Q&A with Farrah Penn

We’re thrilled to welcome BuzzFeed Staff Writer Farrah Penn, who will be at BookPeople Tuesday March 20th to share her debut novel Twelve Steps to Normal. A great story about acceptance, forgiveness and family, Twelve Steps to Normal explores the realities of alcoholism and is bound to resonate with readers of all ages. We invite you to come meet the author and pick up a signed copy at 7 PM! In the meantime, enjoy this Q&A with Farrah and BookPeople YA Specialist Shannon… 


Q: I’ve always loved the phrase “be the adult you needed when you were a kid,” and I feel like in writing this book, you’re kind of doing just that. Was that sort of the driving force behind creating this story in a market that hasn’t really breached this subject yet?

Farrah Penn: When I first started writing this story, I knew it was going to be about a father/daughter relationship that was on the mend after Kira’s father returns home from another rehab. Once I was about ten chapters in, I realize I was writing about a concept that was close to home for me. So I think it wasn’t something I was actively thinking about until it fully hit me about a hundred pages in. It’s certainly a topic I wished was talked about more.

Q: In this same vein, a lot of times writers approach these subjects with personal experience and a large amount of research (as you did), but every once in a while a book like this will be inspired by someone else’s story or the idea behind the issue and there’s often a noticeable disconnect there. As a writer, do you feel a certain level of social consciousness is required when you are writing about such a heavy topic? And how do you keep from glorifying a behavior or an experience and still make the book entertaining and impactful?

FP: Absolutely. You should write from the heart, but you should always be sensitive too — especially with heavy topics. When I first saw the trailer for The Glass Castle, I was really worried the movie was going to glorify Rex’s alcoholism. The book is just so real and raw about how much of a struggle it can be, but I think the movie captured that as well. I think it’s important to touch on those struggles too. Even though I wanted to write a hopeful story, it doesn’t mean Kira’s father came home “cured” and everything is perfect. From Kira’s perspective, I tried to show how alcoholism can also affect the people you love and trust.

Q: You focused a lot on recovery in this book, do you feel like Kira’s journey to her own personal recovery is something that will motivate other teens to address situations in their own life? Do you feel that the story gives teens the tools they need to begin a dialogue they’ve been missing?

FP: I hope so — on both accounts. I certainly wish I would have been more aware of reaching out to others. It can be tough and scary, but there are people and organizations out there who are more than capable of helping.

You also work for BuzzFeed– how do you feel like being a part of that platform has influenced your writing? And do you feel like that platform is changing the way we talk to teens and them to each other?

FP: It’s helped shaped my voice for sure. In editorial, we’re encouraged to have fun with our voice and so many of my co-workers are great at that. Before clicking on a piece, I can usually tell just by reading a headline which of my co-workers wrote it!

Q: Who are the biggest influences in your life? Not necessarily just the ones who make you want to write, but the person you look to when you need that extra boost of inspiration?

FP: I have so many close friends here in Los Angeles, both in the YA writing community and at work, who are constantly motivated to make moves creatively. Hanging out with them absolutely makes me more inspired and productive!

Q: If you had to write a motivational poster for teens, what one catchy phrase would you put on it? Why?


Q: Since you’re a Texan, you’ll understand the importance of this question. You’re at Whataburger in the middle of the night…what do you order?

FP: How late are we talking?! I would stay up until I could get my hands on a delicious honey butter chicken biscuit 😉


Come meet Farrah Penn at BookPeople on Tuesday, March 20th at 7 PM! Can’t make the event? You can still order a signed copy at bookpeople.com

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