Today we welcome Kate Hattemer whose book, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy released on April 8th (and was chosen as Amazon’s Best New Book of the month).
Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art’s Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art’s Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It’s up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they’ll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher.
Holly Bodger: How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Kate Hattemer: I had a brief list of what I wanted to include: a first-person narrator, pets named after condiments, poetry, and the word “absquatulate.” Ethan’s voice came first: I had so much fun writing a few pages of sardonic, self-deprecating teenage boy that I knew I wanted to stick with it all book. Then, reading about Ezra Pound, I became fascinated by his life, his work, and the potential to use both as a thematic backdrop. But I never did manage to work in absquatulation.
HB: Is this the first book you’ve written? How long did it take from idea to sale?
KH: Nope! My first book, Varsity Latin, was about high-school Latin competitions. It featured many action-packed scenes about conjugating irregular verbs and memorizing maps of the ancient Forum. I did find my agent, Uwe Stender, with this book, although it never sold, and I started Vigilante Poets in the meantime. About a year elapsed between the first stirrings of idea and the best phone call of my life.
HB: Your book is about teens taking down a reality show. Do you watch reality shows? If so, which ones? Do you have a gerbil?
KH: These questions may seem unrelated, but they have one trait in common: Exposing Me as a Fake. My experience with reality TV is limited to the one cycle of America’s Next Top Model that my friends and I watched in college when a classmate of ours appeared on it, and I dislike rodents. (Have I lost all credibility yet?)
HB The title for your book is awesome. How did you come up with it?
KH: Thanks, though I don’t deserve much credit! It was originally entitled The Contracantos, which obviously had to go, and a lot of people contributed to the brainstorming — I think my editor’s assistant, Kelly Delaney, was the one who came up with the key word “vigilante,” and my father suggested The Poets of Selwyn. (He also suggested, for this book about Ezra Pound and a gerbil, The Pound and the Furry.)
HB: You have another book coming out next year. What’s that about? Is it in any way connected to this book?
KH: It’s called The Land of Ten Thousand Madonnas (I’m doomed to long titles). Seventeen-year-old Jesse has died of a heart defect; a year later, his three cousins, his best friend, and his girlfriend are given an enigmatic mission to travel to Europe. It’s a quest story about grief and art and friendship. The only thing it shares with Vigilante Poets is that in both books, I mention Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Continuing this trend is a major career goal of mine.
About Kate Hattemer
Kate Hattemer is the author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy (Knopf, Spring 2014) and The Land of Ten Thousand Madonnas (Knopf, 2015).
About Holly Bodger