Interview: Zoe Trope
Don't Kill the Freshman (Future Tense/HarperCollins)

"I am not a fucking prodigy," insists 15-year-old Zoe Trope. If she's not, it's only fair to say she's the smartest, most articulate non-prodigy to publish a book in the history of the world. Though she can't really talk about it due to libel reasons, Trope, a sophomore at a Portland high school, has just signed a six-figure deal (!!!) with HarperCollins for her first book, Don't Kill the Freshman--her own brilliant story of being in high school. It was originally published on Kevin Sampsell's Future Tense Press.

Tell me what happened when you found out about the deal?

I really, like, freaked out when I first heard about it--I was sitting in class. I kept checking my cell phone, and I got a message from Kevin [Sampsell], saying, you've checked your email, and I think this deal from HarperCollins is the one we should go with.' I hadn't checked my email, so I ran to the art room where there are some computers, and there's this email from an agent at HarperCollins saying that he wants it for six figures.

What are you going to do with the money?

My mother has firmly decided that the majority will be going towards college, and, well... I agree with her. My parents are really level-headed, intelligent people, and it'd be really sad if I looked back and had only bought 100,000 Blow Pops.

I can't believe how happy you sound. All the writers I know are depressed and angry.

Most kids my age are angsty, and angry, and I don't blame them for being upset. I mean, I am upset about a lot of things, but generally I'm a big spazz, and I think I've been able to transfer a lot of that into a passion for writing and being an activist. I have less patience now with people who are just angsty and upset and depressed. The one thing I do find, though, in writing, is that people tend to relate more to negative emotions. It's hard to sell happy. Something has to be either really intense or really funny, and there's not much in between. When you tell people how truly happy you are, they say 'I just got laid off from my job.' The react with envy. It's hard to share true happiness.

What have you learned from this experience?

I've learned that some shit is really complicated, like all of a sudden I'm dealing with taxes and lawyers and agents. And I have a lot more friends right now.

Does that make you suspicious?

No, because I think the friends I'm with are really genuine; my little personal mailing list is, like, exploding. I just wish more people my age knew about all the great things that were out there. Like, I just started corresponding with this 13-year-old girl who put out this little zine, and she's so upset because she lives in Lake Oswego and hates everyone, and I can't tell her how to feel, but I wish I could just tell her about how many beautiful people there are in the world, and if you have the patience to wait for them, it's worth it. I have a much better outlook on life now.

How'd you get so smart?

I am not a prodigy. I am not a fucking prodigy. I didn't learn how to read until I was seven because I was so lazy, but my mother read to me the first day she brought me home from the hospital, and every day after that until I read on my own, so I kind of grew up reading. I think I learned to write from reading so much. I read voraciously when I was younger, so when I started to write, it was just a lot easier for me, and I look back on the things I wrote when I was 9, 10, 11, years old, and I was definitely writing from a point of view no one else had then. Then I met Kevin [Sampsell], and I took his writing class, and I learned that all the conventional rules I'd learned about writing were shit... I started to read chapbooks and small press, and that really inspired me that I could say whatever I wanted no matter how stupid or crazy it was.

It must be a lot harder to motivate yourself in school since this happened.

The day after I found out, I'm sitting in chemistry listening to acid base-reactions, and I'm walking around thinking 'Jesus H, my book is worth more than this whole school is.'

Anything else you want to say?

Just that I know the thing that has meant the most to me is my parents. My parents are caring and they're empathetic, and they're smart, and they're very understanding. I feel bad because my parents are great people, and adults like that shouldn't be so rare.