Interview with Carmen Rodrigues, Author of 34 Pieces of You

Carmen Rodrigues is the author of 34 Pieces of You, an emotionally powerful read that focuses on the aftermath of a popular high school girl’s death.  I could not put this book down, and I was thrilled when Carmen agreed to answer a few of my questions.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for 34 Pieces of You?

[Carmen Rodrigues] 34 PIECES OF YOU actually started as a what if writing prompt. To create the prompt, I let my mind wander for an hour, thinking about all the different situations teens encounter. During that wandering, I remembered a few news stories I read in the late eighties/early nineties about teenagers who made and carried out suicide pacts. I wondered what would happen if two teenagers did make this pact but one of them survived. What kind of guilt would that teen have? Where would life go from there?

This led me to writing about a girl (Sarah) who wakes up in a hospital bed to learn that her best friend (Ellie) has died from an overdose, which she has survived. As I began to discover more about the characters that inhabited this world, I asked myself other questions:

Did Ellie commit suicide or was it an accident?

If suicide, did Sarah also attempt to kill herself?

Regardless of accidental or intentional overdoses, how did these girls get here? What were their communities and families like?

How do toxic friendships, particularly those that develop out of proximity like the relationship between Ellie and Sarah, affect the other kids on that block?

Answering these questions led to a complex story that spanned five years. Around fifty pages in, I realized that the story was inhibited by Sarah’s limited perspective. That’s when I began to write from two additional POVs–Sarah’s younger sister, Jessie, and Ellie’s older brother, Jake. Ellie’s pieces—as they are now–came much later.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Sarah?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Sarah is seventeen years old. She’s doing her best to navigate the broken world she inherited. The three words that describe her are young, confused, and disconnected.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Jess would never have in her bedroom?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Jess is simple. She has a good heart–one that’s inclined to take care of others. In this novel, she loses the last of her childlike innocence. To me, that’s what makes her story so tragic. She would never have a hair straightener, cigarettes, or high heels in her bedroom. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Jake had a theme song, what would it be?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Break on Through (To The Other Side) by The Doors. Jake loosely references this song in the novel. If you check out the lyrics, you’ll see that it accurately sums up many of his struggles. Here is the opening stanza:

You know the day destroys the night 
Night divides the day 
Tried to run 
Tried to hide 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side, yeah

At the end of the novel, though, The Winner Is by Michael Danna and Devotchka conveys the silent hope that is present in Jake’s recovery.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Carmen Rodrigues] I’ve read a lot of wonderful young adult novels this year–Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia (gorgeously written); Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker (sweet and heartfelt); The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (smart, funny, relevant)—but the last book to knock my socks off was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. It’s a nonfiction book about authenticity, courage, and wholehearted living. The research is compelling. The writing is humorous and sincere. I’ll probably read this book once a year. I recommend it to everyone.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Carmen Rodrigues] The best place to find me is at my web site: www.carmenrodrigues.com.

From there, you can access my Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook profiles. Plus, you can read the first 36 pages of 34 PIECES OF YOU.  For a visual/interactive experience of 34 PIECES OF YOU, visit www.pinterest.com/34piecesofyou.

[Manga Maniac Café]  Thank you!

34 Pieces of You is available now.  You can purchase it from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital.

Interview with Lisa Luedeke, Author of Smashed

Lisa Luedeke is the author of Smashed, which releases today from Margaret K. McElderry Books.  Lisa stopped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and chat about her new book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Lisa Luedeke] Yoga- loving

Mama-doting

Can’t get her face out of a book;

Loves her quiet, her woods, her lake,

Her family & friends,

Just give her that writing time

And all will be fine.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Smashed?

[Lisa Luedeke] Sure. It’s really a story about trying to fill a hole in your life, in your emotional life, and making the wrong choices as you try to do that. Katie’s dad, an alcoholic, abandoned her family when she was twelve, and her mother is never around. She’s basically on her own, with the help of a couple of good friends, and a mentor in her high school field hockey coach, but it’s not enough. After she gets involved with bad-boy Alec, Katie tries to get herself back on track, but one night she makes a mistake she can’t take back, and when lies follow to cover it up, things get out of control.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Lisa Luedeke] When I was seventeen, I was in a terrifying car accident. My best friend and I were asked by a teacher to go on a school errand. We were in my friend’s car and he was driving. It was a cold, wet, November day, and a slushy snow was building up on windy back road in Maine. My friend was a careful driver; we were only going 30 miles an hour—I remember looking at the speedometer. But as we were going around a corner, the slush took hold of the wheels of the car and pulled us into the other lane, just as a car was coming toward us. My friend tried to gain control of the car, to get us back on our side of the road, and we started to turn in the right direction. The last thing I remember was thinking we were going to miss that car by an inch…When I came to, there was blood splattered down the front of my sweater and I thought my friend might be dead.

We were both fine, but that moment wouldn’t leave me for many years. Writing about a difficult time can be cathartic, but I didn’t want to write about that accident. I have no interest in writing memoir. And that particular incident didn’t have the characteristics of a compelling story—it was simply bad luck, bad timing, bad weather.

So I began to do what-ifs…What if an accident was someone’s fault? What if the driver was drunk? And what if the passenger, who was hurt, was not a friend, but someone the driver didn’t even like? Someone she was trying to get away from? As I asked these questions, a situation emerged that interested me, and that’s what I need—a situation that is complex enough to keep me interested as a writer. Then I ask myself, who would find themselves in this particular situation? For me, characters emerge from conflict.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Katie?

[Lisa Luedeke] Self-reliant

Lonely

Tough

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Alec would never have in his pocket?

[Lisa Luedeke] A love note

Bubble gum

A coupon

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Katie’s single most prized possession?

[Lisa Luedeke] Her field hockey stick

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Lisa Luedeke] First, the natural world. I think and write best while I’m hiking or walking in the countryside near my home. When I’m out there, I problem solve my current story. Mull over whatever it is that I’m struggling with. Everything begins to get unstuck, to flow, and then a scene will come to me. If I like it, I rehearse it again and again in my mind, and when I get home I’m ready to write.

Robert Cormier & S.E Hinton’s YA books had a great influence on me, particularly The Chocolate War and The Outsiders. I wanted to write books that had the heart of Hinton’s books and the edge of Cormier’s. Cormier’s gone now, but he’s still one of the best writers in the YA field. Interestingly, neither of them wrote about girls (Cormier did in one book, but said he found it very difficult.) I knew I wanted to honestly portray girls’ lives in the pages of my books.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Lisa Luedeke] Ideally, a long walk to get a scene flowing—then a big mug of dark coffee and a quiet space. But I’m learning to write on airplanes!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Lisa Luedeke] Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. It’s an absolutely amazing historical novel about a slave girl from Rhode Island who’s sold to a family in New York City during the American Revolution. I loved the character with my whole heart, and the narrative is gripping—but I also learned a great deal about the revolution and slavery during that time period.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Lisa Luedeke] From my earliest memories, I loved to read. Everything. The Witch Who Wasn’t was an early favorite, though I can’t find it now; I think it’s out-of-print. Go Ask Alice was the book that turned me on to YA literature when I was ten.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Lisa Luedeke] Ashtanga yoga, hiking, skiing, swimming, reading, hanging out with friends & family.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Lisa Luedeke] Lisaluedeke.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lisa-Luedeke/224769940928276

lisa.lue@hotmail.com

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order Smashed from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital