First-time novelist Isabel Kaplan, Hancock Park, speaks with Write On! Online. A Los Angeles native, Kaplan, 19, attended Marlborough School, and is now a student at Harvard University. Kaplan talks about writing from personal experience, balancing her writing and education, getting published, and more. Hancock Park was released by HarperTeen on June 30.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing around the same time that I learned to read—so, about 15 years ago, at age four. I wrote my first short stories in the second grade, when I was seven years old.
How did the idea for Hancock Park come about? What was your writing process?
The idea for Hancock Park grew out of my experiences and observations growing up in the unique and sometimes crazy world of Los Angeles.
I wrote Hancock Park during my junior and senior year of high school. For me, the key was really finding time to write and then sitting down and focusing on writing and not allowing myself to flit back and forth between Microsoft word, my email, and the distractions of the Internet. As a result of writing and editing a novel in the midst of a very busy two years, I’ve learned to be a lot better at time management.
How much of the novel is based on real life experience?
Hancock Park is the story of a city I know well and it features many places and experiences that I am familiar with. That said, Hancock Park is not my story—it’s Becky’s, and the novel depicts her struggles as a 16-year-old in Los Angeles.
How did you get it published?
When I was 16, the summer after I finished tenth grade, I met Judith Regan at a book party, and with her, I discussed my ideas for a novel. She was intrigued and asked if I had written anything; I had only written about ten pages of what would become Hancock Park, and I showed them to her. At the end of that week, she offered me a book deal. It was incredibly exciting. When Judith and HarperCollins parted ways, many of her books were dropped. I was very fortunate—HarperTeen, another imprint of HarperCollins, wanted to obtain Hancock Park, so I switched imprints and began the writing and editing process with a new editor, Farrin Jacobs, who was fantastic. And now Hancock Park is available on bookshelves everywhere!
What was your favorite part of the process? The greatest challenge?
My favorite moments in the writing process were when I’d reach the end of a section or a chapter and finally see my ideas coming together, not only in my head but also in words, on paper. That’s always incredibly exciting and very rewarding. Also, seeing the book jackets for the first time—as silly as it might seem, only then did it hit me that this was real, that my writing was going to come together in a real book.
Balancing writing with high school, extracurricular activities, and the college application process was quite a challenge at times. There definitely wasn’t room for much procrastination!
How do you balance novel-writing with your Harvard education?
My time-management skills have developed a lot over the past couple of years. Sometimes, my workload can feel overwhelming, but I really love to write, and when you love to do something, you make time to do it.
I am at work on my next novel! This summer, I am also interning for Congressman Ed Markey in Washington D.C. And, in September, I’ll start my sophomore year of college.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
I love Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, James Joyce, Junot Diaz, Curtis Sittenfeld, Lois Lowry, Beverly Cleary, Sylvia Plath, E.M. Forster, and many, many others…
Advice for writers?
My main advice would be to write as much and as often as possible and to read a lot! As a writer, I’m certainly still in the process of learning, growing, and developing my voice. I think that reading a lot is crucial, as is actually setting aside time to write and not allowing yourself to get distracted by anything.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing this book?
During the writing process, there were moments when my inner critic would surface and say things like, “How on earth do you think you’re going to tie those plotlines together?” or “You’ll never finish it. Never.” If I could, I would go back and tell that inner critic to be quiet and assure myself that the blank page on the computer screen was not doomed to remain blank forever!