Please give Melissa Jensen, author of Falling in Love with English Boys and the upcoming The Fine Art of Truth or Dare, a very warm welcome today on the blog! She gives us some insight on her latest book as well as the contemporary YA genre!
Q: Goodreads describes ‘The Fine Art of Truth or Dare‘ as ‘Pretty in Pink‘ meets ‘Anna and the French Kiss‘. Have you seen/read both titles, and how do you feel about your book being compared to them?
Pretty terrific comparison, right? Ah, John Hughes. My personal fave, hands down, is ‘The Breakfast Club’. But ‘Pretty in Pink‘ is a classic, too. And absolutely, there are parallels to my book. Poor girls and rich boys. Old clothes. Mean girls and mice… No, wait. That’s Cinderella. But seriously, there’s a reason we love these stories where the plucky heroine’s dreams come true. They’re happy-making.
I actually love that you opened with that question. So many people are commenting on the comparison between ‘The Fine Art of Truth or Dare‘ and Anna. It certainly got my attention. I hadn’t had a chance to read Anna before. I remedied that in a hurry. It’s an adorable book!
So, here’s the thing. They are definitely similar in some ways. Both are about fairly ordinary girls (fab in their own ways) whose lives are dramatically and irrevocably changed by the new worlds into which they’re thrown. Anna’s is Paris; my Ella’s is the elite Willing School, which is situated in her South Philly Italian neighborhood, but is so alien to her that it might as well be a continent away. Both girls fall for good (and yes, swoon-worthy) guys– guys who are burdened by expectations (theirs and others’) that aren’t in line with what they truly want. For both girls and boys, there are moments of real-life bravery, little leaps into the unknown, that are necessary for them to even have a chance at a happy ending.
My book has pumpkin ravioli, karaoke, Truth or Dare, and Frankie Hobbes. All must be experienced to be truly understood.
Q: For those who haven’t done their research; can you tell us a little bit about ‘The Fine Art of Truth or Dare‘?
The following is the Penguin blurb. It pretty much says what I didn’t get in above.
Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that’s just fine by her. She’s got her friends – the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She’s got her art – and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it’s hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they’re dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?
Add to that a fragment of a love letter, a hundred-year-old art mystery, and an Italian restaurant, and you have ToD.
Q: Talk to us about the cover design! Was it the first one you were shown? And how well do you think it matches the story inside the pages?
Another question I’m so glad you asked.
I hope it matches perfectly! Well, Ella probably wouldn’t wear the cute clothing they put her in. She’s an ink-covered jeans and Converse sneakers kinda girl. Other than that, it’s spot-on. And anyway, I (with the help of Frankie Hobbes) would give Ella’s wardrobe a serious overhaul if I had another hundred pages.
So. The Cover Story.
After I turned in the manuscript, my editor asked me if I had any ideas for the front cover. I absolutely did. I had this vivid image in my head of a girl and a boy sitting on an old Philadelphia brick wall, but only the lower halves of their bodies would be their own. The upper halves would be replaced by an old Master painting of a pair of lovers. So I actually did a mock-up of a full cover on Polyvore.com. *Love* Polyvore. (For anyone who doesn’t know the site, it’s like virtual paper dolls for debatable grown-ups. I spend way too much time playing with Alexander McQueen clothes on Polyvore.). The Penguin art department took it from there and did a terrific job.
Q: What is it about the contemporary YA genre that makes it the perfect one for you as a writer? How do you go about making seemingly ‘everyday events’ so darn interesting?
It’s all about the inherent drama of the teen years. The truth, even for your average, nothing-exciting-ever-happens-to-me teenager, is really stranger than fiction a lot of the time. We have some of the most intense, emotional experiences of our lives. Because they’re intense, emotional years. We might have frenemies; we might have sex. We have more interesting hair and clothes and music than we probably will again in our lives. We have some independence. Just not enough…
I think I might have been a dramatic teenager. I think I might be the only person who knew me then who would put “think” and “might” in that sentence.
The upshot is that I personally can’t imagine how writing about crushes and frenemies and *music* could ever be boring. I’m a reluctant grown-up. I’ve had a great (and, absolutely, swoon-worthy) husband for ten+ years and haven’t had a frenemy in way longer than that. Thank heavens I can still have lots and lots of new music.
Q: Contemporary YA relies a lot on how much both the author and reader can identify with certain characters, compared to supernatural/fantasy YA, which has a little bit more freedom when it comes to the ‘unrealistic’. How do you go about crafting your characters and making sure they seem ‘real’?
There’s a little bit of a lot of real people in my best characters. I’m a teacher as well as a writer, and “Write from life!” is a constant (and, I’m sure, eventually annoying) refrain I beat into my students. Archetypes ain’t archtypes for nothing. The Prince, the Sensei, the Touchstone, the Human Banana Peel… Most of us have filled these roles– consciously or not– with real people in our lives. Now, I consider it most convenient that I can mix-and-match elements of people to make my characters, and make them say and do *exactly* what I want them to do. It’s kinda like making my own Muppets. Each one has an inherent, undeniable personality of its own, but I get to call the shots.
Q: And finally, as a reader, what have been your favourite YA contemporary reads of 2011? Which titles are you looking forward to in 2012?
Oh, too tough. I will only embarrass myself by acknowledging how woefully few contemporary contemps I’ve been able to read this year and/or offend someone by leaving something current or future out…
I will say that the top of my real, physical, teetering TBR pile is ‘The Name of the Star‘ by Maureen Johnson and ‘How to Save a Life‘ by Sara Zarr. I’m really looking forward to those. And I have a writer-crush on John Green. So happy he has ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ coming out soon.
Some of my all-time fave contemps are Sherman Alexie’s ‘Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian‘ (the first book I recommend to anyone 11 to 111, and the first book I teach in every class), ‘Whale Talk‘ by Chris Crutcher, ‘About a Girl‘ by the aforementioned fab Sara Zarr, Jennifer Donnelly’s ‘Revolution‘ (love the historical component, too), ‘Looking For Alaska‘ by John Green, and Louise Rennison’s ‘Angus, Thongs‘.