By Amanda Reed
PC Staff Writer
Although the title is Stay Sweet, Siobhan Vivian completed and revised her newest book during a not-so-sweet period of time: the2016 election.
“I had a book due the week after the election. I had a revision due the week after the inauguration,” she said. “It was really insanely timed for talking about girls stepping into leadership positions and the challenges they face.”
On top of being a New York Times bestselling author, Vivian, a 39-year-old resident of Highland Park, is a lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, where she teaches Writing Youth Literature every fall and spring. Stay Sweet is Vivian’s ninth novel and centers around 17-year-old Amelia Van Hagen, whose summer job at the Meade Creamery isn’t just about scooping ice cream. As the new manager, she’s tasked with teaching the younger scoopers how to add the right amount of sprinkles to sundaes while traversing young womanhood, just like the workers before her have done at the historically women-owned and-run business.
All that is threatened, however, when the grand-nephew of the business unexpectedly shows up and shows little respect toward the girls and their traditions.
Vivian will be part of a mother-daughter ice-cream social and spoiler-free book discussion from 1-3 p.m. this Sun., June 24 at Riverstone Books (8850 Covenant Ave, McCandless). You can RSVP to the event here.
Vivian’s inspiration for the book came while on a book tour in Ohio for her very first book, A Little Friendly Advice, released in 2008.
“The librarian encouraged me to hit up this ice cream shop kind on the outskirts of town, and I had this weird experience seeing the girls that worked there and this lazy boy who was in the back sort of running the show,” she said. “That was somewhat the germ, the spark of the idea. It had been kind of baking in my head in my very long time.”
Like the rest of Vivian’s works, Stay Sweet features power, strength and a girl’s coming-of-age story.
“The primary through-line of my work is feminism. This story fits very solidly in that line of books. Maybe more so than any of my books, except perhaps The List,” she said, referring to her 2012 New York Times bestselling book about the tensions and self-discovery caused by a yearly list that ranks girls from prettiest to ugliest.
Vivian became interested in YA (Young Adult) literature — a genre geared toward 12- to 18-year-olds but read by people of all ages — while living in California and working in children’s television. All of her ideas were too mature for the family-focused, slapstick nature of the shows aired at the time. Part of her role was to look at children’s books to research rights for properties that could be developed into television shows.
“In the backs of these publishing catalogs I would see these sheets for the newest YA books and I was thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this is what I need to be doing,’” she said.
From there, she moved back to the East Coast and received her MFA in creative writing with a focus in children’s literature from The New School in New York City in 2006.
She stumbled into teaching after reaching out to Marah Gubar, the former director of the University of Pittsburgh Children’s Literature certificate program to speak at Pitt. According to Vivian, Gubar had been looking to have a creative writing component in the program, but didn’t have the right person to teach it.
“[She asked if] I would I be interested in doing a workshop, so I was like, ‘yeah, totally,’” Vivian said, joining Pitt’s literature department in 2009.
Vivian is currently on book tour for Stay Sweet and working on her next two books. She’s currently tackling the first: a multi-narrated work that takes places over the course of 24-hours, that will hopefully come out next year.
“It’s all about girls and hazing traditions,” she said, although her decision to write about the topic did not stem from Pitt’s hazing problems that made national news last fall.
Despite the universal truths in Stay Sweet, like the importance of giving women leadership roles, Vivian doesn’t want you to take anything away from it — Vivian prefers good writing over “thinly-veiled advice columns.”
“I just try to tell what I think is a very compelling story that talks about and digs into the tensions that I find interesting,” she said. “I think if you portray that experience honestly then I could hopefully entertain any reader.”