In Dear Fang, with Love, Lucas and his teenage daughter, Vera, spend the summer in Vilnius, Lithuania, where they begin to see each other and themselves in unexpected ways.
Did your ideas for the characters, or your interest in Vilnius, come first?
I went to Lithuania not expecting it to be as cool as it is. Vilnius is a weird, wonderful, tiny city. Because I’m from California, where the oldest buildings are 70 years old, I’m so impressed by history but also aware of all of the erasure that’s happened. Growing up in California is a lot about trying to recover history. It seemed to me that Vilnius was in a similar position. Because of war and constant political changes, the population just kept leaving. There’s this tremendous amount of forgetting. But I also knew I wanted to write about mental illness, and the two things, bipolar disorder and the erasing of history, seemed to go together.
The father, Lucas, is only in his mid-30s. Why was it important for him to be so young?
In a weird way, he’s the closest I’ve come to a self-portrait. His flaws, his mistakes, and the ways in which he misunderstands the world—I’m just that kind of bumbling idiot. A lot of him came from trying to look at myself, which is easier to do with a character who’s not female.
What compelled me most about him and Katya [Vera’s mother] having a child as teenagers was that we talk so much about accidental pregnancies, but I also think there’s this strong, biological, psycho-spiritual procreative urge that can happen in relationships. For me, their whole story began with the idea that they had a baby on purpose, that there are decisions you can’t take back.
In both this novel and The Girls from Corona del Mar, what is your interest in the power and a vulnerability that you present as specific to teenage girls?
I’m fascinated by the way our understanding of things changes over time, including our understanding of other people. By the time we’re adults, our whole notion of the world has changed from when we were teenagers. There’s this constant shifting of perspective. Both books are concerned with that.
In order to make teenagers interesting as characters, you have to allow them to be as smart as we all felt ourselves to be at the time while still maintaining a layer of all the things they don’t and can’t know.
Vera’s own writing, in emails and journal entries, is interspersed throughout the book, in contrast to Lucas’s narration. What’s it like having to write in two different voices?
Both of my parents were actors, and I’ve imitated people my whole life, so doing voices is something I really like. For Vera, I wanted her to be an absolutely vivacious teenage girl but also not grating. I also did a lot of research, reading Rookie and Anna Fitzpatrick. I love the way the way contemporary teen girls use language.