Atlanta's Very Own, Nic Stone Has a Story (Or Three) to Tell
Nic's new book, Odd One Out is funny, smart and necessary.
After the widespread success of her debut novel Dear Martin in Autumn 2017, the Spelman College graduate returns almost exactly a year later to offer the book she wishes she had as an adolescent. Odd One Out is a fresh take on the YA genre---it covers sexuality, race, friendship, loss, amongst other topics in a three-part structure. In a time where 'diversifying' everything---from fictional characters to the authors that develop them---seems like a trendy thing to do, Nic Stone makes it look so natural, because it simply is for her. She is a diverse woman by nature, comprised of a mélange of identities, characteristics, and roles.
Showing no signs of slowing up anytime soon, Nic is ready to continue write nonexistent characters into existence. Best part of all... she is using her platform to reach youth directly and loves to engage with them in-person. Did we mention she's from Atlanta? Which means she, like the rest of the South, has got somethin' to say and we're all ears.
Below, check out what she had to say when we caught up with her in October.
--- Auburn Avenue Editorial Staff
Why did you decide to title your newest book, "Odd One Out?"
That was joint effort between my editor and me. We were trying to capture the idea of being a ‘third wheel’ and being ‘out of the closet,’ since it is a book about questioning and figuring oneself out.
The book centers on several teenagers (Jupiter, Rae, and Cooper) struggling with love, loss, identity, amongst other things. In the Author’s Note, you say you "needed" this book during your adolescence and early adulthood. How much of this book was inspired by your own formative years?
It’s a combination of the years that I did live and the years that I wish I lived. Jupiter is who I wish I had the courage to be in high school, because I wasn’t out in high school. I graduated with 447 people and nobody was out. A lot of us have come out since. Rae’s experience—the questioning experience—was more of what I going through in high school. Cooper was who I pretended I was. There’s definitely some part of me in all the characters.
"For me it’s about: How can I use what is coming to me, as a result of what I created, to do good in the world? That’s always my focus."
The story is told in three parts or blocks. Each part is told from the perspective of one of the three main characters. Why did you decide to employ this structure to tell this story?
Well I personally enjoy telling stories from multiple perspectives. I think it gives a fuller picture, as opposed to just staying in one character’s head. So far I haven’t been able to write a book where I’m just in one character’s head for the entirety of the book. But I also decided to write it in three blocks because I felt like it was cool way to tell the overall story. With each block, the person from who the story is told goes through the most change during that block. Cooper’s main arc is in the first part, Rae’s is in the second and Jupiter’s is in the third, so you have these character transformations that are triggering each other.
The characters in Odd One Out seem to defy labels and aren't necessarily focused on trying to identify themselves, but seem more concerned with trying to sort out their feelings about those in their lives. They also seem very emotionally aware and in tune with how they feel, even if they aren't comfortable with sharing the details with each other. They almost become each other’s therapists, particularly with Jupiter and Cooper.
Absolutely and I think it’s important that we address the idea of therapy in young adult novels because there’s nothing wrong with needing to go to a therapist. When I was younger, I did a lot of journaling. Talking to people would have been more helpful. I was always the girl that everybody came to talk to, but I don’t know that I did a whole lot of talking myself. I think because of social media and the way it encourages us to be more self-aware and aware of other people, it seems common now for kids to have conversations with each other and talk with each other in very therapeutic ways. So I hope that the book promotes that and helps young people find people that they can talk to.
Your first novel, Dear Martin, was published last fall. Is this the beginning of a pattern? Will you be dropping a new book each fall?
I am! I shoal am! My third book comes October 15, 2019. In 2020, I will release a middle grade book in the spring and a YA novel in the fall. But I’m going to keep it up for as long as I can, but it’s hard, I won’t lie. Each book has to be ready a year before it comes out. But the thing is, there are so few books for black kids—black kids that grew up in the suburbs, black kids that grew up in the hood, etc. There aren’t a lot of books aimed at black teenagers. I will continue to do as many books as possible, as quickly as possible, until I can’t do it anymore.
Were there any differences between writing Dear Martin vs Odd One Out?
The main thing that was different was that I was juggling three different sets of feelings and emotions and ways of looking at the world. With Justin in Dear Martin, he tries to figure himself out in relation to the wider world around him. Every person that he encounters is a piece of that wider world. With the characters in Odd One Out, they’re trying to figure out each other. It’s a bit more personal and it touch more on how interpersonal relationships affect your self-concept. I also had more fun writing Odd One Out.
Do you think you'll explore the idea of creating a novel outside of the YA or middle grade genres?
My intention is to release some adult works in the next year. I’ve got some ideas I think I could do a lot with. I also want to do a short story collection. Short stories are so much fun to write. There’s so much power in them because they have this quick narrative arc and put so much in them.
Name three of your favorite things about being an author.
Ooh. Number one, I get paid to lies. That’s so much fun. Number two, I get paid to talk to teenagers. The fact that people pay me to go into school and talk to kids is great. The last thing is that I can work from anywhere. There’s no punch-in clock. I can sit in Starbucks all day, drinking macchiatos.
The theme of this issue is, “The South Got Somethin’ to Say...” You were born and raised in Atlanta, GA. Can you talk about/describe your relationship with South, particularly Atlanta?
So what’s fascinating to me about the South is… this where American black history started. Slaves were specifically brought across the Middle Passage to the South. But there’s so much culture and texture in the South because this is where we come from. I went to Charleston, SC a month and a half ago and I just felt like I was at home. I know that’s where my people were dropped and sold off. My favorite thing though is—despite the fact that there is so much tension and ugliness down here, with a specific type of racism—it’s home. There’s a richness in culture that cannot replicated anywhere else. I go to other places in the country, where there are black people, and there are always tinges of South there. Whether it’s the food or someone saying, “My grandmama grew up in the South Carolina,” there’s always something that will bring it back here, to the South. My favorite thing about Atlanta is that you have this cultural melting pot in the thick of things that aren’t so nice. It’s our little blue oasis in this sea of red. I love Atlanta. I love the history of Atlanta. I love that Atlanta is the gay black capital of the U.S. I won’t leave. It’s the best place in the world. You can look at music, art, film and all of the amazing things from Atlanta that have altered the cultural landscape of this country.
How have you been handling all the success since the release of Dear Martin last year and now Odd One Out?
I don’t really notice it. It does still shock me though when people say, “You replied to my Instagram comment!” I’m like, why wouldn’t I reply to your Instagram comment? I genuinely don’t think the human brain is made to deal with a lot of people who know who you are and that constantly watch you. I don’t think were built to handle that, so I block most of it out. I will say that I do appreciate the access that it has given me to the people that I most want to talk to—like kids in schools. Every time I step in front of a group of high schoolers and I say, “Hi, I’m Nic. I’m black. I’m female. I’m bisexual…” and I say those things out loud. Afterward, I always get a swarm of kids that say, “Thank you for saying that. We needed to see you.” For me it’s about: How can I use what is coming to me, as a result of what I created, to do good in the world? That’s always my focus. Having kids is helpful. I have a two year-old and a six year-old. I just want the world to be a better place for them and an easier place for them to navigate than it was for me. So as long as that’s something I’m helping to bring to pass, I’m good. That’s how I chosen to define success.