Hey guys, today I have Paula Stokes here answering some of my random questions, giving some stuff away and generally spilling all of her secrets (not really, I tried to get them out of her but she’s cagey).
Two things you should know about Paula:
1. She’s absolutely lovely and smart and generally all around cool (anyone who casually describes something as murdery is good people in my book) (please reword that in your brains to make it sound less scary).
2. Her latest book, The Art of Lainey came out recently and it is adorable as all hell. It features best friends, a delightfully contradictory book boyfriend, killer breakfast food, a fabulous music scene and an ancient Chinese war doctrine. (Fun game, which one of these things doesn’t fit? Trick question, Paula makes them all work, though you have to imagine a little on the music, I guess).
And so, without further ado, come along gentle reader as Paula talks to us about empowered characters, writing, sex and breakfast (I told you it was random. Don’t look at me like that, you were warned).
1. As much as I didn’t connect with Lainey in the beginning, I admired the way she rescues herself. She has a problem, she’s going to fix it. When a heroine is out saving the world or fighting zombies or whatever, it’s a lot easier for her to show her empowerment through action. There’s something extra special about contemporary MCs that take charge of their lives in small, relatable ways. How do you go about writing a character that kicks ass in real life?
I’m actually going to do a post for a blogger in late June about why I think Lainey is a good role model, so we’ll see how that goes over 😉 But no, my main goals were to make her relatable and strong, increasingly so over the course of the book. People who haven’t been rocked by a sudden breakup when they thought things were going good might struggle to understand her. Obviously it’d be way more enlightened for her to go “Screw you if you don’t want me, Jay. I’m too good for you” and she does get to that point eventually. But I don’t know. I got the idea for this book from one of my own breakups, and I’ve never been able to flick off my feelings like hitting a light switch.
What I love about Lainey is that she only wallows for like five minutes and then embraces a plan. Sure, it’s not the best plan, but hey, at least she’s seizing control of her destiny. I also like that she thinks highly of herself. It’s okay for her to know that she’s popular and good at soccer. She doesn’t lord it over everyone or use it to put people down. I feel like society expects women to go around all demure and downplaying their accomplishments. No wonder we’re always too afraid to ask for the money we deserve in job interviews! Lainey never doubts for a second that she deserves Jason’s love. All that aside, what ultimately makes her kickass in my book is that she’s self-aware enough to gradually recognize where she’s been going wrong, and she’s open-minded enough to embrace the person she’s becoming, even though she’s terrified of change.
2. The juxtaposition of high school girls strategizing with an ancient war manual was hilarious and awesome. How did the The Art Of War bits come about?
This is going to sound really bizarre, but I don’t actually remember how I came up with that idea. The original plot was the story of a girl who started a business helping people win back their exes by fake dating them and giving them other tips via a dating advice blog. Someone in my crit group pointed out that was really similar to Easy A, which I hadn’t seen. I watched it (loved it!) and decided they were right so I changed the dating plot to just be about Lainey and Micah and Leo. I scrapped the webpage idea and knew I needed something to make the story more standout. I must have seen something somewhere that gave me the idea to incorporate The Art of War.
That’s not to say my decision to use The Art of War was random at all. Once I got the idea, I read three translations of The Art of War, as well as other novels that incorporated it like Jodi Wing’s The Art of Social War. I even read Kelly Roman’s graphic novel. Each draft of my book did a better job of incorporating the text, but I think what a lot of people don’t know is that some of the sections are very specific to warfare (and thus not that applicable) and others are very general and can be used with respect to strategy in almost any area. I also looked at scholarly review papers because I didn’t want to misrepresent the source material. However, I wanted to write the book as how two teen girls would interpret The Art of War, not what a Chinese literature scholar would think. It was a tricky balance.
3. What’s the most tactical move you’ve ever made in the name of love? (One of the reasons I adore the premise so much is because when I was in high school I actually did fake date a friend to try and get our exes back)
Oh, man. I am so not tactical when it comes to love. I have only two speeds: completely indifferent and borderline-obsessed. This is why I’m still single–neither of those relationship dynamics works for me. I was definitely guilty of some dubious “notice me” moves in high school, like jogging three extra miles to run by the house of the guy I liked or sporting my brother’s Megadeth tee shirts to catch the eye of headbanger drummer who sat behind me in science class. I can’t believe you actually fake-dated someone? Did it work?
(Meg: I did end up getting back together with my boyfriend, but not because of the fake-dating. That kind of fizzled out as we realized it felt a little weird and was probably pointless anyway.)
4. One thing I particularly loved about The Art of Lainey is how it acknowledges sex in a casually sex positive way without making it a plot point. It stands out because YA generally seems to either leave sex out of the book entirely or its a significant event, not just part of the scenery. Was this an intentional move on your part or did it just work out that way?
Letting sex exist in the book without taking over the storyline was absolutely an intentional move. Writers have the power to create contemporary worlds the way they think things are or the way they wish things were. I prefer to do the former, maybe veering into the latter for my endings. (I do love a hopeful ending!) Plenty of teens were having sex back when I was in high school and plenty of teens are having sex now. I’m not going to say “it’s no big deal” because anything that might produce a tiny human should always be a big deal, but I don’t think teens having sex is so terrible that I have some responsibility to “the children” to hide the fact that it’s happening. My next book has “onscreen” sex that is realistic and relevant to the plot. I know sex in a YA book will earn me some automatic 1-star ratings, but c’est la vie. I have to be true to the story.
I’d never judge YA writers who want to keep their books 100% sex-free, because that’s their choice, but to me it would have felt disingenuous to make Lainey a virgin. Part of the reason she’s so hung up on Jason is because he’s the only guy she’s ever had sex with. At the same time, I knew that she and Micah weren’t going to go there because it was going to take them all book to figure out what they wanted.
5. Micah is one of my favorite YA love interests. He’s a mass of contradictions: the sensitive, sharp punk-rock baker. Where did he come from? Is he based on people you’ve met or did he come out of nowhere?
Micah, Micah, Micah. Why are you not real? I spent about six years working as a line cook/kitchen supervisor and was fortunate to become friends with a slew of amazing rocker boys, many of whom wanted to go to culinary school. Some of them definitely served as inspirations, as well as a tattooed barista I met while writing this story, and a couple of ex-boyfriends, both of whom were really into music. And then, maybe it’s weird, but when I write Micah and Trinity’s scenes it sometimes feels like my brother and me as kids. I guess Micah is kind of a mix of all the good guys who have left lasting impressions, with some extra made-up stuff too.
(Meg: Psssst, be sure to check out Infinite Repeat, a Micah-centric novella coming in August from HarperTeen Impulse)
6. I know from stalking your twitter a tiny bit (please take that as non-creepily as possible) that Miz Creant’s, the torture-dungeon restaurant with the amazing pancakes is tragically not a real place I could actually visit but there’s a good story behind it. Would you mind sharing?
Ha! No worries–I’ve stalked plenty of twitters. I got this idea off a friend’s FB status where she had checked into Miss Interpreted’s House of Waffles and Pain (or something–I forget the exact wording.) My immediate thought was “I wanna go!” At the time, this girl lived only a few hours away in Kansas City so I started googling and couldn’t find a webpage. I figured maybe it was some really cool underground place that didn’t want to advertise and made a mental note to ask her about it. Then I decided to make up my own place and put it in the book. I had so much fun designing Mizz Creant’s House of Torture (and pancakes) that the first draft of the book had two trips to the restaurant. When I finally remembered to ask the girl she was like “That’s just a joke between me and my husband. It’s what we call my house on Sunday mornings.” I was like “Oh…well I put your house in my book and it is EPIC.” I’m totally going to open that restaurant one day…
7. What little I know of Liars, Inc sounds awesome but also the complete opposite of Lainey, dark and twisted versus cute and fun. Why the significant tonal shift and what can you tell us?
My editor has been really cagey about not putting up the flap copy, but the ARC hits Edelweiss in July so I suspect you’ll see it soon enough. I think LIARS is still a lot of fun, it’s just dark and murdery, too. Maybe like Pretty Little Liars meets I Hunt Killers? It’s the story of Max, Preston, and Parvati, who start a business selling lies and alibis to their classmates. Then one day Max sets up an alibi for Preston so he can hook up with a chick in Vegas and it’s all good…until Preston never comes home. Did I mention Preston is a US senator’s kid? Yeah, the FBI goes after Max and the evidence piles up and Max’s CIA-wannabe girlfriend, Parvati, tries to help him prove his innocence and shit hits the fan big-time.
Tonal shifts…I do have a darker project in the works, as well as two more swoony contemps for HarperTeen. I like to read all kinds of books and I basically write the books I want to read. This usually means working on at least two at a time. LAINEY just kind of spilled out of me when I was trying to make sense of my own breakup. I wrote it at the same time I wrote Venom. Weird, huh? Publishing timelines are so random. I had the idea for LIARS in early 2010, way before LAINEY, but it’s a more complicated story and I had to let it simmer for over a year before the pieces all fell into place.
8. Last question for personal interest reasons, is Wake Up Dreaming is based on a non-fictional song? Unconventional mashups are one of my favorite things ever and I am desperate for some punkish violin ballading.
Three part answer. (Brevity–not my strength.)
The FEEL of that scene is based on my experiences at a Soul Coughing concert, but you can’t replicate that unless you’re at a live show because so much of it comes from the bass lines literally vibrating in your blood. Incubus is another band that’s all about the bass. Unfortunately, you can’t have this experience in a giant amphitheater no matter who is playing.
The NAME of that song comes from the chorus of Ryan Star’s Start a Fire, one of the songs on the official playlist for The Art of Lainey. (Meg: Playlist! I LOVE book playlists! THANK YOU!)
The MIX of classical and rock that inspired me is best represented by Queensryche’s Real World (I can’t find a link that doesn’t violate rights, but you can Spotify it or iheartradio it.) Geoff Tate’s voice is an acquired taste, but that song is haunting. Another good example is Peter Gabriel’s My Body is a Cage. Neither of those are punk, unfortunately, but I’ll keep a look out 🙂
So, there you have it. To Paula, thank you so much for letting me pick your brain! To everyone else, check out The Art of Lainey! It’s a super cute read that’s perfect for summer.
About The Art of Lainey:
Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.
And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they’re sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few “dates”, it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.
What’s a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you’re meant to be with, if you’re still figuring out the person you’re meant to be?
BUT WAIT! There’s more!
Because Paula has had so many people supporting her by giving away her book, she wants to support her author friends in turn and has opened up an international giveaway to a pre-order/order of ANY of the YA Valentines’ books. (Personally I am urging you to pick up The Art of Lainey because it’s lovely and wonderful but, as I’ve said before, I’m not the boss of you). Enjoy!