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Interview: Jody Gehrman

April 20th, 2008 (10:03 am)
awake

Current Mood: awake
Current Song: Mocha Shack Girl

This summer is going to be awesome, Geena thinks, fixing her hair into two long braids and grabbing her skateboard. Her cousin Hero is coming back to town after a year away at boarding school, and she's going to work with Geena and her best friend Amber at Triple Shot Betty's, a popular, teeny-tiny coffeehouse with a drive-through window and very little elbow room.

Loud, wild Amber and preppy, conservative Hero are like oil and water - they just don't mix. Throw in a bunch of guys - including a conceited recent graduate, an intriguing Italian boy, and Geena's lifelong classmate who is her academic rival - and someone's sure to reach their boiling point. This book is a modern-day version of Much Ado about Nothing, complete with mistaken identities and romantic blunders.

Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty is Jody Gehrman's first novel for teens. She's also written three adult novels and is hard at work on the next Betty book.

Do you approach writing teen fiction differently than you approach writing adult fiction?

Well, it is different, I suppose, but my approach is pretty much the same: find the character, delve into the setting, tell a story. The big challenge with YA is getting into that 16-year-old perspective again and trying to keep it contemporary without forcing the voice, you know? Like sometimes it's tempting to go overboard with slang just to show how "hip" you are, and that's kind of repellant. I think teen readers sense right away how inauthentic that is.

Is Much Ado your favorite play by William Shakespeare?

I'd say it's one of my favorites, yes. I also love A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Merchant of Venice and Hamlet.

Hamlet and Midsummer are my favorites.

I chose Much Ado for this book because the Beatrice/Benedict interaction seemed just right for young characters; their love-hate relationship turns into a serious crush when their friends interfere, and that reminded me a lot of experiences I had in high school. Also, Hero's reputation gets temporarily ruined by rumors and accusations intended to do just that; I think that's something that happens to young women pretty frequently.

Before becoming a writer and a teacher, were you ever a barista?

I was never a barista, though I do have a little espresso machine at home. I've had about a million different random jobs, but that was never one of them. I'm really fickle when it comes to coffee drinks.

What's your favorite coffee drink?

I do love mochas, but I'm also a sucker for café marketing - whatever they're pushing, I tend to try. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a macchiato, other days it's an iced caramel latte. My fantasy life includes an in-house barista who can whip me up a different concoction each day to match my mood!

I don't drink coffee, so may I request a cup of cocoa instead?

Don't drink coffee?!! Okay, well cocoa's still got chocolate, so you're cool. Just don't drive up to Triple Shot Betty's and ask for a shot of wheatgrass, okay?

Okay. I hear there's a second book about the Betty girls in the works. Will that also be based on a Shakespearian play?

TRIPLE SHOT BETTYS IN LOVE is loosely based on Cyrano De Bergerac. I'm thinking it will probably be out next year around this time, but I'm not sure. I just finished like draft #15 and it's finally starting to take on a shape I'm happy with.

Which of your adult novels took the longest to write? To sell?

Hmm...I suppose that would have to be the first novel I sold, SUMMER IN THE LAND OF SKIN. It went though so many radically different incarnations, I lost track. When it sold, though, it went to auction and I ended up with a three book deal, so after that I was on kind of a tight schedule for my next two. My third book gave me a lot of trouble, though. I wrote countless drafts of a book called THE ROAD TO VEGAS and just ended up tossing it and starting over. Finally I sat down and wrote NOTES FROM THE BACKSEAT using the same two main characters, but changing everything else. That came out in January, two and a half years after TART. I'm glad I took the time to get it right, even though it was painful at the time.

Your books tend to be set in California, your home state. What are some of your favorite towns or places in The Golden State?

Well, I love Mendocino County, where I live. It's so wild and natural here - full of crazy characters and redwoods and moody ocean vistas. I also have an intense affection for San Francisco and Santa Cruz. My hometown is Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, where Triple Shot Bettys is set. Healdsburg has changed radically since I lived there; it's gone from a cow town to an elite vacation destination. It's lovely and quaint, I guess, though I often feel underdressed there now!

Tell us about Rocket Girls.

I started the Rocket Girls website because I knew three really cool women who all had books coming out this year. We figured joining forces to blog and help cross-promote our work would be useful and fun. The Rocket Girls are Kim Green, a novelist, Jordan Rosenfeld, a nonfiction author (though she also writes fiction) and Terena Scott, a small press publisher. We blog on writing/industry topics and sometimes join forces for events like readings and workshops. I'll put the link here in case anyone wants to check it out:
http://www.rocketgirls.org

You're a writer, a teacher, an actress, and a singer-songwriter. Have you ever had the opportunity to combine some of these interests - say, by singing in your classes, or performing in a play you've also written?

My master's thesis was a one-woman show I wrote and performed. That was pretty intense. I was so nervous opening night I seriously thought I'd hurl. The characters in that also became characters in a novel I later wrote - one that I never sold, but learned a lot from.

Sometimes my work in one area inspires a creation in another genre. For example, there's a song I wrote about a girl working in a coffee stand that sort of inspired CONFESSIONS OF A TRIPLE SHOT BETTY; it's called "Mocha Shack Girl." I wrote the lyrics and my boyfriend wrote the music. You can hear it at http://www.penguin.com/confessionsofatripleshotbetty or on my MySpace profile. (That's my boyfriend David singing and playing guitar - pretty cute, huh?)

That is a fun song. Kudos to you both. How long have you been teaching at the college level? How many students are in your writing courses?

I've been teaching at the college level for 11 years. Wow, that makes me sound ancient! The first four of those were while I was still in graduate school, though. I've been doing it pretty much full time for 7 years. My writing classes generally have anywhere from 15 to 30 students in them. I love my students! They teach me so much, and they're so full of life. I think being around them keeps me young(ish).

What are your ten favorite books of all time?

Oh, man. Can I skip this one? Let me modify it to books I really like that are on my radar at the moment: Lolita, To Kill a Mockingbird, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, High Fidelity, anything by Louise Rennison, Helen Fielding or Sophie Kinsella (gotta love those brits!) Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights. In YA I'm a fan of the Twilight series, Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfield, Libba Bray, Robin Benway, Polly Shulman, and many others, so I'll stop there. I just think YA is explosive right now - there are so many good books to read!

Visit Jody's website.