distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Amy Reed and “CLEAN”

Book Giveaway!

There is a novel that has long been on my “Books I Love” list—a stunning debut novel by Amy Reed. I fell in love with Beautiful, it absolutely spoke to me, and when I heard that Amy had a new book coming out this summer I gathered up my courage and emailed her to ask for an interview. Not only did she say yes, she was able to get me an egalley of Clean to read beforehand, and I was blown away by this book. Now, to celebrate the launch of her new book I have a writer-to-writer interview with Amy Reed to share today—and we’re giving away a signed hardcover of Clean! At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you how you can enter this giveaway.

Clean is out in stores as of just yesterday, and believe me you will want to read this book. Some of you may need to read it.

Here’s more about Clean, from the book’s summary:

You’re probably wondering how I ended up here. I’m still wondering the same thing.

Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. And they certainly don’t want to share their darkest secrets and most desperate fears with a room of strangers. But they’ll all have to deal with themselves and one another if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there’s nowhere to go but down, down, down.

And now here’s my interview with the immensely talented Amy Reed, where I ask her about her first book, her new book, and all writing things in between—and keep on reading for a chance to win a signed copy!

When I first read your debut novel BEAUTIFUL, I felt like I’d found the novel I should have read when I was a teenager. I wish that book had existed when I was fifteen* because goddamn I think my whole life would be different if I’d read it then. Where did this story come from? Do you think you, too, would have been changed if you’d had a book like BEAUTIFUL when you were fifteen? (*Fifteen was a turning-point year for me, full of regrets, but for someone else it could be another number.)

Amy: I think most of us have those turning point years, and most of the time they probably center around the loss of innocence. In many cultures, there are coming-of-age rituals to honor this transition; in ours, it seems, we’re often just thrown into a pool of sharks and told to sink or swim. My turning point year was thirteen, and BEAUTIFUL was partly based on events from that time in my life. I very much identify with Cassie—her loneliness, confusion, fear, her desperate and self-destructive need to fit in. One of the best things I hear YA authors say is that we aim to write the books we wish existed when we were teens. That is definitely the case with BEAUTIFUL and CLEAN. I always loved reading, but I remember not finding much I identified with at that age. I think Go Ask Alice, Girl, Interrupted, and the poetry of Anne Sexton got the closest. But none of those stories ended very well. Maybe if I had found more I could relate to, it would have given me a better perspective on the choices I was faced with. Sometimes it’s hard to see all sides of something when we’re stuck inside it. It often takes stepping back and seeing it from another angle. I hope my books can help readers do that.

I remember—somewhere I saw this—that BEAUTIFUL originally stemmed from a short story, and this intrigued and excited me because that’s how IMAGINARY GIRLS first surfaced for me. Mine was a short story that changed, very drastically, by the time it turned into the novel. So what was the spark from the short story that expanded itself into the novel for you? What about the story made you know there was more that needed to be told?

Under the Wall, the short story BEAUTIFUL was based on (which you can read here) is very different than the final novel. It is told in short non-linear chunks and is much more stylized and experimental. The narrator (who is twelve, not thirteen) is extremely cold and dissociated from her emotions. I did not have a teen audience in mind when I wrote it. I didn’t have a teen audience in mind when I started writing BEAUTIFUL either, but I was definitely thinking of a larger world than the small literary journal community I was writing short stories for. I think the story was always supposed to be a novel for me, but it made sense at the time to approach it as a short story first. I think trying to write a novel first would have overwhelmed me.

I’m writing these questions after just minutes ago finishing your new novel CLEAN, which captivated me, spoke to me, and made me cry on multiple occasions in public cafés even though I tried to hold myself together. It’s the story of a group of teens battling addiction in a rehab center. They’re each so distinct, and addicted to different things. I was so impressed by your use of voice in this book, how voices sometimes flashed from one to the next, paragraph after paragraph, and also how you focused, alternately, on two contrasting main characters, Kelly and Christopher. Why did you choose to tell this story in multiple voices? I imagine that was a daring and intimidating choice to face as a writer—and, wow, was it successful. Did one character come to you before the others did? Do you feel a deeper connection to any one voice?

The characters’ voices were really the most important thing to me. I knew from the beginning that the book would only work if the voices were absolutely distinct. I remember something a writing teacher told me about writing good dialogue—that the reader should always be able to tell who’s speaking without being told who it is. I approached the narration with that always in mind. After I wrote a draft, I went through each character’s narrations separately, often speaking them out loud to make sure their voices stayed consistent. I think writing in first person is very similar to method acting—the writer must BE the character to truly understand and communicate them.

I always knew I was going to tell this story in multiple voices. From the beginning, I really saw addiction as the main character in this book, and I wanted to explore all of its various incarnations. Each character has a distinct arc, but there is also a collective group arc. The nature of addiction is that it isolates people, while recovery requires community—my goal was to tell the story of the building of that community.

Originally, I planned on all five main characters—Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Eva, and Jason—to be narrators, not just Kelly and Christopher. My agent (the lovely and brilliant Amy Tipton) convinced me to try focusing on two, so I picked Kelly and Christopher. I’m not exactly sure why I chose those two. I’d say it was a decision based on instinct rather than logic. But I think part of it was that they’re so different and represent a pretty wide range of people; they show that anyone’s capable of becoming an addict, not just the stereotypes we’re used to. In some ways, I think the three girls—Kelly, Olivia, and Eva—represent different parts of me at that age, different identities I tried on or were sometimes forced upon me. Christopher was kind of a mash-up of a few people from my past who I had loved very much. By far, the most difficult character for me to write was Jason, and I think he was also the most rewarding. I wanted to challenge myself to write the kind of boy I always blindly hated as a teenager, but I wanted to get beyond the stereotype to ultimately find compassion and love for him.

Amy Reed

CLEAN feels so raw and honest. And also hopeful. I’ve seen it compared to GO ASK ALICE, which you should know was a favorite of mine when I was thirteen and fourteen and I probably read it dozens of times, but CLEAN is so much more than that to me. It shines a light on addiction and what comes after and could truly be the book a teen struggling with addition most needs to read. What made you want to tell this story?

I wanted to explore the complexities of addiction and shed light on a subject many people think they understand, but don’t. People often talk about addiction in terms of good and bad, as if it is only a moral issue—like the D.A.R.E. police officers I remember visiting my elementary school classrooms. I remember them saying “Just Say No,” but I don’t remember them ever really telling us why. Even at that young age, I remember not trusting a word they said. In CLEAN, I wanted to show what can really happen when alcohol and drug use get out of hand, how easy it is for kids to become addicts, how quickly lives can fall apart, but also how it’s never too early (or too late) to make the decision to change. I don’t ever want to tell anyone not to do something because it’s “bad.” Maybe that’s enough for some people, but it never worked for me. I want to tell the stories of what can happen, let my readers figure out the cause and effect, and then trust them to make the choices on their own.

When did you first decide you wanted to write YA novels? Have you ever considered writing for adults or did you before this? (I ask, personally curious, because I didn’t start off wanting to write YA; I’d intended to write literary fiction for adults, but reading YA novels changed all that.)  So I wonder, what drew you to YA?

I definitely started out writing for an adult literary audience, first with short stories. I’ve said this in other interviews, but I didn’t even know the YA genre existed until after I wrote a pretty final draft of BEAUTIFUL and was actively looking for an agent. I always wanted to write about teens, but I never even considered that I could choose to write specifically for them as well. I was thinking about BEAUTIFUL as belonging in the world of my favorite novels about teens that were written for adults: The Lovely Bones, White Oleander, Push, Bastard Out of Carolina, etc. It wasn’t until an agent I queried actually told me my book was YA that I even knew about this world. Then it was like a lightbulb went on. I started obsessively researching the genre and reading all the best contemporary YA I could find. These were my people. This was my home. Ever since, the stories and voices that I’ve been most passionate about have all been YA. These are the stories that want me to tell them.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is one I’m sure you know, by Madeline L’Engle: “You have to write the book that want to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I don’t remember the exact quote, but I remember reading an interview with Sherman Alexie a couple years ago where he said something like “Writing for teens is just like writing for adults, except without all the bullshit.” I feel like I get to be honest in writing for teens in a way I couldn’t be writing for adults. I know I will want to write adult fiction again someday, but I’m pretty damn happy with what I’m doing right now.

Your novels never stray from reality, and in the best way possible. This reality is a searing view into things I remember facing as a teenager and seeing my friends face. So many YA authors are slipping out of reality and writing paranormal, or dystopian, etc. (I know I’ve slipped myself.) What keeps you grounded in the real? What do you love most about writing contemporary realistic novels?

Quite simply, I guess it’s because this is the world I know, the world I live in; these are my stories and the stories of people I love. I don’t know that I picked contemporary YA as my genre; I think it picked me. I just don’t think in paranormal terms; that world doesn’t exist in my head. Realistic dystopian, however, I could see myself writing (and maybe I am already…) My favorite dystopian novels (The Road, The Parable of the Sower, The Hunger Games trilogy, anything by Margaret Atwood) still rely on character more than anything, and when they rely on plot, it is with concepts firmly rooted in a deep understanding of the human condition, not just gimmicks and lazy science.

Having read both CLEAN and BEAUTIFUL, I’m a gigantic fan of yours and hope to read many more Amy Reed novels to come. What can we expect from you in the future? Can you talk a bit about upcoming novels?

My third YA novel, CRAZY, is finished and scheduled to release next summer, and I’ve seen a draft of the cover already. I love this book so much, I can’t even tell you. It’s a love story (yes, I actually wrote a love story) between two teens, told in emails they write to each other over the course of a few months. One of the characters suffers from bi-polar disorder, and the story is about them trying to make sense of her increasingly erratic and self-destructive behavior, in addition to everything else going on in their lives. What I’m working on now is kind of a secret at the moment, but it may have something to do with your last question…


CLEAN was published by Simon Pulse just yesterday! Go to a store, go get it! For more about Amy and her book, visit her website or follow her on Twitter


Thank you, Amy, for answering all my long and rambling questions—and for writing such beautiful, important books. As a fan of yours, it’s an honor to have you here on my blog.

And now for you… want to win a signed hardcover of Amy Reed’s new novel CLEAN? To enter, just leave a comment on this post answering this question:

What is an obstacle that you’re proud to have overcome?

Leave your answer to this question below, and you’re entered to win! (US only, sorry.)

 (I’m closing this giveaway on Monday, July 25 at 9:00 p.m. EST and I’ll reveal the winner soon after!)

47 responses to “Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Amy Reed and “CLEAN””

  1. Obstacle? Hiking a large section of the Appalachian trail. And learning to be the Tortoise.

  2. I have overcome the problems my medical condition has presented me with. I started having seizures a few years ago for no apparent reason. After being on several medications, I think I’ve found the right one. I could still have a seizure at any time, but it’s not hindering me.

  3. My greatest obstacle in life has been my social anxiety, and the terror that I bore people. Once I realized that what other people thought of me mattered less than what I thought of me, my whole life opened up and I’ve never been happier. (Panic attack free for two years!)

  4. I have overcome a fear. It’s an internal paranoia type of fear. It is when you call on someone’s house and they are not in so you knock again and still no answer and you have to make the decision of when to give up and as you decide the people return home and all that goes through my head is “oh my god I bet there asking themselves how long has that loser been hanging around our house desperate to bother us I bet he’s been there for hours” but I am trapped between them and their house now. Anyway I’m over that now as I became a hermit instead so I’m always in. Waiting for someone to call.

  5. I have always been bad in school, as in I had horrible grades. I did 3 years in the local high school, but nothing changed, I encountered many problems in those three years. But I had one more year left, so I switched to an alternate school, which was the best choice I made to improve my life. I was motivated and positive through out the year. I worked hard to win back my three years. Even on the day before my graduation I was doing the last bit of school work. So my greatest obstacle that I overcame was graduating high school on time. It was made my parents proud of me, and it made me happier with myself.

  6. Wow. This was a WONDERFUL interview (Not just the same old boring questions.) I cannot WAIT to read CLEAN. Thanks so much!
    Anyway, I’d say the biggest obstacle I’ve overcome is college. I am the first person in my family to graduate college, period, and I can’t wait to achieve many more firsts!

  7. Clean sounds wonderful, and Crazy sounds awesome! I can’t wait.

    The biggest obstacle I’ve overcome…well I’m using one I’m currently working to overcome is my shyness and anxiety, and that’s very hard so I’m proud of that.

  8. My own addiction issues. I won’t say to what I was addicted to, but it wasn’t good and it wasn’t legal. I don’t know if I’ll ever to truly be able to say I’ve overcome this addiction, because no matter how long I have been clean it is something I live with every single day.

  9. Hi Nova & Amy 🙂

    Thank you for the fascinating & interesting interview.

    I had undiagnosed Bipolar & lost job, house, possessions, etc. Now I’m on medication & I’m proud to have overcome it (mostly) and gotten back to living life again.

    All the best,
    RK Charron

  10. This was such a wonderful interview, Nova! I love love loved BEAUTIFUL, reacting much the same way you did, thinking if I had had this book at fourteen my life would have been sooooo different. I’m glad Amy continues to write such hard hitting REAL YA. I’ve been waiting for CLEAN eagerly and am so excited that it is out. Addiction is such a touchy topic and it sounds like she has explored it in the best possible way.

    In terms of obstacles overcome, ummm lots…. Probably the biggest though, to be my usual way too confessional self, is self-injury. I spent almost 10 years cutting myself when I couldn’t handle life, but now it’s been almost 10 years since I’ve done it. Writing and learning to talk about what I was feeling is what helped me get through it, also reading really truthful beautiful books, so again, this is why I’m glad that Amy does what she does.

  11. Considering the fact that I’m still young, I haven’t had to face a lot. I have however had to deal with the fact that my aunt, one of my favorite relatives, committed suicide when I was about 7, not long after I stayed at her house for a week or so. She had been acting weird that trip but I just blew it off as nothing. I know her husband and her were going through a tough time (and maybe a divorce) but I still go back to that time and ask myself if there was anything I could have done differently to change the outcome. I mean, sure, my best friend or my mom or dad could have committed suicide or me for that matter but still, the fact that she committed suicide really hit home for me, and I don’t exactly know why. I am sure that other people will post better obstacles that they have had to overcome, such as being raped, suicidal, a narcotic or such and I accept that. When I was at the bookstore in November and I saw Beautiful, I immediatly picked it up because the cover drew me in. Once I read it I was amazed, this was the first book I had read with that intense of subject matter but I was rivated. I absoloutly loved it. I don’t want to have to face the issues that Cassie did, especially at such a young age and I definitly learned that I shouldn’t secome to what is in or cool at the moment. I especially loved (and may possibly always remember) the second to last chapter in which Cassie is sort of telling Sarah how much she misses her and such; Sarah’s hair, in which Cassie swallows I could almost taste. It was such a rivating novel.
    Sorry about my long ramble.

  12. Motherhood is an obstacle that I am proud to have overcome. Well, in all fairness, “overcoming” would be a more appropriate word, but since I did in fact have children when I the thought terrified me, I suppose that counts. 🙂
    Thanks for the wonderful intro to Amy Reed. I am stoked to check out her work:)

  13. This was a great interview!

    I can’t wait to read CLEAN.

    And an obstacle I’m proud to have overcome is learning to love myself. Maybe that’s cheesy but being a geeky unpopular girl in high school is hard.
    Thanks for the contest!

  14. An obstacle I’ve overcome is tremendous anxiety over any type of public speaking.

  15. I feel like I haven’t completely overcome it… but I’m glad that my issues with self esteem and body image are no longer as negative as they were a couple years ago 🙂

  16. Call me typical, but throughout elementary and middle school, my greatest fear was of my parents. As many parents are, they wanted me to excel at everything. Music, math, spelling, reading. I burned out even before entering middle school. I remember entering poetry contests, piano contests, spelling bees. It was a lot for a kid in elementary school. Finally, I had to tell my parents NO MORE. I hated piano, and I didn’t want to be forced to write poetry. Fortunately, I’m having a great time in high school now, and my parents are learning to respect my academic and social decisions.

    Ahaha, anyways, so that’s my little “obstacle.” I’d love to win a copy of Clean!

  17. this sounds great. After reading this interview I went and bought Beautiful last night and read the first few chapters. It’s like no YA book i’ve ever read before, so far very real and gritty. I’m really enjoying it. Obstacle? Ummm, I’ve not murdered either of my children so far (although there’s still time). I ermm…. *searches around for something worthy* nope, that’s about it I think.

  18. Well, moving was really hard for me. We moved a couple years ago from the city I grew up in, where all my friends and special places and memories lived. The city we moved to is smaller, much smaller, and all the kids had grwon up together and known each other their entire lives. It’s hard to be a new kid in a place like that, where friendships are already forged in the stone and there’s no left over space for a new commer. So I feel like that’s the biggest obstacle i’ve ever “overcome;” saying goodbye to old friends and finding new people to love and make memories with.

  19. I always get distracted so I can’t continue writing my book i’m trying to write

  20. I struggled with anorexia for about 2 years, I was hospitalized for about 5 months of that, going back home with even more ideas of how to continue this disease secretly. I didnt get better until I met my husband. He made all the pain, loneliness, and horrible image of myself just melt away. I will forever thank him for that because it is such a lonely disease.

  21. Wow! “Clean” sounds like an excellent read! Thanks for sharing Nova and Amy! =)
    Everyday I seek to overcome my fear to do something out of the box; the fear of doing something that puts me out in the open. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small choice or a big one– going out on that limb can be fearful, but also the most exhilarating moment of my day. 😉

  22. I have borderline personality disorder (as well as other problems), but BPD is untreatable by medication. They wanted to send me off to a long term care facility, instead I worked very hard with a local therapist and fought it. I still have episodes at times in which it comes back up, but for the most part I’m a lot better.

  23. I’ve overcome a constant stream of moves, family changes, etc in my childhood and am now comfortably settled in my own life and my own home. I shall move no more forever.

  24. This is pretty personal but I’ll put it up anyway: I over came the desire/need/wish to commit suicide. It took about 17.5 years (ten of which were spent in therapy) and medication, but I finally experienced something I never imagined possible: taking joy in the fact that I exist. 🙂

  25. Anxiety. Twisted, awful, rib-splintering anxiety. I still deal with it – I’m still a work in progress – but I used to be absolutely sure that any move I made was going to be cataloged somewhere and mocked endlessly. Then I got a job where I had to represent marginalized people (people who felt like they had no voice – people who, sometimes literally, asked me to BE their voice) in various Important Legal Matters, and I didn’t have the luxury of caring about my own anxiety anymore. I had to get over it, because so much was at stake. Everything isn’t perfect now, but knowing that when I really had to I could speak up and argue – passionately – on behalf of other people went a long way toward helping me move past my most anxious moments.

  26. Great interview. I love how Amy came to write YA.

    I had a stroke when I was fifteen, lost all motor skills and some speech. It was like being drunk, couldnt walk and slurred speech. In the end I relearned how to walk, write, annunciate. Luckily I have no lasting effects other than appreciation for things easily taken for granted.

  27. Well because I am still only 14 I haven’t faced a great deal of obstacles in my life, but I think the biggest thing I overcame in my life was starting school in a new town after I moved for New Mexico to Texas…… BIG difference, bigger town, bigger kids (It’s like theres hormones in the water here that makes kids grow or something) It was really scary and hard for me to make new friends and get to know people being shy and all, and the fact that my dog died soon after we started school didn’t help either. Eventually I opened up and made friends who are almost as geeky as me. :]

  28. An obstacle I’ve overcome… I’d say that overcoming severe depression/anxiety and control/trust issues that I had as a result of my life situation at the time would be one obstacle I think I’ve (mostly) overcome. There are still some times when some of those things try to creep back into my life but now I confront those issues head-on and I don’t let them overtake me anymore.

  29. I’m very proud of overcoming a bad marriage. At just 22 I was faced with a cheating, lying husband. I did the right thing and moved on. Best thing I ever did! :o)

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    imabookshark AT yahoo DOT com

  30. Proud to have lived through two years of CFS. Days are still hard, but I know everything happens for a reason! 🙂

  31. Wonderful giveaway!

    A fear that I have overcome: I know this may be something strange to share with all of you guys, but cutting. I cut from the age of 13 until 15. I’m now almost 16 and haven’t cut for six months now. It’s doesn’t seem like a fear, but it is. The fear that you’re never going to get better, and I did. I’m DYING to read this book too! GREAT giveaway!


  32. Oh, I would love to win a copy! An obstacle I’ve overcome… the biggest for me has been my health. It sounds kind of silly compared to everyone else’s issues here, but I’ve had a combination of things that made me very, very ill for years. I could be driving to work and have to pull over and just collapse in a gas station bathroom (and I have a huge fear of public restrooms), or have to leave dinner before the food comes because I know what’s coming. It’s made things like a semester abroad, or volunteering at the hospital, or working and raising kids, and scheduling anything just ridiculously hard, particularly because most people don’t understand or don’t believe how severely ill I get. But, I kept at it, and after changing my diet, having some surgeries, having my babies, acupuncture, and other things, I’m mostly better. 😉 Almost better enough to buy tickets for something ahead of time and believe that I’ll get there. 🙂

  33. The biggest obstacle I’ve overcome is my weight issues. From the time I was ten years old to graduating high school, I spent time on crash diets and constant attempts to get skinnier. I couldn’t accept that it was a medical issue that couldn’t really be fixed. During the past year, with help from my friends and fiance, I’ve been able to accept my body and can even make jokes about being a hobbit without feeling the need to throw up.

  34. I’m really proud to have overcome my insecurities. Before I always cared what people thought about me, but now,I realize it’s not worth bringing down yourself just for others. 🙂

  35. An obstacle I’ve overcome – the visa process for moving to Spain. It was a terrible process, but looking back – all the trouble was so worth it.

  36. The obstacle that I’m proud to have overcome is being my own person and loving myself. When I was a teenager I hung around with the wrong crowd. We would do drugs, get drunk, etc. During that phase, my mom and I didn’t get along great and we were always arguing. One time, I was so high that my mom just dropped me off at dads. After that I wanted to change because my mom was very disappointed in me and I hated the look she gave me. So I changed, slowy. It was hard at first, but it was for the best and to this day I am proud/confident of who I am.

  37. The obstacle I overcame isn’t as inspiring as some of the ones above me, but I used to be deathly afraid of driving. I waited a whole year, after I could legally get my leaner’s permit, to take the test at the DMV and refused to drive in town; I lived out in the country at the time. When I did drive in town I would shake uncontrollable and grip the steering wheel till my knuckles were white. It got worse after I almost caused an accident, but I never did give up. It’s been two years since then and I’m proud to say that I’m no longer afraid of it. I myself to college now and I find it rather relaxing, but being stuck in traffic and people who don’t use their blinkers kinda suck.

  38. Thank you so much to everyone who entered! I hope you’ll all read CLEAN even if you’re not the winner! I’m closing the giveaway to entries now and the winner will be announced soon.

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