Today I'm thrilled to welcome author Ali Novak to the blog to talk a little bit about her new young adult novel, My Life with the Walter Boys. Ali was nice enough to answer a few questions about the titular Walter boys, her real life experiences living with a handful of male roommates, and learning from her writing, so I hope you all enjoy the interview!
First off, let’s get to know these Walter boys a little bit better. Now that Jackie’s lived with them for a short while, can she give us a favorite movie, song, color, etc. for each of the boys as a fun way to introduce them to those of us who have yet to meet them?
Can I start by saying that I absolutely adore this question? I’m a huge movie fanatic—thinking about each boy’s favorite film was really fun for me.
Cole - Fight Club
Danny - It’s a Wonderful Life
Isaac - Saving Private Ryan and the original Red Dawn
Alex - Star Wars, more specifically Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Nathan - Elf, Real Genius, Happy Gilmore. Nathan loves any lighthearted comedy.
If you had to suddenly move into a house as full of boys as the Walter household, what do you think would be the hardest adjustment for you?
Currently I have three guy roommates. You would not believe the amount of little black hairs that cover every imaginable surface in the bathroom. I don’t even want to consider how disgusting it would be if I were living with more than three boys.
What’s one thing that has surprised Jackie about living with her mother’s best friend and her boys? Something that before she spent time with all of them she never would have expected?
As soon as I read this question a specific passage from My Life with the Walter Boys came to mind:
During the twenty-minute drive to school, I received a crash course in Boys 101 and decided that maybe the male species wasn’t so different from females after all. To sum it up, the Walter’s gossiped worse than the girls at my old boarding school. At first the car was silent, which was probably due to my presence, but soon the boys relaxed and carried on as if I wasn’t there. They talked about who was going to make track team this spring and who wasn’t. They discussed what they should wear to a party on Friday night and who was going to be there. But most of all they talked about girls: who was cute, which girl wore the perfect perfume and who had the prettiest hair.
When they started talking about a girl named Kitty who, to use Isaac’s words, had “The perkiest pair of tits in the world”, I felt uncomfortable. Trying to tune the conversation out, I shrunk back into my seat and stared out the window. Please let us be there soon. Please be there soon!” (Jackie, pg. 50-51).
There’s undoubtedly quite a bit of sibling rivalry among the boys. What’s your favorite book, movie, or TV show that’s featured a large family with hugely entertaining sibling dynamics?
One major source of inspiration for My Life with the Walter Boys came from the movies Cheaper by the Dozen and Yours, Mine and Ours. These were two of my absolute favorites growing up, and I watched them so many times that the tape in the VCR cassettes wore out. And yes, I’m old enough to remember what a VCR is :)
If your roles were reversed and Jackie was writing a story about your life, how would the first line read?
Jackie isn’t the type of person who would write a story or novel about someone. Instead, she would write a very straightforward bibliography. She would try to be as factual and thorough as possible, so the opening line would probably have my full name and date of birth. Exciting, huh?
Which one of the boys’ names came to your mind first? Last?
Definitely Alex. It’s a shameless nod to myself. My full first name is Alexandra, but my family calls me Ali.
As for the rest of the names, I didn’t have any difficulty picking them out. I like to use websites like babynames.com as I create my characters. When my mom first saw my website history she freaked out!
What’s one thing writing Jackie’s story has taught you about yourself?
Writing Jackie’s story taught me one very important lesson: even though it seems impossible, when you experience the type of heartbreak that can only be described as tragic, you will be happy again. My Life with the Walter Boys is deeply connected to my own life experiences. My father lost a four-month battle to cancer when I was in high school, and his death was one of the main inspirations behind the book. It was a long process, but writing the story helped me deal with my grief.
The first draft of my manuscript lacked a great deal of emotional depth—Jackie came off as cold and unresponsive to her family’s death. At the time, it was too soon for me to write about loss, and my inability to deal with my own pain was reflected in Jackie’s character. However, as I rewrote the story, Jackie transformed into a real person. By my third draft, her emotional response was fully developed. But still, I wasn’t happy with Jackie’s story.
I strongly dislike reading contemporary novels where the main a character loses a loved one and is depressed for 99.9% of the story. It takes me back to a bad place, and also, I don’t think it’s very realistic. I decided that I didn’t want Jackie’s story to focus on her pain. Instead I wanted to highlight how the happy moments of living with the Walter family helped her heal.
Losing a parent is impossibly painful. The first few months after my father’s death were dark, and I’ve never cried so much in my life. At the same time, I never turned into an emotional zombie. The truth of the matter is life goes on. Eventually, you smile again. Then you laugh. Amazingly, you can even fall in love. And it’s those joyful moment during dark times that mend your heart.
• • • • • • • • • • •
MY LIFE WITH THE WALTER BOYS
(available now from Sourcebooks)
Jackie Howard does not like surprises. Chaos is the enemy! The best way to get her successful, busy parents to notice her is to be perfect. The perfect look, the perfect grades—the perfect daughter. And then...
Jackie's family dies in a freak car accident.
Jackie has to move cross-country to live with the Walters—her new guardians.
The Walters have twelve sons.
(Well, eleven, but Parker acts like a boy anyway)
Jackie is now surrounded by the enemy. Loud, dirty, annoying boys—who have no concept of personal space. Okay, several of the oldest guys are flat-out gorgeous. But still annoying. She's not stuck-up or boring—no matter what they say. But proving it is another matter. How can she fit in and move on when she needs to keep her parents' memory alive by living up to the promise of perfect?
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Ali Novak is twenty-two-year-old debut author and a recent graduate from University of Madison Wisconsin's creative writing program. She wrote her first full-length novel My Life with the Walter Boys at the age of fifteen. Since posting the story online, it has received more than 24 million reads and will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in March 2014.
When she isn't writing, Ali enjoys watching Food Network shows even though she can't cook, and reading any type of fantasy novel she can get her hands on. She is a Wisconsin native and hopes to make a career out of writing.