Erin Downing's books are fun. So is she. After reading her debut novel, which made me sing ABBA songs all day long, I had the chance to interview her.
Dancing Queen is a romantic comedy that is "clean" enough for younger teens to enjoy. Was that, er, cleanliness a conscious choice on your behalf, or due to protocol for the line of S&S romantic comedies?
The book sounds so prissy when you call it "clean"! But yes, the cleanliness was a somewhat conscious choice. Part of it is a function of who I am -- a slightly naive Minnesota girl at heart, I suppose -- and part is just a matter of what I am comfortable with. I don't believe there’s a huge need for gratuitous sex, drinking, drugs, what have you, to make a teen book a teen book.
Much like an actress who says she'll do a nude scene only if the plot warrants it and it’s tastefully done, I am a writer who only wants to write the "juicy bits" in stunning detail if it's really necessary and furthers the plot or characterization in some way. That's not to say that those things aren't appropriate in some books. They are. Just not this one.
Was your book written before or after you landed the book deal? Did the publisher approach you to be a part of this line?
Well, a little of both. I began to write the story when I was jobless and living in Sweden -- thus, the ABBA (references) and the Anna character! I developed it with the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy line in mind for two reasons: 1) because I knew the line suited my style and the other books in the series are great and 2) I knew the editor. (We worked together when I myself was an editor and I love her). When I told her I was thinking of writing the book, she was very positive and supportive and eager to see something, which made me get off my lazy butt and get moving. After I wrote about half the manuscript, my soon-to-be-editor gave me some great direction and asked me to finish the story. When I finished, she read it and liked it and I landed the deal.
Did you ever have VJ aspirations?
Um, no. My music tastes are SO bizarre, and my hair is too unruly to be on TV. I could maybe be a wedding DJ. Actually, a lite FM DJ job would suit me very well. (I think you spell "lite" as in "lite FM" with a "te" rather than "light" -- doesn’t that seem more appropriate?) I could sing along in the booth all day and no one would be there to hear me.
Like the book itself, each chapter in DANCING QUEEN is a song title. Did you try to mention all of your favorite songs or was it more important that the titles simply match the events of the chapters?
I really wanted the chapter titles to match the events of the chapter, but it was equally important that I liked the song. I ended up mining lists of eighties songs on the Internet to find appropriate song titles that I had forgotten about. I also listened to a lot of lite FM radio for the fun factor. Gotta love lite FM. (See a theme here?)
Many of my favorites did not make the final cut. Thriller, for example. The Thriller music video scared me to death.
I give you bonus points, by the way, for getting the title of You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) correct. I once saw that stump an entire panel of contestants on Rock & Roll Jeopardy!
Thank you! I love that song (I am now singing it in my head…). I think my copyeditor tried to change it during edits, but I held my ground!
If DANCING QUEEN is your favorite ABBA song (as it is mine), what is your second favorite?
Ooh, definitely Waterloo. While living in Europe, I became a big fan of the (incredibly cheesy) Eurovision Song Contest, and Waterloo was the big ABBA breakout song many years ago. It's the first song on the Eurovision Song Contest mix CD my friends Anna and Anders made for me before I left Sweden, so it reminds me of a fun time in my life.
Make sure that you get the album The ABBA Generation by The A*Teens if you haven't already.
I will! I remember them being a very stylish group. Are they still together?
Sorry for all of the asides. I swear, this IS an interview. Shiny purple things + 80s music = GOOD.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm addicted to parenthetical asides. (I love asides. Asides keep things interesting.)
Tell me about PROM CRASHERS. When will your next novel hit the shelves?
I am so excited about PROM CRASHERS. It will be in stores in February 2007! It’s a story about a really fun girl named Emily, who meets the guy of her dreams . . . then loses his phone number. She's determined to find him again, and knows he's going to his prom sometime in the next month, but she doesn't know which school he goes to, so she and her best friends band together to crash every prom until they find Emily's guy. (When I write it out like that, she sounds a little sad and desperate, but I assure you, she is not! She's just an adventurous girl on a quest for fun and looking for laughs.) The book is packed with weird and crazy proms, lots of romance/mushy stuff, and some really bad prom dates. It's a comedy about friendship, adventure, love, and the silliness (and fabulousness) of prom.
What are your favorite romantic comedies?
I am a sucker for films. Roman Holiday, When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones' Diary, Pretty in Pink, Sleepless in Seattle, The Notebook, Can’t Hardly Wait . . . stuff in that genre.
What are your top ten books of all time?
In Her Shoes or Good in Bed (So hard to pick one Jennifer Weiner - she's my FAVE!)
Walter the Farting Dog (Hilarious! I actually cry when I read it.)
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Naked by David Sedaris
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare