Only on the internet can you have so many friends and be so lonely. Beautiful, wild, funny, and lost, Katie Kampenfelt is taking a year off before college to find her passion. Ambitious in her own way, Katie intends to do more than just smoke weed with her boyfriend, Rory, and work at the bookstore. She plans to seduce Dan, a thirty-two-year-old film professor. Katie chronicles her adventures in an anonymous blog, telling strangers her innermost desires, shames, and thrills. But when Dan stops taking her calls, when her alcoholic father suffers a terrible fall, and when she finds herself drawn into a dangerous new relationship, Katie’s fearless narrative begins to crack, and dark pieces of her past emerge. Sexually frank, often heartbreaking, and bursting with devilish humor, Undiscovered Gyrl is an extraordinarily accomplished novel of identity, voyeurism, and deceit.
AB: I was born in Ithaca, New York, where my father (also named Allison) received his Ph.D. in biology. We moved around a lot, while he moved up in the professorial ranks — Charlottesville, VA; Cape Cod; Naples, Italy; Brussels, Belgium, and Cleveland Heights, OH. Finally, when I was ten we landed in Evanston, Illinois, where I stayed until I graduated from Northwestern University. Since you asked, my favorite pet growing up was a schnauzer named Rudi, and my negligence led to his being run over by a car right in front of me. Hideous experience.
Irish: What is your writing process like?
AB: My schedule never alters. I wake up at the crack of dawn, drink coffee and eat fruit, then go to my study, where I mess around for about a half hour on line, just to shake loose the cobwebs, then I write until lunchtime — that’s it for the day. Now that I have a family, I do this six days a week. When I was single, I did it seven. I take very few vacations. I always compose on the computer, and have since my first Mac in 1986. I do not keep a journal except one in which I record the lives of my two sons, who are both still in diapers. I think they will get a kick out of it, and maybe even some enlightenment, when they read it later…. I wish I had a record of my infancy. I do not doodle. I envy those who can listen to music as they write. It is absolutely impossible for me, as my ear is crucial to my work. Music drowns everything out.
Irish: If we were able to take a peek at your nightstand, what book(s) might I find there?
AB: Right now I am reading short stories my Miranda July, a largely forgotten gem of a novel called The Dud Avocado, and I just finished the biography of Joe Kennedy by Cari Beauchamp.
Irish: One great thing about books are the places that they can take you, so far, what is your favorite time/place that a book has taken you to? Which book was it?
AB: Bloomsbury, as written by Aldous Huxley. I read ten of his novels the summer before my sophomore year in college.
Irish: Book you most want to read again for the first time?
AB: Jane Eyre, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Day of the Locust, Brothers Karamazov, Franny and Zooey, The Red and the Black, The Stranger, all of Raymond Chandler.
Irish: Are there any books that you might have lied about reading (we promise we won’t judge)?
AB: I have read just one of the recent spate of Phillip Roth novels all the way through. (I had no choice. It was for work.) The others I hate so much that I can never finish. I don’t admit this freely and sometimes pretend to have finished them. I think Roth is a tedious windbag, who interrupts his brilliant stories with self-indulgent essays that cause my brain to cave in. I don’t like Updike either. I cannot bear essayists who pretend to be storytellers.
Irish: What’s a book you’ve been a book bully for?
AB: Jane Eyre.
Irish: Which came first title, plot or character(s)?
Irish: Did you plan out the plot of Undiscovered Gyrl ahead of time? Or do you just let the story take you where it needs to go? How long did it take to write?
AB: I knew where it was going. With all my others novels, this was not the case. It took me about five months. I wrote it during the screenwriter’s strike.
Irish: There is a lot of difficult subject matter contained within Undiscovered Gyrl as Katie spirals out of control. What was the hardest part of writing her story?
AB: Honestly, the only difficult part was not giving into fear. I know what I was undertaking was audacious to the extreme.
Irish: Katie is very secretative in her blog changing names, places and other events as suits her. Do you think this need to be anonymous is a common trend in teenagers (and adults) in the world today? Or do you think that people as a whole are more honest online, as they can hide their true identity?
AB: Katie feels that what she is telling us is the absolute truth and that she is only changing unimportant, superficial details. It’s hard to gauge the accuracy of this. At the same time, we know that Katie is a bit of a liar in her everyday life. For instance, she lies to Rory repeatedly and, pretending to be her mother, she forges a letter to her shrink. Who knows what else she forges or lies about.
Irish: There is no real obvious setting in Undiscovered Gyrl, which works for me as it helps make Katie become more real as she could be my neighbor or a friend….though were you imagining any particular place when you were writing it?
AB: I would rather not say.
Irish: Is there a message in this story that you want readers to grasp?
AB: Yes, the love and yearning that young people inspire in older people is complex and often laced with aggression.
Irish: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Undiscovered Gyrl?
AB: I wish that I had had Katie tell the world why she spelled gyrl with a Y. Can you guess why? Ok, I’ll tell you. Because she liked the name for her blog, but undiscoveredgyrl.com with an i was taken!
Side note: that’s exactly how I came up with my online screen name. eons ago a friend and I came up with Irisheyes95 as my online name for AIM. But that was taken so we tweaked the spelling a bit and came up with Irisheyz. The numbers at the end might have changed but the ID still works for me as its a spelling that is never taken.
Irish: Who designed the cover? Is the cover of the ARC the same as the final?
AB: Helen Yentus. No, the final book has a lovely sliver of her shoulder on the back. And there are different textures/finishes to the front.
Irish: Have the book rights been sold to any foreign countries? If so, which ones? What do those covers look like? And of all the available covers, which one do you like the best?
AB: No foreign publishers yet. Although it’s available at Amazon UK.
Irish: Speaking of book covers… What’s a book that you might have bought for the cover?
AB: Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. Incredible.
Irish: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
AB: I just finished a novel called The Escape of Malcolm Poe. It’s about a fifty-year-old man who has been planning for years to leave his wife the day after he delivers their youngest child to college. The novel is Malcolm’s diary in the nine months before he escapes to start over.
Irish: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
AB: Yes, I hope you love Katie as much as I do.
Thanks again to Allison Burnett for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. I hope that you enjoy reading his answers as much as I did!
You can see my review of Undiscovered Gyrl by clicking here.