Elizabeth Keenan | Rebel Girls
by Elizabeth Keenan
When it comes to being social, Athena Graves is far more comfortable creating a mixtape playlist than she is talking to cute boys—or anyone, for that matter. Plus her staunchly feminist views and love of punk rock aren’t exactly mainstream at St. Ann’s, her conservative Catholic high school.
Then a malicious rumor starts spreading through the halls…a rumor that her popular, pretty, pro-life sister had an abortion over the summer. A rumor that has the power to not only hurt Helen, but possibly see her expelled.
Despite their wildly contrasting views, Athena, Helen and their friends must find a way to convince the student body and the administration that it doesn’t matter what Helen did or didn’t do…even if their riot grrrl protests result in the expulsion of their entire rebel girl gang.
September 10th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
Hi! I’m Elizabeth Keenan, a writer who lives in NYC with my husband and bunch of cats. I have a PhD in feminist punk rock. That’s not a joke: I’m a former ethnomusicologist, but I left that life behind a few years ago to write fiction and work in real estate.
My debut novel is Rebel Girls, a story about the power of sisterhood and friendship in the face of bullying and abortion stigma.
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
That almost everyone is as nervous about their debut as I am about mine.
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
Laura Sibson’s The Art of Breaking Things is simply gorgeous. The main character, Skye, is so achingly real that you can’t help but keep reading, hoping that she can put words to what happened to her. It made me cry like no other book has this year.
Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan. It would be so easy to get competitive with the writers of the only other abortion-centered novel releasing this year, especially since we debut on the same day. But our books are so, so, so different and really not competition! I love how their book, Unpregnant, is completely hilarious but never loses sight of the protagonist’s serious plight.
Mara Rae Rutherford! Mara and I became pals over Facebook, and she is just a genuinely lovely person. I’m a sucker for a beautifully written fantasy novel, and Crown of Coral and Pearl definitely fits the bill.
Who is your favorite character?
She’s a bit character, but Wisteria, the goth girl.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Too long. I had a long journey to publication. I wrote the first draft in 2012, didn’t get anywhere with it, put it aside, wrote two trunked novels, then came back to it in 2015. I got an agent then, and a book deal in 2017, and it’s finally being published this year.
What inspired you to write this book?
Two things: first, I spent a lot of time researching a book on feminism and popular music in the 1990s, and part of that involved looking at a lot of items in the Riot Grrrl Collection at NYU’s Fales Library. I got inspired by the voices of the teen girls writing fan letters and zines, and I wanted to direct that inspiration somewhere (other than into a dry, academic book).
Second, I’ve been a patient escort at an abortion clinic in NYC for seven years and counting, and I really think YA needs more books about abortion.
Describe your main character in 3 words.
Anxious, smart, loyal.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Find good, honest beta readers and critique partners.
Describe your writing space.
I write on my couch, or on the subway, or in cafes, or wherever. My writing spaces are myriad. But my favorite writing spaces are Amtrak trains and hotel rooms. A long time ago, before I ever considered myself a writer, I heard that Maya Angelou always rented a hotel room to write in. I didn’t get it—I thought it was weird and wasteful—but then I started writing in hotel rooms when I was on vacation or at conferences, and then I realized that Maya Angelou wasn’t just a genius in her writing, but in her process.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I make outlines for both. I write down what my characters want and need, little quirks, etc. And I do a lot of thinking.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Rebel Girls had an unusual amount of research, in that it’s tied to a stretch of a few months in the fall of 1992, in the specific place of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I wanted the details to be accurate to the place and time. I had to do a lot of research in terms of the precise timeline, e.g. when particular albums and movies came out, how far along the presidential campaigns were, and what newspapers/magazines were saying.
How do you select character names?
The main characters—Athena and Helen—are named unusually because their mom is a classics professor, but the others were chosen using the Social Security Administration list of popular names by decade of birth. I don’t want to name characters something that doesn’t feel period-appropriate. Like, you’re not going to find a lot of teen girls named Sally these days (or even in 1992).
What is your favorite word, and why?
Callipygous. It means having a nice butt. It’s just really hilarious that such a precise word exists to describe butts.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m friends with writers both inside and outside YA. My friend Alex Segura, who writes gritty crime novels, was writing his first novel when we were roommates ten years ago. If he hadn’t shown me that becoming a novelist was a real possibility, I don’t think I’d be writing fiction at all.
I’ve known sci-fi writer Sarah Pinsker for over a decade, and both of us are debuting on the same day. Her writing is so beautifully crafted and tight that I learn from every sentence.
Share a playlist!
Here’s the Rebel Girls 1990s Girl Power Playlist:
Bikini Kill "Rebel Girl"
Sleater-Kinney "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"
Bratmobile "Cool Schmool"
Huggy Bear "Her Jazz"
Queen Latifah "Ladies First"
Liz Phair "6'1""
En Vogue "Free Your Mind"
Madonna "Express Yourself"
Alanis Morrissette "You Oughta Know"
Spice Girls "Wannabe"
Elizabeth, you win the contest for best favorite word. I can't handle it! I can't wait for your book on 9/10/19!
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