realistic way possible?
I’m very deeply ingrained in the queer community myself, so it’s not a stretch for me, really. At the same time, I’m writing male characters, so there’s a difference between my identity and the identity of my characters. It’s more about knowing your individual character - once you know him, it comes naturally. It stops mattering that he’s a guy or that he’s gay. He just becomes your character, and you know everything about him.
The main character of your upcoming book Zombie Tag, Wil Lowenstein, is Jewish. Did writing a Jewish character affect the story in any way?
There’s actually very little about Wil’s Judaism in the book. His last name is Jewish, he mentions his Bar Mitzvah, and maybe something about Hanukkah, but it’s kind of thrown in there. In a lot of books you’ll get a mention of a kid going to church, so why not throw in these little Jewish details? In my next middle grade book, which is coming out in 2013, there’s a character whose Jewishness is more of a plot point.
How do ideas come to you?
It’s really hard. I know a lot of writers that always talk about how they have too many ideas and can’t decide which one to write about. I always feel like I’m sitting there with an ice cream scoop, trying to scrape something out of my brain! What I’ll usually do is have bits of ideas and find a way to mash them together.
What are some of your favourite books?
Young adult fiction: David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law, Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road and The Piper’s Son, Lucy Christopher’s Stolen, E. Lockhart’s The Boyfriend List series. I also love a lot of middle grade books like The Casson Family series by Hilary McKay, Tuck Everlasting, The Phantom Tollbooth, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Some adult ones, too: Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Great Gatsby, anything by John Irving...There’s a huge long list!
Motion City Soundtrack, Death Cab For Cutie, Bright Eyes, Matt Kearney, Damien Rice, Frightened Rabbit.
Favourite TV shows?
Supernatural, Queer As Folk, How I Met Your Mother. Any sitcom makes me happy!
Favourite Jewish holiday and why?
Passover, because I like singing.
Have you ever been to Israel? Any plans to visit?
I haven’t, but I really want to! I’m looking into Birthright.
Favourite place to travel to?
I love London. I’ve been to Spain twice, I really liked it there. And Hong Kong.
Advice to aspiring writers?
You need to have this duality of your outside face and your inside face. Your inside face has to believe that you have so far to go, and your outside face has to have confidence and promote yourself like you’re the best thing in the world. You have to be a writer and a salesperson, and you have to keep pushing yourself. It’s a tough balance, but it’s important.