Arts/Culture
11:30 am
Fri August 5, 2011

This is where I belong: A conversation with Lara Zielin

Michigan author Lara Zielin is taking over the world.

She and three other women writers (and some special guests) are kicking off their Girls Taking Over the World Tour tonight at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor.

But Zielin is doing some conquering on her own as well. Her most recent book, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester, has already received excellent reviews from outlets like Publishers Weekly and has been featured on the Seventeen website as a great summer read for young adults.

I sat down with Zielin in the Michigan Radio studio to talk about responding to bad reviews, making fiction out of real stories, and what you can learn by being the oddball.

Brian Short: Lara Zielen is the author of the forthcoming novel, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester. Lara, welcome to the studio.

Lara Zielin: Thanks for having me.

BS: I wanted to start by asking you about this video. It’s been featured on a bunch of websites including the LA Times book blog. Could you just talk a little bit about the video?

LZ: Sure. The video was made because my book was slammed in a Kirkus review, and Kirkus is infamous for harsh reviews. I think their tagline is "The toughest critics in literature," or something to that effect. Our goal was just to take this bad review and keep the dialogue going. I think a lot of times authors put their books out there, you know we do our art, the critics do their thing, and the conversation ends there.

Our goal was, well, it doesn’t have to end there! So we took the review, and our good friend Andy Clayton made it into a death metal song. And then we took the death metal song and made a video out of it.

And, surprisingly, Kirkus got the joke. They commented on the LA Times website, saying they should put all their reviews to music, and it became this thing that we all laughed about. And it was nice that the LA Times talked about it. I think they said, making lemonade out of lemons, and I liked that. That’s exactly what we were trying to do.

BS: So let’s talk about the book, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester. How did the story come to you?

LZ: Well, the story is inspired by real-life events. It is fiction, I want to make that super clear. The real life events that inspired it were that, when I was in high school, my dad was my principal, our little town was embroiled in a homecoming scandal.

And what had happened was that people casted their ballots for prom queen, and enough ballots were cast for this pregnant goth girl to be queen. But the administration, of which my dad was a part, crowned this other girl instead, they crowned this pretty, popular, beautiful, athletic girl. And the people found out that the election was dirty, and my dad lost his job.

It made Time magazine. This girl, the pregnant goth girl, was in Seventeen. Back in the day, we had Phil Donahue and Sally Jessie, the producers calling our house. It was crazy, for a small little town in Wisconsin, it was bananas.

I did have some great conversations with my dad about what had happened. We had some real heart to hearts, because when you’re seventeen, you’re like, this shouldn’t have happened, my dad didn’t do anything wrong. As you get older, you realize it’s not really black and white. There are lots of shades of gray in leadership. And there are lots of circumstances that affect people’s decision-making for better or worse.

BS: What Michigan books have special meaning for you?

LZ: I love Doug Stanton, who wrote a book called In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. I love Doug, because when I was twenty-four, well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer and grow up and publish books. But it’s been a long journey. It’s not easy to get published and the market’s shrinking and blahblahblah. So I was twenty-four and I was living in Minneapolis and I just had this burning desire to be around any writer I could be around. And my local Barnes and Noble was bringing in Doug Stanton.

Now I had never heard of this guy, and I had no idea who he was, but I said, oh, here’s an author, he’s coming, and I’m going to go. So I went and it turned out that he told the story of the book that he had written, In Harm’s Way, and I didn’t know what the story was before I went. But he had brought these men with him who were local veterans and they had survived the sinking.

They were quite old at the time that he did the reading at Minneapolis, but they were 18, 19, 20 when the ship sank. So, first of all, he reached out to the community members and brought them in for this reading. And he let them tell their story, and he let his book be their story. And I was so moved by that.

Also, I was the only person there who was under the age of forty. I was the only one. I remember looking around, thinking, I know that I’m an oddball, but this is where I belong, and thinking that this is the kind of storytelling that I wanted to do. I’m not there yet, but he was really inspirational.

BS: Lara Zielin is the author of two book, Donut Days and the forthcoming, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester. You can follow her blog at larawrites.com. Lara, thank you so much for coming in.

LZ: Thanks for having me.