By Taylor Tolbert
Shy Town Girls is a series of four books that follow the lives of four friends living in Chicago. Ivy, Meryl, Bobbie and Ella are all 20-something women you can relate to, women you know and women you want to be friends with. The books are a collaboration of three authors: Melissa Giovagnoli Wilson, Jennifer Yih and Katie Leimkuehler.
We had a chance to sit down with Katie, author of the second book entitled Ivy, about the writing process, living the dream in Chicago and trying to relate to those Girls on TV.
Q: First of all, I love the books. Did you always have an interest in becoming an author?
A: Since I was eight years old, I just always knew. I started a poetry club with my cousin, and we had this huge poetry book that we did for years. And then we turned it into a magazine when we were 12, and we just thought we were really cool. I guess that’s where it started.
Q: The Shy Town Girls’ website is so much fun. It seems like you’re really trying to make the series as interactive as possible for readers with Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. Were the website and the social media incorporation things you had in mind from the beginning of the writing process, or did it come together after the first book?
A: At the beginning, we only knew we were each going to take a character, and we’re still developing the website because we know that we want to have a section for each of them. I don’t know that we started out with that idea, but as we got more involved, we realized what we wanted our brand to be and what we wanted people to get from all of it.
Q: Obviously, Chicago is a central character in the series, and it’s really neat to read about the city from a perspective that’s different from the sports and hot dogs and the more macho culture that is associated with Chicago so often. What do you love about the city?
A: Summer, definitely. I think that’s the best time of year in Chicago. The city comes alive like nothing else, and everyone has been hibernating for so long that we’re all happy to get this fleeting time to do so many fun things. Everyone takes advantage of the time. I also love that there’s so much nature integrated into the city. We’ve got the beach right there and the running path along the lake, so you don’t always feel like you’re in the city.
Q: Shy Town Girls is such a collaboration between you and the other women. How did the three of you connect initially?
A: I connected with Melissa at my previous job, and I wanted to get into publishing, so she and I started little publishing projects, and Jen was her intern at the time. Melissa said she could either teach us about publishing or she could show us. So we kind of just ran with this idea that we had, and it grew from there.
Q: What’s the writing process like?
A: It’s a mix of collaboration and individual work. It’s turned around really quickly. Last August, we all sat down and outlined our books together so we knew how each one would start and end and how we’d transition into the next book. We each wrote a book for our individual characters at the same time, and we had background histories for each of the girls, so we knew how each would react to certain situations and laid everything out. The characters would jump off the page because of that. I never had to think about how Ivy would handle something or what she would say because I had worked it out already.
The individual writing process is really up and down. Some days are really great and then some days I’m just stuck. But that’s when the collaboration is nice because I can call Jen and ask her for advice or for an idea. It’s not a solo event. We’re all working together. I love getting the other girls’ opinions but then being able to make my own decisions.
Q: All of the characters are so relatable. I can picture myself hanging out with them in real life.
A: That’s definitely what we were going for. We get a lot of Sex and the City comparisons, and also Girls, but I think Shy Town Girls falls in between the two. Sex and the City is a little older and also maybe a little extreme in the situations, and Girls is kind of depressing and I don’t feel like it represents me at all. It’s not as empowering. We wanted readers to feel like they had been in these situations or know a girl who has.
Q: Are all of the characters based on people you know, or are some of them completely fictional?
A: Definitely both. Our publisher wanted us to be the inspiration for our characters. We’re living these lives, so why not? I took a lot of my own experiences and then also one of my best friends, so Ivy is a mix of both of us. She’s really sassy and outspoken. A lot of the things that have happened to her are things that have actually happened to my friends. Some of this stuff you can’t make up; it’s better than fiction.
Q: I know it’s a four-book series, but do you have any plans to continue the story and expand the brand beyond the books?
A: Our goal is a TV show. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. I’ve done some pitches to producers, and there are a few people reading the books right now, so that’s our end goal. I feel like it hasn’t been done before in Chicago, and it’s a different message than other shows. There’s no over-the-top drama. It’s just relatable girls that you know.
Q: It was so nice to see that you all have such a strong passion for giving back and supporting women. Can you tell me a little more about that?
A: Right now, I’m working with a creative writing non-profit called Writopia as an instructor, and each one of us has a passion that we’re working with. Each one of our interns have been girls, and we try to connect them with jobs or networks even after they’ve worked with us, and a lot of them want to continue working with us after the internship. That’s a huge part of our brand. We’re trying to help them succeed after graduation. It’s a difficult field to break into. I’m always happy to help them start their careers.
The second book in the Shy Town Girls series, Ivy, is now available on Amazon.com. Visit www.ShyTownGirls.com for more information on the series.