Amanda Sellet began her writing career in journalism, covering music and movies for VH1, books for The Washington Post, and stories from her own life for NPR. She has an M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU and spent a year nannying for an English actress before settling in the Midwest with her archaeologist husband and their daughter.
Alechia Dow: Hi, Amanda! I’m so excited to talk to you about BY THE BOOK!! First off, this story is full of voice and literature and wit, and I enjoyed it so much! Congratulations on debuting, especially during this unprecedented time, and ahhh!! Let’s talk!
You’re a former reporter (what?!!!), you’ve studied journalism, and cinema studies, but can you tell us what led you into fiction? How did your past experiences in different areas of writing (and cinema) shape your style?
Amanda Sellet: A lot of people have talked about how journalism can be a double-edged sword for someone who wants to write fiction. On the one hand, you get paid to practice your craft! On the other, it sucks up a lot of creative energy, and you can develop habits you’ll have to unlearn later. I’m proud of the work I did as a reporter, and it was definitely inspiring to cover the arts beat and talk to painters and musicians and actors about their process. But it also took me quite a few years after leaving the business to figure out how to write a novel instead of an article or essay. Probably the hardest part was getting inside the characters and their story, instead of commenting on them from the outside.
AD: And also… what attracted you to writing, specifically, for young adults?
AS: I’ve read YA as long as I can remember, thanks to my librarian mom. I feel like there’s more freedom in YA for optimism and laughter and satisfying endings, whereas so much adult fiction tends toward Misery! Despair! Plots That Go Nowhere! That kind of thing.
AD: Do you have favorite YA writers and books?
AS: So many! I’m going to stick with formative faves because if I start mentioning books from the last few years, we’ll be here all day. Madeleine L’Engle, Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Eva Ibbotson, Melina Marchetta … those are the first to leap to mind.
AD: Okay, so… one of the biggest and best takeaways from By The Book is how Mary is a book nerd, ha! What do the books you chose for Mary say about her? Do you and Mary share any favorite books and characters?
AS: I knew I wanted Mary to love books that fell into the general category of “most likely to be adapted into a BBC miniseries,” so I tried to keep her tastes consistent – mostly Brit Lit from the 19th century. That was definitely also my jam as a young reader, though not as exclusively; I also read a lot of SFF. And I had to actively work not to make every single reference about Jane Austen, because I was saving her for a major moment near the end!
AD: One of my absolute favorite elements of By the Book is the banter, the gorgeous back and forth between Mary, her family, Alex, but especially her friends, Arden, Lydia, and Terry. They were so infused with personality and warmth—how did you do that? How did you create such vivid characters?
AS: That’s so nice of you to say! My brain definitely defaults to jokes, followed closely by silly metaphors (as opposed to action, or describing how things look). I tried to give each of Mary’s friends her own flavor of snark, though I’m sure they all sound a teensy bit like me.
AD: What inspired By the Book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?
AS: I wanted to make people laugh, and give them a few swoony feelings, as they escape into this alternate reality – very much a Gilmore Girls vibe. I’ll be thrilled if there are happy sighs from readers after finishing.
AD: And lastly, can you share what you’re working on next? I can’t wait to read more of your gorgeous prose and cons!!
AS: My current work-in-progress is another bookish YA contemporary. As in BY THE BOOK, family plays a big part, a certain classic novel gets mentioned a lot, and there is definitely a romance (or two). This one has a little more edge, though; less of a scone with homemade jam and clotted cream and more bittersweet.
Congrats on the release of your debut novel, Amanda! You can visit Amanda’s website to learn more and follow her on Twitter and Instagram, as well as order BY THE BOOK: A NOVEL OF PROSE AND CONS on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound. And don’t forget to add it on Goodreads!