Interview: Kelly Parra
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Kelly Parra swears that she does not spray paint buildings nor advocate graffiti herself, but she is an artist. Her story takes a look at cultural identity and peer pressure through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old girl named Angel. When she discovers the underground graffiti art scene, she finds a new way to express herself and a new place to share her art.
How long did it take you to write the actual book?
Truth time: I had a hard time beginning this book since it was my first YA novel. I wasn't sure of the type of voice I wanted write with, or if I could still write comfortably with my adult author voice. It was certainly a learning experience. GRAFFITI GIRL is my second completed book and while writing it I was still learning the ropes. When I first wrote fifty pages and sent it off to my agent, she (responded), "This is not you." Oops. So I reworked the partial before we sent it out to editors. After it sold, I had about three months to finish the full, which was hard stuff considering my first book took about 2 years to finish. Yeah, crazy.
Was your book written before or after you landed the book deal? Did you or your agent approach MTV Books or vice versa?
GRAFFITI GIRL sold on a partial. I already had an adult fiction contract at the time we approached MTV with the submission and it was really cool -- like jumping up and down on the bed cool -- they ended up liking the concept. Then it had to be read by other individuals to get the okay for an offer. I think, total, it took about 5-6 weeks before we came to a verbal agreement.
Why write for teens? Did you write your book specifically for the teen fiction shelves?
Okay, don't tell anyone but . . . sometimes I tend to act like I'm younger than I really am. Shhh. I've got a rep to protect and all that.
I intended this book to be for YA readers. I also believed the graffiti element in high school would work better than the adult market. I've always enjoyed YA fiction and I wanted to try to steer my career in this direction.Yes, steer. You may not have total control of your writing career when you're a newbie like me. There's always going to be a backseat driver, but you're certainly in the driver's seat.
What age range or grade levels do you feel your book is suitable for - or not?</b>
Hmm, this is tough. GRAFFITI GIRL touches on a few intense topics: breaking the law, drugs, and well, my main character's best friend is a little boy crazy. Just a little. The story also has the familiar themes of conflicting parents, friendship, peer pressure, and secret crushes. I'll stick with the (teen) standard, (ages) 12-18.
Do you watch MTV?
Does Britney Spears make big headlines? Yes, MTV is one of my favorite channels. It's like a dream come true to write for them. I especially love the reality shows. In fact, before realizing MTV would be interested in GRAFFITI GIRL, I referenced a couple of MTV shows in the book. I couldn't stop myself! Hmm, I wonder if I'll get to keep them in the revision...
Who are your favorite authors?
I have many, but I'll try to slim down the list...J.D. Robb, Anne Frasier, Sarah Dessen, Ann Brashares, Sophie Kinsella, and Janet Evanovich. Pretty much what I've listed on MySpace. If you're a teen reader, come say hi, or what's up, or how you doing, is good too.
What are some of your favorite musicians, actors, or TV shows?
I have a very eclectic taste in music. I pretty much listen to anything that has a good beat.
Favorite actors: Drew Barrymore, Jessica Alba, Julia Roberts, Julia Childs, Heath Ledger, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves and so many more.
Favorite TV shows: Parental Control, Real World, Big Brother, NCIS, and I've recently found two new shows to watch, Jericho and Heroes. (Hope they become hits. Come on, watch these shows, people!)
Would you ever write a sequel for your book?
For GRAFFITI GIRL, I'd have to say no. I like where Angel's story concludes. Sort of leaving the reader to imagine where her future could go. Always a good way to end a book.
What are your top ten books of all time?
Ten? How could I even limit myself? Wait, let me check out my bookshelf . . .
Okay, tough. Here's a list of some favorites, no specific order - and sorry, but I cheated.
-Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
-Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
-Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
-Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. (I can't list my fave out of the series. They're all good. This is where I cheated.)
-In Death series by J.D. Robb. (Oops, same as above.)
-Play Dead by Anne Frasier
-Couch World by Cathy Yardley
-Hot Tamara by Mary Castillo
-Daisy's Back In Town by Rachel Gibson
-I'll have to get back to you on number 10.
When did the idea for GRAFFITI GIRL strike you?
You see, "struck" is such a precise moment, and my ideas tend to simmer then gradually excel to a boil by the time I start. The idea grew on me as I was writing my first novel. Sigh. And yes, I had a few friends in high school who were into graffiti art. I had tried my hand at paper designs. That's really as far as I took it. When I had thought of writing a YA novel, the concept of graffiti first popped for me and that slow, slow simmer followed over a course of a year before the entire story formed.
Are you an artist (graffiti or otherwise, digital or otherwise) yourself?
I've always referred to myself as an amateur artist. I started drawing in the fifth grade when Mrs. Mahuna told me I had talent and made a big ol' gush over a picture I drew. (Gee, thanks, Mrs. Mahuna!) I took consecutive years of art classes in high school and even did the whole graphic design schooling after graduation. Turned out I wasn't as driven with my art as I was with my storytelling and followed another dream to become a writer. I still sketch every once in a while. You never really stop drawing when it's been such a big focus in your life. And what do you know, graphic design really comes in handy with my web stuff. Always able to find a side benefit!
What do you have in common with your protagonist, Angel?
Oh boy. (shifting in seat) In this interview,I am totally making up for all the white lies I told as a teenager. I'd have to say the "want" that Angel has for her art to be better and greater than it is, is how I saw my work in high school. I've always had a cartoony style and back then yearned for more realism. I took that need and want and gave it to Angel to deal with in GRAFFITI GIRL.
I'll let you in on another need and want: I wish I could give all my problems to my characters. Unfortunately, I'm still stuck with cooking dinner and doing the dishes. Blah!
How much of your character's family experiences and cultural struggles are reminiscent of your teen life?
I'd have to say about 30% or 25% the same. I come from a mixed cultural background, so a lot of times, you'll find my characters diverse. Sometimes my characters won't feel different from other characters and sometimes they will -- and I have to say that's how I felt growing up. It all depended on the environment I was in. For Angel, I'd slip in a few things I had really felt at one time, but most of her life is fiction. That's what's fun about creating your own stories -- making a lot of it up.