Interview with Adi Alsaid: Let’s Get Lost
I recently read and reviewed Adi Alsaid’s novel Let’s Get Lost, which I quite enjoyed. I met him at the Decatur Book Festival, and when I had the opportunity to interview him through email, I was really excited. Check out what Adi has to say about finding treasures in the world, road trips, ice cream, and Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
Describe yourself in three words.
Easy-going, positive, content.
Give me a one to two sentence intro to Let’s Get Lost.
A mysterious girl named Leila road trips to go see the Northern Lights, helping four different teens come of age while keeping her own story a secret.
Hudson shows Leila around Vicksburg, Mississippi by showing her his favorite treasures, or places that have a special meaning to him. If you had to show me around Mexico City, what would be your first treasure? (Give as many treasures as you’d like!)
It’s hard not to just list a bunch of places to eat at as my treasures here. I think the most surprising part of my hometown is how European certain neighborhoods. People who’ve never been to Mexico City don’t necessarily have a certain image in their head, but when they come to the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, they’re always pleasantly surprised. It’s not a buried treasure, like Hudson finds in Vicksburg, since most people in the city are well aware of the neighborhood’s charms, but the rest of the world isn’t really in tune. Yes, many of those charms are related to food.
Leila is one of the kindest characters I’ve ever encountered in a book: she helps in any way she can but asks nothing in return. Have you ever done that for someone or had it done for you? Can you tell us about it?
It’s not exactly an act of kindness that comes to mind, but an attempt at bringing joy to other people. It’s something I’m quite proud of doing, inspired by something I encountered on the streets of Israel. When I was 18 and living in Tel-Aviv, I saw this group called Pharsh handing out chalk to write on the sidewalks of a major street. They called themselves revolutionaries of silliness, and their goal was to bring light-heartedness to a region of the world often faced with many harsh realities. When I was in college at UNLV, I decided to start a group with a similar goal, to bring silliness and joy to my fellow students. I called the group SASS-Students for the Advancement of SillinesS (the second capitalized S a silent homage to Calvin & Hobbes’ GROSS). We also handed out chalk for sidewalk drawings, organized a scavenger hunt, nap time during finals week, hid bubbles throughout campus early in the morning so that by lunch time everyone was blowing them. It wasn’t exactly random acts of kindness, but something I’m very much proud of.
[What an amazing idea! You should be proud, Adi]
What is your favorite thing about road trips?
I want to say something about the beauty of travel itself, of seeing new places, meeting new people, movement itself, how it helps you learn about yourself, enjoy life. But if I’m being honest, I probably love the food more than anything. When I took a cross-country trip between drafts of LGL, I had a Food Network app that showed me restaurants in whatever city I was that had been featured on some of their shows. So I eat a lot on road trips, and it’s a hard joy to compete with.
I have to ask: what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Lemon sorbet, all the way.
In Let’s Get Lost, you’ve got two really well-developed female characters, Bree and Sonia, and then Leila, who’s been referred to as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Yes, I was one of the people who called her that. I’m sorry!). She’s been called a MPDG because she is distanced from the reader and we don’t get to know her that well until then end (and not really then either) except what we see through the other character’s eyes – super attractive, quirky, spontaneous, etc. Was it your intent to have her distanced like this, and how do you feel about her being referred to as a MPDG?
I completely understand certain readers’ criticisms of Leila as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I think it happens because Hudson is completely taken with her right away. Teenage boys fall in love quickly. I think people in general do fall in love quickly, and so I don’t completely mind people calling Leila an MPDG, especially when she spends so little time with each character, and in each section that character is going through a whole lot and only has a few moments to wonder who this girl is. I was aware of the MPDG trope, and I think the way to combat that is to have substance throughout. It’s subtle, but I’m happy with how I did that. Hudson isn’t just taken with her because she’s beautiful, it’s because she gets it when he talks about treasures. When he shows her around, she appreciates the things he does, even to the point of showing him one he hasn’t really experienced yet: swimming across the Mississippi. In the rest of the book, Leila is adapting to each character. Bree is the lawless rebel who wants to seize the Tuesday and Leila embraces that. Elliot is the hopeless romantic, and Leila simply wants him to keep the hope alive. Sonia is confused about what to do in her love life, and Leila does what she can to show her how to move on from grief. They’re subtle; and I can see that, for some readers, they’re not enough to counter the MPDG-esque aspects of Leila’s character. I feel like the reveal in the end helps to paint the picture of why Leila acts the way she does, though maybe not as fully as some would like. There’s the almost-mantra writers have that we can’t control how someone interprets our work. I’ve understood that from the start. Whether readers think Leila is not fully developed, or whether they don’t like the book at all, I’m happy knowing that there’s a balance. That there are readers who don’t see her as an MPDG, who love the character fully. Each reader is different, and as long as someone is finding joy in my writing, I can live with criticisms, especially those founded in completely fair interpretations that I happen to disagree with.
[I just wanted to say that the end skillfully reveals why exactly Leila is distanced and I quite enjoyed it. The development of the other characters was incredible and delicately done. For me, Leila’s characterization of an MPDG didn’t actually diminish how much I actually ended up liking her as a character.]
What’s up with the all red car?
That car is completely inspired by Emilia Rhodes, one of my editors for Let’s Get Lost. She showed me pictures of her old ’93 Plymouth Acclaim, which was entirely red, from the steering wheel to the hubcaps.
I’m a mismatched socks, overflowing bookshelves, pot of coffee a day, Sonic Screwdriver, paint all over my fingers, rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock kind of girl with alopecia. I am a huge bibliophile. For more reviews, visit my book blog at caughtreadhanded.wordpress.com.