Its been almost a month since Analee, In Real Life by Janelle Milanes has been released! So, I have her as a guest on the blog today to talk about her latest YA Contemporary, writing, YA Books, and so much more!
Analee, In Real Life is Janelle Milanes’s second YA Contemporary with her first novel + debut being, The Victoria In My Head which released last fall!
Thanks again to Janelle for the opportunity to interview you! (´▽`ʃƪ)
And if your interested, you can check out my ARC review of Analee, In Real Life Here!
Q1: For those who haven’t heard of your latest book Analee, In Real Life, can you tell us what its all about?
Janelle: Sure! The book follows Analee Echevarria, a girl who prefers to live her life online rather than deal with the complications of reality. Since the death of her mother, she spends all of her free time playing as Kiri, her night elf alter-ego at the center of her favorite game, and chatting with the love of her life, Harris (whom she’s never actually met). In the meantime, her father is getting remarried to a yogi named Harlow and her best friend has abandoned her to embrace life with the popular crowd. Things change for Analee when she’s paired with the popular Sebastian Matias as lab partners. The two strike an unlikely friendship, and Analee finds herself venturing out of her comfort zone to deal with real life problems.
Q2: How did you come up with the idea for Analee, In Real Life? + What was the writing process like?
Janelle: I loved the idea of someone with social anxiety living a double life online as a kick-ass warrior. I went through a short but intense World Of Warcraft phase years ago, and it was fun to devise a new persona I could live through-someone tough and fearless and powerful. Role playing online can provide such a unique way to connect with people especially if you have difficulty doing it in person. From there, I got to thinking about a girl like Analee and what a relief an alter-ego could provide her. Throw in some fake dating and family drama, and it was my kind of book.
The writing process came together very easily compared to my first novel. With Analee, I had a better idea of how I wanted her story to end and what needed to happen in her emotional journey. I usually wrote a set number of words every day and followed a vague outline, letting the story take me to different places if it felt right.
Q3: There’s so many different elements and to this story, from the Online RPGs, fake relationship, Analee finding her inner strength, to the grief she continues to struggle with after her mother’s death. You tackled so many topics, themes, and plot threads so organically! Were these elements already in your mind as you started drafting or did they develop as you continued writing? Why do you think its important that Analee face all of these in different ways?
Janelle: I definitely threw a lot at poor Analee. Most of these elements were in my mind when I started drafting. Analee’s father’s wedding served as a catalyst for the story and from there, everything begins to unravel. Analee isolates herself to cope with her grief and the only way she’s truly able to pull herself out of it is by connecting with other people. I wasn’t sure how all these pieces would fit together until I started writing!
Q4: Similar to The Victoria In My Head, Analee, In Real Life features a memorable and diverse cast of characters! (With the MC’s Victoria & Analee identifying as Cuban-American). Another one of my favorite aspects to your books is how inclusive the cast is! How exactly did you go about developing the main cast? Who was your favorite character to write about and were there any moments when writing Analee, that characters surprised you?
Janelle: Thank you! I like diversity to be present in my books without taking center stage. Every character’s cultural experience helps form who they are, but their identities don’t revolve around it. When creating the cast of characters, I wanted Analee to be thrown together with people with which she appears to have nothing in common.
The characters went from stereotypes–the zen yogi, the popular friend, the obnoxious jock–to fully-formed characters who make mistakes and have their own ssues underneath the collected exteriors they project.
I think Harlow surprised me the most in terms of how much I grew to love her. I was a little wary of her when I started writing, much like Analee. She’s the person you love to mock because she seems to be so perfect and unshakable. As the story goes on, though, Harlow becomes more open with her vulnerability and you see her trying to fit into a family with their own set of traditions that she doesn’t quite understand.
She is also very much living in Analee’s mother’s shadow. As I got to know Harlow through writing the story, I started to feel sorry for her in a way I didn’t expect!
Q5: Analee is very opinionated in her head, but can’t exactly find the words to say what she means out loud most of the time! I found her to be such a relatable and inspiring characters as she slowly begins to unlock her her inner strength to say what’s on her mind, while also opening herself up to new experiences! Why do you think its important for readers to read about a character like Analee?
Janelle: I needed character like Analee when I was growing up. I had a small, close group of friends, but I could be timid when it came to expressing myself to other people ad getting to know them. found it was easy to get drowned out by louder voices. Speaking your truth and opening yourself up to new experiences involves stepping out of your comfort-zone that was, and sometimes still is difficult for me. I hope those who read this book realize they aren’t alone in those feelings.
Q6: Seb and Analee don’t exactly get along at first, but soon after they find themselves hatching up a plan for a fake relationship to win back really important people in their lives (Seb’s ex, Chloe & Analee’s former friend, Lily). What can you tell us about their dynamic/relationship and what did you love most about developing it?
Janelle: Seb and Analee are total opposites in many ways and that’s always a fun dynamic to explore. He loves being the center of attention, she desperately avoids it. I loved that Seb nudged her into doing things that took courage, but he was never forceful about it. Their relationship begins as a sham but turns into a deeply meaningful friendship. Seb is there for her when nobody else is, and he reminds her what it feels like to connect to someone in a genuine way. I loved writing every scene with them–he brings out a more confident side of Analee, and she brings out a gentleness in him.
Q7: Were there any scenes in particular that you had a lot of fun writing or any memorable moments that come to mind when you were developing the story?
Janelle: I had a lot of fun writing the first kiss between Seb and Analee when they go to the movies. When you really think about it, the mechanics of kissing are so strange, and I love how Analee over-analyzes everything about it. Her character approaches it like a game, with levels and rules, so she thinks she is maintaining some kind of control in the situation. It was interesting to see her go from that to then getting swept up in her emotions and throwing the rulebook out the window. The scene with Harlow and Analee in McDonald’s was another moment I loved to explore. It was nice to see Harlow lose control a bit.
Q8: What I love about your books so much is the focus on family and the growth of the main characters! It’s always great to see those elements explored in YA Contemporary! Why do you think it’s important that your books feature both of those elements & are at the center of the story?
Janelle: I think the focus on family is inevitable, particularly in young adult books! Nobody lives in a bubble and for me, personally, I could never relate to books in which characters live their lives without much family interaction. As a Latina, my family was (and still is) constantly in my business! Part of growing up is finding your own identity and often seeing the world from a different perspective than your family might. It’s such an integral source of conflict and growth that it would be almost impossible not to explore it.
Q9: Are there any elements of Analee, In Real Life that changed while writing it or any interesting facts about some of the main characters that didn’t make it into the book?
Janelle: Yes! Analee was originally names Anais, but my publishing team worried that too many people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. The end was something that I tinkered with a bit too.
*SPOILER ALERT* I knew I wanted the story to be less of a romance and more of Analee coming to love herself. Initially, I struggled over whether I wanted Seb to initiate the break up, but after giving it some thought, I think it turned out much stronger that Analee made the decision to stop seeing him. I’m glad I allowed her to make that choice for herself. *END OF SPOILER*
Q10: What can readers expect next after Analee, In Real Life?
Janelle: I am working on a few different projects but am currently focused on another YA contemporary about a small town girl fighting off big life changes–the worst of which are her growing feelings for her best friend’s girlfriend.
Lightning Round Qs.
1. Current Read? Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
2. Describe your book in the 3 words? Growth, family, love
3. If your main characters Analee & Victoria could meet any other YA character, who would it be and why? I would want Victoria to meet Jessica Darling from Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy First series. Both of them are itching to experience life and escape the mundane, and I think they would appreciate each other’s snark. For Analee, I think Lara Jean from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would be exactly the kind of caring friend she needs. They can both recount their fake dating experiences. Oh, and Dimple from When Dimple Met Rishi since they share a similar cynicism and love of computers.
4. Favorite YA Book (Or Books) of 2018 so far? Leah And The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
5. Favorite YA Contemporary Book? For pure gooey light romance, Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I swooned so hard.
6.Any upcoming YA Books Your Looking Forward To? So many! At the top of my TBR pile right now is Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno.
7. YA Book you recommend to everyone? I’m not sure I would be writing YA if not for Judy Blume. Just As Long as We’re Together was a huge influence on me, but it’s never talked about as much as Blume’s other books!
8. Other than the Harry Potter Series (which Analee loves) what other books or book series would Analee love to read? I think she’d be into classic fantasy. Maybe His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman? I can also see her getting sucked into the Song of Ice and Fire series eventually! (Analee would never call it Game of Thrones because she would think the books are superior to the show, obviously.)
9. If Analee could play any other video game or RPG, which would she play? Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, and some obscure games I’m not cool enough to know.
10. Between both of your books, which character is your favorite? I could never choose! Victoria is my young, sheltered self. Analee is my anxiety x1,000.
Thanks again to Janelle for the awesome interview!
Analee, In Real Life is out now & its available to add on Goodreads:
Have you read Analee, In Real Life? If you haven’t yet, do you plan to? ✨🕹📚