Interview with JT Dutton About STRANDED

One of my favorite recent releases is Stranded by JT Dutton. I love beautifully written stories that make me think! Here’s my interview with JT, and, of course, I can’t resist giving away a copy of one of my new favorites. Leave a comment to win.

Many of the characters in Stranded get labeled: good girl, bad boy, etc. What do you think are the worst labels that we stick on girls?

I think all labels are a trap. It is as unhealthy to impose unrealistic ideals of perfection on girls as it is to criticize and abuse them. Teen girls come in all shapes and sizes. They aren’t like bananas.

I think teens internalize labels, depend on them more than they should in their social interactions. Moral stereotyping stinks. One of the hardest things I remember about being a teenager was how confined I felt. I was extremely happy to reach my college years and redefine myself more according to my own terms.

I also found it intriguing how Natalie’s good looks played into her good girl label. Do you think that happens in real life as well as fiction?

I’m into fruit metaphors, so I’ll say this: The skin is not the whole peach. You can’t tell what’s in a person until you know them well. A lot of magazines and book covers feature people with pleasingly graceful aesthetic features and encourage us to identify with or like them better because they are attractive. We want to believe that outer beauty reflects depth. It doesn’t. That’s a real life thing.

In Natalie’s case, it’s a curse to be physically beautiful, because people are less in the habit of looking into her soul. They assume they know her already.

I loved this thought-provoking line: “I think it’s hard for people to see young girls as making choices, even bad ones.” Why do you think that’s true in our culture?

“Choice” is a hot button political word these days. As soon as you use it, people assume you are talking sub-textually about abortion. But many, many, choices lead up to an unplanned pregnancy. Parents choose to leave girls under-informed about birth control; schools choose not to teach sex education; girls choose to throw caution to wind in order to feel loved.

We want to see all this stuff in terms of accident.

It’s as if the abortion issue has clouded America’s ability to talk rationally about reproduction and to offer helpful advice to girls entering a period of their lives when they need honest insight. Girls can choose to say “no,” sure. I just don’t think we can pretend they can be “told” to do anything. That seems naive to me and disrespectful.

We are kinder to boys in that we tend to talk to them about sex directly. Dissention regarding the word choice has led to a painful atmosphere for girls to grow up in. We need to put aside our differences and be fair and open with our daughters.

At different points in the story, both Kelly Louise and her mother hope to be rescued from their problems by boyfriends. Why do you think this is an important theme to explore in YA literature?

Love can feel like it stops time. It’s very golden and sparkly. It’s easy to think that problems get better in the light of love. But they don’t. They linger and emerge later, sometimes in a more complicated way.

If I can “show” how this cycle works in my writing, maybe I can help someone else get to a fulfilling level of intimacy earlier than I did. Prince Charming is a nice metaphor for how a man can make a heart feel for a while, but remaining a damsel in distress is a very boring and helpless way to be throughout a lifetime.

Forgiveness is also a big theme in your story. You write: “…the chance to fall and be forgiven, not just by us, but by herself, and everyone else…” I loved that you mentioned forgiving oneself, even for big mistakes. Why did you include that aspect of forgiveness in this story?

I really value the inward journey. To know ourselves, is to know the world, I guess. That starts with accepting who we are.

As you can already tell, I had many favorite sentences in Stranded. I especially loved descriptions like these: “The world returned to birthday cake frosting—the badly packaged kind, from a can.” And later, “The look on her face suggested that she was six seconds away from losing the composure I admired her for and exploding like a tomato in a microwave.” Will you tell us a little about your writing process? (Do these gems come in the first draft, or in the revision process?)

Similes and metaphors are always trying to worm their way into my descriptions. If I like them enough, I try to use them more effectively as I revise. When I first started writing, I sometimes had as many as four comparisons a paragraph. It’s how I think. Right now, I feel like comparing myself to a refrigerator just to give you an example of how I like to put two things together. I’m empty but running, I guess, trying to keep things fresh.

What’s one of your favorite sentences from Stranded?

I like this passage:

“To hear Nana talk the worst thing she and her friends had ever done was grease a litter of pigs so that her farmer father couldn’t catch and slaughter them. She could laugh about that antic until tears rolled down her face. The funniest thing that happened to me was that my cousin abandoned a baby in a cornfield.”

Kelly Louise is at the lowest point of her ebb when she has this thought, and yet humor still drives her, shapes the way in which she wants to respond to her troubles. The line reveals how tough and strong she is willing to be.

It was one of those turnover lines in my writing process.

Your narrative voice in your debut Freaked is much different from your voice in Stranded, begging the question: Would Scotty Loveletter allow Kelly Louise to accompany him to a Grateful Dead concert?

Scotty Douglas frightens easily, thus his desire to live mostly in a drug induced haze. At the end of Freaked, he discovers girls like Kelly Louise exist. He might summon the courage to invite her to a show. I think she’d find the whole thing dull, except for making out with him and maybe getting to ride in his stepfather’s Beamer and meet his mother.

Their two different perspectives, his wealthy Connecticut one and her rural Iowan one would lead to conflicts if they decided to embark on a more serious relationship, but I’m sure they have it in themselves to enjoy each other for a time.

It’s a sweet thought.

You can read more about JT Dutton at

To win a copy of Stranded, please leave a comment by midnight, Tuesday, July 27, 2010. Open to anyone in the world–we all deserve good books, right?