Tomorrow marks the release of Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys), by Amy Spalding. A highly anticipated Publishers Lunch 2015 Buzz Book and Hollywood Reporter top pick for spring, Kissing is about high schoolers Riley and Reid, who feel shocked and left out when they discover their fellow bandmates, Nathan and Lucy, have been secretly dating. After vowing to pursue their own crushes, Riley and Reid record their painfully funny, awkward, and, yes, romantic experiences (as well as dubious advice to each other) in a shared journal. I adored this hilarious, realistically dreamy book, and spoke with Amy Spalding about the inspiration for the story, and some of her favorite swoony reads.
Riley and Reid keep a journal detailing their romantic hopes and mishaps. Did you ever keep a diary or other notes about your crushes, in high school or beyond? Did anyone from your life, or your friends’ lives, inspire any of the characters?
I was incredibly paranoid about writing about crushes when I was younger, because my younger brother constantly bragged about reading my diary. I literally have no idea if he actually DID, but just his threats were enough to silence me, so I usually just wrote about clothes and music. I remember once a teacher announced we were getting a new student, and I wrote, “I hope he’s cute” in my diary, and then I got so nervous someone would see it that I scratched it out for like ten minutes. I was a super nerd in grade school and junior high, so I think I always had the fear I’d get laughed at for having a crush. I guess I still worry that sometimes! Oh, no, this is turning into a therapy session.
As far as anyone from my life inspiring the characters, absolutely. A good friend and I occasionally emailed back and forth about people we were interested in or were trying to sort out via their interactions if they had interest in us. I often thought, “If we were sixteen, this would be okay, but we’re in our mid-thirties!” That inspired the book. My friend’s emails were always so perfect and interesting that I had to use him as the inspiration for Reid. The great thing about being a writer is that I could use my friend’s neuroses and leave my own out selectively!
I was also inspired by my own real-life crushes to create the character of Ted Callahan, because I think in many romantic comedies and other romances the male lead is so dashing and together, yet I’m often crushing on awkward guys who are quietly smart and interesting, and it was important to me to create the sort of guy that 16-year-old Amy would have crushed on.
The book takes place in specific neighborhoods in East L.A., and uses real places (restaurants, vinyl stores like Amoeba) throughout the novel. Did you ever feel as though the story was partially a love letter to the city, as well as an acknowledgment of the amount of aspiring and successful musicians in the area?
I approach all my books as love letters to their settings, because I want my characters to really inhabit their worlds. I actually didn’t purposefully set the characters on L.A.’s Eastside because of the music scene there (though maybe I should start saying I did because it makes a lot of sense!), but having them there really made so much sense because so much of the indie music world is over here. The Echo, Vacation Vinyl, Pehrspace, the Smell, Bootleg, Origami Vinyl, on and on. It would be the perfect place to live as a young musician, to have so much opportunity and creativity around you. I see kids around this age at shows all the time—not just in the audience, but onstage, too. It’s really inspiring for me, and I can’t imagine how that would feel if I were also 16. (But I’ll take a stab: unbelievably awesome.)
Riley meets and makes cute with a variety of guys, all while harboring a crush on Ted Callahan. Was it difficult to determine which of her possible suitors would win her over? Without spoilers, did your opinion on who she would “end up with” (in the high school sense) change as you wrote the book?
Yes, for sure. I went back and forth on the guys, because one of my big goals with writing all of them was I didn’t want there to be a bad or wrong choice for Riley. In a lot of rom-com films I’ve seen, the choice early on seems to be set up to be between a great guy and a terrible guy, and to me not only does it kill any suspense, but it makes me wonder about our heroine if that’s her taste in dudes. I love rom-coms and other romances where there are great choices to be made, not only because it’s really fun to explore what good things you’re looking for in a relationship or fling or whatever else, but because it can make the getting there a little more exciting. When I started writing the book, I knew I wanted to write about kissing lots of different guys, so of course I wanted them all to be awesome.
Do you have a favorite local band, and did you discover anyone new while you were writing/researching the book?
The thing about living in L.A. is that many of my favorite bands are local! To name a few: La Sera, Upset, and Girlpool. I also listened to a ton of Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls, Crocodiles, Black Lips, post–Jenny/Blake-breakup Rilo Kiley, Bleached, Smith Westerns, Wild Flag.
Can you share a few of your favorite fun YA “kissing” books?
One of my favorite swoony YA reads is Leila Howland’s Nantucket Blue, which covers a lot of other important stuff, like friendship and family, but is also high on the swoonmeter. I love all of Stephanie Perkins’ books, but, man, Isla and the Happily Ever After was a good, good read for kissing, etc. And the first YA series I fell in love with was The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot, so I will always adore Mia and Michael.
Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) hits shelves tomorrow, and is available for pre-order now.