Interview with Simone Elkeles
Simone Elkeles is the author of Perfect Chemistry, Rules of Attraction, and other fantastic books for teens. She will be visiting Book Divas for an Author Visit April 26 - May 10, 2010 and will be participating in a Live Chat on April 28 at 7PM ET.
1.) Perfect Chemistry seems influenced by Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. What fresh perspective do you bring to this kind of tale?
One of my fans summed it up perfectly. They wrote, “Perfect Chemistry is like Romeo and Juliet, but with a way better ending!” I actually loved Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story…until the end. I always wanted the two characters to live happily-ever-after. I’m definitely a hopeless romantic. I really wanted to write a book that showed two different stereotypes/cultures of teens and throughout the story break down those stereotypes so you can see the real person behind the façade.
2.) What part of your own life experience did you put into this book, if any? If there were none, how did you go about researching it?
Although Perfect Chemistry is 100% fiction, I did base the setting off of a real suburban town near where I live. I did a lot of research for the book because I wanted to make the characters authentic. I interviewed some teens in suburban gangs. They were very open and honest about their lives and culture. I sprinkled Spanish words and Mexican culture in the book by interviewing people…teens, adults, and even the dean of the Spanish department at a university in Chicago. One of my friends is a Chicago police officer and she gave me a lot of information on Chicago gangs which was extremely helpful.
3.) I'm curious about the "rap-trailer" you have on your website to promote your book. It's a pretty unusual medium to use to promote a book. What inspired you to do this? How did you shoot it?
I grew up watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and loved the rap in the beginning that Will Smith performed. It was funny and told the entire backstory of his character’s life. I had other book trailers made for my previous novels, but for Perfect Chemistry I wanted to do something outrageously different and totally fun. Life is about entertaining yourself and new experiences. My rap video book trailer is totally cheesy and a parody of my book…and I love it. Teens download it for free from my website and sing it in the hallways at school, which is hilarious. I hired a Chicago film director Chris LoDuca and he wrote the rap (I tweaked it…about 10 of the sentences are mine). I have to give him total credit for coming up with the “Es un libro – It’s a book!” line which has become a fan favorite. Chris hired the actors (and even had me sit in on auditions at the talent agency) and we shot the rap on a green screen in a Chicago studio. The actual video was actually shot in two days: one day for the audio portion and the next day the video portion was shot. You can watch the “making of” video on my website and YouTube…it’s funny.
4.) You've spoken with at-risk youth in your talks about your books around the country and you even visited a juvenile detention center for your research for Leaving Paradise. Perfect Chemistry deals with gang life. Are at-risk youth a particular concern of yours? Is this an audience you try to target with your novels?
I am definitely interested in reaching out to at-risk youth and am so happy that my books have inspired so many of them to read and write (and change their lives). I didn’t set out to write about at-risk teens. Leaving Paradise and Perfect Chemistry were just two story ideas I came up with that I knew I had to write. It was a bonus that those storylines have helped at-risk youth. I have to say that speaking with incarcerated teens and donating books to them has been a rewarding experience for me, as well.
5.) You've had a couple of different careers. What would you do if you weren't a writer?
Seriously, I wouldn’t be anything else. Being a writer means I can create my own stories and share them with the world. I love my job! There is seriously no better feeling than creating a story, writing THE END, seeing your book in the stores, and receiving fan mail from teens. Although I guess I wouldn’t mind being a dolphin trainer at Sea World-San Diego!
6.) You are also well known for your writing workshops. What is the most basic advice you could give an aspiring writer of young adult fiction?
Finish the book. So many teens talk about writers block and starting a book but never finishing it. Force yourself to write through the writers block (even write stupid stuff and revise later) because some parts of books are just slow…and eventually the pace gets faster and faster.
7.) Perfect Chemistry has some pretty steamy scenes in it but these are honest and truthful portrayals of teen sexuality and the struggles that come with it. Is this something that you think is important to address in young adult fiction?
All my books, especially Perfect Chemistry and Leaving Paradise, deal with teen sexuality. I don’t think addressing sexual reality in young adult fiction is crucial for every teen book. I just like putting that reality in my books when it’s appropriate to the story. Let’s be honest; a sizable percentage of teens have sex and/or lose their virginity in high school. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I just know it’s reality. I can’t ignore it in my books if it belongs in the story.
8.) As a teen, you must have been a big reader. What were some of your favorite books that you'd still recommend today?
The truth is I was not a big reader as a teen. I’m not kidding. I’m sorry to say I couldn’t understand the classic literature they had us read in high school…those Cliffs Notes saved me. I didn’t read for pleasure as a teen, except for Judy Blume books because they were edgy and exciting to me. That’s why I write books for teens that I think I would have loved to read as a teen. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from teens who say they “hate to read” but “love my books.” I do remember reading a book titled Cute is a Four Letter Word and loving that. And Forever by Judy Blume was a definite favorite of mine.
9.) Finally, why do think we always fall for the bad guys?
Women are born with the urge to “fix” people and situations. We go out of our way to help people in need (it probably has to do with hormones or some kind of “mommy gene” that females are just born with). Bad boys are our biggest challenge, and our “fixing gene” goes into overdrive when we’re with them. If we can fix them, we think we can fix anything! If the love of a girl is strong enough to make a bad boy change just to be with her, that’s the best story of all. Realistic? Maybe, maybe not. But it sure is fun to read about!