Thursday, May 17, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Elissa Janine Hoole, Author of KISS THE MORNING STAR

When Anna sets out on a post-high school road trip towards an unknown destination with best friend Kat, she thinks she's prepared for everything. Clipboard in hand, she checks off her lists: Set up tent. Study maps. Avoid bears. Feelings are not on any list.
For the past year - ever since her mother's sudden death - Anna has shut down her emotions and shut out the people who love her most.Kat is a different story. Clutching a well-worm copy of Jack Kerouac's novel about Beat generation pilgrims, The Dharma Bums, she radiates enthusiasm. Maybe, she thinks, this road trip will shake Anna back to life.

The girls zigzag across the Northwest encountering fellow travelers of all kinds - cute hippie boys, spiritual gurus, a tattoo artist, and some sticky-fingered local girls. But throughout their journey one question haunts Anna. It begins like a gentle rain and then becomes a raging storm: What place does Kat have in my life? Are we good friends?

Or something more.

Kiss the Morning Star introduces two unforgettable pilgrims on an off-Beat road trip, a high-spirited, affecting exploration of art, faith, loss and love - both carnal and divine.
Today, we are delighted to chat with Elissa Janine Hoole about her debut YA contemporary, KISS THE MORNING STAR.

KtMS is your debut novel. How do you plan to celebrate? 
I’ve been lucky to have a terrific and supportive (and flexible, given the date change of the release!) independent bookstore here in Duluth (thank you, Sally at The Bookstore at Fitgers!) who is hosting a signing and fundraiser event on May 19.  They’re donating 15% of sales to a local organization for LGBTQ teens called Together for Youth.  My mom is baking cake (she is amazing!), and we’re doing some fun activities like a Kerouac-style haiku contest and having guests highlight the paths of their own U.S. road trips on one map.  I’m looking forward to it!

Your bio tells us that you're a middle school English teacher. Have your students been involved in your writing journey? If so, in what ways?
Yes! My students have been so involved, and supportive, even though the books I write are intended for an older audience.  I have students who were in the room with me when I opened my first email from an agent offering representation, students who stopped by my classroom to ask how a phone call with my editor went, even some former students who have read manuscripts and given extremely helpful and insightful critiques.  The students who were with me when Kiss the Morning Star sold are now old enough to read it, which is really cool, and one of my former students is working with me to create some artwork for the book (and possibly for her art school portfolio!)  In terms of my current students, I often bring in the massively marked-up piles of manuscript pages to talk to them about revision, about how we all can improve, and when I did NaNoWriMo with my sixth graders, we had a “First Pages” critique session afterward, where they took on the roles of various publishing industry professionals to talk about the works we read.  I think it’s great that I can show them writing as a thing that real people do, that being a writer can be an achievable goal, and also that it takes a lot of persistence and work.

In KtMS, your main character Anna is coping with her mother's death. What inspired you to explore grief and the loss of a parent in this particular story?
I’m not sure if I had any particular inspiration, but when Anna’s character started making her way onto the page, I guess I just knew that she and her father were dealing with this grief.  My process always begins with a character, with a voice, and then the details of the story come out of that.  In this case, Anna’s interactions with Kat and her father showed me how much she was missing her mother, how much she needed to be able to open up to her feelings again in order to find her way forward into the future. 

Tell us about the title of the book and its origin.
The book’s title is a line from a Kerouac poem, “Madroad Driving,” from Visions of Cody.  The version of this poem performed by Johnny Depp on the Kicks, Joy, Darkness tribute CD has always been one of my favorites—in fact, my husband and I listened to it many times on our own cross-country road trip, and I listened to it on repeat while writing the book.  The line makes its way into the book, which, at that time, was called The Dharma Bum Business.  From the moment my amazing agent suggested the line as a title, I fell in love with Kiss the Morning Star.

Did you road trip after your own high school graduation? If so, where did you go and who went along for the ride?
Not exactly after my high school graduation, but at what, for me, was a similar turning point in life.  From high school, I went directly to college and from there to teaching, until at age twenty-two I realized that I had been in school non-stop since kindergarten, following my goals with a single-minded purpose.  Suddenly, I wanted a future that was a little more open-ended, so I packed up the belongings I couldn’t live without (including most of my beatnik books) and a bunch of camping gear and set off in my 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis with my best friend, David.  We didn’t have a destination or a post-road trip plan, and there were many moments where we simply  let the road choose for us where to go and when to stop.  It was exhilarating, and the experience led to so many wonderful events in my life.

You talk about suffering from wanderlust. Tell us about some of the most memorable places you've been? What was the craziest thing to ever happen to you while wandering?
One crazy thing that happened to us on our summer road trip tried to make its way into my book, but as fiction, it was just too unbelievable.  We slept for the night at a free campground somewhere in southern Oregon that was essentially a field, and in the morning when we woke up, we found all these little bugs hopping all over everything we owned.  We were so upset—it seemed low and dirty and awful to be infested with bugs!  We were terse and silent as we packed up all our stuff, and both of us clearly remember seeing the bugs hopping around in the trunk of the car, even in the backseat.  After that we chose the wrong line on the map to follow—it turned out to be this tiny logging road that wound up and up and then steeply down again with no way to turn around because there was no room without driving off the side of the huge mountain.  There were frightening signs about encountering logging trucks, and I was terrified that we were going to have to back down the whole way.  So there we were, bug-infested and doomed to plummet off the side of a mountain.  Finally, we reached a normal road and stopped for coffee, but we couldn’t even speak to each other.  We bought a flea-bomb from a hardware store, which made us despair because certainly the chemicals would ruin all of our gear and we would be reduced to sleeping in the car full time.  We pulled into our next camping spot and put up clotheslines to hang our blankets, but when we pulled them all out of the trunk, we couldn’t find a single bug.  Not a carcass of a dead one.  No evidence of them anywhere.  It was the weirdest thing, completely inexplicable, and even today I get confused and flustered thinking about it.

What's next for you, Elissa?  Where can fans find you on the road (ie: tour schedules)?
I’ll be here in Duluth, mainly, though I’m always looking for a reason to take another road trip.  I’m doing a signing at our local independent bookstore at the historic Fitger’s Brewery complex, and who knows where we might end up this summer?  Last year we visited the Badlands and specifically the Sage Creek campground, a site for one of the scenes in Kiss the Morning Star, and it was very exciting to see it again and imagine where Anna and Kat might have been.  But most of the time, I can be found here in front of my computer, tap-tap-tapping away at the little keys, weaving stories.  They can also find me virtually on twitter or facebook or my sadly neglected blog! :)

Lastly, the Lucky 13s are very curious about superstitions. Do you have any superstitions that play a role in your writing process?
I feel kind of disappointing when I say that I’m not a very superstitious person.  I don’t have any special rituals or omens or anything like that, although I’m generally interested in events that demonstrate some kind of synchronicity in the universe, so I guess I’ll say that I keep my eyes open for coincidences and find that they almost always lead to interesting opportunities or connections with people.

From The Greenhouse Literary Agency: 
Elissa Hoole’s love of Kerouac began in college, having grown out of her passion for Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. But it was her road trip out West that inspired this debut novel, when she and her husband set off across the country with a backpack full of Kerouac books. Now settled in northern Minnesota, she teaches middle school English and writes.

She still suffers from acute wanderlust from time to time, but road trips now involve a mini-van and a chorus of “Are we there yet?” from two small dharma bums-in-training. KISS THE MORNING STAR placed in the top 5 in the St Martin’s Press New Adult competition in 2009/2010.

KISS THE MORNING STAR is now available:


  1. Fabulous interview, Elle and Elissa! That bug thing really is freaky, but it sounds like it was a fun trip!

  2. When I was reading through the plot summary, I did not expect the "something more" angle. That definitely piques my interest! I'm going to have to check this one out.

  3. Congratulations, Elissa! The premise of KISS THE MORNING STAR sounds intriguing. Can't wait to check this one out.