Today I'm excited to welcome Lesley Anne Cowan. Lesley is the author of the forthcoming Something Wicked, to be released June 1st, and also of As She Grows, and she has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for my readers. I thoroughly enjoyed Something Wicked, and you can read my review here.
Sixteen-year old Melissa's most recent troubles stem from a secret: her twenty-eight year old boyfriend, Michael, has just broken up with her. Even though the relationship is clearly over, Melissa clings to the past, riding a never-ending wave of hope and disappointment. Meaningless sexual escapades, drunken nights, and drug-induced blackouts help her deal with heartbreak, but her pain goes much deeper than her failed relationship. Along with her broken heart, Melissa has to cope with the memories of her younger brother's death; the non-existent parenting of her insecure, flighty mother; being juggled between social workers and psychologists; and getting kicked out of school and sent to a special program for at-risk youth. So when the cracks in her life threaten to tear her apart, Melissa has to decide whether to keep fighting - or to let go.
Make sure to stick around to the end of the interview as we're giving away 1 copy of Something Wicked to one lucky commentator.
To start off, can you tell us something about yourself?
Sure. I'm an author and secondary school teacher. I have been instructing at-risk youth for over ten years now. I am also an avid traveler, having spent about half of the last five years outside Canada. I am currently splitting my time between Kenya and Toronto.
Can you tell us something about your new release, Something Wicked?
Something Wicked is my second novel. My first novel, As She Grows, was published as adult literary fiction in 2003. It was re-released as adolescent fiction in 2009. I find that interesting as I never intended for teens to read that book (which is why they liked it so much). Something Wicked however, was written specifically for teens. I'm interested how the two will compare. While writing Something Wicked, knowing a teenager was going to read it, I had to constantly fight that instinctual 'adult' voice that told me to make my protagonist 'do the right thing' or 'solve all her problems'. I found it interesting how strong this sense of obligation to be a moral guide for my readers was. I fought that 'sheltering' urge as much as possible while writing Something Wicked but I still think As She Grows was a more 'carefree' story while Something Wicked holds something back.
In Something Wicked, we are introduced to some very interesting and gritty characters. Please tell us a little about Melissa, your main character. Who was the most fun to write? Who was the most difficult to write? Are any of your characters modelled off anyone you know?
Melissa is the main character. She's a sixteen-year old girl who is dealing with a number of challenges in her life: an absent father, a questionable role model of a mother, a recent break-up, sibling loss, learning disability, ADD and possibly undiagnosed depression. (That's all?) To cope, she turns to drugs, alcohol, and meaningless sex. Despite her struggles, she still has some good things going on in her life, like, a great job, a good counselor, and a love of reading. I can't say she was 'fun' to write. She disappointed me at times. But don't most people who are living lives in turmoil?
Some of my characters are composites of people I know, but none of them are true replications. Thing is, many of the young people struggling with difficulties have much in common but don't realize it. I'm sure a few readers would think, "Hey! That's me!" and yet I don't even know who they are. In reality, I've met many, many young women like Melissa. But it's essential for me to clarify that I never write about the events in my students' lives. That's really important to me, since I'm balancing teaching and writing. I need to respect my students' privacy and integrity.
As a teacher myself, I can see what a fine line that would be and how important and necessary that would be. What was your inspiration for writing your novel? Did you find it difficult to separate your writing world from your daily world? How much research was involved in the writing process?
My inspiration for my novel stems from my work. As a writer, I tend to pontificate a lot (about everything). I'm not someone who just goes home and forgets about my students. I think a lot about them and it's natural for me to work out my thoughts on the page. Understanding their motivations assists me in helping them learn. The research is in my daily living and responding to what's put in front of me. At the same time, it's easy for me to separate my teaching life from my writing life. At school, I'm a teacher. I never discuss my writing.
Do you have a favourite scene in your novel?
I have too many scenes to just pick one. But I can tell you my least favourite. That's the Giovanni scene (for obvious reasons). Writing that scene really broke my heart.
When you're not working, what do you like to read? Is there an author who has inspired you over the years?
To be honest, I don't read a lot. I wish I were one of those authors who boast they read Moby Dick when they were like six years old. And I'd like to say my excuse is that I don't have time, but I know similarly busy people and they seem to find time to read, so I feel I don't know what to say. I teach full time, I have a good social life, I work out, I write - that all adds up to full days and when I put my head on my pillow, I fall asleep. Having said all that, I'm currently (and slowly) reading Revolutionay Road. And my earlier inspirations were Anne Michaels and Margaret Atwood.
How much do say do you have in the book publication process? For example, do you have a say in choosing the book covers?
Penguin has been great in terms of involving me in the book publication process. They give me sample book covers and ask me for my input. I'm really pleased with that!
Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or any plans for the future?
Something Wicked and As She Grows are meant to be the first two novels in a series of adolescent fiction books that deal with at-risk youth subject matter. Specifically, I want to write loosely linked novels about girls who don't necessarily know each other but who are part of the same system (i.e. social workers, counselors, probation officers, teachers, etc). There will be some overlap of characters but the protagonists won't know each other.
I also write adult literary fiction. I have completed two manuscripts that I hope to publish soon. One book is about the limitation of language and the freedom of silence. It has two parallel stories: One is about a woman who goes to a Thai meditation temple for 26 days of silence. The other is about her grandfather who was a German prisoner of war in Ontario. The second book I have written is about a couple who go to an island in Kenya, seeking life on the edge only to get pushed further than they thought imaginable.
What do you like to do when you are not writing or reading or working?
Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
I'm hoping my adolescent readers will find I treat them with respect. My stories aren't 'happy' but I think teens are ready for literature that has caught up with the rest of the media that 'tells it like it is'. And I want them to remember that my characters are only 16. It's a long journey and in my mind, they all make it in the end.
Thank you Lesley for visiting Curling Up By The Fire! For more information about Lesley, please visit lesleyannecowan.com.
Lesley Anne Cowan will be in Toronto, in conversation with Emily Pohl-Weary.
WHEN? Saturday, June 5, 2 pm (Doors open 1:30 pm) FREE!
WHERE? Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario
To celebrate the launch of Something Wicked, Lesley Anne Cowan will discuss writing and working with at-risk youth with noted author Emily Pohl-Weary. An extended Q&Q will follow the conversation.
A Small Print Toronto Event presented by Penguin Group Canada, Gladstone Hotel and Torontoist.com.
Media/Info Contact: Vimala Jeevanandam: (416) 928-2419 firstname.lastname@example.org
Penguin Group Canada has graciously given one copy of Something Wicked to give away to one commentator and it's very easy to enter. Just leave a comment, including your email address, telling us why you would like to win this book. The contest is only open to residents of Canada.
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Contest ends June 5, 2010.
Good luck everyone!!!!