What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: The band Franz Ferdinand have a song called “Lindsey Wells,” which came out in 2006. Is there any connection to Lindsey Wells and Franz Ferdinand’s grave in Katherines?

No it’s just a completely crazy coincidence. (She was called that long before the song existed.)

Q: Have you ever read David Malouf’s novel Ransom? Despite the stories being different, Katherines also has hints of Malouf’s ideas about the role of storytelling and narratives.

Those are indeed VERY different books (for one thing, Ransom is better), but yes, I’ve read it. It’s great, and yes, as you say, both novels are concerned with how and why we tell stories.

Q: Is there a connection between when Hassan sees “God hates fags” carved into the picnic table and when Holden Caulfield sees “Fuck you” written on the wall of Phoebe’s school?

No, but again, these things don’t have to be purposeful to be useful/interesting/meaningful. This is a nice example of books belonging to their readers.

I like that connection—one associates picnic tables with families eating together, a similar kind of innocence to the associations one has with a young kid’s school. And they’re both jarring moments of innocence jutting up against viciousness and cruelty, although I have to say that Salinger draws the scene more clearly and cleverly.

Q: Is there significance to Colin finishing the book “Seymour: An Introduction” by J.D. Salinger?

Well, anybody who writes about intelligence in teenagers does so in the shadow of the extraordinary children of Salinger’s Glass family. And I wanted to acknowledge that.

Obviously, Salinger is a much better writer than I am, but I do think very differently about prodigious intelligence than Salinger did, and I hoped that Katherines would offer a different perspective on prodigies. (That said, “Seymour: An Introduction” remains one of my favorite stories.)

Q: Towards the end of the book, Colin thinks about how he wants “to be as special as everyone had always told him he was...” Did you ever have a similar experience?

I think most people have had that experience, whether it’s about academic performance or baseball or writing or cheerleading or whatever.

I think in some ways that’s what adolescence is—the emerging knowledge that you are not alone, both in exciting and in disappointing ways.

At some point in adolescence, you realize that you are not the center of the universe, which is a bummer of a thing to discover. But it’s only through this discovery that you can build the kind of deep and lasting and sustaining relationships with peers that are so central to adulthood.

That’s what I wanted to write about.

Q: Why did you choose to write the parts in the cave as solely dialogue with no description?

I’ve read a lot of stories that used similar constructions to get across an idea of physical remove or sensory deprivation (see Kiss of the Spider Woman, for instance), and I think it’s a nice way of capturing that feeling.

To be honest, I wrote those scenes in a cave with absolutely no light because I knew it would be truly impossible to film in a Hollywood kind of way.

I liked the idea that even in this world supersaturated with images, where readers have a huge catalog of images* in their memories, there could still be things that cannot be properly pictured except via written description.

* Like, I realize this is on some level obvious, but until about 150 years ago, if you said “The Great Pyramids in Egypt,” the image of the Great Pyramids in Egypt did not pop into most people’s minds, because most people had never seen an image of any such pyramid. So writing had a completely different set of responsibilities from the responsibilities it has now, which is one of the reasons that when we read books from before, say, 1850, we often proclaim them boring.

Q: Are you aware that the quotation, “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” has been quoted more than ten thousand times on twitter?

Yes, I am aware. For the record, I think there are many meanings to a life that is not lived in pursuit of the remarkable. Life is a series of very small gestures and that if you ignore those little gestures in pursuit of some ill-thought-out vision of greatness, you stand a fair chance of ending up really unhappy and also historically unhelpful regardless of whether you meet your constructed definition of remarkability. But, I mean, Colin does say that in the novel. I do wish twitter would attribute the quote to him and not to me, though. :)

Q: Why did you choose the name “Colin”?

He’s constantly callin’ his ex-girlfriend. That’s about it.

(The word singleton means a person who is not a conjoined twin. So you and I and almost very human alive on the planet are singletons. And obviously the idea that Colin cannot be as physically/emotionally connected to other people as he wants is important to the book.)

Q: Why did you decide to call Chase, Fulton, and Colin by JATT, SOCT, and TOC? Was it to emphasize how Colin and Hassan see them as different?

Maybe. I never thought of it in precisely that way, but that makes a lot of sense. One usually doesn’t associate acronyms and initialisms with other humans, so it is a way of expressing the distance Hassan and Colin feel from those guys.

But yeah, that’s basically what I was trying to do, although I don’t know that I would’ve characterized it that way before you explained it to me.

Q: Is there a reason that the majority of the main characters in your books don’t have siblings?

I think of it as a very subtle way of being able to torture my brother.

Q: Why did you name Lindsey’s boyfriend Colin too?

Well, there’s a lot of name play in this book (and also in Will Grayson, Will Grayson). In Katherines, some of it is about repetition and mirroring, I guess: Colin sees the women in his life so narrowly that they just become this single monolithic thing, the katherines.

In Lindsey’s case, though, Colin and TOC are opposites in many ways. They’re physically opposite; they have very different worldviews; they represent a different set of opportunities (Colin, the big city; TOC, staying home forever); and they also like different Lindseys. In a way, she has a boy for each of the ways she thinks of herself, and she has to decide which Lindsey is really Lindsey in order to decide which boy she really wants to be with.

Q: Why the name “Katherine”?

It has nothing to do with Hank’s wife (who was not his wife at the time).

I chose the name Katherine for an extremely fancy and metaphorically complex reason: It is good for anagramming. It contains the right mix of consonants and vowels. Also, helpfully, it contains both the word “heart” and the word “tears.”

Q: Why did you choose tampon strings for the business that Lindsey’s mother runs?

Yeah, good question.

1. This is going to sound crazy, but I spent a lot of time trying to think of something that Colin would think of as behaving like light, and after all that time thinking about it, I could never think of anything other than millions of tampon strings blowing in the wind.

2. There are—or were in 2006, anyway—still textile factories in the American South, and some of those textile factories had been reduced due to outsourcing to producing one specific product, and when I was in high school, a friend of mine explained her hometown to me by saying that every adult she’d ever known worked at a tampon string factory.

3. It seemed like a gentle and funny way to get at Colin’s massive discomfort with actual human women. Like, obviously he is obsessed with romantic relationships and being in them, but he is also majorly freaked out by the reality of girls, because he is so busy romanticizing them.

Q: Why did you choose a Muslim character for Colin’s best friend?

I wanted to write a character to counter Colin, so who was thoughtful and religious without being dogmatic. Also, I’d studied the Islamic world in college and had a number of Muslim friends in high school and college. I guess I chose to make Hassan a Muslim because I felt like I wasn’t seeing enough Muslim characters in novels, and like the ones I did see were defined entirely by their faith, when in fact “Muslim” is, for most Muslims, one identity among many. (One can be a Muslim and a feminist and a nerdfighter and an American and so on.) So I wanted to write a character who was faithful, and thoughtful about his religiosity, but not someone who was dominated by it—this in contrast to Colin, who is dominated by the identity of “child prodigy.”

Q: Why the Archduke Franz Ferdinand?

He’s a good example of someone who mattered very much to human history, but didn’t really do anything to matter. History came for Franz Ferdinand, not the other way around. That interested me because Colin is obsessed with how you matter (and whether the extent to which you matter historically is the measure of one’s life).

Q: Colin mentions the hole he feels in his stomach. Did you get the idea because you had felt it before?

I wrote all these stories in high school and college in which I called that gnawing stomach pain “the night feeling,” because for most of my life I experienced it primarily at night.

(The feeling, insofar as I can tell, is some variant of worry/fear/sadness/insecurity/etc. I still get it, although now I often feel the physical pain of sadness or anxiety in different places, especially the center of my chest, which is why you will sometimes notice me pressing my ribcage when I’m on stage or in public or talking to someone.)

So that particular observation came from my own past. But more generally when writing Katherines I was interested in how false the distinctions are between mind, spirit, and body. Constructing the mind as separate from the body can be useful at times, but it can also be really destructive, as it is for Colin.

Q: How did you come up with the unique format in which you wrote the book?

The structure of the book was all about trying to deconstruct what makes a story work, what organizational tactics help a narrative make sense in the mind of one’s audience.

This is something Colin struggles with very openly, but in a way all the characters in the novel are dealing with the problem of story—or at least the problem of collecting and sharing their stories in a way that will make people listen and pay attention.

So the novel has 19 chapters for obvious reasons, but it’s interspersed with these jumbled flashbacks through which Colin is trying to organize his thoughts and feelings.

This was meant to reflect the relationship we have between chronological narrative and emotional narrative.

Q: When you were writing the book, did you come up with personalities for the different Katherines or were they just numbers?

Not really. Very early on in the process of writing the book, I wrote a draft of the long list that Colin finally shares with Lindsey when he’s learned some things about how to organize facts into narratives.

Obviously, I had to rewrite the list a lot as I discovered things about the plot and the Katherines, but the important thing to me was that Colin really doesn’t distinguish among them (except for K-19), because to Colin this whole process is identical, and he’s so focused on HIS role in it (as dumpee) that everyone else is dehumanized/diminished.

Q: Were there any other title ideas?

No, I actually came up with the title before I came up with the book.

After college, for a strange project that is too complicated even to get into right now, I created this fictional bibliography of books written by a fictitious author, and one of them was called, An Abundance of Katherines and was about an anagrammatic genius. It was just a total throwaway thing; the same fictitious author wrote many other books about many other obscure topics. But that one stuck with me

Q: Colin is so very different from most of your characters...Why did you decide to write a character like him?

So we tend to imagine love monolithically, especially when we’re talking about romantic love. There is this assumption that everyone’s experience of romantic love is identical, and that romantic love is this THING sitting out there somewhere that you eventually stumble upon (or as the saying goes, fall in to).

But in fact, romantic love is different for every person who experiences it, because all of our brains are wired differently, and this is especially the case for someone like Colin, whose brain is exceptionally good at making certain kinds of connections but not particularly good at making connections that would traditionally be seen as emotional.

I wanted to write about this, and even find a way to celebrate it, because I do not think it’s fair only to imagine romantic love as a thing. And so I wanted to write about Colin, because I wanted to argue that people like Colin can and do make emotional connections; we just aren’t defining the words emotion and love broadly enough when we talk about them.

Plus I wanted to write a story about story (I’m kind of obsessed with stories and what they do/why they matter; see also, TFiOS), and I wanted to write about a character for whom understanding the importance and nature of narrative is a matter of legitimately high stakes—so his kind of a brain was a natural fit for the theme.