an interview with C.K. kelly martin (& giveaway!)

courtneybooks, interviews

So here is the thing: I loved C.K. Kelly Martin’s sophomore novel, One Lonely Degree so much, I want to ensure my part in getting this amazing book into someone else’s hands. How do I do that? Why, by holding a giveaway of course!

And I’ll tell you exactly what’s required of you to have your name put into a draw to win it at the bottom of this entry–right after my review of this incredible book and my interview with its incredible author.


After a traumatic experience at a party, Finn hasn’t been the same. Nothing has. Her world is slowly unraveling in ways she can’t quite reconcile. Her parents’ marriage is disintegrating and the reappearance of a childhood friend, Jersy, brings with it new and terrifying feelings made even more complicated by the fact that her best friend, Audrey, is dating him. Audrey is the person Finn trusts most in the world–the person she’d be totally lost without–and Finn would never do anything to jeopardize their friendship, so she steps back and tries to enjoy her rekindled friendship with Jersy knowing all the while it can never go to the next level. When Audrey leaves town for the summer, Finn’s world continues to collapse around her and she finds herself turning to Jersy more and more. Finn doesn’t know who she is anymore or what will happen next, but when she’s with Jersy, anything seems possible in the best kind of way…

… But what about Audrey?


C.K. Kelly Martin is an amazing author. There was so much I admired in her extraordinary debut, I Know It’s Over, which left me inspired, tangled up and empathetic toward a young man dealing with his first heartbreak (made that much more complicated by an unplanned pregnancy). I’d been looking forward to One Lonely Degree ever since, eager for a new and different story, hoping to come away just as tangled up and invested and inspired. I’m happy to report I did. The woman has done it again.

When I cracked open One Lonely Degree, Finn’s voice immediately swept me away, making the book impossible to put down for long periods at a time. I had an instant gut response to it that I can’t quite shake even now, a day after closing the last page. We were total High School Attitude twins. Similar cynicism, same kind of resistance to change, same coping mechanisms, same kind of dependencies on other people. I’ve been Finn.

At the same time I’ve been Finn, I’ve also known Finn. Her codependency on her best friends, while justifiable, exhausted me on their behalf. I was relieved for both Audrey and Finn when Audrey left for the summer because as much as I admired the support system and small world they created for each other, they needed that space to grow. Finn needed to engage in her surroundings in a way that would enable her to recover from her trauma. Audrey’s distance helped her do that.

Martin explores the theme of friendship with an expert hand. There’s a certain sad nostalgia in Finn and Audrey’s arc that made me remember all the friends I’ve distanced from in various ways. It’s hard to describe, but I think we’ve all had these kind of friends at some point in our lives–people you need for a time, that help you and change you forever, but that you maybe can’t have forever. This dynamic was presented in a way that was incredibly honest and incredibly true.

Jersy was a fantastic male lead. His relationship with Finn was electric and emotional. He is a somewhat reckless type, who takes the cards he’s given with the kind of ease that makes it easy to understand why Finn was so drawn to him. Jersy was also believably flawed, with a complicated past of his own, and he and Finn dealt with their situation with utmost, well, reality. And that’s one of my favourite things about Martin’s writing. It is highly realistic YA fiction. One Lonely Degree is a pulls-no-punches slice of real life that no one will have to look too hard to see themselves in.

At its core, this is a novel about change. Dealing with it. Adapting to it (or not). Surviving it. Holding things close, keeping them, learning from them, letting them go. Taking what’s left. I think most of have complicated relationships with change and I think the topic is delved into beautifully in this book. Martin knows how to pinpoint certain emotional truths and explores them in this incredible prose that makes the writer in me incredibly jealous.

I loved this book.


Congratulations on One Lonely Degree’s release! This is your sophomore novel. Does the publication journey get more or less nervewracking a second time around?

Thank you! I can’t believe how quickly those months in between the two books flew by. Overall I think it’s less nerve-wracking this time around. Having been through the editing process etc. I didn’t feel so clueless about what to expect. I remember being pretty freaked out waiting for the copy-editing for I Know It’s Over to arrive. And when it got here I had a hard time deciphering some of the symbols and was agonizing over whether I should let stuff like the added commas stand. Then I was anxious about my author questionnaire and speaking with my PR person. There were countless worries!

One Lonely Degree had some different challenges to the first book, like completely rewriting the ending, so the process still hasn’t been anxiety-free. Another new worry is that people will want to compare this novel to I Know It’s Over rather than let it stand on its own. In some ways I can’t wait until book three comes out to break free from that.

I can’t wait for book three period! I loved Finn and Audrey’s friendship. It was supportive, solid, super-close and at the same time, shades of co-dependent. Basically, it was very realistic. When Audrey left for the summer, I felt like it was the best thing that could happen for them, even though it left Finn so adrift. Being as intense as they were together, do you think their friendship could’ve sustained itself had the events in the book played out a little differently?

I think you’re right about Audrey and Finn’s summer separation being the best thing to happen to them, although neither of them felt that way at the time. It’s interesting because in lots of ways Audrey has been the one to hold Finn together but when she’s gone Finn has to let herself really start trusting other people and the result of that both helps Finn and hurts her.

I believe it’s possible that if other circumstances were different the intensity of Finn and Audrey’s friendship might’ve eventually eased off a little and allowed for close friendships with other people too. Finn and Audrey had different plans after graduation so would’ve definitely been separated then anyway but I don’t think they would’ve made it through the next two years of high school with their friendship remaining exactly as it was.

Finn’s pain is, understandably, all-consuming but she’s not self-absorbed. I think this can be difficult to pull off in fiction (especially in the case of first person POV) and that you totally nailed it. Finn’s thoughts–“Sometimes it seems so easy to make people happy that I wonder why I don’t do it more often,” and “It was my turn to listen,”–really resonated with me. Did you worry about potentially crossing the line from an all-consumed main character to self-absorbed one as you wrote and Finn’s problems began to close in?

I’m so glad to hear that you didn’t find Finn self-absorbed! I think she’d be irritated by people who are totally self-absorbed and is definitely annoyed with herself when she senses herself falling into that, like when she talks about being a crappy older sister. I got so swept up in Finn’s feelings that I could’ve gotten the balance wrong but my editor is fantastic about suggesting less is more cuts that seem almost invisible to me when I implement them.

What was the hardest part of this novel to write? Was it emotionally draining to get into the head of a character who is going through such a tough time?

Oh yeah, it was hugely draining, especially writing this just after I Know It’s Over. I don’t know what I was thinking!

I was really dreading the party scene with Adam Porter so that was quite difficult emotionally. I also worried about being too melodramatic, but I didn’t want to underplay the scene either. I just wanted it to be as real as possible.

But the final chapter was the hardest because I’d imagined the story ending more abruptly, to be continued later in two sequels books (although I later decided against making it into a trilogy). My editor didn’t think the original ending felt entirely natural, though. Rewriting it was a struggle. I remember my deadline looming and really having no idea what I was going to do with the ending. Then I thought I’d finally figured it out and got halfway through the new last chapter only to have the characters disagree with me. It took several attempts to get it where I wanted it to be.

I think you’ve taken one of the most ‘iffiest’ conflicts (girl falls for best friend’s boyfriend) and explored it in a way that makes it impossible for the reader not to empathize with all those involved. Were you ever hesitant to write from the perspective of the girl who falls for her best friend’s boyfriend rather than, say, the wronged best friend (who is instantly sympathetic)? I asked you this when I interviewed you about I Know It’s Over, but I lurve this question: were there any cliches or directions you consciously wanted to avoid while tackling this type of plot?

Whenever I get a book idea there’s always a specific central character attached to a set of circumstances. I get such a strong sense of that character that to me there are no questions about perspective. It’s funny, but it never really occurred to me that Finn’s character could be unsympathetic, even though she steps over boundaries. Maybe because I felt so close to her.

As for avoiding clichés and directions, I really didn’t want a stereotypical romantic ending between Finn and Jersy that would strip away the complexity of everything that happened before. Whatever happened had to be true to the story and characters. And I didn’t want anyone to be the bad guy–I didn’t want to make Audrey into a bad friend to excuse Finn’s interest in her boyfriend or for Jersy to be a player or for Finn to be selfish and not care about betraying Audrey. I even wanted the annoying Kevin figure from the toy store to be a little ambiguous–is he just irritating or does he truly have bad intentions? I like leaving that question unanswered because in real life often we don’t know the answer to questions like this.

Just who are the bad guys? Sexual assault is usually committed by regular guys, the boy next door, so we can’t recognize guys who would do this on sight. Anyway, I also felt very strongly that Finn wouldn’t report what happens to her at the party because often in similar situations people don’t. Ideally sexual assault and attempted sexual assault would be reported and a conviction swift but our police department and legal systems are far from perfect (for example just 13% of reported rapes in the U.S. result in convictions and in the U.K. the figure is a shockingly low 6%) so it’s completely understandable that people don’t always file a report. I think if you’re a victim of sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault the most important thing is that you do what’s best for you in working towards healing, which is what Finn tries to do.

I loved Kevin’s ambiguity. In I Know It’s Over, you wrote from the perspective of a male. In One Lonely Degree you write from the perspective of a female. Was it hard to make that shift after spending so much time with Nick? How easily did Finn’s voice come to you?

The Finn and Nick characters are so different from each other that it made the shift very easy. There’s a lot of Finn in me and that helped too. Her voice seemed like second nature to me.

Finn. Jersy. Audrey. Awesome. Freaking. Names. How did you choose them?

I imagined Finn having an Irish background. Finnuola is a very traditional Irish girl’s name but that I could use Finn for short just sounded right for this character. I have a bunch of baby name books and one that’s specifically Irish children’s names but I always trawl through tons of name sites on the Internet too and whenever I come across an interesting name in the paper or somewhere else I write it down. One time a friend and I went to the movies and the guy selling us tickets was named Joyeux, which I thought was one of the most beautiful names I’d ever heard so I wrote it down and have used it in another book.

I think that for Jersy I had his surname Mikulski picked out first and because that’s Polish I wanted to choose a Polish first name too. I imagined he was named for his grandfather (like Finn is named for her grandmother) so I trawled through lists of Polish names and stumbled across Jerzy but I preferred the variant with an S instead of a Z (although they sound identical, of course). For some reason I don’t like either Jerzy or Jersey nearly as much as Jersy.

I have found spelling makes all the difference in how I receive a name too. I love the way you spelled Jersy. Speaking of Jersy, he’s is an incredible male lead. Really compelling. Laid back and yet flawed in his own right. He’s not the perfect guy (who is?), but he’s good for Finn. Can you tell us about developing him as a character? Did he appear on the page fully formed or did you spend a lot of time conceiving his complicated backstory etc.?

Since a character does a lot of evolving in my mind as opposed to on paper it can be pretty hard for me to remember exactly how a character was formed but I do remember having a sense that Jersy was very laid back early on, also that he’d been kind of a daredevil in his childhood and was into motorbikes. I saw him as really being his own person and not worrying about how his identity fit (or didn’t) within the various social groups at school.

So yeah, I think his character was pretty well formed from the start but some of the smaller details – like the types of music he’s into (which Finn pretty much thinks sucks) and the fact that his parents had marital problems at one point in the past really only came out as I was actively writing. The reason his family moved away from Kingston was to get away from something that happened that I never totally spell out and that was something that I was aware of in the early stages too.

Beyonce FTW! Finn is constantly fiddling with her website and wants to be a graphic designer. In fact, she redesigns album and book covers she thinks she could’ve done better (I love that!). With this in mind, please share your favourite book and album cover and tell us why you love the way they look!

Can I pick a graphic novel? Or is that not fair because of course graphic novels are going to have amazing covers? If I can choose a graphic novel I’d go with Blankets because the cover is so romantic (but not in a sickly sweet way) that it takes my breath away. It just looks exactly like true love feels – completely magical.

But if that’s cheating, I’ll say Roddy Doyle’s Paula Spencer because the cover picture is simple yet revealing and makes me want to know the story behind it. If you haven’t read the book, Paula Spencer is Roddy Doyle’s sequel to The Woman Who Walked into Doors which was about an abused wife who was also an alcoholic. In the sequel Paula has given up drinking but is still struggling with many aspects of her life. In some ways the photo seems bleak (the blue tone and lonely all but empty milk bottle) but I also feel it suggests starting over (you can fill up that fridge with whatever you like).

You know, when I was a teenager collecting music it was tapes and the covers were so tiny they couldn’t really make an impact so as a result I learned to not pay that much attention. I’m sure album covers had a much bigger impact during the time of LPs. So I think I have to go back to that time and say London Calling by The Clash because it embodies the spirit of rock and roll, for better and for worse–rebellious and destructive.

Toughest question yet: if you could only introduce people to Our Lady Peace via one song, which song would that be?

God, that’s hard! Aaaaaaah. So many choices. I’m really torn between Thief and Innocent. I guess Innocent because it’s the kind of song that hooks people instantly. It sounds like an anthem, you know? I love 4AM so much too (the live video for it in Edmonton where the audience sings the entire song and Raine barely has to say a word is amazing) but that and Thief are a little more contemplative and I want to pick the song with the widest appeal. If I played Innocent for someone and they didn’t want to hear more OLP they’re clearly a hopeless case and there’s nothing I can do for them! But I want to hear your answer, Courtney…

Right on, and I’d totally pick Clumsy. :)

Your next novel, The Lighter Side of Life and Death, is coming out May 2010. Can you please suggest some of your favourite YA books that I might occupy myself with in the mean time? Or else I will explode of anticipation whilst simultaneously shaking my fist at Random House for making me wait so long.

I feel the same way about waiting for Some Girls Are. 2010 feels like ages away. Sheesh!

The best YA I’ve read in the past few months is Broken Soup by British author Jenny Valentine, which is about a fifteen year old girl who is grieving for her older brother. During the course of the book she forms new relationships and also comes to learn secret things about the brother she lost. I was completely awed by it – it felt so fresh, real and smart and had an ageless quality about it, like you could pick it up in 20 years time and it wouldn’t feel dated. I’ve since ordered Jenny Valentine’s first book Finding Violet Park and can’t wait to read it.

I’m also a big fan of Let’s Get Lost by Sarra Manning and Before I Die by Jenny Downham (two more British authors), Susan Beth Pfeffer’s asteroid books Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone, both Tyrell and Kendra by Coe Booth, The Parallel Universe of Liars (Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson), Inexcusable (Chris Lynch), Sweethearts (Sara Zarr) and Boy Toy (Barry Lyga).

Aw, shucks! And stellar recs. Where can we find you on the internets?

Mostly I’m on my website/blog I have an Amazon page and cross-post some stuff there and on my MySpace. I was on Facebook for a few minutes but then I got overwhelmed by just the thought that there were so many different places to be and things to keep up with and that was taking energy away from my writing so I’ve cut it out for now. Maybe I’ll be back later.

Thank you, C.K.!

And thank you, Courtney, for having me! I always love talking to you. By the way, I brought you some virtual bon bons.

Oh my God, you guys, she is the BEST. Nom nom nom.

And now….


This is the part you’ve been waiting for, right? Here’s how you can be entered to win a copy of One Lonely Degree. First, watch the trailer for the book:

Watched it? Good.

Now leave a comment in this entry telling me what colour the flip-flop floating in the pool was and your name will be entered in a drawing to win one (1) copy of One Lonely Degree by C.K. Kelly Martin. If you do not include the colour of the flip-flop in your comment you’re not getting entered. If you comment on a feed (Facebook, LiveJournal), you will not be entered–it needs to be on my site (I’m a harsh mistress, I know). You’ve got until the June 6th. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner, who will be announced on the 7th. The winner will have 24 hours to give me the info I need to ship the book to them. If I don’t get that info within that time period, I will re-draw.

Finally, thank you to C.K. Kelly Martin for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing this freaking awesome book!!! You guys, get this book and read it.