Posted by Jo Knowles on Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I'm so excited to share an interview with Lauren Myracle today. I love Lauren! She is probably one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. And her books? Her books are amazing. I love especially Lauren’s “darker” books: Rhymes With Witches, Bliss, and most recently, Shine. Whenever I hear people talk about these books I hear words like Dark. Powerful. Suspenseful. Creepy. And I would add Raw. Real. Scary real. What I love about Lauren's work is that she tells it like it is. Or like she imagines it. Either way, she tells it true. Nothing is ever glossed over. Made simpler. Made easier. Lauren just tells the truth. And that’s why her books are powerful. That’s why when you finish one, it will stay with you for days, months even years later.
Recently, Publishers Weekly printed an article about Lauren, written by Sue Corbett. The title of the article is, Lauren Myracle: 'This Generation's Judy Blume'. And that is the perfect description of Lauren. Like Judy, Lauren writes about real kids and teens dealing with real life stuff that’s sometimes funny, sometimes painful, sometimes confusing, and sometimes scary. She does it with a clarity and straightforwardness that makes you cling to every word, thinking yes. Yes. Thank you for telling it like it really is. Her newest book, SHINE, (coming May 1), will take your breath away.
Here are some questions Twitter friends had for Lauren about SHINE, along with her answers (some of which made me cry):
From me (suggested by our agent, Barry Goldblatt): “What was the evolution of the title?” (Which I like very much!)
Ooo, I'm so glad you like it! I just overheard another YA author talking about the overuse of one-word titles, so your compliment came at just the right time. As for the evolution of the title, well, it parallels the evolution of the novel. A little over a year ago, I took a road trip with my charming and brilliant publicist, Jason Wells, and he said something to the effect of, "Hey, here's an idea for a book: a coming-of-age story of a teen who is questioning her sexuality, and it could be called Bi-Curious." I got all excited, and together we ran with the idea, envisioning a novel told in very frank blog entries about a girl's sexual encounters. The girl could go by the moniker "Curious," in order to hide her real identity, and the novel would be called not Bi-Curious, but By Curious. (I still love that premise!)
I set out to write it, but I needed an impetus for why the main character, Cat, would feel the push to be sexually curious at this particular time in her life. Somehow this led me to her best friend, Patrick, who is brutally attacked because of his sexuality, or rather, his sexual orientation. Once Patrick came onto the scene, the original premise of the book flew out the window, along with the original title.
At that point, I started calling it Speechless, because we learn at the very beginning of the story that Cat had SOMETHING BAD happen to her several years earlier, an incident traumatic enough to lead her to clam up and stop talking to anyone, basically. But Barry Goldblatt, my always wise agent, said, "Uh...no. Sounds to much like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak." I was like, "Really?" And he was like, "Really." Plus, I realized that by calling the book Speechless, the focus was misplaced. Yes, Cat is without speech at the beginning of the novel, but by the end of the novel, she has reclaimed her voice, and that is what's worth celebrating. (No doubt Laurie--so much smarter and quicker than I!--came to that conclusion herself, way back when she wrote (and titled) her amazing novel about Melinda's healing process after being raped.)
Anyway, back to the drawing board it was. Cat's faith in God is important to her, and church plays a big role in her small town life. I'm a member of my church choir, and as I was brainstorming new titles, I couldn't stop thinking about a hymn we'd recently sung called "Let Your Light Shine." Shine, I thought. Moonshine. Methshine, the new moonshine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
And that was it. Cat needed to let her light shine again. Her light had been snuffed, and she needed to unsnuff it, in order to cast light first into her own soul, then into the dark corners of Patrick's attack, and finally outward, adding her light to the beautiful glow of the world.
From Thunderchikin: “I would ask, what sparked her passion for writing this powerful, heart-wrenching novel? Then I would ask her, who's Big Mama?”
Hahahahahaha. Oh, Thunderchikin, you rascal. "Tell the truth and shame the devil," one of my favorite characters in Shine says (or at one point said--hmmm, did that part get cut?), so I'll follow Mama Sweetie's advice and do just that. What was the spark that set the book aflame? Well, I suppose multiple sparks came together in that mysterious way of such things: the heartbreaking death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, WY, which is a little over an hour from Ft. Collins, CO, which is where I now live; a story my dad told me long ago about a cousin of his who died from inhaling gas fumes after sticking a gasoline nozzle into his mouth on a dare; and just...I don't know...a burning need I seem to have been born with to stick up for the underdog, to give voice to characters' whose stories deserve to be told. +winces+ That sounds waaaaay pretentious, doesn't it? But there it is.
As for his SILLY SILLY query about Big Mama, please tell the kind sir this: Big Mama's hand is going to swat his fanny if he doesn't watch himself! (And if his fanny happens to be swathed in PaJants, all the better! But I digress...)
From RdngTeach: “I thought Shine was a powerful book! Is there a particular event or incident that inspired Lauren to write that book?”
Aw, thanks, RdngTeach! Again, I think it was a synthesis of multiple incidents/memories/inspirations. My dad's family was very poor--his parents were cotton farmers in Tennessee--and I grew up hearing his stories of shooting squirrels for meat, wearing shoes with the toes cut out (and, even so, wearing them only at church and at school in order to save the leather), and being released from school for six weeks every year to help his father pick cotton.
As a kid, I didn't have the perspective to know that not everyone's dad grew up like that. I adored my dad's stories, and I thought shooting rattlesnakes sounded a lot more exciting than rollerskating or playing Monopoly. I didn't know that my grandparents' house was a "shack," as a not-so-nice relative put it. All I knew was that I loved my grandparents, just as I loved visiting their ramshackle farm, where as a ten-year-old I was allowed to drive my granddad's ancient John Deere over the bumpy, rutted land beyond their house. (I never did get to shoot a rattlesnake, though more than once I was chased out of my favorite swimming hole by the sight of a water moccasin gliding across the murky, green-blue water.)
As I got older, I started to put the pieces together. I realized that when people talked about "poverty," well, guess what? They were talking about my grandparents. They were talking about my dad, back when he was a boy. They were talking about my own roots. But my father, with grit and determination, pulled himself out of the poverty he was raised in, and just as I was fascinated by stories of his childhood, I was equally moved by his stories of staying in school when most of his friends and cousins dropped out, putting himself through college, "unlearning" his country way of speaking, and carefully noting how the other, more privileged students behaved. "I watched to see what fork they used, and I tucked that knowledge away," I remember him telling me. "I saw that no one else poured syrup over their eggs and bacon, so I stopped pouring syrup over my eggs and bacon, even though it tasted delicious that way."
I am so proud of my father. When it comes down to it, I suppose I was inspired to write Shine because of him. Not everyone has had experience with true poverty, but there are hundreds of thousands of kids--even today--who are growing up without such basic amenities as electricity, hot water, washing machines. I wanted to dig in and show that being poor doesn't necessarily mean being ignorant, just as being rich doesn't mean being wise. People are people, and there are the good and the not-so-good among all of us. Cat's life is as textured and significant as any gossip girl, pretty little liar, or vampire out there, and her story deserves to be told.
From TheWriteJoyce: “Do you think the cover art ‘goes’ with the story?”
I *love* the cover art. Maria Middleton (from Amulet Books for Young Readers) designed the cover, and she is a genius. Does the art "go" with the story? I think so. The flower is a magnolia blossom. Specifically, as I learned from my nature-loving dad, it's a magnolia soulangiana, a tree that grows profusely in the mountains of western North Carolina, which is where Cat lives. The single flower stands out against the bleak, brown landscape, lifting its face to the sun. It says, "I will bloom. I will unfurl my petals. I will. I will. I will." :)
And one more from me: "One of the things I loved about the book was the mystery. Did you know from the start who was guilty?"
I did. My heart broke for Patrick, and it broke for Patrick's assailant as well, especially since I knew from the get-go what was going to happen. I often feel as if writers of young adult fiction are expected to offer hope and happy endings, forever and ever, amen. And don't get me wrong: I love a happy ending, and I always see room and reason for hope, in life just as much as in fiction.
But yes, I knew from the start who was guilty. I also knew from the start that deliverance isn't always granted, no matter how desperately a character--or reader--desires it.
THANK YOU, LAUREN!!!!!
I highly recommend Lauren's incredible book, SHINE. And all her others as well. You won't be disappointed. But you will be changed. For the better. :-)