Nita Tyndall is a passionate queer advocate and literary translator who writes the kinds of books they needed in high school. Their translations from the German have appeared in World Literature Today, and they have previously written for outlets like Autostraddle and were part of the Lambda Literary Writer’s Retreat in 2017. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram at @nitatyndall. They live in North Carolina with their partner and a beautifully fluffy cat.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I first realized I wanted to be a writer probably when I was 5—I’d always loved making up stories, and the first thing I properly “wrote” was actually Scooby-Doo fanfiction (in hot pink font, in all caps—my Mom still has it printed out somewhere.)
I think when I started to take it seriously was when I was in middle school and read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak for the first time. That book impacted me so much—and still does—and I knew I wanted to write something that made people feel like that.
What can you tell us about WHO I WAS WITH HER?
It’s kind of my love letter to complicated, angry girls. I wanted to write specifically about queerness and grief and what it would be like to have to mourn someone no one else knows about. Corinne is messy and angry and selfish and she doesn’t always say or do the right thing. She hurts people and she takes them for granted and is scared to confront so many parts of herself. But it’s also a love story, too, since you get to see Maggie and Corinne’s relationship in flashbacks, so it’s not all completely sad.
Can you describe your book in 3 words?
Loss, rawness, hope.
Where did you get your information or ideas for this book?
I had to do a lot of research about running cross-country, since I absolutely was not a runner in high school (I didn’t do any sports in high school; I was definitely more of a theatre kid.) So I asked my old classmates who did run and did a lot of looking into high school athletic associations in my state to find out what that recruitment process would be like. As for the grief aspect, at the time I started writing the book a girl I had known died very suddenly, and I really started thinking about grief, especially in the age of social media, and how so many aspects of it now are so public.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Getting into Corinne’s head, for sure. She’s intensely mourning this girl she loved and she’s angry about it and is hiding so many things that she was difficult to write sometimes. That and the dual timeline of the book, I had to make sure everything lined up when I was telling the story.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating WHO I WAS WITH HER?
That I can actually pull off a dual timeline! I wasn’t initially planning to do that; it was just how the draft of the story came out, and I’m really proud of how well it went. I don’t know if I’d do it again, though!
What would you like readers to learn from this book?
That it is okay to not know everything when you’re in high school. That you don’t have to have your entire life figured out by seventeen. That coming out is a long process and it’s something you yourself have to decide, and no one else can decide that for you—if you aren’t ready, you aren’t ready.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. Everyone knows Jellicoe Road but Saving Francesca is my favorite; Marchetta just creates these beautiful rich friendships and connections and every single character is important and has their own distinct voice.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Rey Noble and Gabe Novoa are great, they’re always enthusiastic to talk to and push me on my ideas and ask the right questions. Honestly I’ve learned a lot from watching Courtney Summers and how unapologetically herself she is; I think that’s helped me more than anything else. Tess Sharpe also has been a great help, she’s fantastic with talking about outlines and structure and how to actually get words on the page.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
For the longest time when I was a kid I wanted to be an Egyptologist, mostly because I watched The Mummy and absolutely had a crush on Evie. I had this giant illustrated encyclopedia about Egypt that I devoured and still have a weird amount of that knowledge today.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Right now three! One shelved and two half-finished that I hope will see the light of day someday!
INTERVIEW : YA SH3LF