I recently interviewed Robin Brande, author of the amazing Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature. She blogs very frequently at www.robinbrande.com and be sure to enter her monthly chocolate contest!

Mena learns about evolution in class and her church protests it. She chooses to believe in both God and evolution. Did any experiences influence Mena’s experience?

I grew up in a church like Mena’s, and it was very hard for me to come to terms with both my religious beliefs and my curiosity about science. So I thought it would be interesting to show that conflict in a young adult novel, since that’s when the issue hit me hardest.

Which character do you relate with the most? Which character was the hardest to write?

I’m the most like Mena. Kayla is the opposite of me, but was the most fun character to write-she constantly cracked me up! Probably the hardest character to write was the pastor. I don’t like hard-headed people like that, so it’s difficult for me to sympathize with them. Even snotty Teresa was easier to write-I’ve known a lot of girls like her!

Did you have any teachers that encouraged/inspired you to write? Any like Ms. Shepard?

I wish I’d had a teacher like Ms. Shepherd! She was so much fun to write-I love that combination of highly-intelligent and also dryly comic. She and Kayla, Casey’s sister, were the most fun characters to write.

My best teacher was my English teacher during senior year, a man named Mr. Kuhlman. You may notice I named Mena’s English teacher after him-a small thank you for all he taught me and all the great novels he had us read that year.
Kayla and Ms. Shepard have websites, and Mena starts a blog on Kayla’s. Did writing about blogging make you want to start a blog?

Yes! Just a few months after this novel sold to the publisher, I started my own blog at http://www.robinbrande.com. As you probably know, blogging is addictive!

Which character were you most like as a teen? Did you write then as well?

I was most like Mena in my attitudes and insecurities, but I had a much better time in high school than she did. I hung out with a great group of friends from Drama, and it seemed like we spent every free moment doing some form of make-believe-whether it was writing skits, or rehearsing plays, or otherwise just goofing around, pretending to be people other than ourselves. It was a very creative time for me, writing songs and stories and skits, and just basically playing as much as possible. I still love a day like that, when I can spend most of my time in Fictionland-whether it’s writing my own novels, reading someone else’s, or watching a movie.

What did you do, if you don’t mind sharing, before you were an author?

I graduated from college with an English degree because I really wanted to be a writer, but I chickened out because I thought I wouldn’t be able to support myself. So I went to law school instead. And during law school, instead of studying for finals, I spent the last few weeks of every semester writing, producing, and directing the law school comedy show. I also wrote part of a novel and a musical during that time-so you’d think I would understand that I was always going to be happier being a writer than a lawyer, but I still resisted. I was too nervous about the economics. So I was a trial attorney for seven years before I finally admitted to myself how much I hated it, then I left to start a business of my own for a while and wrote novels on the side. Finally after 9/11 I decided (as many people did) that life is too short and precious to keep running from your dreams. I shut down my business and devoted myself to writing full time. And here we are! I am a much, much, MUCH happier person now than when I was playing at being a lawyer. I’m finally living my dream.
Do you plan on writing a sequel to Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature?

I’ve thought about it, but there are so many other characters I want to write about, too. I don’t know-stay tuned!

How did Mena and other characters change through drafts?

The biggest change was in Ms. Shepherd. In the earliest draft, she was very scornful of anything having to do with God or religion. But then I met Dr. Kenneth Miller, a well-known and highly-respected biology professor at Brown University who is both a scientist and a devout Catholic, and I decided to give Ms. Shepherd a lot of his philosophy. I like the book much more with that change.

What kind of research did you do for Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature?

First I read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species-ugh, very dry reading. Then I decided it would be easier to just go back to high school and take freshman biology. So I found a teacher who let me sit in on her class for a month-in fact, I was the one doing what Josh does in the book, bringing her an offering of Starbucks every day. It was so much fun to be back in high school! Since then I always go back to school for some period of time to research my novels-it helps me make them more real.

What books are you currently working on?

I just finished a novel about one of my favorite topics when I was in high school: reincarnation. Love the whole concept. The novel should be out late this year!

As a teen, what were your favorite books? And what are your favorite books now?

I adored The Once and Future King, about King Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot. So dramatic and romantic. Sigh. I also read tons of biographies of famous actors and actresses-I was really into theater and films, and thought maybe I’d like to be an actress one day. And I was always up for reading some romantic comedy-still am.

These days I love fantasy novels like Twilight and Harry Potter, and I’m a big fan of Meg Cabot’s and John Green’s. I appreciate it when an author can make me laugh out loud, and those two certainly do. I also loved a novel that came out last year, Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner. So, SO funny.

What’s your favorite part of being an author?

I love the freedom to create the kinds of books I would have loved to read when I was in high school. That’s basically what I do-write novels for the 15-year-old girl in me. I love spending my days in make-believe-I really can’t imagine a better life.

What gave you the idea for the book?

It’s an issue I had to deal with when I was young. I grew up in a very strict fundamentalist church, and at some point when I became fascinated by science I had a real conflict over whether I was somehow betraying my faith. And then with all the lawsuits that have been going on these past few years over whether evolution should be taught in high schools-I just thought this would be the right time to explore that issue through a character like Mena. I’m really happy I did-I’ve enjoyed all the conversations I’ve been able to have with teens and other readers about how we all feel about God, evolution, faith, etc.

Thanks for the great interview!