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Today I’m excited to interview debut author Stephanie Guerra about her YA book TORN that was released on May 15, 2012. One of the reasons I wanted to interview Stephanie is because she’s had such an interesting life and she draws on this in creating her story. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about Stephanie and TORN as much as I did.

Here’s a review from Kirkus that Stephanie shared with me that tells about the book:

This engrossing story of a good girl’s fascination with her wild new friend strikes chords that will resonate with many teens. Stella has always been popular, gotten good grades and helped her waitress mom with two younger siblings and the housework. She’s dazzled when she meets Ruby, who struts into their high school and simply takes over Stella’s life. Confident Ruby couldn’t care less about conforming to high-school social standards, nor does she mind breaking the law. She dates college men, finding romance a game, and includes cautious Stella in all of her risky adventures. Eventually, however, Ruby falls for a much older man, and Stella’s sure he’s bad news—especially after he introduces Ruby to cocaine. As Ruby’s reputation crashes in school, Stella loyally continues their friendship, losing her own lifelong friends in the process. Finally, when she tries to save Ruby from her mistakes, she stands to lose even Ruby. In her debut, Guerra demonstrates insight into the temptations and troubles of late adolescence, all rendered with nicely flowing prose and dialogue. She grounds her story in reality, and her characters come across as interesting, believable individuals, with Stella especially sympathetic and Ruby a standout original. If her resolution seems a bit rosy, nevertheless it will please many readers. It’s suitable for both conservative and general audiences. A strong new voice. (Fiction. 12 & up) –Kirkus Reviews

Hi Stephanie. Thanks so much for joining us. And I love that you shared a picture of yourself with your friend Carolyn. (Guys, you'll understand the significance of this when you read the interview.

        1.  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’m a mother of two young kids and I teach in the Literacy for Special Needs Program at Seattle University. Being a writer was my dream early on, and I think it came true (at least in part) because my fourth grade teacher called me an “authoress” and gave me a chance to stay after school to write stories with her. We did this at least once a week for months. Because my teacher took my writing seriously, I did too, and I put in the time and sweat required to improve.

Other than writing, I love to cook, hike, and draw. I’m pretty bad at cartooning, but I really enjoy it. It has also earned me major “cool” points with my kids. They don’t care that my superheroes have weird chins, and my princesses all have the same face.

  2.  You have led a very amazing life from reading your bio. Tell us how you drew on your own experiences and your work background in writing this story.

My own experiences were like Ruby on steroids. I was wild, willful, and stupid, which produced an exciting decade that will probably inform my writing for the rest of my life. More than concrete experiences, I drew on my emotional memories—of fearlessness, curiosity, and thrill seeking—to create Ruby. My work background trained me to understand the literary landscape of young adult fiction, and envision where my voice would fit. 

3.   I’ve read that Stella is based on a very good friend of yours, Carolyn. And that you drew on your own life in creating Ruby. Are there parts of Ruby that aren’t you and how hard was it going back to that part of your life in writing TORN?

Yes, Stella is based on my dear friend Carolyn. I had a tough adolescence, and I had to support myself from sixteen on. I was on my own in Las Vegas, Nevada, and on my first day in school, I saw this girl and thought, She’s going to be my friend. Somehow I knew. 

And she was. We hit it off tremendously, and Carolyn persuaded her mother to let me sleep on her bedroom floor for a month until I could get on my feet. She was also a constant, trustworthy presence in my life. There’s a lot of press about mean girls, and there are even some mean girls in my book, but I think that ultimately female friendship is a much more powerful force than girl bullying, and I wanted to spotlight that in Torn.
Carolyn and I went to college together, shared an apartment as young adults, and finally grad school took us in separate directions. She’s in Utah now, happily married, and we keep in good touch.

Ruby is her own character, although I did draw on aspects of my teen self to create her. She is more trusting and vulnerable than I was, even though she keeps up a tough front. In answer to the second part of your question, it wasn’t hard to access that period in my life. The whole time is burned deep into my memory and soul—which is probably why I chose to write about it.

4.    I think that your own life experiences are what makes your book so amazing. I went through hard teenage years and was really wild in secret too. It's too painful to talk about let alone write about. You’ve said that some of the scenes come from real life experiences. Can you give us some examples of these scenes?

The opening scene, where Ruby comes slamming into the classroom furious about the dress code, is taken from real life. Also, the scene where Mike spoke about a woman’s legs by saying “they look like they got run over by a lineman in cleats” really happened. I had a boyfriend who actually said that in reference to a picture he’d seen. It was the last straw for me, just as it was the last straw for Stella. Other than those scenes, the plot of Torn is fictional, but the relationship between the girls is very much based on real life.   

5.    Some reviewers have described your book as incredibly gritty and realistic. Can you give us some tips on how to write about such difficult topics in an intensely realistic fashion, especially if we haven’t lived through the experiences?

I recommend interviewing people who have lived through those experiences with an eye to discovering their emotions and memories. Ask them to describe why they chose the experience (if it was actually a choice), how they felt when they did it, and what happened as a result. If that’s not possible, then it might be helpful to read edgy memoirs to get first person accounts of difficult experiences.  

6.    That's great advice. And it sounds like you have drawn on some of the kids you work with as well as your own experiences. How are you marketing your book? Do you have any tips for us aspiring authors about planning the marketing before your book debuts? 

Marketing has been a challenge for me, because I don’t like to sell anything, much less my own work! Add to that my Luddite tendencies, and I was in a bad spot when I realized I had to make some marketing efforts. All this to say: if I can do it, anyone can. My approach included building a website, making a trailer, blogging on Readergirlz, setting up a blog tour, contacting magazines and review outlets that might be interested in my work, and going to SCBWI events. The biggest learning curve was figuring out the technology behind the website and trailer, but I’m happy that I was forced to do both, because those skills will serve me well in this career. My last holdout is social networking. I’m not on Facebook, and I just can’t bring myself to join. Maybe one day when it’s completely outdated, I’ll give it a try. 

7.    Marketing is going to be a challenge for me too. I don't like selling myself. What are you working on now?

I’m so excited about my current project! It’s tentatively titled Billy the Kid is Not Crazy and it’s a humorous middle-grade novel with a strong graphic element. Billy is a hyper, hapless, imaginative kid with a behavior problem, and the book focuses on how he works through his behavior issues with the help of a psychologist. It will be out in 2013.

Thanks Stephanie for sharing your advice. You can find Stephanie at her website and Readergirlz.

Stephanie has generously offered a copy of TORN for a giveaway. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on June 2nd. I’ll announce the winner on June 4th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

Here's what's coming up. Monday's Memorial Day (can you believe it?) so I'm taking the day off. Hope you do too. I'll be back on Wednesday next week interviewing debut author Laura Pauling and giving away her YA book A SPY LIKE ME.

And in June I have two awesome interviews you won't want to miss. On June 4th I'm helping Elana Johnson celebrate the release of SURRENDER. It's one of the most awesome second books in a series that I've read. I'm giving away my ARC (only because I bought a book for my daughter and me. She loves it too and would not let me give it away otherwise). 

On June 11th I'm interviewing debut author Jennifer Bosworth and giving away an ARC of STRUCK, another awesome book.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Agent Spotlights on Thursdays.

Hope to see you next Wednesday!


Lisa said...

I would love to read this book! Sounds right up my alley. Yay for YA Contemp!


Laura Pauling said...

I love the power of friendship. It's an incredible theme. And I don't know of any author who truly loves marketing. Maybe Mike Mullin... But we all do the best we can!

Daisy Carter said...

This sounds like an excellent book! I second Lisa - Yay for YA Contemp! :)

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

Torn sounds heart wrenching! And I love the focus on friendship between two, such different girls. *adds to my TBR*

Barbara Watson said...

This sounds like a great read! I love hearing how author's real-life experiences make it into their stories. When I work with students and their writing, I always instill in them that fiction is based in their own lives.

molly.frenzel said...

Thank you Stephanie for the awesome advice. I, however, am not an aspiring author, just a reviewer, but I know that marketing pretty much anything is a real pain. Thank you for the giveaway. I've been dying to read Torn.
Tweet: https://mobile.twitter.com/dg_molly/status/205288240146694145
GFC: molly.frenzel

Donna K. Weaver said...

lol I was wild when I was a little girl. By the time I was aa teen I was a straight arrow. lol

Elana Johnson said...

Sounds like an amazing book! I'll get my hands on a copy. :)

Catie said...

Wow, what a story! I'm adding this to my TBR pile. Thanks for the interview.

Robin Lemke said...

Wow that book sounds amazing. I love the idea of highlighting female friendship. :)

Eisen said...

This sounds like a book I'd like to read! :)

Vivien said...

There are so many different kinds of friendship. The multiple levels of each relationship can vary so much. Even two people, over time, can be completely different. Therefore, their relationship changes. It's all about how we grow!
GFC: Vivien

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Stina said...

Torn is exactly the kind of YA book I love to read. Thanks for the great interview. :D

Natasha said...

Great interview! Torn sounds really good!! Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Doodle said...

This book sounds like something I would love to read! Great interview!

GFC: Doodle
Shared on FB: https://www.facebook.com/erencich/posts/376931989029906

Gale Nelson said...

thanks for the giveaway this book sounds like a awesome read. Gale pgan427@yahoo.com

Anubha said...

Thanks for the giveaway... :D
GFC: Anubha

Lori L. Clark Art said...

I love YA contemp and this looks great. I would love to win! Lorielle11@gmail.com

Wendy Wahman said...

Stephanie! You did it. I have a secret about Stephanie... she is shy doing book promo, and look, no need. A sensitive, beautifully written interview with an extremely talented, intelligent writer. Congratulations!

Linda A. said...

This book sounds fantastic. The plug about the power of girl friendships definitely caught my interest. Please add my name to the giveaway drawing.

Linda A.

Alexandra Loewen said...

Thanks for this great interview, Natalie and Stephanie! I was especially intrigued by the book's connection to Stephanie's own teen years.

Kristin Lenz said...

Interesting interview, Natalie and Stephanie - we learned a little bit more about both of you.

Natalie said...

I think you're right about the likelihood that a lot of teenagers will be able to identify with this book...whether it's with Stella or Ruby. Personally, I can definitely remember some of my friends in high school who were similar to one of these characters.

Thanks for the interview and the giveaway!

Amy (Limey YA Lit Girl) said...

Great interview! I love the idea of this book - definitely on my TBR pile! Especially because it's YA Contemp x

Unknown said...

This book sounds great . . . reminds me of something Sara Zarr (one of my fave authors) would write. Looking forward to reading it.

Alison K Hertz said...

This book sounds interesting.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I like both the title and the premise of this book.

Anonymous said...

It is a book well worth reading and owning! Here's my review. 5/5

By caring about someone who has leaped into the adult world and provides her with the chance to tag along, a young woman unwittingly finds herself moving away from the safe and predictable world of her early adolescence. Although the young women's attendance in high school is central to the plot, this is not a book tied to place or time. The actions and the thoughts of the characters occur universally, and so the story holds interest for adults and has staying power, and is much bigger than a teen novel. It is about being true to oneself and handling complicated situations while being in a caring relationship. Major and minor characters alike are realistically complex, and continue to live in my mind. The events of the book are not overdone, but there are plenty of tense moments when you care about the people and what may happen, and so you are driven on to keep reading while wondering how you yourself might best respond. Without being pedantic or judgmental, the author enables the reader to care about the main characters and to rejoice in their authenticity and competence as friends and as human beings. I look forward to this author's next publication.