Lara Zielin lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with her husband, dog and cat. DONUT DAYS is her first novel, though she's hard at work on her second book, PROMGATE, slated for release in early 2011. This is the description of Donut Days: Emma has a lot going on. Her best friend’s not speaking to her, a boy she’s known all her life is suddenly smokin’ hot and in love with her, and oh yes, her evangelical minister parents may lose their church, especially if her mother keeps giving sermons saying Adam was a hermaphrodite.
But this weekend Emma’s only focused on Crispy Dream, a hot new donut franchise opening in town, where Harley bikers and Frodo wannabes camp out waiting to be the first ones served. Writing the best feature story on the camp for the local paper might just win Emma a scholarship to attend a non- Christian college. But soon enough Emma finds the donut camp isn’t quite the perfect escape from all her troubles at Living Word Redeemer.
When I was seventeen I started attending an evangelical church in my hometown and I absolutely loved it. The pastor was fabulous, the people were really cool. It was exactly what I needed at that time in my life.
I moved away from my hometown to attend college, and then when I graduated from college I moved to Minneapolis. There, I joined a new church where I saw a completely different side of the evangelical community. Instead being focused on helping people and being kind, the church I attended was focused on money and status. Deceit and corruption were rampant. When questions were raised, the congregation was told to “have faith” and to “trust God.” All this while our donations to the church were misspent, and the pastors lied.
I stopped going to church and eventually moved away from Minneapolis to Michigan. I went to a new church for a while, but I never really became a member. I had a sour taste in my mouth that wasn’t going away.
Writing DONUT DAYS became one of the ways I tried to come to terms with what happened at that Minneapolis church. My experiences there became the inspiration for Living Word Redeemer in the novel, because I saw that corruption, deceit, and greed can infiltrate a Christian community as easily as hope and love.
I believe in God, and I believe in the church, but I wrote DONUT DAYS because I also believe that it’s okay to question absolute power, and that no pastor is infallible.
Where did you get the inspiration for Bear and his biker gang?
Some authors talk about how their characters come to them and say, “you have to put me in your book.” Almost like a vision. That almost never happens with me—I have to work hard at building my characters from scratch. But Bear was the closest thing to a vision. I could just…see him. I knew where he’d come from, what kind of life he’d had. And putting people around him—i.e. his gang members—who’d had similar paths in their lives wasn’t too hard. I loved writing about them, and they’re some of my favorite characters to date!
(The winner of Writers Revealed is Kristen!) What's your favorite donut?
I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to donuts. I love a really good powdered-sugar donut, or even a really good plain donut. Of course, if you give me a cruller or a cream-filled long john, I am SO not going to say no to it.
I'm a HUGE Killers fan and just about died when I saw a quote from one of their songs in your book. How did music affect Donut Days?
Recently, when I was in Chicago with other writers who also had their books debut in 2009, a person in the audience asked us what we listened to when we wrote. I sort of scuffled my feet back and forth and let other writers answer first. Because my playlist? Is ridiculously simple. I usually find one song that really embodies what I’m feeling about the book as a whole, and I just put it on repeat. “When You Were Young” was totally that song for DONUT DAYS. I was heartened when the other writers at the Chicago event admitted the same thing!
For my current book, I have a little bit more diversity (but not much). I’m playing “Life in Technicolor ii” by Coldplay, “Defying Gravity” from the Glee soundtrack, and “Sleepyhead” by Passion Pit.
I write like I eat. I’ll go for a long while without doing anything, and then I’ll binge all at once. I wish in both areas I was a little bit more steady and didn’t behave in such a roller-coaster fashion. But with a full-time job, a house, a husband and a dog, my plate feels pretty full. So if that means I wind up writing 2,000 words over the weekend and not doing much during the week, I think I might as well stop fighting it.
What inspired the idea of a donut camp?
The donut camp was definitely inspired by real-life events. Back when I was living in Minnesota, the first Krispy Kreme opened up in the state. People went bananas. They camped out in advance of the store opening; they set up grills and tents; the media swarmed the scene; the line was out the door for days. All for donuts! At the time I thought, that’s an awesome setting for a book. Sadly, that Krispy Kreme is out of business now, but I have my fingers crossed that the franchise is making a comeback. And yes, I friended them on Facebook, and I follow Dunkin’ Donuts on Twitter.
I loved the ending of Donut Days! How important do you feel the power of interpretation is in writing?
I think interpretation is everything! I mean, for my part, I really disliked TWILIGHT. But obviously there are thousands of people out there that would argue otherwise. And I personally adored EAT, PRAY, LOVE even though a ton of people thought it was garbage. To me, writing is like art—it’s very, very subjective. From chapter one all the way to the end. Some books are going to resonate with certain people, others won’t, but lucky for us we have endless options at a variety of bookstores and libraries.
Could you tell us a bit more about your new writing project?
I have been hard at work editing my second novel, PROMGATE. The book centers around the fallout when a pregnant teen is elected prom queen in a small Midwestern town. It’s loosely based on events that happened in my Wisconsin high school when I was a sophomore, and it’s due out in summer 2011.
What was your favorite YA book of '09?
Oh noes! I can’t just pick one! How about three. Can I have three? Um. Okay. Here goes.
I loved GIVE UP THE GHOST by Megan Crewe. I thought she did such a good job of portraying a lonely teen who’d rather talk to ghosts than real people. The writing was fabulous and I just couldn’t put it down.
I am a sucker for a good romance and THE SEASON by Sarah MacLean was awesome. Set in the Regency period, the plot centers around three girls who are “coming out” (i.e. being presented) to high society. To be married. At seventeen! Needless to say, not all of them are thrilled, and the spirited main character was a total firecracker.
And STUPID CUPID by Rhonda Stapleton was so freaking hilarious and cute, and I love a book that can make me laugh out loud not once but multiple times. It was a quick, fun read but when I turned the last page I definitely didn’t want it to end.
Thank you so much for the interview, Lara! It was wonderful having you.