TFFOS: Amanda Cockrell -- Interview & Giveaway

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I love the title of the AMANDA COCKRELL's debut YA novel: WHAT WE KEEP IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT WILL STAY. Honestly, it's a bit of a pain to repeatedly type, but after reading the summary, it really seems to fit the book perfectly. Read on for Amanda's just as long, just as awesome answers to my interview questions! :)

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1. WHAT WE KEEP IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT WILL STAY is a title that is as awesome as it is long. If you could rename it into three shorter yet descriptive titles, what would they be? 
I had a terrible time with the title. It was originally called The Untied Church of Dog, from a bumper sticker that Angie sees that says:

Dyslexics, remember that Dog loves you
A Message From the Untied Church of Dog

She’s been worrying a lot about whether God is actually paying any attention to all the awful stuff that keeps happening in the world, and she thinks, “Maybe God really is a dog, and he loves everybody but he can’t help them do things or get things or win the lottery, or wars. That probably isn’t an idea I should talk over with Father Weatherford.”

Well, all my writer friends loved the title but my agent and my editor both said it wouldn’t convey anything to teens, and besides that booksellers would type “United” into their computers instead of “Untied” and they wouldn’t be able to find the book. So that was the last nail in the coffin of that title!

We took What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay from a poem that comes toward the end of the novel. It was the only other title I liked. I don’t think I could possibly think of three more!

2. From just reading the summary, WHAT WE KEEP IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT WILL STAY sounds like a blend of wit and deep issues. How do you balance between the humor and the serious? 
I think that you need both, truly. Even very dark novels need some relief, some bit of even dark humor, to provide a place to breathe. And even very light novels need some deeper aspect, some hard stuff touched on, or they aren’t really about anything. I like books that balance both because that seems to be what life does when it’s running along as it ought to. We aren’t promised a life without sorrow, but there is always joy around the next corner too.

3. Your novel boasts a rich variety of characters, from a homeless veteran to family-troubled Angie to recently-back-from-Afghanistan Jesse. What’s it like developing a complex history for each of them? Is there a certain character you relate to most? 
If I think about them enough, the history unfolds itself. I think, “Ah! That’s why he’s the way he is. That’s what happened to him. No wonder.” That was certainly true of Felix. It took me longer to figure out Angie’s mother, Sylvia, but it was the same process. Angie has less history, but what she does have is important to her and has marked her in some ways. I relate to Angie most, since she is my heroine, and it’s her story. But Felix and Sylvia are probably the most real to me besides Angie. There are large chunks of me in Sylvia, and large chunks of men I love in Felix.

4. What song(s) runs through your head when you think WHAT WE KEEP IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT WILL STAY? 
Unfortunately, the Ipana toothpaste song, since I put it in that poem. Now it won’t go away.

5. In your author biography, you mention that you’ve written radio commercials, ads for panty girdles, and obituaries among many other things. How did you branch out so much? And what would be the most interesting/unique/etc. thing you’ve written? 
It has to do with making a living. The only thing I do very well is write, so all my jobs have involved that in one way or another. I’ve been a newspaper reporter, a copywriter for an ad agency and a radio station, and a freelance writer of whatever anyone would hire me to write. I wrote commercials for Custer’s Last Sandwich Stand when I worked at KYNO. They featured Custer’s Famous Singing Pickles, which were the afternoon drive disk jockey singing four-part harmony with himself, speeded up. We mostly adapted classics for the Pickles. At Christmas we did “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”:

Hark the Herald Pickles Sing
Welcome in the Sandwich King
Mayonnaise and mustard mild,
Two for man and one for child

6. Fill in the blank: if you could go back and stick with writing something other than novels, you would be a writer of ___________________. 
I can’t think of anything I would like to have paid more attention to poetry.

it's bottle rocket stealing biscuits!

7. You mention that you live with a “substantial amount” of dogs and cats. Since I’m a pet-lover, I have to ask if you could give us some details. Pictures appreciated. ;) 
We have three cats and two pugs at the moment, which is kind of on the low end of the population scale for me. My mother founded the Humane Society in the town I grew up in and when I was a child we always had some foster critter as well as our own. Once there was a duck with a broken leg living in the bathtub. Later when I was married and Mama was living with us, we had four dogs and six cats, which was the city limit. Right now I am angling to get chickens, just a couple of backyard hens. I keep sending my husband links to prefab chicken coops with coy little subject headings like “Christmas?”

8. If you could win any five awards (writing or otherwise) in the world, what would they be ranked in order of number 1 to 5? 
The first four are not remotely likely...
1. A MacArthur Fellowship
2. The Prinz Award for YA Literature
3. The National Book Award
4. The Pulitzer Prize
5. An NEA Fiction Fellowship (I did get one of those once)

You’ll note that these are all for writing...

9. Lastly, Angie confesses to a statue of St. Felix. If you were to confess to an inanimate object, what would it be? 
Probably one of the little santos and shrines I make to imaginary deities. I’ll send a couple of pictures of those too.

Thanks, Amanda! And Amanda actually sent me a LOT of adorable pictures, but I only included two out of image overload. ):



Fifteen-year-old Angie never used to think much about God—until things started getting weird. Like the statue of St. Felix, her secret confidante, suddenly coming off his pedestal and talking to her. And Angie's mother, who's busting up her third marriage for no apparent reason. Then there's Jesse Francis, sent home from Afghanistan at age nineteen with his leg blown off. Now he's expected to finish high school and fit right back in. Is God even paying attention to any of this?

Against the advice of an increasingly vocal St. Felix (who knows a thing or two about war), Angie falls for Jesse—who's a lot deeper than most high school guys. But Jesse is battling some major demons. As his rages start to become more frequent and unpredictable, Angie finds herself losing control of the situation. And she's starting to wonder: can one person ever make things right for someone else?



Thanks to Marissa at Flux Books, I have one finished copy of WHAT WE KEEP IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT WILL STAY to giveaway! For an extra entry, tell me what inanimate object would you confess your life story to?

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