From the Morris Award Committee description: “Blake’s life is way too complicated. He’s a sophomore in high school with a girlfriend and a friend who is a girl. One of them loves him. One of them needs him. Can he please them both?”
YALSA Blog: Congratulations on Flash Burnout being on the Morris Award shortlist! Where were you when you found out you’d been shortlisted for the Morris Award? And who was the first person you told?
L.K. Madigan: I’m going to let Blake answer this:
“My author was at work. Her editor called with the news, and she screamed. Actually, it wasn’t really a scream. It was more like an ejaculation. Heh.”
Thank you, Blake, for that singular summary. You may go back in your author’s head now.
The first people I told after I hung up were my curious co-workers. Then I called my husband. If anyone wants a blow-by-blow account of my reaction, I blogged about it here: http://lkmadigan.livejournal.com/160065.html
YALSA Blog: Blake has such a powerful, unique voice that I kept thinking that you didn’t so much create him as channel him. Part of this is because of all the details about his interests, from Rose Tyler to Spinal Tap. Where did Blake come from?
L.K. Madigan: I ordered him online.
The Internet is a-MAY-zing!
No, I suppose Blake is my own inner teen boy. As you can tell from the answer to the previous question, he’s always ready to jump out of my head and onto the page.
It’s true that sometimes during the writing of the book, it did feel as though Blake was a real person dictating his story to me. But in fact, it was just me – a middle-aged married mom – laboring over dialogue and character development and story arc. I had a lot of fun writing Flash Burnout, and I loved spending time in Blake’s world. It makes me deliriously happy that other people are enjoying the character now.
I’ve had lots of readers tell me they didn’t realize I was a woman, which is gratifying. And a sixteen-year-old boy who is a friend of the family said to me after reading the book, “Um … I actually think like this. How did you do that?”
YALSA Blog: Marissa’s mother is a meth addict. A story about a triangle between three very likable teens (Blake, girlfriend Shannon, friend who is a girl Marissa) turns serious as Blake gets involved in Marissa’s search for her homeless mother. What inspired the character and storyline of Anne, Marissa’s mother?
L.K. Madigan: In October 2004, my hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, published a five-part series about the methamphetamine epidemic in the Pacific Northwest, including before-and-after photos of meth addicts. It was very sobering. To see examples, you can go to the official website of our county sheriff’s office – http://www.facesofmeth.us/main.htm .
The last article in the Oregonian’s five-part series was called, “Child of the Epidemic.” It was about a 15-year-old girl named MaKayla whose mother was a chronic meth user. (The article is here.)
I wasn’t planning to write a gritty story about meth addiction; I was already working on a different YA novel. But I never forgot MaKayla’s story – I doubt anyone who read the article has ever forgotten it. Six months later, I had shelved the other novel, and was ready to write about a fictional girl whose long-lost mother should have stayed lost. But I still couldn’t bring myself to write about the gritty details of drug abuse … which is why Marissa’s mom remained such a shadowy character.
For anyone skeptical about meth’s devastating impact, the PBS show “Frontline” has an excellent presentation: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth/body/.
YALSA blog: Photography is one of Blake’s interests, is the basis for his friendship with Marissa, and provides some great metaphors throughout the book for how Blake interacts with others. Plus, each chapter starts with a quote from a photographer or book about photography. Why photography?
L.K. Madigan: I needed a reason for Blake to say (about Marissa), “She had the most heartbroken eyes in the world.” That was a line pinging around in my head, and it needed to come out in the story. What’s the best way for someone to look closely at another person? Through the lens of a camera.
So photography was a device, at first, for building their relationship. I had not made a conscious decision to expand it into a central theme. As I kept writing, the characters led me – as they are wont to do – in the direction they wanted to go. Scenes involving photography kept pouring out, which is really no surprise; as you mentioned, it’s a rich source of imagery and metaphor. Many other YA novels have employed the photography device, even my fellow Morris finalist Nina LaCour’s lovely HOLD STILL.
The epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter were a late addition … the final connective thread to tie the story together.
YALSA Blog: Flash Burnout includes two playlists of songs for Blake. I want to go to iTunes and listen to all of them! Will you be putting these up on your website? How did you decide what songs a modern-day heartbroken fifteen year old boy would listen to?
L.K. Madigan: I hadn’t thought of listing the songs on my website, but that’s a great idea. At one point, I planned to record myself playing the two classical songs referenced in the book (played by Blake’s mom) and post them on the site, so readers could hear them just like Blake would have heard them, complete with errors (because Blake’s mom would not play the piano perfectly, and neither do I). That plan never came to fruition, but maybe it will someday.
I almost did NOT include the playlists at the end of the book, because musical references get dated very quickly. But since the lists included so many old songs, I decided to go ahead. As for which songs to choose, I selfishly selected many of my favorites, and enlisted the help of friends for the rest.
YALSA Blog: The Morris Award is for a “first time author writing for teens.” Why do you write for teens?
L.K. Madigan: The teen years are seething with emotions and close friendships and first-times and revelations and music and parties and innocence-versus-experience and emerging identities and …
You see why?
YALSA Blog: One thing I’ve heard authors say is that in revising and editing, they have to “kill their darlings,” that is, remove parts of the book they really love but that just don’t work or belong in the final book. Is there any particular scene or character you had to “kill” from Flash Burnout?
L.K. Madigan: There was a sub-plot about Blake’s mom and his uncle. Since I wanted to confuse Blake as much as possible about the many shades of love-and-friendship, I created a playful relationship between the mom and the uncle which Blake – for the first time – found worrying. It gave me a chance to plant some funny and entirely incorrect suspicions in Blake’s mind, but those scenes slowed down the pacing of the book … so they had to go.
YALSA Blog: What are you working on now?
L.K. Madigan: My second novel, a contemporary fantasy entitled The Mermaid’s Mirror, is scheduled for release in Fall, 2010. I will be seeing copy edits for that any day now.
In new writing, I’m working on another funny boy book. This one takes place the following school year at Blake’s high school, but is narrated by a different main character. This time the reader sees Blake from the point of view of someone else. I’m having a lot of fun writing it … I hope my editor likes it, too.
YALSA Blog: What three books do you think are must-reads for teens?
L.K. Madigan: I. Cannot. POSSIBLY. Answer. That Question.
In fact, I will now flee that question!
Okay, I can’t actually flee this virtual interview, but I must explain: I know lots of wonderful authors. To ask me to choose three “must-reads” for teens is to ask me to not-choose many terrific books by author friends.
Therefore, I’m letting Blake out of my head again long enough to answer.
Blake, which three books do you think are must-reads for teens?
Blake: Can one of them be our book?
The Author: No, that wouldn’t be appropriate.
Blake: Why NOT? Our book pwns!
Author: (sighs) Thank you, yes. But this whole article is about Flash Burnout. Now we have a chance to mention some other worthy books.
Blake: I can’t think of any.
Author: Sure you can. What about Dracula? You liked that one, didn’t you?
Blake: Oh yeah! That dude was deeply messed up. So … yeah. Dracula is a [makes finger quotes] must-read.
Author: What about —
Blake: Do NOT say Catcher in the Rye.
Blake: That guy bugs me.
Author: You mean Holden?
Blake: And don’t say Pride and Prejudice.
Author: I wasn’t —
Blake: Yes, you were. Everyone is always going on and ON about that book.
Author: That’s because it’s a masterpiece.
Blake: Whatever. You just like to stare at that Mr. Darcy guy on the mini-series.
Author: Back to the question.
Blake: I liked that book with the two names.
Author: The two — ?
Blake: Yeah, that book about the two guys who had the same name? Will Robinson, Will Robinson?
Author: Oh! Ha! Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. Yes, that one doesn’t come out until April, but it’s terrific. Good choice.
Blake: And the one with the kids?
Author: The —
Blake: YOU know. A bunch of kids get left on some island and lose their sh**?
Author: Oh! Lord of the Flies. Yes, another great book. Okay, thanks, Blake. You can go.
Blake: Wait! I just thought of another.
Author: We only need to list three.
Blake: But it’s awesome! It’s a [finger quotes] must-read!
Author: That’s nice, but —
Blake: And the guy died! Before it was even published. Remember?
Author: Do you mean A Confederacy of Dunces?
Blake: Yes! It was insane. It was … what’s that word? Some reviewer used it about our book. Means all crazy and random.
Author: (long pause) Haphazard.
Blake: Right! Haphazard. Even the word sounds crazy and random.
Author: Haphazard yet entertaining. That’s what the reviewer said.
Blake: Okay, okay. We’re not talking about YOU right now. We’re talking about that other book.
Author: Ahem. Yes. That’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book. Well, thanks for your input. Bye now.
Blake: Wait, I don’t want to go back in your head yet. Wait! The Hunger Games! MUST READ!
Author: Bye, Blake.
YALSA Blog: Thank you! And thank you, Blake!