Why This YA Author is All About Feminist Love Stories + Embracing the Weird
We love ourselves a good dose of young adult lit, especially when it's a story that combines social activism, witty dialogue, and totally unconventional circumstances for falling in love. Katie Cotugno's forthcoming novel You Say It First does all that *and* a bag of chips. Okay maybe not the chips part, but dang, this author knows her way around messy, complicated, bold female characters, and writes in a voice that feels like your bff is giving you the scoop on her cousin's sister's friend who just fell in love in the most unlikely way. The story of a cold call about getting out the vote that turns into a deep cross-country connection, You Say It First is definitely on our summer reading list.
Anjelika Temple here, former phone and door-to-door voter registration canvasser and current Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Brit + Co. For today's edition of Creative Crushin', in partnership with Epic Reads, I'm excited to share more about how New York Times bestselling author Katie Cotugno got her start, how she stays inspired, and what advice she has for writers out there struggling to find their voice.
Brit + Co: First off, tell us a little more about your background. Where did you grow up? What did you study in college? Where are you based now?
Katie Cotugno: I grew up right outside New York City, in Westchester County. I came to Boston to study Writing, Literature + Publishing at Emerson College and always planned to go back to New York at some point, but that was *mumblemumble* years ago and I'm still here, so I guess I'm officially a Bostonian.
B+C: Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer/author?
KC: I did! I have very few other marketable skills.
B+C: What types of jobs did you have before you were able to focus fully on your own writing? Tell us about your career path.
KC: After college I was lucky enough to score THE perfect day job for a person who was trying to get published—I was an office assistant at a very quiet nonprofit, where I sat at a desk all day and had lots of time for writing and also health insurance—and I hung onto it for ten years, until right before my fifth book came out. I loved having a day job, and I think it was good for me. I might go get another one someday.
B+C: What was it like sitting down and starting to write your first book?
KC: I started How to Love when I was sixteen, and picked at it on and off for ten years before it was published. At the beginning it was very much just something I was doing because I liked to write and because I was bored in math class. I was really just doing it to amuse myself, because I like to invent worlds and live in them for a little while, and I always try to remember that now that writing is my full-time job.
B+C: Tell me about how the process has changed since then, and what it was like writing You Say It First.
KC: It's always a little different writing something on a deadline, and writing something that you know other people are going to read and have opinions about. But I will say, I had a blast writing You Say It First. These characters are very close to my heart, the dialogue was a ton of fun, and I don't think I've seen this particular relationship before in YA. Also, the cover—designed by Jessie Gang, art directed by Alison Donalty, and illustrated by Ana Hard—is basically the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my entire life.
B+C: How do you hope this book will make readers feel? How would you describe your mission as a writer?
KC: For me, my job as a writer is always first and foremost to keep and respect your attention for as long as I've asked for it. But I am also always on a mission to write messy, complicated feminist love stories, and to really hit readers in both the brain and the swoon bone as hard as I possibly can.
B+C: When you're not writing, what are your favorite ways to spend time?
KC: I love to cook! I read a ton, obviously. I like to watch television of dubious quality and root for various characters to kiss.
B+C: What is your workspace like?
KC: I had a baby last year, and right before Coronavirus became a thing, I had just finally figured out childcare and joined the Wing in Boston and was honestly really kind of feeling myself and this new chapter of my professional life. Now I work at my kitchen table, which is different but nice too. My husband makes cold brew and I put on a Spotify playlist called "Nancy Meyers Makes Croissants" and try not to get up and wander around the house every five seconds.
B+C: People need people, especially those of us in the creative field. Tell us more about what your support system and creative community looks like.
KC: I'm lucky to have a very solid group of friends in publishing who are invaluable in navigating the demands and rewards and peculiarities of this work, and who have done yeoman's work in helping to keep me from embarrassing myself too badly on social media. And my best beloveds, my husband and my sister and my college friends and my kid, would love me exactly the same if I never wrote another word again, which for me is key to keeping the perspective that makes it possible for me to be creative. I never want my writing career to be the best or most important or even the most interesting thing about me, honestly.
B+C: When you get creatively blocked or burnt out, how do you reset? Do you have tips you can share?
KC: For me feeling blocked or burnt out is usually a balance problem—it's generally an indication that I've been putting out more than I've been taking in. So I need to take a break and watch or read something or go and take a walk. And honestly, sometimes that's not possible! Sometimes a deadline is a deadline and you have to just push through and get it done and fix it later. It's definitely not all great the first time.
B+C: What advice do you have for writers struggling to find their unique voice?
KC: Keep at it! Voice—a character's voice, or your own voice as a writer—is the kind of thing you arrive at gradually over time.
B+C: If you could give your younger self a pep talk, what would it sound like?
KC: Don't feel so embarrassed about all the weird stuff you like and how much you like it. Liking weird stuff is what is going to make you a good writer and a fun person to talk to in adulthood. Also, you're not fooling anyone! Everyone already knows you're weird, it's fine.
Three cheers for embracing the weird! Thanks to Katie for her inspiring story — we can't wait to dive into this brand new love story. To order your copy of You Say It First, head on over to Epic Reads. Learn more about Katie by following @katiecotugno on Twitter and Instagram.
This article was created in partnership with Epic Reads.