SO NOT THE DRAMA, the first Del Rio Bay Clique novel written by Paula Chase, tackles the tough transition from middle school to high school. It also addresses racial tensions, arguments between long-time friends, and the division of social classes both at school and in vastly different neighborhoods. ( Read my full-length review. )
Paula chatted with me about prejudice, drama, and writing.
How much of this story was inspired by your own experiences? Those of your kids?
This is 99% fiction as far as Mina's life compared to mine. And even though I have a feeling DRB High may be similar to my daughter's middle school, I wrote it three years before she was in middle school.
However, the suburban experience from a young black person's perspective is very real. I took the reality of being black in the 'burbs and ran with it. When it hits Mina that hanging with her white friends is different from hanging with her black ones, that's real. Maybe it feels like a "duh?" moment to some. But I went through it in the sixth grade and I watched my daughter go through it, as well. No matter how similar suburban kids are, no matter how mainstream pop culture has made all of us - there are always these differences when it comes to race. Sometimes they're subtle (music choices) and sometimes they're not (how Mina and Lizzie perceive Raheem).
But noooo, my high school was nothing like DRB High. Talk about cut throat.
Was the title at all inspired by the Disney animated series Kim Possible, which frequently uses the phrase?
Yes and no. I'm pretty sure the first time I ever heard that phrase was watching Kim Possible with my daughter back in 2002. So in that respect, yes. But no, it wasn't a conscious choice. When the characters came to me, so did the title. It just fit.
Did you consider any other titles for this book or for the series?
Nope, not even one. As a matter of fact, I had 4 titles in my head connected to this series when I wrote So Not The Drama and its sequel, Don't Get It Twisted. And those titles haven't changed since 2003.
This book clocks in at a hefty 369 pages. Was word/page count important to you - or part of your contract - or did you simply keep writing until you'd reached the conclusion?
Originally, it was about 65,000 words - roughly 200 pages. When Kensington acquired it, my editor wanted a story arc change for one character. In order to do that a lot of little things had to change and soon the story grew much larger than I ever expected it. The first time I saw the book I nearly cried because it was so huge. I was so worried it would turn off potential readers.
My editor had to talk me off the emotional ledge. She explained that the story needed to be told in as many words as it needed. And this is a woman who had to read the book multiple times. If she felt like the story flowed smoothly I had to trust her word.
I believe that a story has to be told to the end, no matter the word count. But I definitely don't start out shooting for a large book.
The prologue of SO NOT THE DRAMA is written in first person, as the sociology impressions here and there, but the bulk of the story is written in third person. Which point of view do you prefer?
I prefer third even though it can be challenging to write. You find yourself all over the place sometimes wanting to tell everyone's point of view.
I started the prologue in first, because I wanted to establish that Mina's the main character. I wanted the reader to meet her and understand where she was coming from. But ultimately, the story of the clique had to be told in third. Very early on, I considered changing it because so many YAs are done in first. But it never felt right. So I went with how my muse whispered it to me.
Every chapter begins with song lyrics. Did you add these before or after writing the chapters? Who are your favorite musicians?
At first, the lyrics came first. I'd just think of a song that personified the chapter I had in mind. But once the book was with my editor and changes came down the pike, a lot of lyrics had to change to match the new action. So I ended up adjusting them once the story was final.
I am a total music head. I listen to it at home, at work, in the car. I don't know that I have any favorite artists because I like so many different types of music. My iPod has everything from Stevie Wonder to T.I. to Ashlee Simpson. If a song touches me in some way I'll like it no matter who sings it or what genre it's from.
DON'T GET IT TWISTED, the second Del Rio Bay Clique novel, is due this December. Will Mina's soc class continue? Will readers get to see Lizzie (and Michael's costumes) shine in The Wiz? What's coming up for JZ?
Ahhh, you want a sneak peek. But TWISTED is still in the editorial process. So much could change by its release date. I can say this, the story picks up during the same semester and Mina's still in Soc, but the focus of the story changes away from in-class experience for her. In TWISTED we begin to see more of the clique in their lives after school. We also see a bit more into JZ's life as an athlete.
How many more books are due in the series?
Right now, TWISTED is the only acquired sequel. I'm hoping for more. But ya' know, that rests on my publisher. If the first two capture readers' minds I have no doubt there will be more. Like I mentioned, I already have two more in my head waiting to come out. So...
Have any advice for aspiring authors?
Being a writer is one of the most satisfying career avenues. Sometimes I wonder why it took me so long to pursue it more seriously. But then I remember how So Not The Drama came to me - I woke up one morning with the characters in my head, names and all. Maybe they were always there and my head was too full with other stuff to hear them. So I'd tell any potential writers out there, take some quiet time and listen to the voices. If there's even a small desire, in you, to be a writer they're there and they may have a great story to tell.
What are your ten favorite novels?
Gah! Lists always make me freeze like a deer in headlights. But okay, here it goes:
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
May The Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred Taylor
The very first Sweet Valley High book, Francine Pascale
James and The Giant Peach, Ronald Dahl
Cujo, Stephen King
This Much I know Is True, Wally Lamb
Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews
Linden Hills, Gloria Naylor
Nearly all of Sidney Sheldon's early work