Welcome back for the second installment of the Student-Author Interview Series! This time, four terrific seventh grade readers are interviewing one terrific author: K.A. (Kelly) Barson. Kelly’s debut, the funny and poignant contemporary YA novel 45 Pounds (More or Less), tells the story of sixteen-year-old Ann Galardi, who resolves to lose 45 pounds in two and a half months so that she can fit into a bridesmaid dress that won’t humiliate her when her aunt gets married at the end of the summer. Like last time, the student interviewers will share their favorite things about Kelly’s book, then they’ll ask Kelly some questions about the book, and finally they’ll ask her some questions about when she was in middle school. We hope you enjoy the interview!
First, what the students especially love about 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS):
Sophia: I really loved how Ann thought of a goal to work towards. I liked the style of the book and that it’s realistic but shows something that’s not everybody’s reality. I liked Ann’s relationship with Jon, and it felt true when other girls were really mean to Ann. Sometimes people do things that they think are a joke, but they’re really mean.
Rachel: I love how relatable it is even if you don’t have 45 pounds to lose—it’s about parents and siblings and friends and things you can relate to.
Lili May: I agree that it’s relatable, and I also like how you can see how Ann changes, and how she changes who she’s friends with and meets some new people she really likes. I like how in her quest to teach her little sister Libby to be healthy and not freak out about eating she teaches herself that’s how you should live.
Breanna: I really like the little brother and sister, Justice and Liberty. Their names are cute and I liked how Libby was worried about food. Regina also was the perfect name for Ann’s mom’s awful mother-in-law!
Now for some questions about the book and about Kelly’s writing process:
Rachel and Breanna: Did you struggle with weight since Ann’s character does and you write about it in such a believable way in the first person? Or if not, did you feel some of the same feelings that Ann has or go through any of the scenarios in the book?
Yes and yes. I’ve struggled with weight all of my life. Like Ann, I always worried about what people were thinking. When I was younger I wasn’t as big as I felt I was, but because that’s how I thought about myself I made it come true even more. The battle with weight is often more of a mental battle than a physical one. That is true for Ann, her mother, as well as for me and my mother. My mom is a good mom—as is Ann’s; she just has her own struggles in her own head.
Breanna and Lili May: Are any of Ann’s family members based on anyone real? We especially want to know about Gram, because we love Gram and want to know if there’s a real Gram out there. Also Ann’s dad, because he’s so hurtful, and Regina, because she’s so horrible!
Kind of. Gram is a combination of my grandmother, my mother as a grandmother, and me as a grandmother. My grandma used to call people fat ass. She wasn’t trying to be mean, but it felt like it sometimes because that’s not a nice thing to say. She also used to speak her mind. I spent a lot of time with her growing up. She’s passed away now, and I miss her a lot. I loved writing this because it was like she was with me. My mom used to smoke a lot, so that part came from her. (She doesn’t smoke anymore.) She also speaks her mind. I like to wear bright colors and sometimes dress a little weird. Like my grandma and mom, I also don’t hold back on how I feel. All of us will fight for everyone to get along and love our kids and grandkids fiercely.
Ann’s dad is not based on anyone particular. He’s just a guy who gets caught up in his own day-to-day life and Ann just isn’t there every day. I think he loves her in his own way. He’s just selfish.
Regina is based on someone I know, but I can’t tell you who it is because she has no idea it’s her. You see, when someone is that judgmental and self-absorbed they don’t see the meanness even when it’s staring them in the face. They usually only see how people treat them wrongly. That’s true with Regina as well as the real-life “Regina.”
Breanna: How did you choose the characters’ names, especially Liberty and Justice?
Ann comes from an earlier version of the story where she had a screen name of Ann_Onymous. She used that because she felt invisible. But that part of the story was updated and eliminated. I kept her name though because it felt weird to change it.
I’ve always liked the name Libby. Since Mike is a politician, I was brainstorming names that sounded patriotic. Liberty and Justice fit. Plus, I thought they were cute names, and kind of funny, too.
Regina is Latin for queen—the obvious choice.
The Knees started out as a coincidence. I loved the name Raynee, so I chose that to be the friend. Then I noticed that I’d called the other girl Courtney. I jumped on the similarity and added Tiffany and Melanie.
Rachel: Who would you say is the biggest antagonist in the book?
In my opinion, the biggest antagonist is Ann. I know that sounds weird because she’s the protagonist, but the biggest obstacles she had to overcome were her own misconceptions about herself and how others saw her. Yes, there were obstacles with other people—especially Courtney, but overall, those people were reacting from their own selfishness and issues. The biggest battle is within Ann’s own head.
Lili May: Is contemporary realistic fiction your favorite genre to write, and if so, why?
I love writing contemporary realistic fiction because those are the stories that speak to me. I like watching contemporary movies and reading that genre too. (I love John Green and Rainbow Rowell.) However, I also like writing historical fiction. I love history and stories from the past, but more than the facts, I like the people of history. I love that even though times and circumstances change, people are always people.
Rachel: How do you stay on track with your writing?
I don’t. Ha! Deadlines. If someone like my editor or agent gives me a deadline, I do whatever I can to meet it. Sometimes I write just because I need to know what happens to these characters that I think about all the time. I don’t write every day, even though I probably should. I tend to write in sprints and then rest before I sprint into the next story.
Sophia: How did you choose to end the book where you did rather than showing the rest of Ann’s aunt’s wedding and more of what happens with Ann and Jon? Will you make a sequel? I hope you do! (Note: this one includes spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet you might want to scroll past this answer for now!)
I ended it where I did because Ann had transformed. Just like in real life, she didn’t totally change, but her mindset and attitudes had changed. How she saw herself and how she saw Courtney and her mom had all changed. She understood that everyone has his or her own stories and issues and that she could only do something about her own. She was on the right track. And we found out that Jon really does like her! Readers can infer that they will start dating after the wedding. And that everything is finally working out for her.
As for a sequel, there isn’t one planned. HOWEVER, Ann and Raynee make cameo appearances in my next book that is due out summer 2015. It’s about a high school cosmetology student who thinks she has her whole life planned out, until it all falls apart. It takes place in the same city—a fictionalized version of my own town, so some of the same places and people are in it.
And finally, some questions about when Kelly was in middle school:
Lili May: Did you want to be a writer when you were in middle school?
I knew I liked writing when I was in middle school. But I didn’t think it was a real job. I thought of it like being a movie star or professional basketball player—sure, some people do it, but only really talented or lucky people can really do it for a living. And I never thought I was that talented or lucky. I’d always imagined myself as a teacher. I still like teaching and have taught grades 3-12 and now teach college writing. Now I know that I can teach AND write. And that it’s not all about luck and talent. It’s more about hard work and doing what you love.
Breanna: Was English your best subject?
Yes! I loved diagramming sentences and dissecting sentences as I read literature. But I also liked algebra and history. Science? Not so much.
Sophia: Did you have any hard writing assignments at school? Was there anything about writing that was a challenge for you then?
I’ve never liked answering essay questions where the teacher was looking for something specific. They always felt artificial to me, and I usually got frustrated trying to figure out what he or she wanted. I preferred to be able to talk about the stories and hear what other people noticed. I also preferred to create my own stories.
I also didn’t usually want to read something if a teacher assigned it. I was stubborn and bratty that way. I wanted to pick out my own books. I’ve gone back now and read most of the books I refused to read in middle school and high school. I like most of them and can see why the teachers picked them, but I still like to pick out my own books.
Thanks so much for reading 45 POUNDS and for taking the time to interview me! You all are awesome! Write on…
Thank YOU, Kelly, for writing 45 POUNDS and for answering our questions! We can’t wait for your next book!
Author photo from kellybarson.com (photo credit: Hal Folk). Book cover image from Goodreads.