Alyssa Grossbard is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Pond Hopper, and at 19, being a published author is quite an impressive feat.
The story follows Charlotte Williston who just days away from graduating from high school, takes off on an impulsive trip across the pond as a way of stepping out of her tightly laced life that she never really felt was her own. Charlotte is the kind of girl who has always taken the safe route – doing well in school, trying to please her parents, not getting involved in relationships, which has made her life turn out cold and bland. This trip is Charlotte’s rebellion against that life as well as chance to remove herself from it to find herself and what she really wants along the way.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m 19 years old and I’m a 2nd-year undergraduate at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, studying for a degree in history. I live in Connecticut in the United States and grew up here and in New York. I traveled quite a bit as a child and obviously do so for my education now as well. While at school I am coxswain for my college boat club and write the “American Tongue” blog for Cherwell, Oxford’s student newspaper. I also enjoy skiing in winter.
Confessions of a Teenage Pond Hopper is your first novel, what was the publishing process like for you, especially considering how young you are?
For me, the publishing process was, in one word, mysterious. Because this was my first novel, I had no idea how anything worked, or who I was supposed to contact once I finished writing. I sent out queries to more than a few literary agents, and while receiving rejections, I was not completely discouraged. When I finally found a way to publish the book, I was ecstatic, and every step of the process I remained very involved. While I am very young, I tried to use my age to my advantage; I’m not that far removed from my target audience and so feel I have a good perspective on what might appeal to a teenage audience.
To what extent is the book based on your own life and experiences?
The plot and characters are completely fictitious. No specific character or any aspect of the plot is based on my own life or those of my friends and family. Where my own experiences come in are in the locations I chose for Charlotte’s travels. In order to be able to write creatively about a place, it’s necessary to have firsthand experience of it; so the cities she visits are cities which I have spent a fair amount of time in and therefore could write about. And within some of the cities, specific destinations like Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, or Harvey Nichols in London – those were chosen because of my familiarity with them as well. I suppose to summarize, the setting is very much based on my own experiences, but the plot itself and the characters are not.
What book was the man in the used bookshop in Edinburgh reading?
He’s reading Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 by Diarmid McCulloch. I’d thought of it as a history text he was reading, and when I came across this book later on during my first year at university, I realized it was the right book.
James is a completely sweet character (though even he had a lapse in judgement), do you think men like him exist?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure at this point in my life. I’ve had friends whose boyfriends have made some lovely gestures and who have been in long-term relationships where they seem just perfect for each other, but we’re all in our late teens (well, some have just turned 20 – eek!). So I wrote a character as I hoped he could be – although, I would hasten to add that he is also completely realistic. He’s not infallible, and he makes mistakes. There are too many books out there that have some sort of hyper-idealistic male character which can often make girls who are perhaps a bit younger than me blind to the realities of the opposite sex. I didn’t want James to give off that impression.
Do you have any travel tips?
When you’re going anywhere for the first time, do a bit of research before you head off, but don’t over-plan either. You’ll want to make sure you don’t kick yourself afterwards for missing anything, but equally, you want to leave room for spontaneity, for discovering a perfect little sidewalk café or peaceful park bench where you can sit and people-watch. And the latter is also essential – people-watching can be one of the best ways to really get the feel for a particular city. If you’re headed somewhere more rural, try to get to know the local centre and then ask residents what they think are places you can’t miss seeing.
What projects are you working on next?
As I’m currently an undergraduate student, right now I’m focused on coursework and eventually my thesis, coming up quickly! I do write the American Tongue blog for Cherwell, Oxford’s student newspaper. And I do scribble down ideas for short stories and novels that pop into my head and file them away. I’m considering writing either a sequel to Confessions of a Teenage Pond Hopper or another novel about being an American living in Britain, but those are both in the very early stages.
Any quirky writing rituals or habits? Where do you prefer to write? Cafe, at home…etc
I suppose everyone’s habits are different and so quirky in their own way. While writing Confessions of a Teenage Pond Hopper I worked at home and at the local library, not at Starbucks or anything like that. I prefer working at home simply because it allows me to get up and take breaks whenever I want, and my writing style requires that – if I suddenly come up with a wonderful idea, I’ll sit and type for four hours straight. But if I’m having a hard time contriving the next plot device, I’ll get up and do something else – sometimes I won’t return to writing that day. Once at university I started doing some work in cafes, and that does force you to work consistently, which is good – so it really depends on the day!
What’s currently in your to-read pile?
I’ve had a particular book sitting on my shelf for about three years now – To Serve Them All My Days, by R. F. Delderfield. It was recommended to me as I absolutely adore books like Goodbye, Mr. Chips, but I never got around to reading it due to schoolwork and writing my own novel, so hopefully I will do soon. On the nonfiction side, I’d like to get into Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, which is also quite hefty, so I’m thinking a vacation may be the only time I could get through that! And I’ve got some fun chick-lit for over winter break.
Thanks Alyssa! Confessions of a Teenage Pond Hopper is available online via Amazon