Thursday, September 11, 2008

Author Interview: Kimberly Pauley on Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe)

Kimberly Pauley on Kimberly Pauley: "I majored in English at the University of Florida and took as many classes as I could in adolescent fiction and science fiction (it's awesome to read books for class that you'd read anyway).

"I was working as a programmer/Web development manager when I started up Young Adult Books Central and have been reviewing books since 1998.

"Sucks to Be Me is my first novel, and I had a lot of fun writing it.

"I live in Illinois near Chicago with my husband Tony (who is very supportive of the whole writing thing), and my brand new baby boy Max (he's already 4 ½ months old!)."

What first inspired you to write for young adults?

I've always loved YA lit, and I truly believe that some of the best writing out there today is for teens (despite what some authors say about the "YA Ghetto").

I think you can do things and write about things in the YA arena that you just can't do with "adult" books.

Congratulations on Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe)(Mirrorstone, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

It's about a sixteen (almost seventeen) year old girl who happens to have parents that are vampires. She's known about their little bloody secret for just about forever, but only recently has the local vampire council discovered her. And since non-vampires aren't supposed to know that vampires exist, they give her an ultimatum. She's got to decide--in just a month's time--whether or not she wants to be a vampire too.

They make her take these vampire classes (vampire homework, ugh!), and she even has to go on "educational" field trips with her weirdo Uncle Mortie. Meanwhile, she'd really rather be concentrating on her love life (or lack thereof), getting a date for prom, and getting through school.

There are some hot guys, a couple of mean girls, a great best friend, and dashes of normal teenage angst. Oh, and vampires, of course. But no bloody mayhem or skulking about at night.

This is really a humorous look at the vampire life and not a serious one (though Mina's dilemma is big enough for just about anyone!).

The official age range is 12 and up, though I've had 10 year olds write me that they liked it and other people that only recommend it for those aged 14 and up.

That's the problem with age ranges in general…it really depends on the individual reader. There's nothing too risqué in the book, but Mina does get some kissing in and her mother does give her a version of "The Talk."

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

A couple of things. At the time, I had recently read a book that shall remain nameless. It was an okay book, but it annoyed me because it referenced bits of the Dracula myth and got things wrong. It was also pretty typical with the whole "evil" vampire vs. virtuous heroine plot line.

That started me thinking, hey what if being a vampire were boring and not at all mysterious or even all that dangerous? What if it were a teenager's parents that were vampires? We all know how teens generally feel about their parents…so, anyway, it went from there.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

I actually did a lot of research on the vampire myth in general and dug up some of my old college coursework (I'd studied Dracula in a couple of classes). I knew I wanted to keep the book fairly light and funny and not full of blood and gore, but also I wanted a book that teens that weren't into vampires could still read and enjoy.

The comments about Bram Stoker's Mina and Lucy were terrific. Did you give much thought to the role of girls/women in the horror tradition, and if so, would you like to share a few of your thoughts?

Believe it or not, some of what is in the book about Stoker is taken directly or paraphrased from some things I wrote in college.

I had this great professor, James B. Twitchell, who had literally written the book on vampires (The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature) and I'd taken a class in the Romantic period with him. Incidentally, my husband-to-be was also in that class with me.

One of the best things about Twitchell was that he let us write on pretty much whatever we wanted for our weekly papers and didn't mind if we were a little flippant (which I tend to be). He didn't even always pick them up, but you'd better have written something in case he did.

When we read Stoker in class, I found myself really annoyed, just like Mina. Besides the obvious things, Professor Twitchell was really good at pointing out some of the more egregious but hidden digs at women in the novel. Actually, a lot of literature from that time period (heck, a fair amount in all time periods, I suppose) is very male-centric. We used to call the literature canon that everyone studies in college "books by dead white guys."

You know, come to think of it, I probably should have put Professor Twitchell in the acknowlegements section of my book. He still teaches at the University of Florida, and I highly recommend him to anyone that is attending college there.

But getting back to your question…I think that it is a wonderful thing that there are so many woman authors in the horror field now and so many great female characters. I tried to make Mina be someone believable; not too weak, but not too strong either.

And I hope it comes through that she makes the choice she makes for herself and not for a guy or even her best friend.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Write more. And write more often. There's always something to interrupt you out there, and you just have to ignore it (even if it is the laundry – after all, you can always wear that horrible looking muumuu in the back of your closet…you're a writer and people expect that anyway), and get your writing done.

Many of us also know you as the YA Books Goddess at Young Adult (& Kids) Books Central! Could you give us the behind-the-scenes scoop on your efforts on that front?

It's hard to believe, but I've been doing that for over 10 years now. Yikes! I feel so old!

My goal has always been to encourage reading and be a place where readers (young or old) can learn about new authors (big or small).

I give away hundreds of books a year and also try to provide a forum for authors and publishers of any size and stature to get the word out about their books.

For those who may be new to Young Adult (& Kids) Books Central, could you give us an overview of the site and/or share any new features/directions?

The site is located at www.yabookscentral.com and there's also an associated blog (where you can find out what the latest postings are) and a forum (hosted on Delphi). I and a number of wonderful volunteer reviewers put up reviews of books for ages 0 and up, so we cover everything from picture books and early readers to young adult and even some adult titles.

There're also interviews, press releases, bios (which authors can submit directly), excerpts from books, and guides (teacher, study, and reader). Readers can also submit reviews, and every 15 they submit earns them a free book from the Prize Bucket. I also feature a couple of publisher-sponsored giveaways every month.

There's always more that I want to do, though the biggest challenges are time and money. Since I want to keep the site accessible for everyone (visitors and those interested in putting their work out there), I don't feature many ads and, for the ones I do feature, I try to keep the price low so that any author can afford to advertise their book.

So, while I'd love to be able to hire someone to code some additional features, I just can't afford to do it. And believe it or not, I coded almost all of the site myself. I used to be a Web development manager at AT&T Labs. But it has been so many years now that I've forgotten half of what I used to know!

That said, I do have plans for additional features…like a publisher search and a way that people can log in and track their reviews. But I just need to find the time to get it done! (Hm, any ColdFusion programmers out there that would like to help?)

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on a sequel now called It Still Sucks to Be Me. I can't say much about it since it would give away the ending of the first book. Let's just say that Mina's always got some kind of trouble in her life.

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