Black History Month – Interview with Camryn Garrett, Author of Off the Record; On Inspirations, Researching HIV, and Authentic Teen Experiences

Ask me what my favourite book of 2020 was. I have a list, but I can guarantee you that Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett, is definitely up there. If you haven’t read Full Disclosure yet, then I can confidently say that you are missing out on a masterpiece. A young adult book written by a young adult, Full Disclosure is a truly phenomenal and an unforgettable book that I’ll always advocate that people read. (If you weren’t able to tell, I’m a huge fan of Camryn’s work!)

With Camryn’s second book coming out in May this year, I may have screamed in delight when Camryn said yes to my invitation to be interviewed for Black History Month. Her upcoming book, Off the Record, will follow a young Black teen journalist and is inspired by #MeToo. I cannot wait to read it, and I am absolutely confident that it’ll be just as wonderful as Full Disclosure. But enough of me rambling; I’m excited to show you all the interview that I did with Camryn, who visited us at the Pond as koala wearing her signature tie-dye hoodie!

But, before I share with you all Camryn and I’s conversation, allow me to introduce to you all Camryn’s sophomore published novel!

Off the Record by Camryn Garrett

What would you sacrifice to expose the truth?

The behind-the-scenes access of Almost Famous meets the searing revelations of #metoo in this story of a teen journalist who uncovers the scandal of the decade.

Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this.

Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head.

One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

From the author of Full Disclosure, this is a moving testament to the #MeToo movement, and all the ways women stand up for each other.

Find this book on:
Goodreads IndieBound Blackwells Bookshop

Author Interview with Camryn Garrett

CW: Hello Camryn! A huge and warm welcome and thank you so much for visiting us at The Quiet Pond today. We’re huge, HUGE fans of you here at the Pond, so I am over the moon that I get the chance to interview you (and also take another opportunity to yell about how awesome your book is). For any of our friends who might be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Camryn: AH, hi! I’m flailing a bit. I’m Camryn! My book, FULL DISCLOSURE, came out in 2019 and my next book, OFF THE RECORD, comes out May 18! I’m currently a junior at NYU (which is very scary.) I spend too much time on Twitter and love YA with all my heart.

CW: Your YA debut, Full Disclosure, is effortlessly one of my favourite books of 2020; I’m still in awe of your story, and I think it’s a masterpiece. What motivated you to write a story about a Black queer girl who was HIV positive?

Camryn: This is making me cry! This means so much to me, thank you!

So I was really into adoption blogs about four years ago because I wanted to adopt and, for some reason, figured researching at sixteen was necessary for me to do. Anyway, a lot of kids who are adopted internationally have special needs, and I was surprised that a lot of parents would adopt kids with HIV. At the time, I didn’t know anything about it, and figured that it meant someone was going to die. Then I researched more and realized I was very very wrong.

I wanted to write about a Black queer girl with HIV to show that HIV does impact all of these communities; there are high rates of Black women in the United States with HIV and it obviously has a connection to the queer community.

CW: For many young readers, I imagine that Full Disclosure is the book where they will learn more about what it is like to live with HIV, particularly the medical aspects of living with HIV. I know you did a lot of research before writing Full Disclosure, but I think what makes Full Disclosure such an engaging and powerful read is that it’s also a deeply emotional and humanising story. What did you do to put yourself in Simone’s shoes to write her story?

Camryn: I read a lot and watched a lot of documentaries about HIV as a starting point. Most of the documentaries were about the AIDS Crisis and then the articles were about day-to-day life; there’s a great website called POZ that centers people living with HIV and AIDS and I lurked on that a lot.

But it felt really organic as I created her, if that makes sense. Whenever I come up with a character, there are parts of me I put into them. I’m not as big of a theater nerd as Simone, but I do have a history with it, which I used when fleshing her out. I felt connected to her complicated family dynamics. I very much understood what it was like to be a horny teen girl who wanted to jump a really hot guy in the hallway, you know? So I think all of those things made it very easy to get into her head and figure out how she’d respond to all sorts of things.

CW: One of the most unforgettable things about Full Disclosure was an honest dive into how Simone experiences sexual feelings and is curious about sex. I loved the openness of how you portrayed this; it was so refreshing and, after, I thought: ‘we need more of this’ – especially since sexuality is such a natural part of growing up. The added layer, of course, is that Simone is HIV positive, so she has to grapple with being a young Black woman, the stigma of being HIV positive, and wanting to have sex. What was the place you were writing from when you explored sex and the intersections of Simone’s identity in Full Disclosure?

Camryn: I was sixteen when I wrote the first draft, and I really wanted to talk about sex. I usually did this with my friends at the lunch table, but I either couldn’t bring it up to adults because the conversation would shut down or I just felt uncomfortable bringing it up to, like, my mom or something. I wanted an outlet to talk about what I was feeling and why it wasn’t odd or weird and I poured that into Simone.

I thought a lot about how I wanted to frame it when revising. I think Black girls get a reputation for being “fast” if they’re interested in sex or dating as teenagers, and I wanted to show that it’s natural to have questions and be interested (or not interested!) in sex and strip away a lot of the slut shaming that comes with it. I wanted the book to be a judgement free zone when it came to that, basically, because that was the type of space I wanted.

CW: Though Full Disclosure is the first book that you have published, is it the first book that you have finished writing? Did you always write about Black girls, and what has your writing journey been like?

Camryn: I can’t count the amount of books I’ve written; I know it has to be at least ten. Full Disclosure isn’t actually the first book I finished. I had another, called F*** Your Feelings that was about a Black YouTuber and protests and police brutality that I actually went on submission with. It wasn’t great!

When I first started writing, I wrote white characters, and was actually irritated when people assumed they were Black. I don’t think I started writing Black characters until I read books by authors like Jason Reynolds that made me feel like being Black was something special.

I’ve been agented since I was fifteen and used to have this really intense desire to be published before the age of eighteen. It wasn’t until I got over that whole thing that Full Disclosure got published. It’s definitely been a journey, but it’s just… my journey. You know?

CW: Your next book, Off the Record, releases next year in May – and I could not be more excited! Can you tell us a little bit about what Off the Record is about and what inspired the story?

Camryn: Yes! So Off the Record is about a teen journalist named Josie who gets the chance to go on a press tour and cover a charming new young actor named Marius Canet. But when she starts to hear rumors about a director and sexual assault, she has to decide whether or not to speak up and use her voice or to stay quiet.

The story was obviously inspired by the #MeToo movement, but it’s also the most personal book I’ve written. I explore a lot of topics close to my heart, like fatness and what it’s like to be a fat Black girl, anxiety, and being a teen journalist.

CW: How do Simone and Josie, the main character of Off the Record, differ? What did you enjoy the most when writing about Simone versus Josie?

Camryn: Josie is definitely way more quiet and shy than Simone. She wouldn’t be directing a school musical at all. I think she spends a lot of time in her head and online while Simone is very involved with her friends, family, and community. Full Disclosure is about Simone sort of fighting a stigma that would cut her out of her community while Off the Record is about Josie finding her own.

CW: This is a question I like to ask all of my guests – but what is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?

Camryn: Can I name multiple ones? This is weird, but my dad used to make penne alla vodka sauce and I remember it bubbling over on the stove and how good it tasted, even when reheated. But my grandmother makes the best rice and peas. She puts coconut milk in it and lets it simmer all day. When I got pneumonia in the sixth grade, she made me a pot and drove it over. I think that was my best food memory ever.

About the Author

Camryn Garrett was born and raised in New York. In 2019, she was named one of Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21 and a Glamour College Woman of the Year. Her first novel, Full Disclosure, received rave reviews from outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, the Today Show, and The Guardian, which called a “warm, funny and thoughtfully sex-positive, an impressive debut from a writer still in her teens.” Her second novel, Off the Record, will be released May 18, 2021. Camryn is also interested in film and is a student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. You can find her on Twitter @dancingofpens, tweeting from a laptop named Stevie.

Find Camryn on: Website | Twitter | Instagram

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