Zoe Trope — at first — might make you a little jealous.
At the very first moment you learn of her, she might make you viciously angry, raging against the injustices of the world, that a fifteen-year old girl gets her memoirs published, her diaries made into a book with a Dave Eggers blurb. Why her? Why not you? What the hell is wrong with everything? Why do you feel so old and unappreciated? Nothing is ever fair!
But then you read her book. And that’s exactly when the jealousy starts. Because this is nothing like your teen diary. This isn’t that crap poem you wrote about how dinner’s always cold when that boy doesn’t call or whatever you scribbled into your notebook.
Houston, we’ve lost power. The clocks have stopped. Buzzing of fluorescent radiation ceased. Hustled voices continue to bounce and break. Tapping of a pencil, silent ink moving over bleached paper. Why couldn’t I at least be stuck in a class with people I can stand? (page 5)
Please Don’t Kill the Freshman is a Young Adult memoir that’ll make you wish you were cooler.
I IM’ed with Zoe yesterday. Here’s our conversation.
pamie: I have no idea how old you are. I bet that’s the first question you always get asked.
Zoe: Nah. People usually just stick you: “You legal?” To which I coyly reply, “Not yet. Does that arouse you?” I’m a saucy wench. 17. Does that help?
pamie: I guess it just surprises people. I’m trying to not be all Teen Beat, but I’m still stuck with asking the same opening boring questions. So here’s another. “How did you get your book made?”
Zoe: When a man and a woman really love each other… They make the terrible mistake of forgetting to take the pill. Let that be a lesson.
pamie: It must have been painful to have a book come out of your vagina.
Zoe: It’s meant to fit a baby, for chrissakes. Book was nothin’.
pamie: Heh. Depends on the book, I guess. Yours was hardcover.
Zoe: No book jacket. That made it easier.
pamie: Right. That probably was easier, then. Slippery.
Zoe: Anyway, um. Book book book. Where to start. I took a writing class when I was 13-years-old taught by Kevin Sampsell. He’s a local writer/independent publisher and he works at Powell’s City of Books as an event coordinator/Small Press Guru. The class was really interesting and opened my eyes to the world of flash fiction, freewriting, experimental writing, ‘zines, chapbooks, slam poetry, small press, etc. When the class was over, Kevy and I kept in contact via e-mail. About a year later, when I was a freshman in high school, I sent him some of the journal entries I’d been scribbling in class. He really liked them and offered to turn them into a chapbook on his small press called Future Tense Books. I thought that sounded neat, so I agreed and kept writing little spastic journal entries during class and after school. After my freshman year was over, I turned in my 13,000-word manuscript to Kevin–
pamie: Were you writing online already?
Zoe: Hmm. No. Not during my freshman year.
pamie: I had heard somewhere that you started up a LiveJournal and the book came out of that. I guess that was rumor.
Zoe:Nope. That’s a lie.
pamie: I will find that liar and make sure he or she pays.
Zoe: Other lies include: Kevin wrote it, Dave Eggers wrote it, Dave Eggers published it, Powell’s published it.
pamie: I bet you get a lot of lies because of your age. And your name.
Zoe: And because people are easily bored by the truth, I guess.
pamie: I interrupted your story. Sorry.
Zoe: As you should be.
pamie: I bow down.
Zoe: You learn fast.
pamie: I read the book.
Zoe: Anyway, the chapbook was published in the fall of my sophomore year. When I was 15. I did some local readings, including one at Powell’s, read at Borders, did some interviews for local papers. The chapbook received quite a bit of press for being such a little book, literally and figuratively. Most chapbooks on Kevin’s press had a print run of maybe 100-200 copies. I think Kevin told me that over a year and a half, he printed almost 3,000 chapbooks. That’s a lot of stapling. In the spring of my sophomore year, Kevin got a phone call from Joe Weisberg, the author of 10TH GRADE. Joe wanted to set up a reading at Powell’s. Kevin asked Joe what his book was about, and Joe told him it was a narrative in the voice of a 15-year-old boy. Kevin thought it sounded interesting, and mentioned that there’d been a chapbook published by a high school girl locally. Joe wanted to read it, so Kevin sent him a copy. Joe loved it and sent it to his agents with a three-word note: “This is awesome.” His agents e-mailed me and expressed interest in shopping the chapbook around to bigger publishers, but they’d need a more substantial manuscript. Initially, I told them that I didn’t think I could do it — I couldn’t make my journal longer that it was. It simply was what it was, and I wasn’t going to change it. But then after some gentle prodding from family and friends (WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN YOUR LIFE GO FOR IT KID DO IT DO IT), I agreed to create a proposal that said I would sell more of my diary entries as a longer manuscript. That proposal, along with the sample chapbook, was sent to some publishers in NY. HarperTempest, an imprint of HarperCollins, really loved it and picked it up. And here I am today, more or less.
pamie: How aware were you of all these people involved in the creation of this book? Did you know who Joe Weisberg was already? Did you seek advice from people before going with agents, or did you follow your own gut?
Zoe: Complicated, isn’t it…
pamie: It’s not so much complicated as it is impressive. I would have found it a bit overwhelming.
Zoe: I’ve been really unbelievably lucky to have such amazing people working with me…
pamie: On one hand you’ve got to be like, “Come on, guys. It’s my diary. Everybody calm down.”
Zoe: I had no idea who Joe Weisberg was, although I did meet him a few weeks after I got my book deal.
pamie: I hope you bought him dinner.
Zoe: He’s probably one of my best friends — I love him dearly. He’s changed my life. I can’t remember who paid for it, honestly. heh. I didn’t get a lawyer until after Harper had expressed interest in the book.
pamie: Meanwhile you’re still in school while all of this is happening.
Zoe: Yeah. Spring of my sophomore year. My lawyer was really shocked at how everyone had been treating me — He felt like people had been trying to screw me over. Maybe not screw me over… that’s a bit harsh. Just that people were rushing me through the process because I was young and didn’t know any better?
pamie: That happens no matter how old you are, when you’re starting out.
pamie: That’s why there are lawyers.
Zoe: It was really hard to be in school for those few months… I remember I would check my cell phone all the time, waiting for phone calls. And I checked my e-mail between classes. That’s how I found out about the Harper deal.
pamie: And you’re like, “Calculus test? Sorry. Have to talk to my PUBLISHER.”
Zoe: I remember reading the e-mail and then turning around and screaming to my friend, the art teacher: “HARPERCOLLINS WANTS MY BOOK FOR A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!” and then I had to go to Spanish. Where the teacher made me tell the class the news in Spanish. “HarperCollins quiere comprar mi libro por cien mil.” Something like that, if I remember right. And then all the kids screwed up their faces while they tried to translate it.
pamie: Or when you get a B on a paper, you’re like, “Okay.”
Zoe: It was incredibly surreal. Still is.
pamie: I have to tell you that your advance was certainly nothing close to screwing you over.
Zoe: I haven’t felt cheated by anyone in this entire process. My agents and everyone at HarperTempest are dreams. I’m really, really lucky, and I wish I could find a better phrase to express that.
pamie: It’s great to feel like you’re supported and taken care of. It allows you to be brave in your writing. Last teen beat question: What are you working on now?
Zoe: Finding my G-spot. Watching Degrassi. Playing DDR. I graduated from high school in June and this is my year off, so I’m trying to enjoy the break as much as possible. I’ve been traveling a lot, and I applied to six schools. Waiting for decision letters.
pamie: Finding the G-Spot will help with the transition.
Zoe: I wrote a short story that’ll be in a collection called SIXTEEN edited by Megan McCafferty. There are a lot of great authors in the collection, including Joe Weisberg, Ned Vizzini, David Levithan, Sarah Dessen… I’m also tinkering with a novel, but we’ll see where that goes.
pamie: Do you like writing the novel more than the memoir? I found it freeing to write something where people weren’t always trying to figure out who I was talking about and if it was them.
Zoe: Mm, but if you write anything vaguely autobiographical, that happens. People project themselves into whatever you write. They want to see themselves it. Which is good and bad. The novel’s fun to write — so was the short story, which was also fiction.
pamie: Do you get nervous?
Zoe: Every day, all the time.
pamie: Where do you live?
Zoe: In Oregon.
pamie: Do you feel like your life changed dramatically after the book was out, or did the routine of high school keep things in check?
Zoe: Define “out” I had graduated by the time the Harper book was published.
pamie: Oh. You graduated early.
Zoe: Yep. No point in staying for four years, I figured.
pamie: I guess what I’m asking is if you felt the entire concept of high school change, if you felt like you’d outgrown it while everybody was still figuring it out, and if that put stress on some of your friendships.
Zoe: I definitely felt that, but I don’t know if that was necessarily related to the book. I think I would have felt that way anyway, with or without all the publishing nonsense. I was very, very bored with school to begin with, but having the book just made it worse. Because I knew there were other things I could be doing, other better bigger more important things, things that would make me happy, but I could spend time on those because I was so busy with homework and clubs… I don’t think school ever challenged me. Maybe I had a hard class here and there… but mostly I wasn’t amused by it.
pamie: Were you always writing?
Zoe: When I look back it on it, yeah, writing was a big thing for me, even in grade school. I remember in 5th grade I didn’t go out to recess — I stayed in the classroom and typed stories on my teacher’s computer. Then I started keeping spiral notebooks of writing in 5th & 6th & 7th grade. Then mead composition notebooks. Then files on my computer. And then I got an online journal the summer after freshman year.
pamie: My best friend and I traded a spiral notebook between classes and we’d write each other notes.
Zoe: I’m trading a notebook with my best friend right now — He lives in New York, though, so we mail it back and forth to each other.
pamie: Do you get a lot of fanmail?
Zoe: I get a pretty consistent amount of e-mail, and a number of comments on my Livejournal. It still takes me by surprise when I get an e-mail or a comment, like — People actually read this? Weird.
pamie: How old are your readers?
Zoe: I really couldn’t say. It’s marketed as a YA book, so I know that a lot of teenagers have read it… Seems to resonate well with a lot of 14-15-16-17-year-olds. But it varies quite a bit. I imagine a middle school kid could read it and love it, and I know a number of adults who love it, too.
pamie: Were you surprised it was considered YA?
Zoe: Nope. HarperTempest is a young adult imprint. I knew what I was getting into. They tried to decide if it should be printed on an adult line… But I think marketing just knew it would be easier to market a teenager’s memoir to teenagers.
pamie: What do you think when you get mail from people saying, “This is my favorite book of all time!”
Zoe: I think they need to read more. So I tell them that.
pamie: That’s what I always tell them, too. I tell them to read David Sedaris.
Zoe: Like, “Oh, you liked my book? Read these.” I tell them to read Joe’s book. It’s only fair.
pamie: “Catcher in the Rye.” Now go read that. I also get email from sad girls. I imagine you do, too. How do you deal with the sad girls who write and seem to need you to keep writing in order to keep them from dying in high school?
Zoe: Tell them to keep reading, that it’ll be over soon enough, that I made it and they will too, that there are lots of other people out there like them. I think most of the depression comes from a sense of isolation. And maybe my book briefly alleviated the isolation, but it doesn’t really dissolve the rest of their feelings.
pamie: Do you feel a responsibility to your audience? Your book was something that broke their isolation, so do you ever feel the need to hold their hands a bit longer?
Zoe: Oh, sure. I feel a responsibility to my publisher, too. And to my pocketbook. But I’m doing as much as I can, I suppose. I’m human. I answer e-mails, I update my blog, I write letters. I make Valentines. The very simple fact is that people think they know me after reading my diary, but I know nothing about them. So there’s this feeling of connection that they have and I don’t. I try to encourage people. Tell them to read and make and see and do. Tell them to write ‘zines and listen to music, to find things that make them happy. That’s the only thing that got me through HS — brief moments where I did something I actually enjoyed, being with friends, writing, making jokes, going to concerts. Anything to get my mind off of what was really going on…
pamie: And what makes you happy?
Zoe: What makes me happy? Hmm. The bou nezumi character from the movie “Spirited Away” Getting mail. Receiving gifts. Playing DDR. Drinking Jones Soda. Going on road trips. Being with my friends, watching movies, eating sushi. Having good hair days. I like eating candy, too. Making art. I like taking pictures and I like writing letters.
pamie: Okay. What’s DDR? I should totally know this and I don’t.
Zoe: Dance Dance Revolution. Japanese dancing game.
pamie: Oh, right.
Zoe: It’s fucking ridiculous.
pamie: My boyfriend rocks at it.
Zoe: Stay as far away from it as you can.
pamie: We had a contest once. Boyfriend won.
pamie: He bought shoes for the contest.
Zoe: I played DDR in a skirt.
pamie: That takes balls. I did it in platform shoes once. Almost lost an ankle.
Zoe: So I constantly remind my friends that until I see them play in a gray pleated mini, they can kiss my ass.
pamie: Seriously. You play it at home?
Zoe: Yep. I have it for the PS2. I go to arcades, too, when I have the money.
pamie: I was already jealous of you, and now I’m well past that. I work for a newspaper sometimes, and I’ve been trying for two years to get that home game sent to me for free so I could review it. Why work at a newspaper if you can’t get free DDR, I ask you?
Zoe: My brother bought it for me for my birthday.
pamie: Jealousy. Everywhere.
Zoe: Get a press pass to E3 and get a review copy.
pamie: I went to E3! With a press pass! Nothing! Have you ever been to E3?
Zoe: No. I wanted to go this year, but no dice. Can’t afford it.
pamie: It’s like living inside a slot machine.
Zoe: Sounds heavenly.
pamie: Like when you get caught smoking and they make you sit in a closet with a carton of cigarettes. Suddenly your eyes are bleeding and your stomach hurts and the sound of jumping makes you feel dizzy. And girls are walking around dressed like robots and porn stars and all you want is another swag bag and you can’t believe there are so many video games for kids and the line to the new Tony Hawk is out the door and someone wants you to play another fucking wizard game that takes months to kick off.
pamie: Well, I hope you get to go someday.
Zoe: Me too. This year would’ve been perfect. I wouldn’t miss school or anything. It’s been a weird year, though… While I’d love to do a lot of things, I can’t because I’m 17 and my parents won’t give me permission. I could get a press pass. But my parents won’t let me go.
pamie: Are you glad your parents are strict with you? I would think a lot of girls in your position would just freak the hell out and go wild. And by “girls” I mean, “Young Women of Power.”
Zoe: My parents really aren’t strict at all. I don’t think of them that way. They’re very funny, relaxed, open people. And I respect them a lot.
pamie: I mean they’re staying parents and not just letting you do whatever you want for doing what’s considered a rather adult accomplishment.
Zoe: It’s frustrating, though, because I feel like I’ve proved myself over and over again, and yet I still can’t do some of the things that I want to do. I’ve been out of school for months and I haven’t been arrested or taken up a drug habit or anything. They disapprove of how I spend my time, but they don’t punish me for it.
pamie: In your memoir you come across as so independent that I bet people think of you like Drew Barrymore, hanging out at SkyBar and drinking or whatever.
Zoe: Ha. I think they do. I’m really much more boring than that. I sit at home and drink vanilla vodka martinis and watch cartoons.
pamie: I can’t imagine my parents reading that and then letting me ever leave the house again.
Zoe: Yeah, my parents are pretty amazing. My dad hasn’t read the whole book yet, but my mom’s read it a couple times. They were both much more wild when they were my age. But, as they like to remind me, “it was a different time.”
pamie: And they must be supportive for you to have accomplished so much.
Zoe: Supportive is a bit of an understatement, but yeah.
pamie: What do you hope happens to you?
Zoe: I’d like to get a boy/girl-friend. Eventually.
Zoe: But other than that. I’d really like to go to Brown. That’s my first choice for college. And I want to learn a lot and meet amazing new people and make amazing things.
pamie: Do you know what you want to major in?
Zoe: Art history/sociology/English. One of those three, maybe a little of each.
pamie: What’s your art fetish?
Zoe: Christo and Jeanne-Claude are two of my favorite contemporary artists. They’re doing an installation in NYC right now that makes me shiver. I wrote my senior thesis about them. I like environmental art and large-scale installations, obviously.
pamie: Do you consider yourself an overachiever?
Zoe: ehm. No. I don’t think so. I don’t know, really. It’s all relative.
pamie: But do your friends often comment that you’re “always busy”? that’s how you know. When your friends want you to slack off.
Zoe: People who don’t know me very well think so, but my parents think I’m lazy and hate my unstructured lifestyle. Most of my friends hate me right now for not being in school and sleeping in. But I’ve received a lot of comments about how much I “do” and how I’m always multitasking and how I seem very busy.
pamie: I think you earned some sleeping-in time.
Zoe: So maybe, yeah. I don’t know.
pamie: You don’t get overwhelmed at all, wondering if you started something too soon? I guess I mean: do you think this is what you want to do with your life, or are you treating it as something that happened and you’re up to seeing what happens next.
Zoe: The latter, mostly.
pamie: That’s a pretty healthy way to look at it.
Zoe: I get kind of irritated when people act like I have an obligation to be a writer for the rest of my life or something. Or like I need to be the spokesperson for young writers, for young unsuccessful but exhausted and tryingsohard writers. And I just don’t.
pamie: Were you worried how your friends who were in the memoir would react to it?
Zoe: No. But also: My friends are really awesome people. I wasn’t worried about how they would react because I’m very honest with most everyone. If they didn’t read about it, then I probably would’ve said it to their face anyway.
pamie: And you changed names, so that probably helped.
Zoe: Yep. I did my best to respect their privacy, on some level.
pamie: So, I’m running out of questions. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of pamie.com?
Zoe: Oh, so you think I’m boring? Sniff. Well then. Um. Don’t take it seriously. Too many people take everything way too seriously.
pamie: I don’t think you’re boring at all. I’m just assuming you don’t want to spend your afternoon chatting with me, which is exactly what I’d make you do.
Zoe: Meh. I have to go do chores and watch Degrassi, eventually. ‘tho with my luck it’s a goddam rerun…
pamie: People take journals very seriously. Do you find you get more scary mail from your journal or your book?
Zoe: Hmm. I don’t get that much scary mail overall, honestly Most people are pretty cool. I’d say I get better e-mails than LJ notes Every LJ note is like: “I swear I’m not stalking you LOL LOL OMG LOL ZOE TROPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
pamie: I try to imagine how I would have gotten anything done if I’d had the internet when I was in high school. The temptation to chat and blog until three in the morning would have been overwhelming.
Zoe: Welcome to my life.
pamie: Those LJ notes put dinner on my table, so i can’t complain. Welcome to my life.
Zoe: The main reason I don’t get anything done ever: the Internet. Also: DVDs and TV and music and friends. I’m sooo easily distracted, it’s ridiculous.
pamie: it’s the distractions that lead you to brilliance. I wanted to tell you that I read your book sitting at a Hollywood diner where only months earlier I had seen Sofia Coppola talking with Scarlett Johansson. Where’s the best place someone has read your book?
Zoe: Porn store.
pamie: That is awesome. And… maybe illegal.
Zoe: Yeah, I had a fan who took pictures of my book next to all these dildos and stuff. It was hilarious.
pamie: Who came up with the sticker idea?
Zoe: Rob Hult. He is sexy and smart. Well, among other people. I think it was a collaboration between my editor and the people in design.
pamie: I have to tell you, I was like, “It has a sticker!” And then I saw the “You want my sticker.”
Zoe: The people who designed my book also did the design for the Lemony Snicket books The sticker covers up the title. Have you tried that?
pamie: No, I haven’t taken the sticker off. I should put it over the title?
Zoe: If you want. It’ll fill in the white spaces and “complete” the picture. And I have extra stickers, if you want some. You can still see the title, but it’ll look kind of 3-D. Hard to explain until you do it.
pamie: Hold on. I’ll go do it.
pamie: Yeah. Now I’m jealouser. I like my book cover, but I don’t have a sticker.
Zoe: Hee. Well, what can I say. Some of us got it…
pamie: That’s awesome. How was your first book reading?
Zoe: Scary. I don’t know if I’d ever been to a reading before when I did my first reading when I was 15, I was the opening act for Thea Hillman, Justin Chin, and Beth Lisick. there was a big crowd.
pamie: Were you ever like, “Fuck it. I’m fifteen. I rock.”
Zoe: ehm. Not when I was 15. Not that I remember so much. Maybe, yeah.
pamie: You should. It’s the only way to keep it in perspective, I think.
Zoe: I suppose.
pamie: Do you read a lot? It seems like a stupid question, but some people don’t.
Zoe: I definitely don’t read enough.
pamie: What do you like reading?
Zoe: I thought I’d read a ton during my year off, but I’m having trouble finding stuff. Oh, anything that catches my attention. Fiction, mostly, but I’ve read some non-fiction here and there. Funny stuff like Dan Savage’s SKIPPING TOWARDS GOMORRAH is awesome
pamie: Do you get asked to do a lot of blurbs?
Zoe: I’ve been asked to do a few. So far I’ve actually only given one. I blurbed Ned Vizzini’s BE MORE CHILL. He’s like the Switzerland of young authors. Very nice, very polite, very smart, very friendly. Doesn’t pick fights or gossip.
pamie: Do you read a lot of websites?
Zoe: Mm, not that many, really
pamie: That Degrassi’s taking up your time.
Zoe: Google News, Livejournal, Craigslist…
pamie: Okay. Music. What are you listening to these days?
Zoe: Interpol, Postal Service, Velvet Teen, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, lots of mix CDs, I am the World Trade Center, Mates of State, Sleater Kinney, the Flaming Lips, Elliott Smith, Ben Kweller, the Weakerthans, Jude, Wilco, Cursive, the Shins, Hot Hot Heat, the Dandy Warhols, My Bloody Valentine, the Cure, Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright. To name a few.
pamie: Just a few.
Zoe: The bare essentials, really.
pamie: I’m sharing with you my favorite new LA thing. It’s a radio station here that you can stream. indie1031.fm. you’re welcome.
Zoe: Hee. Most excellent. Listening now! [editor’s note: She totally thanked me.] I’m going to clean and Degrassi and etcetera. Anything I should gossip about for your readers? This is the part where I throw in all the advertisements
pamie: Right. Pimp away.
Zoe: Visit www.batemania.com! Visit www.tmcm.com! Visit www.zoe-trope.com! Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Um. Yeah.
pamie: And read Please Don’t Kill the Freshman.
Zoe: I’m a sad excuse for a human being. hee. Yeah, read it or burn it, whatever feels natural.
pamie: Good luck with Brown.
Zoe: Thank you. & thanks for the interview.
pamie: No problem. Nice talking with you, Zoe.
pamie: See ya.