Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ask an Author: Katie Cotugno, Author of 9 Days and 9 Nights [Contributor: Megan Mann]

Four years ago, I was told by a friend to check out a book called How to Love by Katie Cotugno. It was a story about the pull of first love, the pain of teenage heartache, and the way two people can react very differently to teen pregnancy. I loved that book so much and needed to read so much more from this fantastic writer.

Enter Molly Barlow and the Donnelly brothers in 99 Days. For what seems like her entire life, Molly Barlow was entwined with Patrick Donnelly. She figured that he was her person, her other half, and the person she would share the rest of her life with. ... Until she realized that his stubbornness might dictate her future and it led to a mistake she figured would stay a secret. Until, you know, her mom wrote an international bestseller about the situation and all of Star Lake — including Patrick Donnelly and his twin sister Julia — treat Molly like she’s wearing a scarlet letter until she runs away. But when she comes back the summer before college, she has to suffer through 99 days of Star Lake and the fact that small towns never forget. But in those 99 days, she discovers so much more about herself and her love life than she ever anticipated.

Flash-forward a bit to this year: Katie Cotugno released 9 Days and 9 Nights, the sequel to 99 Days that takes place a year after Molly's summer in Star Lake. We follow Molly Barlow across the pond — first to London, then to County Kerry in Ireland, before ending in Paris. Molly’s been through her first year at Boston University and suffered a major setback at the beginning of the year. Still, she’s managed to reset herself, find a lovely boyfriend named Ian among the stacks of the library, and they’re on a summer trip across Europe. It’s at an Underground platform that she looks across and sees the Donnelly brother she had been trying so hard to forget for the last year.

I can’t even explain how quickly I read through 9 Days and 9 Nights and how annoyed I would get whenever someone would interrupt my reading time. Thankfully, Katie Cotugno is one of the nicest people on the planet and let me ask her all sorts of fun questions about Molly Barlow, how her books explore the reality of life, and what she’s reading!

9 Days and 9 Nights is finally out! Congratulations! How does it feel? 

Katie Cotugno: Thank you! I’m so delighted, honestly. “Is there going to be a sequel to 99 Days?” has always been the question I get most from readers and fans and I’m so happy to finally be able to answer all their questions and hopefully give them an ending that feels satisfying and true.

What made you decide to continue the story of Molly Barlow? 

I feel really strongly that you shouldn’t sit down to write a sequel unless you’re 100% sure you’ve got more story to tell. Over the last few years I kind of transitioned from, “I’m definitely not writing a sequel” to “I’ve got no plan to write a sequel” to “I’ve got no plan to write a sequel but if I did I know what would happen.”

It wasn’t until I got to a place of “I can’t think about anything but this sequel” that I knew I needed to sit down and do it.

Did you always know that you wanted to have her cross paths with Gabe again instead of Patrick? If so, why? 

It’s funny: with 99 Days, I set out to write a true, equilateral love triangle, but by the end of the book it definitely felt to me — and to Molly, I think — like that relationship had kind of run its natural course. Once I started thinking seriously about a sequel, it was always Gabe.

I like the idea that fate brought them back together across an entire ocean. Was that extra splash of magic intentional? 

You know, I always feel like the universe has a way of course-correcting. I’m okay with a little bit of convenient plotting, so long as I feel like I’m selling it as hard as I can.

One of the things I really enjoy about your books is that you write about the reality of things: how feelings can be fluid, how we don't always know why we're pulled to the people we are despite the situation and how love is essentially is as messy as a mud pit sometimes. 

Thank you so much!

Was it intentional that both Sadie and Ian were such polar opposites of Molly and Gabe? It felt like both of them needed that difference to convince themselves they were over it. 

Huh, I hadn’t actually articulated it to myself in quite that way, but I think you’re definitely right. Sadie in particular was so much fun — I’ve never written a character like her before.

I thought the pregnancy was a really interesting choice. So often in YA, characters have sex and certainly don't use protection and it's like some sort of book magic that there are no consequences. Was that similar to your decision for Reena to keep her baby in How to Love

I feel like How to Love and 9 Days and 9 Nights are definitely in conversation with each other. Having an abortion never really felt like an option for Reena; having a baby never really felt like an option for Molly. And there are plenty of other characters in other books I’ve written who’ve had sex and never had to face that choice at all. As a writer, I’m always interested in all possible outcomes.

I love that instead of using a common destination in Ireland such as Dublin or Cork, you went with County Kerry. Had you been there before and just decided, "Hey, I can totally tie this in"? 

I’ve actually never been to Kerry, though I’ve been to Mayo, which isn’t far. The rest of the book is so urban; there’s so much green space in 99 Days that it was important to me to set at least part of the sequel in a place that was a little bit quieter.

Now that this is out, what's on the horizon for you? Inquiring minds, namely me, are interested to know! 

Haha, thank you so much! I actually just recently shelved a project I’d been working on for almost a year. I’ve never done that before, so I’m just kind of catching my breath now and figuring out what’s next. I’ve got a half-formed idea in my back pocket. We’ll see if it turns into something.

A lot of our readers are aspiring writers, what's the best advice you can give them on starting out and making a name for themselves? 

Read as widely as you can. Don’t read boring things. And don’t let anybody make you feel bad for loving the weird stuff you love.

How do you prevent writer's block, if you suffer at all? 

For me, writer’s block usually means my brain’s input/output ratio is off. I try not to sweat the word count too much and go watch a movie or take a walk or read something delicious. Most time I’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to get to work.

What are you reading right now? 

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Conviction, which is incredible so far. I read Picture Us in the Light a couple of weeks ago and it blew me away; I ran out and picked up her debut as soon as I could.

Finally, if you could perfectly cast the movie for 99 Days, who would be your dream cast? 

I’ll be honest — I always dread this question because it shows how old I am. Everybody actor I picture when I write is actually like 40 years old.

9 Days and 9 Nights is on sale now.


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