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Interview: May 2009

May 2009

Lauren Myracle --- author of more than 15 bestselling and critically acclaimed titles, including ELEVEN, TWELVE andTHIRTEEN --- recently published her latest novel, PEACE, LOVE, AND BABY DUCKS.
In this interview with Teenreads.com's Norah Piehl, Myracle discusses some of the real-life experiences from her teen years that inspired many elements of this latest book, and explores the similarities in personality between herself and her main character, Carly. She also creates a playlist of her favorite '60s music to correspond with the story, talks a bit about collaborating with fellow YA authors E. Lockhart and Sarah Mlynowski for last year's HOW TO BE BAD, and shares her excitement over being able to interact with her readers through the blog on her website.
 
Teenreads.com: PEACE, LOVE, AND BABY DUCKS does a great job of describing the social environment of Atlanta. Why did you choose to set the book there? How did you do the research about different neighborhoods, malls, schools, etc?
 
Lauren Myracle: Aw, thanks! I chose to set the book in Atlanta because…oh, man, Atlanta is just so ripe with beauty and oddness and wealth and poverty and black and white. It’s got it all, and it’s different from anywhere else in the country --- make that the world. As for how I researched it all? I *lived* it, that’s how! 
 
TRC: Was there something in particular that inspired you to write this novel in the first place?
 
LM: Just like Carly, I attended a prestigious Christian prep school in Atlanta, and just like Carly, I was required to do a back dive off the high dive in order to pass P.E. There’s a scene in the novel in which Anna, Carly’s sister, can’t do the dive and huddles at the end of the high board like a quivering, sobbing egg. Well, the “real” version of that scene was seared into my brain when I was 15, though it wasn’t my sister at the end of the board. It was a scholarship student, the sole black girl in a class of white girls. It made a huge impact: the disdain of the P.E. coach, the way the other girls averted the eyes, the deep welling of shame that rose from my powerlessness to help her. Ag. So yes, I’ve needed to write about that incident for a long time, and I finally did.
 
TRC: Carly and Anna are very different sisters. Which one are you more like?
LM: Heh heh. Um, that would be Carly, the older, bossier (and yet cooler!) sister. (JK, Susan!)
 
TRC:  Carly's growing rebelliousness and cynicism are inspired by her life-changing summer internship working on trails in the Tennessee mountains. Did you ever have a transformative summer experience like that?
 
LM: I did! I worked for the Student Conservation Association one summer, and everyone in my family thought I was crazy for trading in pool chairs and country club French fries for a tent and canned sardines. (Canned sardines were our source of protein for the summer. Gross.) The group I worked with was diverse: a kid from Mi’ssipi who said “warsh” instead of “wash”; a guy from Harlem who could do amazing backflips and who tried (but failed) to teach me to breakdance; a girl from Tennessee who owned zillions of horses and cut her own bangs. I don’t know why I remember that detail --- that she cut her own bangs --- but I do. Probably because that entire summer was such a step-out-of-your-comfort-zone experience for me…but in a good way. I left for my trail-building experience pale, squishy and sheltered; I returned tan, muscled, and at least slightly more aware of the world outside my pastel-tinted Atlanta existence.
 
TRC: Carly finds herself torn between two guys: guitar-playing mysterious new guy Cole, and old, reliable Roger. Which one would you have fallen for in high school, and why?
 
LM: Oh, that is a horrible question --- horrible because it’s embarrassing. Vonzelle, who wants Carly to see the potential in big, awesome Teddy Bear Roger, says to Carly, “Wouldn’t it be great if for once the right girl ended up with the right guy?” And Carly looks her dead in the eye --- dreaming of Cole, of course --- and says, “Yes.” Well.  Yeah. I wanted Cole, too, but if I’d been smart, I would have gone for Roger.
 
TRC: The two sisters go to a Christian private school, and religion plays a pretty big part in the book. Why did you decide to bring the element of religion into the story? Do you think Carly is any less religious than her classmates, even though she has a rather unconventional view compared to them?
 
LM: Religion is so…hrmm. Well, it’s a sticky wicket, isn’t it? My dear friend E. Lockhart said once that she was “religiously tangled,” and I love that. I love that way of putting it. Carly, too, is religiously tangled. She feels a “bigness” inside her that she calls God --- and yet, she refuses to be what she calls a “crispy Christian” who goes around talking about little pagan babies and how if you adopt them, you get to name them, kind of like naming a star. I don’t think Carly is less religious than her more openly Christian classmates, no. And while I don’t want to judge her classmates (even though I, ya know, gave them life), I might go so far as to suggest that a well-considered religious philosophy is better than blind acceptance? +winces+
TRC: Carly may be the novel's heroine, but she can also be prickly, judgmental and thoughtless. What was it like to write about such a complex, sometimes hard-to-like character?
 
LM: Ha hee heh heh. I read this question out loud to my parents (whom I’m hanging out with in NY right now), and they laughed, as I knew they would. Cuz, well, I can be prickly and judgmental and thoughtless. Hey, we’re all works in progress, though, right? Writing about Carly gave me insight --- I think! --- into my own foibles…
 
TRC:  Carly's love of 1960s music is a big part of who she is. Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of playlist would you put together for this book?
 
LM: Ooo, love this question. 
“Southern Cross,” Crosby, Stills and Nash
“Feeling Good,” Nina Simone
“Ripple,” Grateful Dead
“Trouble,” Cat Stevens
“Box of Rain,” Grateful Dead
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynrd Skynrd
“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” Brenda Holloway
“Georgia on My Mind,” Ray Charles
“From the Beginning,” Emerson, Lake and Palmer
“Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell
“You Ain’t See Nothing Yet,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Do you know these songs?  If not…go listen to them! Now! 
 
TRC: Both Carly and Anna transform over the summer --- Carly because of that summer internship, Anna because she suddenly gets a grown-up body. Anna can't control the changes she's gone through, but people seem to resent or envy her regardless. What advice would you have for girls who find themselves the target of unwanted attention because their bodies have changed overnight?
 
LM: I would say: hold strong. Feel the core of *you* that’s within you, and say to yourself every day, “Hey. You are kind and smart and important --- and you are beautiful.”
 
TRC: I read that you have three sisters. What is your relationship like with them? Are you the oldest, the youngest, or somewhere in the middle? Do you still find yourself taking care of (or being taken care of by) your sisters?  
 
LM: Oh, sisters. Sisters, sisters, sisters. I am: the oldest sister on the “White” side of my fam; the youngest sister on the “Myracle” side of my fam; and the middle-est sister if you take the whole messy lot of my divorce-ridden kin.
Whew!
I like being the oldest the most. Because the oldest always knows best…
 
TRC: You're friends with several other well-loved YA authors. How do you help and support each other through the writing process? Do you have plans for any other collaborations? 
 
LM: Oooo, you mean Sarah Mlynowski (say it with me, now: Mlih-noff-skee) and E. Lockhart, with whom I wrote HOW TO BE BAD! Me lub my Sarah and my E.! And for some reason me fall into weird horrible grammar-speak when thinking about them, perhaps cuz they’re both sooo frickin’ brilliant! (And fine, I admit it, cuz it gives me joy to tease E. a bit… Lub u, E.!)
I would write another novel with them in a heartbeat. I am incredibly proud of HOW TO BE BAD --- and I love the adorable new alligator cover!
 
TRC: You have a really fun blog on your website, and you've been issuing challenges (and offering prizes) related to the new book. What is it like to connect to your fans in this new way?
 
LM: Aw, I love the girls (and occasional super-cool guy) who read my books and reach out to me. Have you checked out the site? It is amazing what these peeps are doing: making potato-print shirts, writing goofy haikus, pestering John Green and Ally Carter, creating “happy birthday” widgets. So to answer your question: I lub connecting with my fans in this new way!! (And hope it never ends…)
 
TRC: What are you going to write about next? Any chance we might get to read more about Carly and Anna in a sequel someday?
 
LM: Well, as my editor often tells me, “We’ll see.” Which means that if peeps like the book and want to read more about Carly and Anna…I’m sure game!