This week's interview
The Princess of Las Pulgas by C. Lee McKenzie
- From Goodreads: After her father's slow death from cancer, Carlie thought things couldn't get worse. But now, she is forced to confront the fact that her family in dire financial straits. To stay afloat, her mom has had to sell their cherished oceanfront home and move Carlie and her younger brother Keith to the other side of the tracks to dreaded Las Pulgas, or "the fleas" in Spanish. They must now attend a tough urban high school instead of their former elite school, and on Carlie's first day of school, she runs afoul of edgy K.T., the Latina tattoo girl who's always ready for a fight, even on crutches. Carlie fends off the attention of Latino and African American teen boys, and one, a handsome seventeen-year-old named Juan, nicknames her Princess when he detects her aloof attitude towards her new classmates. What they don't know is that Carlie isn't really aloof; she's just in mourning for her father and almost everything else that mattered to her. Mr. Smith, the revered English teacher who engages all his students, suggests she'll like her new classmates if she just gives them a chance; he cajoles her into taking over the role of Desdemona in the junior class production of Othello, opposite Juan, after K.T. gets sidelined. Keith, who becomes angrier and more sullen by the day, spray paints insults all over the gym as he acts out his anger over the family's situation and reduced circumstances. Even their cat Quicken goes missing, sending Carlie and Keith on a search into the orchard next to their seedy garden apartment complex. They're met by a cowboy toting a rifle who ejects them at gunpoint from his property. But when Carlie finds him amiably having coffee with their mom the next day -- when he's returned her cat -- she begins to realize that nothing is what it seems in Las Pulgas.
Your young adult novels tackle tough issues teens face each and every day. Tell us about the problems faced in The Princess of Pulgas and what inspired you to write this book.
My poor protagonist, Carlie Edmund, loses her beloved father and soon her privileged way of life. She struggles to keep her desperate situation secret from her old friends while she tries to adjust to living in a very different world – one without money or security or a sense of belonging.
I started the story in 2008 when I was in a New York hotel room at SCBWI. I'd just sold my first book, Sliding on the Edge, and I'd come to the conference hoping for feedback on that story. Since there was no reason to present Sliding for comment, I sat down and asked, "Now what?" The answer came in the form of another question, "What if a family lost everything?" Ironically, the next year after I had a rough draft of Princess many Americans did lose everything, just like the Edmund family.
You say you enjoy writing for teens because it gives you the excuse to escape to your own teen years, when anything was possible. What was your favorite moment as a young adult?
If I had to choose a favorite time from when I was in high school it would be the summers at the beach. We'd take a small cabin for a couple of weeks and once we were there, the adults did their thing and we kids did ours. It was a free and wonderful time of body surfing, bonfires, and first kisses. Whenever I go to the beach I can almost be fifteen again.
Readers fall in love with your main character, Carlie. How did you build her personal story?
When I was growing up my family had some economic downturns, so it was easy to pull up those memories of my mom's worried looks or packing and moving, not because we wanted to, but because we had to. At the time I didn't understand all that was happening; I only knew there would be a new school, I'd lose my friends, and that everything would be different. Along the way I must have also learned that different didn't necessarily mean worse. I let Carlie find that out too.
Do you have any quirky writing habits? Any rituals you have to follow?
I don't know if it's quirky, but I do like to wear my hoodie when I write. Well, it's really a signal to my family. When I'm at the computer with my hood up that means DO NOT TALK TO ME UNLESS THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. When it's not up I'm only dealing with email or blogging, so they can ask me anything then.
Your teen books have cross-over appeal, would you consider writing for adults?
I'm enjoying writing books with young protagonists. Adult readers have all lived through those teen years, so I hope they will connect with my young characters and enjoy reading about experiences that might mirror some of their own. I guess what I'm saying is I think I'm already writing for adults.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever been given, and who shared the top secret with you?
I'm a self-taught novelist. No MFA. No creative writing class at all. That's not because I wouldn't have liked to enroll in a degree program or take classes; I just didn't have the time. But I did have the time to read and this is the best advice I ever read: A writer's job is to reveal the unspoken--what people see or feel but don't say. If a writer does his job, the reader gleans insights from what convention and shame seek to hide. That's a paraphrase from Sol Stein.
Matched by Allyson Condie
- From Goodreads: In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.
At the Crossroads by Travis Hunter
- From Amazon: Franklyn "Franky" Bourgeois is fifteen, and he's already done more living than most. First he was blasted out of a normal childhood in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Determined to survive, he left town with two older cousins. They were nothing short of thugs, but they were all he had. And hard as he tried, even for a good kid like Franky, their influence was hard to resist. . . Now Franky's just a heartbeat away from a life of crime--until he gets an unexpected chance to turn things around. Getting back on track is easier said than done, especially when a group of prep school fools set out to keep Franky on the streets. But Franky's always been a survivor. He'll just have to prove it one more time. . .
We're pleased to announce an awesome giveway of C. Lee McKenzie's THE PRINCESS OF LAS PULGAS! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post and fill out the form below. The contest will run through Wednesday evening and is open to US residents. Go!
Martina & Marissa