Brenda Rufener Interview: Homeless Teens, Finding Hope, and YA Fiction
This past month, I had the honor of interviewing author Brenda Rufener, author of the new, groundbreaking YA novel Where I Live. Her writing is simultaneously tragic and hilarious, weaving a story about loss, tragedy, and the simple yet funny moments during the years high school. Below you can find highlights from our conversation, in which Rufener discusses her inspirations, writing, and what readers can expect from Where I Live.
What first inspired you to write for a YA audience?
I have read YA since before it was called YA, so when I sat down to write Where I Live, the voice that landed on the page was unsurprisingly young adult. I’ve always appreciated the way young adult novels tackle and navigate tough subject matter, and many of my favorite YA novels helped to inspire and shape the words I’ve written and am writing.
How long did it take you to finish Where I Live? How would you describe the writing process?
The characters and premise of the novel had floated in and out of my head for many years, so when it came time to write the story, I had the basics in place. While I completed the first draft fairly quickly (approximately three months), the revision process was where the real writing took place, and that took much longer.
What do you hope readers take away from Where I Live?
When writing Where I Live, I wanted to explore homelessness without Linden’s crisis being the only focus. Linden is a homeless teen, but like all homeless teens, she’s much more than her circumstance. Linden is navigating high school relationships, bullies, friendships, and a first love. She’s more than her homeless experience, and I hope readers see the complexity of who she is.
On the author’s page of your book, it says you are “an advocate for homeless youth.” Have your experiences with teenagers shaped any of the characters in the book?
The character of Linden Rose is partly inspired by an amazing group of young women I spent time with in college. I volunteered with a literacy program and worked with young women facing adverse circumstances, many of them homeless. These women were unwilling to give up, even in the face of incredible adversity, and I was drawn to their persistence and positivity. How I wished teen-me had known these faces when I went through a similar situation. Their strength and determination was admirable. These women were homeless but never hopeless, and I hope readers will find that same tenacity in Linden Rose.
One of the most notably funny aspects of Where I Live is the running joke about Mr. Dique. How did you come up with this humorous addition to the book? Was there a teacher from your high school that inspired his character?
Mr. Dique is definitely inspired by a mesh of teachers I had in high school. Pranking was a norm in my small town high school, and surprisingly many teachers involved themselves in the shenanigans. While there was no drone hovering into class, and the pranks were a bit more G- than PG-rated, a couple memorable moments from high school may have made their way into the book. Shhh!
If you could describe Where I Live in three words, which would you choose?
Strength through adversity.
What was your favorite part of writing the book? Without giving spoilers, do you have a favorite scene?
The bond of friendship between Linden, Seung, and Ham (The Triangle) was a favorite part of writing Where I Live. Linden is in constant crisis, but she’s more than her struggle. She’s a good student, an aspiring journalist, and a loyal friend. I felt especially drawn to give Linden space to be more than her homelessness, which is probably why one of my favorite scenes is when she’s getting ready for homecoming and allows herself to be pampered by Seung’s mother. She forgets about her situation, at least for a short time.
What authors or books have inspired you the most?
In writing Where I Live, my biggest influences were my favorite YA authors like Jennifer Niven, Rainbow Rowell, Kathleen Glasgow, Kerry Kletter, and Amber Smith. Books like All the Bright Places and Girl in Pieces inspired me to tackle tough topics with sensitivity and bravery. Without these brilliant YA authors before me, Where I Live would not be possible.
Are you currently working on another book? If so, what details can you share with readers?
I have a second young adult novel, entitled Since We Last Spoke, slated for April 2019 with HarperTeen that I’m very excited about. You’ll meet Aggi and Max, two teens torn apart by unimaginable pain and guilt over the loss of their siblings. The story is told in dual points of view and focuses on a love that’s desperately trying to survive, in spite of everything coming against it. This story delves into the different layers of grief and how it impacts two families that once loved each other but now point fingers of blame.
Finally, what advice do you have to give aspiring young writers?
Your voice matters. Always, but especially now. Throughout the novel, Linden struggles to find her voice, and as aspiring writers, I think we all struggle with the same. So my advice is to dive into your creative work with your whole heart, and keep pushing. There will be many opportunities to quit, but push, dig, and move forward. Let your favorite books inspire you, especially when you feel stuck.
More About Brenda Rufener
Brenda Rufener is a technical writer turned novelist. She is the author of Where I Live — which School Library Journal called a “new and forthcoming YA to have on your radar,” Bustle and Barnes & Noble Teen Blog named a most anticipated YA contemporary book hitting shelves in 2018, and Booklist called “a well-rounded picture of a teen who’s more than her crisis.” Her next young adult novel, Since We Last Spoke, is slated for April 2019. Brenda lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her family. You can find her online at BrendaRufener.com.