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Interview: Lisa Papademetriou

March 5th, 2012 (07:48 pm)
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Not only does Lisa Papademetriou have a cool name, but she writes books that live up to their cool titles, including Sixth-Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me, Accidentally Fabulous, and The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey. I recently had the delight of reading her newest book, Confectionately Yours #1: Save the Cupcake! and I have to tell you, it's my favorite Lisa Papa book to date. This sweet story finally got me in touch with the author, who was kind enough to answer a baker's dozen (or more!) of my questions.

What inspired your new series, Confectionately Yours, and its protagonist, Hayley?

A few things inspired that book. Over the past couple of years, I've discovered that I'm allergic to gluten, dairy, egg, yeast, and soy, so I've become very aware of baking and food allergies. Also, middle school and high school were times of huge transition for me. My parents were getting divorced and my mother quit her job to pursue her dream of starting a business. Unfortunately, oil prices fell to ten dollars a barrel about a month after she quit, and the Texas economy (I grew up in Houston) tanked. So she ended up working three jobs to keep us afloat. I had a job starting at the age of 14. (Scooping ice cream, not making cupcakes.) So Hayley's experience is a bit like mine.

The series has a wonderful cast of characters of all different personality types, looks, styles, emotions - Were any of them inspired by your relatives or friends, or do you try to create wholly 'new' characters when you write?

I think most of my characters are inspired by my wonderful friends and family. Meghan is sort of a mix of my friends Meghan (such a coincidence! *wink*) and Johanna. She is also like me, at my kooky-slash-nerdiest. Mr. Malik is a bit like my husband, believe it or not. Mr. Malik is much older, of course, but my husband is Pakistani and sweet and wise and wonderful. Artie is based on a friend I had in high school, who turned on me suddenly. There is also a lot of myself in all of my characters. I think it's hard to create wholly "new" characters, because so much of writing comes from our own experience and perceptions.

Your sister, Zoë, contributed the recipes featured in the Confectionately Yours series. Is she a chef or baker by trade? Did you ask her to create things based on Hayley's experiences ("I need a recipe for chocolate cupcakes") or did you taste something she made and say, "I have to write this into my book!"?

Hah! Zoë is a baker by vocation. She is not a professional, but she should be, and my evil plan is to force her to become one through the power of literature! When we collaborated on the cupcakes, it went both ways. I sent her an outline showing the kinds of cupcakes I planned for Hayley to bake in the book. Then she sent me a list of cupcakes she had invented, and I chose a few more of those. She's so creative!

Please give her my kudos! You've written many books for Scholastic's Candy Apple line, including four books about seventh-grade fashionista Amy Flowers. Did you always intend for the book Accidentally Fabulous to be the start of a series? And, if so, did you always plan for it to be a quartet, or was that moreso based on contracts and/or negotiations? Do you plan to write more books about Amy?

I love this question - it's so perceptive! Many of my readers write to me asking why I don't write a sequel to something, or write more books in a series. The truth is that many of those decisions are up to the publisher more than the author. My contract was to write four books about Amy Flowers. Of course, I'd love to write more, but I think Scholastic wanted to promote me as an author beyond the Candy Apple line. So, instead of signing more Axy Fab books, they asked me for a new series. Confectionately Yours is another four-book deal. If it takes off, there will be more!

I hope there will be plenty of Confectionately Yours stories! Speaking of series, you have Fury's Fire, the sequel to Siren's Storm, coming out this July. Will there be additional books in that line?

I think Fury's Fire will be the end of that line. Some books don't really lend themselves to a sequel. Siren's Storm needed a sequel, but Fury's Fire ties things together in a way that punctuates the duo nicely.

Nice. I think people underestimate the value of a two-book story. Now to discuss one of your stand-alone books: Sixth-Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me is another example of your great middle school stories. What were you like in middle school?

I was definitely a weirdo in middle school. I used to call the radio station and tell jokes, hoping they would put me on the air. I made up new words for things (like Allie in Sixth-Grade Glommers). I wore crazy outfits with clashing stripes on purpose. I loved English class, especially creative writing.

What was the experience like writing M or F? with Chris Tebbetts?

M or F? was the most fun I've ever had writing a novel. Here's what happened: An editor I had worked with before called and said, "We want something that's a little like Will and Grace in high school. And we want you to work with this guy, Chris Tebbetts. We think you'll love him."

I love that description: Will & Grace in high school. Yes.

So Chris and I e-mailed back and forth and chatted on the phone and I did love him. We were so much alike that we started calling ourselves "brain twins," which is where that phrase in the book came from. We wrote the outline back and forth over e-mail for a while, then I went up to his house in Vermont for a few days, and we polished it up. Then he would write a chapter and send it to me, and I would write a chapter and send it to him. Sometimes we would just write back and forth, making up random details about Frannie and Marcus's past. We had a blast. We keep trying to think of another book to do together, but it isn't easy to think of a two-author project, and we're both really busy. It will happen one day, I hope!

Did anything ever happen with the movie option for The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey?

No! I'm horribly sad about it. Not just about the movie, but that the book went out of print!

Oh, no!

I'm working on getting it back in print, because I still think that book is hilarious. I think I'll be able to offer it at a really reduced rate sometime this year.

I hope it's back in print soon. You've written realistic comedy, comedic fantasy, dramatic fantasy - bits of serious within the comedies, and bits of humor within the dramas. Do you make a conscious effort to imbue your stories with various moods and tones?

Yes, definitely. Comedy and drama are just two parts of the same whole. Nobody's life is all drama, and nobody's life is all comedy. So I don't think it's possible to just have one mood throughout a story. I also think readers get bored when there's too much of the same.

How did you get involved with the Disney Fairies series?

Well, I got involved there because I used to be an editor for Disney Press. When I left to become a writer, I helped them work on the direction of the paperback series. Then I wrote a few of the books. It was great fun to think about the world on such a tiny scale. I would go for walks in the woods and look at things at ground level, trying to think of new uses for acorns and dandelions and that sort of thing.

And speaking of Barrie characters, I recently read an ARC of Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. It's really terrific - anyone who loves Neverland should check it out!

Prior to releasing your original novels, you wrote many tie-ins for popular TV shows and movies. Do you have any advice for authors who are steadily working on novelizations and adaptations but yearn to get their original works published?

It was excruciating for me to start turning down work-for-hire projects to pursue my own writing, but ultimately, I had to do it. Work-for-hire is great because of the connections you make, the money you earn, and the writing you practice. It also appeals to my "getting things done!" side, because you're always under deadline. But, ultimately, if you want to publish your own work, you have to put aside that security for a while.

When I first started, my businessman husband gave me a great piece of advice. He said, "You'll have to come up with five books or proposals for every one that you sell." I thought, "No way, buddy! I'm writing a book and selling it!" But he was right - I didn't sell the first thing I came up with. Or the second. It was exactly five. And the next book also took five more proposals. And it still seems to work that way, weirdly. I'm not sure where he came up with that number - maybe he was just thinking 20% would get published. No clue. Anyway, anyone who gives up after one is giving up too soon!

Visit Lisa Papademetriou's website.

Read my review of the Confectionately Yours series.