February 08, 2017

Icebreaker: Chelsea Sedoti

Sponsored by Sourcebooks Fire
Interview by

Chelsea Sedoti, author of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, talks with Deputy Editor Cat Acree.

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BookPage IcebreakerBookPage Icebreaker is a publisher-sponsored interview.


High school senior Hawthorne Creely is stubborn, kind of angry and often rude—but also endlessly imaginative and wholly original. But when a girl disappears in Hawthorne’s small town, she begins to obsess: Why would the beautiful Lizzie Lovett vanish? Did she choose to leave it all behind? Did she become a werewolf? Is she happy somewhere?

Chelsea Sedoti’s debut, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, is far from a traditional mystery, as Hawthorne’s coming of age soon eclipses the story of who Lizzie was or wasn’t. In her search for answers, Hawthorne becomes entangled with Enzo, Lizzie’s older boyfriend, risks ruining her friendship with her best friend and starts to open her eyes to the people in her life: the hippies (friends of her mom’s) who are camping in her backyard, including wise Sun Dog; her cool older brother; her cool older brother’s confusing friend; even the old man who spends every day at the diner where Hawthorne works (Lizzie’s old employment, naturally).

Cat: Hawthorne is such a wonderfully frustrating character, but I truly enjoyed her whole experience. But before we even talk about Hawthorne, who I’m very much looking forward to talking about, I do have to ask: Did you always intend to have a title that is a bit of a fake-out? It’s not really about Lizzie, and she never really lies to us, so much as she is a focus of so many fantasies, stories told by the town and the people who think they knew her.

Chelsea: Two things on that. First of all, with having Lizzie’s name in the title, this is actually something that I love, because Hawthorne has become so real to me since I started this book. I just imagine her sitting there, looking at this book cover, thinking, “This book is about me, and I don’t even get my own name on the cover.”

That is amazing.

Everything is always about Lizzie to her. And I feel like she would be so infuriated, and I sort of love that about it. I love that it reflects Hawthorne’s obsessive mind state with Lizzie.

There aren’t a series of lies that Lizzie told, per se, throughout the book, but in a way, everything about her is a lie. Not just lying to other people, but lying to herself about who she is. Lizzie is basically a facade, which Hawthorne comes to find throughout the course of the book. It’s so much about perspective, and so many of the people that we meet, we never really see through them, except for the people that we’re closest to, and even then, who knows. In a way, Lizzie’s whole life is a lie, not necessarily because she was maliciously lying, but because she kept so much of herself secret, and I think that that’s really Hawthorne’s biggest discovery through the book.

Hawthorne’s aversion to high school runs deep, and she’s targeted, but I never felt like she was a victim. She fires back for everything that’s thrown at her, and she’s hyper-aware of every attempt by every other person to fit in. But she doesn’t get Lizzie, and she doesn’t get herself. It’s like a specific blindness to herself and this person that she’s trying to understand.

Yes, absolutely. And I think that Hawthorne likes to think of herself as a victim in so many ways. You know, she’s not as beautiful as someone like Lizzie, she’s not as popular—even her relationship with her brother, she’s thinking, “Oh, he doesn’t like me because I’m different, and he’s one of the cool kids.” Or with Michelle, who Hawthorne considers a bully, but really, when you look at it, Hawthorne is not being very nice to Michelle either. Hawthorne likes to think of herself as the one that’s sort of being persecuted, and “I’m an outsider and I’m a misfit,” but then in her interactions with other people, she’s sometimes not the nicest or the most open-minded.

She’s terrifying, sometimes, yeah.

Yeah! [laughs]

I’ll admit Hawthorne reminded me a bit of myself in high school, and my reviewer related very strongly with her, too. But the thing that maybe most fascinated me about Hawthorne is how far she could take this desire that she’s playing with, stepping into Lizzie’s life, trying to be part of something that matters. She doesn’t go so far as to steal an identity, but she starts to edge past the point of where we’re comfortable for her. Do you think she goes too far?

Oh, absolutely. And that was one of the most fun parts about writing it. One of the things that I love about writing is that I can make these characters do things that I would never do in real life, because at a certain point, most people stop themselves and say, “I need to step back, this has gone too far, this situation is getting inappropriate,” and with Hawthorne, she really doesn’t have that same kind of filter. She just barreled in full force.

At the book’s opening, it seems like she’s given up on people. Do you think she has? I mean, she starts to give people a chance throughout the book here and there. But why do you think she has given up at the beginning? And do you think it was by stepping into Lizzie’s life that she started to open up?

I think that high school is a very difficult time for a lot of people, and you just don’t have that perspective yet to figure out how the world really works, and what it’s going to be like once you get out of this very close-knit environment. Especially with Hawthorne, because she lives in a small town and she’s known these people most of her life, I do feel like she’s probably given up and she’s already made assumptions about people. She’s very stubborn and isn’t really willing to look past those assumptions.

Over the course of the book—which is fully by accident; she certainly didn’t set out to have any kind of revelation—she ends up learning more about people and looking at them in different lights. She understands by the end that the world that she sees around her isn’t necessarily the real world. I think that when she gets out of high school and goes off to college, and when she starts experiencing new things and meeting new people, I’m pretty sure she’s going to go into it with a much more open mind.

Did you go to a high school like this or grow up in a town like this?

I didn’t. My family is originally from Ohio. I based the town that Hawthorne lives in off of the town that my family is from. I go back there and visit all the time, so I’ve seen what life is like there, but I’ve been in Las Vegas since I was 4. So I’m used to being in a city where you’re not going to run into the same people all the time.

You didn’t encounter the same kind of stifling stagnation of living in a tiny little Midwestern town.

Right. I did go to a small elementary and middle school, though, so it was the same 30 kids from kindergarten to eighth grade, and so I did have that sense of these people—I mean, you can’t date or anything, you can’t switch friend groups because these are people that you’ve known since you were 5. It would be too weird, but luckily, by the time I got to high school, I went to a much larger school where there was a lot more diversity, and people were able to find themselves a little bit more and not be stuck in these roles that were decided when they were kids.

How did this story get started for you?

Well, I had a Hawthorne moment of my own. There was an article in the paper about a girl in my area who had gone missing. And for some reason, I just latched onto the story, I have no idea why, because I didn’t know the girl, and it seemed like she’d run away. There wasn’t anything especially weird or mysterious about her disappearance, but I was just really fascinated by it, and started checking for updates all the time and going online and seeing what people were saying on message boards about this disappearance. At one point I had that filter that Hawthorne doesn’t have, and stepped back and said, “OK, why are you so into this? You need to let this go, you’re just getting obsessive about this random stranger.” So I made myself stop being weird about the missing girl, but the story stuck in my head, and I started thinking, “Well, what if there was a character who was in a situation like this, but couldn’t pull herself back? And who just let her obsession grow and grow and she just fed the obsession until it just got incredibly inappropriate?” That’s how Hawthorne was born.

Yeah, I love that. You introduce the concept of the dual nature in all of us through a tattoo on Enzo’s arm, of the Anima/Animus. The book seems to be exploring this push and pull between inventions and reality—Hawthorne’s, Lizzie’s, even the whole town’s.

One of the important things that Hawthorne realizes is that nobody is ever just one thing. Lizzie isn’t just the popular cheerleader, Hawthorne isn’t just the outcast misfit, and people are complex and that’s what makes people so fascinating. Everyone has more than one side of their personality, and every story has more than one side.

Which ties in perfectly with Hawthorne’s theory that perhaps Lizzie is a werewolf. She uses the shapeshifter myth to try and figure out what’s going on with Lizzie and with herself. I also felt like there was real-life shapeshifter in her life: Sun Dog. Talk to me a little bit about Sun Dog, because he’s really blunt about how he left his former life behind.

Sun Dog is one of my favorite characters, and I loved writing him so much. I might have actually stolen some of his lines from some hippie people I have met in real life, because he says some things that are very ridiculous but I have actually heard, which I love. I think what I like about Sun Dog is that, for a good portion of the book, Hawthorne does assume that Lizzie just left and started a new life, and that she’s somewhere being perfect and happy and having this ideal existence. Sun Dog is actually the one who has done that. Not many people can actually do that, wake up one day and say, “I’m unhappy with my life and I don’t like where this is going, and I’m going to start over.” I don’t know if Sun Dog’s choice to do that and to live for himself was noble or if it’s terrible.

Exactly.

He falls into a moral grey area, and I liked being able to give an unexpected character that role, because Sun Dog becomes, in a very strange way, a mentor to Hawthorne. He’s so about acceptance and inner peace, and just walking away from his family is actually horrible and goes against what you would think from his personality.

Was it particularly difficult to write the scene when Enzo gives Hawthorne the painting, and at first she’s so flattered, and then she has that heartbreaking moment where she looks at it again, and suddenly hates how he thinks she views the world. She looks at it and sees it as naive and childish, and suddenly she hates something that she originally was so flattered by. It seemed like it would be particularly heartbreaking to write that scene.

As a whole, writing Hawthorne and Enzo’s relationship was difficult—not just that scene, but the entire thing, because it’s inappropriate for multiple reasons. He’s grieving, he’s not the greatest guy anyway, he’s way too old for Hawthorne. Their friendship and what it turns into was wildly inappropriate from the start, and I don’t particularly love Enzo. He’s kind of a jerk, but at the same time, I had to be in Hawthorne’s head and understand why she would be intrigued by him, and why she would cling to him, and why she would try to push this relationship between them farther. It was very difficult t sort of balance that out, or as I was writing, remember that I needed to see Enzo at all times through the Hawthorne filter.

There are so many things that, as the reader, we can look at Hawthorne’s life and see that they’re wrong (like Enzo), but there are opportunities that she’s oblivious to at first, and they certainly gave me hope for her as I was reading her story. What gave you hope for her as you were writing her story?

Enzo has made lots of bad choices in life probably, and he doesn’t have a lot going for him, and I don’t necessarily know that he cares that he doesn’t have much going for him. I see him 10 years after the story ends being in the same place that he’s in now. Whereas with Hawthorne, she never struck me as that way. I think that there are people who let themselves get stuck, or there are people who become so set in their ways that they won’t allow themselves to change, and with Hawthorne I never felt like she had already developed her forever personalty.

I think that so much of her mindset as the story takes place has to do with her environment, and I think that she always had the capacity to change. She’s very young, and she’s very immature for her age. Her flaws, to me, were things that were largely to do with her youth and her immaturity, and I always knew that once she lives a little more, and had more experiences and started to grow up, that there will be a shift, and that this would be a moment in her life, you know. Hawthorne is always going to be weird, and she’ll be a 40-year-old, and she’ll be strange and she’ll have an overactive imagination. I think that there’s a part of her that’s never ever going to grow up, but I also think that a lot of that selfishness and how self-absorbed she is, how she lets her imagination negatively impact the people around her—I think that’s something that is definitely going to drop off the older she gets, and already has started to for sure.

I certainly hope that we’ll have more novels from you that will feature characters as complex and strange and individual as Hawthorne, because she was a real delight to get to know.

Thank you.

Get the Book

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

By Chelsea Sedoti
Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN 9781492636083

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