Rebecca and Zoe from BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps got a chance to catch up with YA author Marit Weisenberg, who will be at this year’s Texas Teen Book Festival, October 23-24. Learn more about her writing process, the inspiration behind The Insomniacs, and more below! Don’t forget to order your signed copy from BookPeople!
Rebecca: What inspired you to write a book where insomnia plays a key role?
Marit: One of my best friends from high school, we met when we were about 14, had terrible insomnia. And at a certain point I realized she had this whole social life going on at night. And it was mostly over the phone, but as we got older she would leave the house. I mean, she had a boyfriend who she would see only at night. She just knew all these people, it was like she had a second life. So I remember thinking how cool it would be if you could do high school two different ways, once during the day and once at night. That stuck with me for a long time.
Zoe: How is The Insomniacs similar to other books you’ve written?
Marit: That it’s a love story, for sure. And I think in everything I do, there’s a bit of mystery, that element of “What is really going on? What are these people doing?” Select and Select Few also had that element. My books are always brushed with mystery, a little bit of “things are not what they seem.”
Rebecca: Speaking of love stories, what is the funniest romantic scenario that you have seen or been in?
Marit: Oh gosh, that’s a hard one! Well, okay. My husband and I briefly met at a wedding and two years later, I walked into Blockbuster Video and I saw this guy and he was working the register, and I was like, “What’s up with him, why is this guy so happy?” I don’t know why, but I was very aware of him, and I thought to myself, I hope I don’t end up in his line. Well, I ended up in his line, and he saw my name on my card, and he recognized my name. We had mutual friends, we met at that wedding, and so he followed me out to the parking lot, and as soon as he said, “Excuse me, are you Marit Weisenberg?” I was like, “Oh, it’s THIS guy!” And so yeah. Turns out, we got married.
Zoe: Is there any scene or line that you wish you had put into the book but had to be cut out?
Marit: I feel like I had so many notes on my phone that I thought for sure I was going to add, but you know, you go through multiple drafts and typically where I would want to put a line, it would then somehow be a repetition of something very close to what was already there. But I think I was always trying to tinker with the opening scene, and I was always tinkering with the scene with Ingrid and her mom at the end. The scenes where you need something to hit home really hard. I’m sure I have lists of different things I wanted to do but they didn’t quite work.
Zoe: Did you draw inspiration from anyone or anything for the character of Ingrid?
Marit: A lot from one of my kids. That very, like, holds-everything-in-really-close and a perfectionist, and you don’t quite know what’s going on inside. That personality type fascinates me, because you can win in life being that way. A lot of our culture values not being vulnerable at all and coming across as being confident and powerful and not sharing yourself. And I think you can get very far like that, but I do wonder what’s going on inside. I think for a lot of young people, girls especially, I wanted to take a closer look at what it’s like when you can be really hard on yourself. And when you don’t have anyone to lean on or when you think you are by yourself, and what a struggle that is. Ingrid is so hard, but she’s also so soft inside, and she was so ready to break. I wanted her to break and know that she had real friends and people who love her.
Zoe: Which is your favorite and least favorite character in The Insomniacs?
Marit: I love Ingrid, and I love Van, and I also love Wilson. I feel strongest about Ingrid. I’m trying to think of a character I really struggled with, and it is definitely Mike. Mike was really hard. I tried him a couple different ways, because he had to walk this fine line between being a father figure but I wanted him to also give tough love. But he turned out to be too much of a jerk, it was too much and I really needed him to be softer and loyal. I hope that came through, in the end.
Rebecca: If Ingrid and Van could bond over a song, which one would it be?
Marit: 100% “Romeo and Juliet” the Dire Straits version.
Rebecca: If you could set The Insomniacs in a different place– fantasy world or outer space, or anywhere else on earth–where would it be?
Marit: I love these places that are not supposed to be dark and noir. Like here, the Greenbelt is just recreational, but I love taking the normal and making it creepy. Once I watched this documentary and it was set maybe in the 60s or 70s, in Hawaii, where there was a commune and a bunch of 20-year-olds and babies lived in these tree houses and it became kind of dark. Like a lot of drugs, but there was also this light side of them living in this tropical paradise. I am fascinated by that because it’s both light and dark at once. I can see Insomniacs there, too.
Rebecca: What is the most interesting story or weird fact about your hometown?
Marit: Well, this is all in my next book, actually. I lived in California and my neighborhood was actually an old silver baron, it was James Flood’s country home, 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Back around the 1870s he was one of the first to buy a big plot of land for a summer home. And a lot of really wealthy people in San Francisco would flee because of the fog in the summer, but they built really modest houses. But this guy, James Flood, built this huge estate with a race track and so many other things, it was tons of acreage, and he built it as a statement because he brought this girlfriend from Ireland who was a housemaid and she was really looked down on. But anyway, long story short, it was this big estate, and it was sold to developers in the 1950s, segmented, and sold to a lot of GIs returning from World War II. But it’s really cool, there’s still all these statues from when it was the big Flood estate.
Zoe: If you could transport yourself to any fictional universe, what would it be?
Marit: Probably Narnia, ‘cause growing up all I wanted to do was walk through that wardrobe.
Rebecca: What color– and this can include shades– do you think your book embodies?
Marit: Definitely soft colors. Like that really muted mauve that’s on the cover. It’s this very dreamy shade that embodies that feeling of “is it real, is it not?”
Zoe: What is your favorite YA book and/or author?
Marit: One book that really blew me away was Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. It’s such a smart book. I also really love Nina Lacour’s We Are Okay. I thought that was the most interesting, kind of weird book. It’s really literary, and I remember that last chapter completely blew me away. It was incredible.
Rebecca: What is your favorite thing to do when you can’t get to sleep, or when you’re up late at night?
Marit: Read, read, read, that’s what I do. That’s what I did last night. I definitely read, the other thing I do is I make up stories in my head. They’re the ideas that I would probably never write for a book. Actually, The Insomniacs came out when I was at my daughter’s Girl Scout camping trip and I couldn’t sleep. That’s when I came up with the idea.
Zoe: Do you prefer paperbacks or audiobooks?
Marit: I think audiobooks, actually. I think I changed my mind this last year. I’ve gotten a lot more done with audiobooks.
Rebecca: What does your writing routine look like?
Marit: It starts really early in the morning. I get up at 5 and I write or work on what I’m doing, currently it’s editing, for a few hours. If I’m writing something brand new, I do crazy, messy writing in the morning. And once everybody leaves the house, I’ll sit back and edit that. Some people work really great late at night, and I am the clearest thinker super-duper early. That’s when I do the really creative stuff. When it’s dark, and I feel like I’m in a cave, and nobody is around.
Zoe: What stories or projects are you working on right now?
Marit: This Golden State, my next YA book, is coming out in March. And it got optioned for film, so I’m working on a film treatment for the producers. And then, I’m working on a brand new idea and I’ve written about a third of it. Hopefully I’ll have a rough draft done early next year.
Rebecca: What piece of advice would you give your teenage self?
Marit: Just relax, just own it. You are only young once and do not worry about what people say.
Rebecca: Do you have any advice for young writers and creators in general?
Marit: What I always say is, just finish something. I had this boss who was a screenwriter and he said, you know, everyone around LA says they’re a screenwriter but they don’t finish anything. You are so ahead of the game if you just finish something. And as hard as it is, because you could be writing terrible stuff, once you have a finished piece, this part of your brain can relax and now you can edit it and make sense of it. It’s so hard not to revise while you’re going, but just plow through and finish whatever terrible rough draft you’re working on.
Look out for Marit Weisenberg at the Texas Teen Book Festival! You can order signed copies of her latest novel, The Insomniacs, from BookPeople! You can also pre-order This Golden State, coming March 2022.