Interview with Kayla Cagan, Author of PIPER PERISH

Last week on Twitter, I put out an APB: Any female creatives who’d like to chat about their work, hmu. I was extremely lucky that the first person interested was the phenomenal Kayla Cagan.

kayla cagan

photo by Elisabeth Caren

Kayla’s first novel is debuting in early 2017, and you will undoubtedly be seeing more (and admittedly, more prestigious) interviews with her in the future. But she took the time to answer a few questions about PIPER PERISH, a book I cannot wait to read.

Synopsis:

Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and get to New York City, the better. Art school has been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power when it means giving up so much?
Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this dynamic, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

PIPER PERISH, courtesy Chronicle, debuting March 7, 2017

PIPER PERISH, courtesy Chronicle, debuting March 7, 2017

1) Your novel, PIPER PERISH, didn’t start out as a traditional manuscript– almost like a concept piece of artwork. How did you get the idea?

I really wanted to commit to working on a project every day for a year. I write fairly consistently in my journal, and have kept a journal since I was in 4th grade. (If that’s not a long term commitment, I don’t know what it is!) So I decided to try and keep a diary for a character and see how long I could keep it going and really test if I could fictionalize a journal for a year. The original name of PIPER PERISH was actually EVERY DAMN DAY, that’s how determined I was to make it work for a year.

I told my writing group that I wanted to handwrite a journal every day and I would transcribe the pages for them at our weekly meetings. So I kept a big red notebook that I would write in, type up my pages, and get feedback as I went along.

2) It’s been “in the works” for a while– since at least 2013, from what I can find. How did you find the patience to keep working and revising it?

The major thing that helped me was a quote from poet Robert Hass: “Take the time to write. You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.” When I thought of writing just 30 minutes a day, it became much more manageable for me to challenge myself and see the project through to the end, at least for the first draft. That quote has become my mantra, especially when I’m feeling resistant to getting my butt in the chair and doing the work. I still struggle with shiftiness, but I’m better at sitting with focus now. My writing group is very accountable to each other as well. Without them, I would have wavered A LOT.

And there has been time since 2013 where I’ve either been waiting back for notes, rewriting and revising, querying for an agent, finding a publisher, rewriting again etc…so it wasn’t all writing every day in 2014 and 2015.

3) What about your main characters– artsy and headstrong teen girls– made you want to create a world for them, specifically? I’ve often found that when I’m writing, I’m more “making people” than “writing characters.”

I think “making people” and world building comes first. I brainstorm a lot before my people become my characters and the world of the character feels real and then I work on the story. I have always written primarily female characters, some teen some not, occasionally male characters, but the people who have most influenced me in my life has been smart, artistic, articulate girls and women.

My mother is an artist. I grew up in her ceramic shop and even when she changed careers, she always filled our home with art. My best friend in high school was an artist. A majority of my friends are highly creative. There are a lot of female artists that have been overlooked by the history books.

PIPER PERISH isn’t non-fiction, but I wanted Piper to be a mini-legend in the making, to be a teenager going through real teenage problems, as well as figuring out her artistic voice and point of view. You might say that this journal is Piper’s origin story. She’s creative, she’s fussy, she’s naive, she’s rebellious, she’s selfish, she’s irritable and imperfect. She’s also funny, curious, disarming, insightful, and silly. I like so many things about her, most of all her imperfections and her artistry and her optimism. Her optimism saves her in the end.

4) I know the particular anguish of wanting to go to a specific college and suddenly wondering if it will be worth the debt, emotional toil, and distance from life-long friends. What is it about the just-post-high school age that spoke to you, rather than the YA “sweet spot” of mid- high school?

Honestly, I like to cuss! I wanted to write characters that could cuss as needed. That’s a very basic reason, but it’s true. Also, I wanted the stakes to be higher – possibly moving away geographically from everything she knows, both the comforts and the irritations. I wanted Piper to face the music – she has more than she knows, until she feels she’s about to lose it all. I love the feeling of being scared and enthusiastic about next transitions in life: high school to college, college to work etc… I enjoy seeing my characters walk a high wire and make it to the other side. Fall or Finish.

5) And for those of us who still daydream of being a published author– do you have a day job? If so, what’s it like to lead that “double life” of paying the bills vs. being an author?

I do not currently have another full time job outside of being a writer. I have had a few big social media freelance gigs the last few years. I have had many full time, part time, temp and freelance gigs in my life, but to be very honest, my husband, also a writer, has been supporting me and my writing efforts for quite a while. I couldn’t have done it without his generosity and extreme patience. I even dedicated my book to him, specifically, with To Josh, who gave me time, because that’s absolutely what he did. If I didn’t sell PIPER, I would still be writing AND have another job right now, not because he wouldn’t have continued to be generous, but because I would feel like a leech. I’m in the extremely lucky and privileged position of being able to continue to only write for a while.

I think often on what comedian Joan Rivers said, “The reward of doing the work is getting to keep doing the work.” AMEN!

6) How can we learn more about your upcoming novel? And where can our readers follow you on social media?

The best place for new friends and readers to follow me is on Twitter at @kaylacagan and on IG is kayla_cagan_writer. News about PIPER PERISH and my next novel can all be found there! PIPER PERISH is released March 7, 2017 and is available for pre-order anywhere books are sold.

Thanks so much for the chat, Emily! This has been fun!

photo by Elisabeth Caren

photo by Elisabeth Caren

(Are you a female creator who’d like to chat? Send me an email at emily@yankeesmartass.com)

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