Interview with Alyssa B. Sheinmel for the Summer Blog Blast Tour

Welcome to day 5 of the 2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour!

Today we have Alyssa B. Sheinmel, author of two of my favorite books, The Lucky Kind (Knopf, 2011) and The Beautiful Between (Knopf, 2010).

From my review of The Lucky Kind: “Nick Brandt, 16, doesn’t know that answering the phone will shake up his world. A strange man asks for “Sheffman Brandt,” knowing Nick’s father’s name but not knowing he goes by Rob, his middle name. A stranger, whose call upsets the tight, close world of Nick and his parents. The man calling is Sam Roth. As Rob Brandt later explains to Nick, thirty years ago Rob had a son who was given up for adoption. Sam is that child. His father had a child, a child given up for adoption, and Nick never knew. His parents never told him.”

Liz B: I adored The Lucky Kind!  I loved Nick and his family, and could easily see how and why both Stevie and Eden are attracted to how stable and typical they appear.  What inspired The Lucky Kind?

Sheinmel: Well, first of all, thank you!  The idea for The Lucky Kind came to me when I found myself giving adoption thought in a way I never had before.  Up until a few years ago, I’d gone most of my life without being personally touched by adoption (as far as I know). Seemingly all at once, I became close with several people who’d been adopted, and a dear friend confided to having given up a child for adoption. Adoption became something I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it became something I would write about.

Nick’s father gave a child up for adoption, and that impacts his current family. What research do you do about adoption and adoptees and birth families?

After I learned about my friends’ experiences on both sides of adoption, I began to think about it a lot. Two of the adopted adults that I’d met had no interest in finding their birth parents. I wondered how I would feel, had I been adopted; I honestly don’t know.  I can imagine feeling both ways about it: wanting to know from where I came; wanting to know if I looked like my birth parents; wanting to develop a relationship with the people who gave me the life I came to have. And yet, I can also imagine the opposite feeling: not wanting to meet the people who didn’t want me; not wanting to hurt the feelings of my adoptive parents by somehow suggesting that I needed something more than they could give me.

Around that same time, I read an unforgettable book called The Girls Who Went Away, about women who’d been essentially forced to give up their children for adoption in the years before the Roe vs. Wade decision. The book spoke to the long-term effects that giving up these babies had had on the women who bore them, and on their families, years later. It was heartbreaking and deeply moving; I couldn’t put the book down. But I was also struck by the fact that mostly the birth mothers’ stories were told. The biological fathers were barely mentioned. I began to wonder about the effects that giving up children for adoption had on fathers; surely some of these fathers were every bit as deeply touched by the experience as the mothers had been.

And I thought, most of all, about my friend who’d given up a child for adoption. My thoughts were often not about the baby who had been given up, but about the family my friend was going to go on to have someday. I couldn’t stop thinking about that future family—that spouse, those children—and the impact that an adoption that had taken place so many years earlier might have on that future family. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head, and that’s where the story for The Lucky Kind began.

Liz B: When rereading The Lucky Kind, I was impressed with the structure.  While the book takes place in the months after Sam Roth’s phone call, you also showed the reader what Nick’s family was like before so that the reader could appreciate the small but significant changes that went on in Nick’s world as he dealt with his new world view.  I’m curious, especially because of the layers within it, whether your writing style is one of outlining or plunging forward?

Sheinmel: Somewhere in between.  I don’t outline, but I make a lot of notes both before I begin and as I write the story.  I usually have a pretty good sense of where my story is going to go, and how it’s going to get there.  (At least, I think I do.  Occasionally, a story can take on a life of its own!)  I did, at one point, put The Lucky Kind aside to try to write something else; but I kept coming back to Nick and his family. 

Liz B: As with The Beautiful Between, I adored the writing and descriptions. As you can tell by my outline question, I’m fascinated by how writers work and what goes into their craft. How would you describe your process? Are you an early morning writer, late at night, or weekends?

Sheinmel: Well, thank you again!  Because I have a day job, writing for me is mostly an evenings and weekends activity. I’m much, much more of a morning person than an evening person, so my most productive writing time is probably Saturday and Sunday mornings.    And, I actually come up with a lot of story ideas, and with a lot of phrases and plot points, when I’m on the subway to and from my day job.  I’m constantly making frantic notes in between stops.

My writing process is definitely still a work-in-progress in and of itself.  So far, I’ve written each of my books a little differently than the last.  I’d like to think that my process won’t ever stop developing; I hope that I learn something more about how to write every time I put pencil to page (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be!).

Liz B: Any special music?

Sheinmel: Nope.  I can’t listen to music while I write; I get much too distracted.  I like to have my narrator’s voice in my head when I write, even when I’m writing in the third person.  With music on, I end up with the musician’s voice in my head. 

Liz B: Was The Lucky Kind always the title?

Yes, although I didn’t know it until I was about halfway through my first draft.  But as soon as that phrase popped up in the dialogue between Eden and Stevie and Nick, I knew I’d found my title.

Liz B: Both The Lucky Kind and The Beautiful Between share a New York City setting. When I began reading The Lucky Kind, I wondered if Nick and Eden went to the same school as Connolly and Jeremy (from The Beautiful Between) but then saw that they don’t, so I wondered if maybe they went to the same parties. New York City is almost another character, but not the rich, privileged, trendy, version of New York that appears in shows like Gossip Girl.  Why New York City?

Sheinmel: I’m a big fan of writing what you know—or at least, writing some of what you know – so I always try to ground my stories in real details.  For me, that meant placing The Lucky Kind in New York City.  That’s where I went to high school, and those are the restaurants and movie theaters that I grew up going to, the subway I grew up taking, the streets I walked with my friends.  That’s not to say I’d never write a book that takes place anywhere else.  (I hope that I will!)  But New York seemed like the natural setting for this story.

And, I’ve definitely thought that even though Nick and Connelly don’t go to the same schools, they bump into each other at inter-school parties and events from time to time!  I like to think that they might know each other, at least as vague acquaintances.

Liz B: What are you working on now?

Sheinmel: I’m a little superstitious about talking what I’m working on.  When I began writing, I wouldn’t even admit that I was working on anything at all!  (My husband used to see me working at the computer, and I’d insist I was just shopping online.)  Now, I’ll admit when I’m writing—but I still don’t like to talk about any new project until it’s really taken shape.

Liz B: What is your next book?

Sheinmel: Thank you for asking!  My third book is called The Stone Girl, and it’s publishing in August 2012.  It’s a bit different from my previous books – it’s in the third person, which is a first for me, and it’s a bit darker than either The Beautiful Between or The Lucky Kind.  It’s about a very troubled girl named Sethie, a character I loved so much that I wanted to protect her, even as I created and wrote the difficult things she experiences over the course of the novel.  The Stone Girl means so much to me, and I can’t wait to hear what readers will have to say about it.

Liz B: Thank you!

Remember, Chasing Ray has links for the other interviews in today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour

Genevieve Valentine at Shaken & Stirred
Stacy Whitman at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Matthew Cody and Aaron Starmer at Mother Reader


5 thoughts on “Interview with Alyssa B. Sheinmel for the Summer Blog Blast Tour

  1. Been thinking about adoption a lot myself lately as my niece is revisiting her own adoption story – something I suspect that she will do again and again over the years as she can understand more. I’ve wondered about the mother who gave her up – grateful that she did, and yet wondering how she must feel about it.

    Sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading. Great interview!


  2. MR, thanks! Let me know how you like it. It’s an interesting look at a family — how it is impacted by the choices from the past, but in quiet, subtle ways.


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