Did you base Quinn or Seth off of people you know? Or did you give them any traits of people that you know?
Seth is his own person: his character presented itself in my mind almost fully formed. He’s the smart guy with the dry sense of humor that makes a girl trust herself. I have a crush on him myself.
I relate to Quinn’s character (and, therefore, I also judge her). Her relationship with her father is 100% emotionally true for me although almost none of the events in the book actually happened. I did switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party after the Supreme Court’s Webster decision restricted abortion rights. Plus, I listened to Madonna in 1989, enjoy gardening, and grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska.
What made you want to write a book set in the '80's?
Author Will Weaver says that Full Service was the book he had to write about the summer that changed everything. ’89 Walls is my Full Service—1989 was the summer that changed everything for me. In 1989, I was a college junior home from the University of Pennsylvania and helping take care of my dying father. This book was a chance for me to imagine the adult conversations that would have helped me make sense of the huge shifts in the political landscape in the late Eighties.
What was the writing process like for you?
Writing ’89 Walls felt like having a mental illness, a compulsion to chip away and reveal the essential story underneath. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel. I had to study the form, read books on writing, take classes and hire freelance editors. They told me the brutal truth about rookie authors trying to communicate in one book every thought they ever had.
The first draft took me three years. I worked on it between stints of paid work as a freelance writer and policy researcher for local non-profits and the daily labors of parenthood and homeownership.
Did you get to help design the book cover?
Yes! I worked with a freelancer from Random House, Jessie Sayward Bright, who really listened to my ideas about my target audience and similar titles. It’s a total coincidence that the cover features all of my favorite colors. The skyline is Lincoln, Nebraska.
What led you to wanting to be a writer?
I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon. I had a wonderfully encouraging seventh grade English teacher. I staffed the high school yearbook and wrote a column for my college newspaper. In my office jobs I contrived to write whether or not it was in my job description as a fundraiser for the Nebraska Humanities Council or lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. I’ve written a bunch of political commentaries for the Minneapolis StarTribune and have an actual fan base for my annual holiday letter. But I didn’t claim writing as my vocation until I was in my thirties. Taking a memoir class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis motivated me to finally put “writer” on my business card.
I never planned to write a novel: I just like to read them. But a conversation with a friend in 2006 about the pros and cons of potentially attending my 20th high school reunion brought to mind the random people you run into at those things: old crushes, old “frenemies.” I suddenly had the idea for Seth and Quinn’s reluctant romance.
Politics play a big role in your book. Did you have to do any research pertaining to the politics in the '80's?
It wasn’t until I was half done writing the book that I realized that the story was also a partisan allegory. Seth is the Democratic Party in the late 80’s: reactive, angry, without a compass. Quinn’s father, Tom is the Republican Party: optimistic, smug, still grounded in a true small government philosophy and underestimating the rising Religious Right. Mr. Levine, the teacher, is the moderator who allows two strong points of view to talk it out respectfully. Quinn is all of us, trying to find her way when tidy theories crash into reality.
In my research I found that a lot went down in 1989: divestiture in apartheid South Africa, the Tiananmen Square protests, the Webster decision, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the savings and loan crisis, the growing AIDS epidemic, the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the premiere of Seinfeld.
Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
I'm toying with a memoir of my family's sabbatical year in London during the final year of the Bush administration. The working title is, Acting Canadian. I loved writing '89 Walls and read as much YA as I do adult fiction. I would love for another idea for a YA novel to drop in my lap.
In the meantime, I freelance for local non-profits, using my background in public policy and grassroots organizing to overthrow the patriarchy one introverted step at a time. When I’m not writing fiction, I return library books, make soup, and try to be cooler than I really am by hip-hopping at the YMCA. I live with my husband and two daughters in a suburb of Minneapolis. You can reach me through my website, www.katiepierson.net, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/89walls/, and on Twitter @katiedoodles58.
Thanks so much, Downright Dystopian! It’s been a pleasure to visit with you.
Links to buy '89 Walls:
Barnes & Noble