Interview with Meredith Zeitlin, author of Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters

We are excited to welcome the awesome Meredith Zeitlin on our blog today! I recently read and reviewed her hilarious debut Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters.

But before we start one of our favorite interviews [ever!] here on the blog, here's the synopsis:
book cover
Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and FRUSTRATED. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because KELSEY has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary throughout her disastrous freshman year will have you laughing out loud—while being thankful that you’re not in her shoes, of course…

4 favorite places to hang out in Brooklyn.
In the spring, there's no place more beautiful in Brooklyn than Prospect Park. Aside from the obvious flora and fauna (and lake!), Prospect Park is great because it's far less crowded than better-known Central Park. So you can always find a nice big tree to read under or explore a trail without being disturbed if you want some alone-time. Plus, evening events in the summertime are rarely over-crowded. I love going with a group of friends to see the NY Philharmonic from the comfort of a picnic blanket. ::sigh::

Cog and Pearl (, a tiny shop on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. This is one of my favorite stores to poke around in, especially if I'm looking for a unique gift or to show a visitor how super eclectic and edgy we Brooklynites are. (It's exhausting, I tell you.) This store has pretty jewelry, sure - but what I really love are the bowls made out of records, shelves made out of old books, urn-shaped terrariums with tiny unicorns hidden inside, books on Russian prison tattoos, and antique china stamped with pinup-girls and skulls. There's also a wide variety of "arty" items that fall squarely into the "Who would pay this kind of money for something so incredibly hideous?!?!" category. Also, once a little bird flew into the store while I was browsing and everyone there lost their minds, reacting as though it was actually a rogue helicopter. It was incredible.

BARCADE ( in Williamsburg. There are lots of great bars to hang out in, but here is what's great about this one: it is dog-friendly, super low-key, and there are old-school video games for you to play. They have Q-bert, you guys. When's the last time you saw a Q-bert?! Um... yeah. I think that about covers it.

The Dekalb Market - This place is special to me because it's in my neighborhood, which up until the last year or so was basically a wasteland totally bereft of anywhere to eat, drink, or sit down. (Except Applebees. Need I go on?) Now we have this great open-air market; all the stores and food options are housed inside old shipping containers, there's a lovely community garden - which grows mostly herbs used in the little restaurants! - and rotating art projects. This one was there for a while and it was AWESOME:

3 crazy/disastrous experiences during your freshman year in high school that may or may not have inspired Kelsey's experiences.
Oh, my. Well, now you've stumbled onto the truth: almost all of the stories in the book really happened to me at some point. Yes, names and details have been changed, but for the most part, almost all the disasters are mine. But let's see what I can think of that specifically happened to me my FRESHMAN year! Hm...

1) I started at a new school my freshman year, an all-girls' private school. Being new is never easy, but it was especially hard because many of these girls had been friends since these were babies and cliques were pretty tightly formed. The first week, I was happy to have started making friends and, to get a couple of the girls in my homeroom to laugh, I started writing notes featuring improvisational limericks about the teachers. (I know, I'm an idiot - I admit it. But I was trying to be cool!) This would've been a big hit - IF one of the girls hadn't tossed them at the end of class as we walked out (cracking up) and IF the teacher hadn't for some reason I have never understood taken the notes out of the trash and read them and IF she hadn't been, unbeknownst to me, the MEANEST TEACHER IN THE WORLD. She somehow knew I had written the poems and never forgot it. Ask anyone in my graduating class and they'll tell you she absolutely loathed me. The worst part? She was the Lit teacher, and brilliant. Oh, cruel irony...

2) I was in the spring production of "Into the Woods" my freshman year, and I played Li'l Red. The girl who played Cinderella had insisted on wearing these ridiculous fake boobs with her costume, and sure enough, she had trouble with them one night in the middle of the first act. A senior playing Jack's Mother managed to get them off stage, but she came off laughing so hard that none of us could figure out what was going on. Then, just as I was about to go back onstage, she thrust the offending cutlets at me and ran off to the dressing room. I had no choice but to go on and sing my big song... with Cinderella's false tits in my basket. At least it wasn't the scene where i had to give Granny some bread out of it!

3) Here's one that does show up in the book: my first kiss. It was exactly like Kelsey's, right down to the dialogue, and it happened just before my freshman year. I was at summer camp (Stagedoor Manor shout-out!) and I actually did like the guy and wanted to kiss him (unlike Kelsey and poor Keith Mayhew)... but the horribleness, the saliva on my chin, the choking on a gross foreign tongue, and the assurance that his "brother in college" had told him how to do it so I must be the bad kisser? It all really happened. And I had waited sooooo long to have the perfect first kiss, just like Kelsey. (Positive note: practice does make perfect.)

2 things that recently made you laugh out loud.
I'm very lucky because I laugh all the time - often at myself, to be sure. I had to really think to come up with specific funny things that happened (other than seeing Bridesmaids and Hangover Two on the same day, which seems too obvious, though true).

1) The first thing that comes to mind is an absolutely AMAZING "newsletter"-style Christmas card my friend was sent by her crazy cousin. I can't go into too many details (I have to protect the innocent), but it was mostly about many, MANY different cats, a bike race she participated in with a blind friend of her elderly father's, and the Great Sardine Run in South Africa. The front of the card featured a watercolor of a dolphin which appeared to be choking on a Chinese New Year dragon while leaping over a tinsel-festooned tropical island. (The inside of the card was filled with pictures of cats and a group of people identified as "Family" that my friend - part of said family - had NEVER SEEN BEFORE.)


2) My friend Sara and I were on the subway a couple of weeks ago and we started laughing about something so hard we were both weeping. Two entire families moved to get away from our lunacy. Sara almost felt out of her seat at one point. It was one of those great, stomach-shredding laugh sessions that seem like they're about to end and then start all over again. Unfortunately, neither of us can remember what the heck it was about - but that's sort of a great thing, isn't it? To have a friend you can laugh that hard with about possibly NOTHING? I think so.

1 favorite scene in Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters.
This might seem like a weird answer because the scene I'm going to talk about isn't a funny one, and I know people have been focusing on the humor in the story - which is great. But there are a few serious moments in the book, too, and one of them is when Kelsey and her friends go to an upperclassman's party and Kelsey ends up in a bedroom with a guy who wants to take things farther than she does. I think it's a really crucial moment - both for the character and, hopefully, the reader. This kind of thing happens all the time, on small scales and big ones, and talking about it is really important. Kelsey doesn't end up getting physically hurt, but she does go through a pretty intense period of self-doubt afterward, and also spends a lot of time worrying that he thinks she is a loser because of the way she handled it. I don't actually know a single girl - or woman, actually - who hasn't found herself in this kind of situation, I'm sorry to say, and that's really not okay. The sooner we can find a way to start really respecting each other and ourselves, the better.

Thanks so much for having me! You guys are awesome.

A big thank you to Meredith for answering our questions. To learn more about Meredith, check out her online portfolio (she's a voice actor and done work all over--chances are you've heard her voice on TV) and follow her on Twitter. Kelsey Finkstein has her own website.

And don't forget to pick up your copy of
Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters
It came out on March 1, 2012.
Check out my review here.

1 comment

  1. Oh you guys! This is a *wonderful* interview - Meredith sounds like an absolute blast :-) I can't wait for my (imported) copy to arrive from the States!


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