Welcome to Awesome Books Week on my blog, where I am celebrating THREE (3!) contemporary, realistic YA novels I’ve recently loved by featuring an interview with each of their authors and hosting a giveaway of their books on my blog. That’s right! It is not enough to just post an interview. I want to give you a chance to OWN these stories because I don’t think your library is complete without them.
Want to know how you can win The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind (Kirstin Cronn-Mills), Harmonic Feedback (Tara Kelly) AND The Lighter Side of Life and Death (C.K. Kelly Martin)? Find out at the bottom of this interview with Tara Kelly!
My favourite part of my Publishers Marketplace subscription is the deal listings. Whenever a contemporary realistic YA is acquired, my ears perk up. I have been looking forward to Harmonic Feedback since it was announced. Here’s the pitch line from the deal announcement in 2008:
“… about a 16-year old music obsessed, smart-mouthed girl with Asperger’s syndrome who starts a band, falls in lust and learns to question what “normal” really means…”
Dude, try to keep me from reading this book. JUST TRY IT! Yeah, see that? You can’t. Mostly because I have already read it. But if you had tried to keep me from it, YOU WOULD HAVE FAILED.
Isn’t that cover gorgeous?
The gist: Sixteen-year-old Drea is the new kid in town. She’s always the new kid in town. Getting acclimated to new places and new faces is never fun, but is always made more complicated by Drea’s ADHD and Asperger’s. Drea struggles with other people’s perceptions of her–family and peers alike–and does not want to be defined by her diagnoses. She sees her latest move to Bellingham, Washington as a chance to really start over. And it really is. Naomi, the wild girl next door, takes Drea under her wings immediately. Drea’s also befriended by Justin, the squeaky clean good guy (or is he?) who pushes Drea’s buttons and challenges her own set of perceptions. The three start a band together but, as the jacket flap says, “… just when she’s found not one but two true friends, can [Drea] stand to lose one of them?”
I loved Harmonic Feedback. This is a wonderfully solid debut that I didn’t want to put it down. Yes, Drea has ADHD and Asperger’s but the book and Drea are not DEFINED by her having them. The way Drea processes and navigates a new (and sometimes frightening) social landscape is incredibly well done. At its core, this book isa coming of age tale about a girl whose desires and longings, from the simple to the not-so-simple, are pretty much EVERYONE’s. There are universal themes of friendship and love and fitting in that I think lots of teen readers will be able to identify with. I got quite emotional while I read this. Tara Kelly’s writing is sharp and to the point, quick moving, heartfelt and unafraid to be raw. Check out my full review of the book here.
(PS Harmonic Feedback also features one of the most healthy, sexy, swoon-worthy, equal relationships I’ve seen in YA for a long time.)
Tara graciously gave me her time for an interview and I’m thrilled to share it with you here.
Congratulations on your debut! It’s an incredible read. Can you tell us about Harmonic Feedback’s journey to publication?
Thank you! Harmonic Feedback was the third book I queried, but technically the second book I wrote–or in my world, the second book I finished! It’s unfortunate, but true that I’ve written most of my life, but I never managed to write an actual book until around 2007 (and my first book didn’t even have a good/real ending). I won’t even go into how I tried to find an agent for the first book I ever wrote *bangs head* Let’s just say I got lots of rejections at the query stage. Anyway, the second book I queried got LOTS of requests (I’d say over half) and what I’d call positive rejections and requests for my next book (which was HF). I only sent HF to 10 agents or so because I wanted to do it ‘right’ this time and take it slow. Seemed the third time was the charm. I got a couple offers and ended up with Jennifer Laughran for a couple reasons 1) She totally GOT Drea and the book (this was a biggie for me as some agents thought Drea needed to act like Rainman to be believable as a character on the autistic spectrum) and 2) She was an enthusiastic, new agent with ABLA (my dream agency). It just seemed right!
My book went out about a week after I signed the contracts with Jenn. And two weeks later, I had interest from a couple publishers. Holt came in with a very enthusiastic offer and my agent thought they’d be the best fit. Insane fast, right? Yeah, I’ve learned that it doesn’t always happen like this. Most people will wait FAR longer for that first offer or even for an editor response. And I expect to as well with future books *grin*
It’s nice to see variety in publication journeys! Drea has an incredible voice. I loved spending time with it. In the back of Harmonic Feedback, you have an author’s note about how you didn’t want Drea to be defined by her ADHD/Asperger’s and I really felt that as I read. What was it like to develop her as a character? What did you know immediately that you DID and DIDN’T want to do in terms of her characterization?
Drea was a tough character to write in that we’re total opposites in some ways. She sees things so literally and she processes things in such a logical/technical way. My main concern was people wouldn’t connect with her or understand her. I wanted to present her as a real person who happens to fall on the autistic spectrum rather than make the book about her Asperger’s. Because, really, everyone on the spectrum is different. They aren’t walking textbooks of symptoms and–like NTs–they are all individuals with different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.
All and all I wanted to put a socially awkward teen into real situations with other confused/socially awkward teens and see what happened. I essentially set Drea free and watched her do her thing.
She was incredibly relateable, in my opinion. I have to say it: Justin. Is. Awesome. He’s one of the greatest love interests I’ve seen in a young adult novel to date. Unhealthy relationships have been the basis of a lot of discussion in the YA community recently and I was so thrilled his interest in and interactions with Drea were healthy, intense and very natural. Given all that aforementioned discussion within the community, what is most important to you when you settle down to write a romantic relationship in a YA novel?
Yay, I’m so glad you liked Justin! He was a joy to write. As someone who LOVES writing romance (probably my favorite thing), I tend to read a lot of romance. And like the current discussions, I do come across some YA relationships that I think are unhealthy. I think it can be said that almost every fictional romance is slightly unrealistic…I mean that’s part of the fun, right? People like hope. They like to believe in true love. Some like to believe that true love can be found in high school. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But I do think some books cross the line from slightly unrealistic (but swoon-worthy and satisfying) to unrealistic AND unhealthy. Typically it involves a guy who is too controlling/possessive under the guise of being ‘protective’ or a girl who has no hobbies/passions of her own outside of a boy.
So one of my top goals in ANY romance I write is to make sure both characters have their own lives and own goals. If their goals and beliefs conflict, even better! I also tend to develop my YA relationships slowly. I want both characters to EARN each others admiration rather than meet and go–”Oooh, you’re perty. I love you!”
Awesome. A few times in the book, Drea points out the way people needlessly complicate their lives by not saying what they mean and questioning the pointlessness of certain day-to-day rituals we all have (like asking people how they are when the asker doesn’t care at all). I thought she had some great points. In the spirit of that, what is one thing you think people could do to make life easier on themselves and the people around them?
Like Drea, I’d like to see more honesty in the world. Mainly, I wish more people felt comfortable being themselves and confronting each other when there is an issue. I don’t mean walking up to someone and punching them or saying–‘you’re ugly or you’re dumb’. But I think, as a whole, society is too passive-aggressive. We let things fester and whisper behind closed doors rather than actually dealing with a problem. For example, if a friend did something that ticked you off, what is the issue with telling them? You don’t need to call names or be nasty. Just say, hey, you did this and it hurt my feelings/ticked me off/whatever. If the friend freaks out and goes ballistic…well, is this someone you want in your life? If they’re really your friend, the last thing they want is to hurt you. So they’d WANT to work it out. I think being direct and honest with your friends would save a LOT of friendships. Talking behind someone’s back or pretending to like someone is only going to cause MORE confrontation.
So well said. A lot of people confuse honesty with cruelty and I don’t think that’s always the case. You’re a musician and music plays a big part in Harmonic Feedback. The lyrics to Naomi’s song were gorgeous and I adored how Drea described what music was to her–how she produced music and brought it all together. I loved the Boesendorfer mention! Can you recommend: one song you think everyone should hear before they die, one instrument they should attempt to play, and one band they should see live if they see ANY band live?
Wow, this is hard because I only get to pick ONE for each category—eek! There are MANY songs I think people should hear before they die (just let that be known), but I’ll pick the first that comes to mind. “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. I fell in love with it as a tot and love it just as much today. Kate Bush is kind of my musical idol.
One instrument people should play..hmm…I’ll just say the guitar because it’s my favorite. You can be so expressive with it. But it’s also not an easy instrument. You’ve got to fight with it, let it bust up your fingers, and challenge yourself. But the reward is completely worth every blister.
One band people should see live is Placebo (although they should see MANY bands live). I love Placebo’s music, but their live performance took me completely by surprise. I was blown AWAY by their energy. As good at their recorded music is, it doesn’t come close to the power they have together on stage. Simply hypnotizing. Also, they do this cover of “Running Up That Hill” that is jaw-dropping incredible.
I LOVE Running Up that Hill! The original and Placebo’s cover. What was the hardest scene in Harmonic Feedback for you to write? What was your favourite?
Hardest scene–definitely when they find Naomi in the abandoned house and trying to get across the array of emotion Drea feels. My favorite scenes involved Justin and Drea’s interactions and banter. LOVED those two together.
Your cover is absolutely GORGEOUS. It looks great online, but it’s really something else in person. Beautiful. And even better–it’s a scene in the novel (a wonderful scene, too)! What was your reaction when you first saw it? Did you have any input on the design?
My first reaction was….whoa. If I were to pick any scene for them to feature, the rain scene is it. I was very impressed that the art director was able to pick that up. I had no input on the design…and as a designer myself that was very hard! I was very relieved that it turned out okay *grin*
What are your favourite YA novels?
Well, this author Courtney Summers writes some of the BEST books ever. And no I’m not just saying that. CRACKED UP TO BE and SOME GIRLS ARE are among my all-time favorite YA books and I’m mad picky. You know how to do tension like NO other. And your mean girls? Whoa. They knock the wind out of a person. [editor’s note: AWWW… the cheque’s in the mail. ;) But seriously, thank you so much, Tara! That means a lot.] Other YA books I love: BALLADS OF SUBURBIA by Stephanie Kuehnert, A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT by Laura Whitcomb, NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green, FLASH BURNOUT by LK Madigan.
And I should probably stop..but there are MORE!
What inspires you?
Music, nature, dancing, roadtrips, observing people (in a non-creepy way, of course) copious amounts of caffeine! Really just living life.
Can you tell us where we can find you on the web and what’s next for you book-wise?
Up next is C-SIDE TALES about a 17-year-old girl trying to make it as the lead guitarist of an industrial rock band. Only she has terrible stage fright. It will be out…..some time next year. No date yet, though!
I can’t WAIT to read C-Side Tales. Thanks, Tara!
Thank YOU :)
And so continues my AWESOME BOOKS WEEK! Like I said, I love the books I’m featuring on my blog SO MUCH, I have decided to give ALL THREE OF THEM away to ONE lucky winner. If you want to be entered to win the random draw, all you have to do is comment on one or all of the interviews:
If you comment on one interview, you will be entered once. If you comment on two of them, twice. All three interviews? Three times! *NOTE: All entrants are limited to three entries each.
Increase your chances at winning by commenting on them all when they go up (just be consistent in entering your name and email address so I can count the entries accordingly).
Please note this contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only (sorry International readers). A random winner will be selected August 1st, 2010 and contacted via email for their shipping deets. They winner will have 24 hours to claim their prize or there will be a redraw.
Dear FTC, Harmonic Feedback was bought by me and I was not compensated for this review or interview. I just love talking about the books I love. xo, Courtney