Interview: Katie Cotugno On YA Storylines, Her Latest Book, & Getting Her Novel Optioned by MTV

Millennial Writer Series Katie Cotugno

Welcome back to the Millennial Writer Series, in which I interview writers and discuss the writer’s work, their creative process, and what it is to be a Millennial in publishing. Want to know more? Check out all the interviews.

Katie Cotugno never expected to hit the big time with her contemporary novels, but she did just that when her first two novels How To Love and 99 Days made her a New York Times Bestselling Author. Yet she wasn’t new to writing; a Pushcart Prize nominee and short story writer, Katie spent years developing her style. Now she’s known for her complicated love stories. Her third novel Fireworks releases in April, and bloggers and booklovers are already buzzing.

Read on for my interview with Katie, plus her advice to other writers.

Your latest novel Fireworks releases in April 2017. What can you tell us about this new project?

FIREWORKS is the story of two best friends on the verge of greatness, set against the backdrop of the girl and boy band craze in 1997 Orlando. I always say that my personal brand is messy, complicated love stories—and the messiest, most complicated love story in this book is a friendship. However, never fear: there is also a ton of kissing in it.

The cover design for Fireworks looks like the art direction for 99 Days. How do the covers reflect the similarities and differences in the storylines?

I was so, so happy when I found out that the covers were going to be sort of in conversation with each other (and, spoiler alert, so are the endpapers!). I feel like the FIREWORKS cover is the 99 DAYS’s cover slightly moodier, sexier older sister, which is very much in keeping with the themes of the books.

MTV recently bought 99 Days to put it into development as a 30-minute comedy. How did this come about? Do you get to play a part in developing the show?

I wish! I know virtually nothing about television production, although that’s something I’d like to change in the future. For now I just scroll through tumblr and reblog pictures of attractive people I’d like to cast.

You’ve spoken before about the ways in which YA is trending towards more mature storylines and narrators. How do you see this continuing in the next few years of YA?

I don’t know that I see YA trending toward more mature storylines so much as I see YA trending toward a place where there are more stories that reflect the experiences of a wider variety of readers at all different places in their lives. One of the things I love most about YA is the elasticity of it—I think this is a really exciting time.

On your website, you write a regular blog called “5 Good Things.” What inspired you to write about personal tidbits of your life beyond writing?

5 Good Things dates back to college for me, actually—my girlfriends and I would make quick lists of happy things when we were feeling anxious or stressed. The world—and the internet—can be a tough place to live; I really like the idea of taking a second to focus on the things that are working before setting about the task of trying to fix everything that’s broken.

You wrote short stories before you published your novels. How did writing shorter works give you the writerly tools you needed to create your novels?

Short stories and novels are such completely different animals to me; I kind of feel like they use completely different skill sets. But I do think that so many years working on short stories has made me an economical writer. The first drafts of my novels are always very short—I’m much more of an adder-inner than a taker-outer.

Katie Cotugno

Katie Cotugno

99 Days and How To Love made you a New York Times Bestselling author. How did it feel to see your books reach that level of success?

It feels bananas, honestly, and still not quite real. Mostly I’m just completely beside myself with delight that so many people have read—and hopefully enjoyed—something I made up in my weird, kissing-obsessed brain.

You received your MFA in Fiction from Lesley University. How did this prepare you for writing the short stories and novels that have become such successes? Do you believe that life experience played an equal part in your work?

I think the best thing my MFA—and my BFA before that (I went to Emerson College)—did was teach me how to be vulnerable in my writing without falling apart in the face of feedback. I have very, very thick skin, and it comes from years of sitting in workshop listening to people say stuff to my face.

What do you think makes a Millennial writer powerful? Do you see significant differences between older and younger Millennials? What do you see as a unique concern of Millennial writers?

Nothing makes me crankier than people bagging on Millennials. I love being a Millennial. I think we’re smart and creative and resourceful and not at all married to doing something in a particular way just because that’s how it’s always been done. I feel like Millennial writers, especially Millennial writers in YA, are really committed to getting publishing to a place where a wider variety of stories are available to a wider variety of readers.

Which writers inspire you?

So many! In particular I love Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Chabon, Aaron Sorkin, Tana French. In YA, I think Brandy Colbert and Nina LaCour are both incredible. I would read Roxane Gay’s grocery list.

What advice do you have for other Millennial writers and creatives trying to get their work published?

Remember that most things people say about Millennials is garbage. Keep going. Keep learning. Keep writing. You got this.

Thanks, Katie!

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