Interview: Elizabeth Fama, YA Author

BethFamaElizabeth Fama is the author of the young-adult novel, MONSTROUS BEAUTY (FSG, 2012), an Odyssey Award honoree, and a 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults title. She attended the University of Chicago, where she received a BA in Biology with honors, an MBA, and a PhD in Economics and Finance. In hindsight, she should have majored in Literature instead.

Elizabeth is married to John H. Cochrane, a talented economist whose books sell better than hers. They have four children, all artist-scholars, and boisterous family dinners with lots of vegetables and good-natured swearing. She jogs every day and plays tennis a few times a week. You run faster than she does, but she can beat you on the court.

Her next project is PLUS ONE, a young-adult alternate-history thriller, slated for publication by FSG in January of 2014

She also has a Sekrit Project: she’s researching a historical personage (she can’t reveal who) with the dream of writing a book that Hilary Mantel will blurb as “WOLF HALL set in Italy for teens.” Check out her website!

MonstrousBeauty-coverLet’s see how Elizabeth answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
A long jog with my kids, a cool swim in the lake, a hot shower, and a day writing on the patio in shorts, with endless cups of decaf tea loaded with honey and milk.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it? 
These “favorite” questions are impossible to answer, so I’m going to be like the Medici and put my bastard sons up for pope. My son, Gene Cochrane, is a composer/musician who calls his band Secabest Bestabed (that’s a ULYSSES reference). My daughter sings “Pirates of the Plains” with him, which somehow makes me cry when I hear it (click here). I first heard it as the tracks were being laid.

Which talent would you most like to have?
To stop eating when I’m full.

On what occasion do you lie?
When someone invites me out to lunch. “I’m so sorry! I’m under deadline.”

What is your present state of mind?
Preoccupied by the many things I want to do, feeling that I’m accomplishing them too slowly, and somehow still delighted with the process.

What is your motto?
You don’t know you’re having fun until it hurts. Mostly invoked regarding athletic and intellectual endeavors.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Thoughtful scarcity.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I think” and “sort of” and “might.” I’ve discovered that my online tone sounds scathing unless I pepper it with qualifiers and exclamation points. I haven’t used enough of either in this interview. 

Messing with Melatonin, Sally Fama Cohrane (2011)

Messing with Melatonin by Sally Fama Cohrane (2011)

Your favorite painting?
Messing with Melatonin by my daughter, Sally Cochrane. It has a direct scientific tie-in with the world of my forthcoming novel, PLUS ONE. It’s also a portrait of my younger daughter, Lydia.

What is your favorite journey?
From my bed to the kitchen. I get to do it every morning.

What is your favorite time of day?
Right before dawn, right before spring. The anticipation of both is even more magical than the real thing.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
I’d share coffee with Max, from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. And then his mother would send me to bed without supper.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I’d prefer not to die right this minute, but if happiness is the criterion for death, I could. I am an insanely lucky person.

Who or what is your first love?
I gave birth to my best friends. I couldn’t have done that without the help of my first best friend, John.

What’s the last dream you remember?
Is it possible that Proust doesn’t know how boring other people’s dreams are?! Yes, knowing him, it is.

What’s your madeleine?
I live in the same neighborhood I was born in. My children have all gone to the same school I went to. The interior stairs are the original 1903 slate-slab treads, worn to a dip in the center, skipping-rock smooth from millions of footsteps. They were worn even when I was little, and I used to imagine the girls in white dresses and leather shoes who came before me. I am transported back to lower school, and sometimes back to the turn of the 20th century, whenever I walk on them.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

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