Thursday, November 21, 2013

Confessions of a So Called Middle Child, Interview with Author Maria T Lennon

  When I was asked to read this book, I jumped at the chance.  I am a classic middle child 
sensitive, often feeling left behind and forgotten in the shuffle of a busy family in upheaval.  My parents divorced when I was in 7th grade and I struggled through the years of going to jr. high in a very affluent area riding the bus in to school. Now the mother of a daughter the same age, I thought it would be great to read the book and interview Maria T. Lennon the author of the book on Just Jules. She kindly agreed and our chat is below the book description.

 In Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child, Harper Collins’ latest middle grade series to hit the shelves August 27, 2013, turning your back on popularity and facing the mean girls head-on proves to be fun and rewarding. Penned by author and screenwriter Maria T. Lennon, Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child stars hilariously spunky recovering bully and tween hacker Charlie Cooper, who gets expelled from her fancy Malibu Charter School for a laxative prank gone wrong and finds herself “shrinked” for middle child syndrome and getting more than she bargained for at her new school Los Angeles.

Just as Charlie succeeds in fitting in with the cool crowd at her new school, her therapist makes her commit something worthy of social blacklisting: befriending the most unpopular girl in middle school, Marta the Farta. When Charlie learns the terrible truth behind Marta the Farta's bad attitude and loner status, she decides to make a change in her life that sets her on the road to reformation.

Maria Lennon has created a fresh and fun story that brings "Mean Girls" to the tween level, peppered with snarky comments, major attitude, and advice to spare from Charlie Cooper, whose virtues, flaws and fears promise to hit home among young girls, braving middle school in the 21st century and all the pressures that come with it: popularity, bullying, social media, the list goes on.

Jules: Welcome Maria, so glad to have you on Just Jules to talk about your new book.  I am a blogger who doesn’t consider herself a writer turned blogger but a blogger turned writer.  How did you get your start in writing? Was it something you always loved or something you’ve learned to love?

Maria: Hi Jules, thank you so much for having me.

To tell you the truth, I hated writing when I was a kid. I had horrible dyslexia and used to rip the paper into shreds with my pencil. I found it frustrating beyond belief. I HATED organizing my thoughts. Kids called me a “retard” routinely. It was bad. But then things turned around when my mother took me to a special dyslexia tutor and I learned how to overcome a lot of the obstacles. And then, writing became my salvation. It took me to the best schools in the world and I got into them because I could write.

Jules:  Tell us a little about your childhood and family life growing up? Where did you grow up? I write about my life and childhood, so I want to know about yours.

When I was 13 my family moved from LA to a ranch north of Santa Barbara. My siblings (one older sister and two brothers) and I wanted to run away the moment we saw it. It felt like hell to us. All that nature! Los Olivos had a population of 425 people. The street had a butcher, a liquor shop and a gas station. There wasn’t a mall (what torture!)  or a movie theater for sixty miles AND on top of that people were slaughtering their pets. I became a vegetarian immediately and begged to go to boarding school. Lucky for me, my parents said yes. So off I went to Switzerland at fifteen and then I went to England did my A levels and went to London School of Economics where I planned to study human rights law and join the United Nations.

Jules: Where did you come up with the main character Charlie? Is she from your own past or based on anyone you know in your life?

The character of Charlie is based on my middle child. She is now almost thirteen and is still very much a middle child. Many of the experiences in the book with girls came from spending so much time on school yards and in classes. I became very attuned to the tone of voice girls get when they’re shutting someone out. And the look on the face of the girl who has just been shut out gets me every time.

Jules:  Everyone knows that I am a southern California native born and bred. I love that you set your story in Laurel Canyon, my readers may not know this about me, growing up I would go to work with my Dad on the weekends. He often worked in the Hollywood Hills; I have a fond fixation with old Hollywood homes and neighborhoods. The Laurel Canyon area and Los Feliz areas are two places I could wander forever.

Maria: YAY!!! Me too. My grandmother lived in Los Feliz. My Mom grew up there.  I love Los Feliz.

The fact you set the story in the legendary, controversial Houdini home is my favorite part of the book! What is your favorite place to go and be in the Southern California area? Tell us your favorite historical place as well?

My favorite place IS where I live. I, like you, could wander Laurel Canyon endlessly. I am a runner (though sadly don’t resemble one) and I spend hours just jogging slowly through the smallest dead-end drives, trying to figure out how to get to the old canyon houses that seem to hang on to cliffs with no roads.  I stop to talk to the older residents and they always tell me what it was like in the old days. I love old people. The other day I went through the old Tom Mix cabin, on the opposite side of the street from the Houdini Mansion and took tons of photographs of the caves. This incredible property is featured in book 2 and book 3 of the series and is a place of so much history and Laurel Canyon mystery.

Jules: We’ve all had a Marta in our life, someone who is shunned by her classmates for being weird and different. Something I have lived and re-lived this year with Elizabeth my daughter is that 13-year-old girls are mean and often eat their own.   Were you more a Marta or a Charlie? For me, I was more like Charlie’s older sister Pen in this case. I’ve always just loved people even people others deem not cool or outcasts. I really appreciate this part of the story, that you show the back story of this young girl and show another young girl to look beyond appearances!

Maria: What great insight! I think we’d get along, you and I. I was—and am—more like Pen too. But I had mean girls on my tail. When I was a kid there was a girl named Bunny who used to wait for me in the locker room and attack me with her long, sharpened toe nails- I kid you not. I lived in fear of her and hid most afternoons until my mom would finally pick me up.
The thing is—Charlie is scared, far more scared than Pen. So she comes out swinging. That’s her defense mechanism. Confident people don’t need to swing. Marta doesn’t swing and ironically she has far more confidence than Charlie does.
And yes, I’m sorry for your daughter. Girls can be so mean. It breaks my heart. It’s one of the main reasons I wrote this book and one of the main things I talk about when I go to schools.

Julie:  Okay, I think that we just made friends! I love that we love the same places and have the same thoughts about being different and marching to your own drum.

Jules: The thing that had me laughing was the Romanian character! Romanian’s have long been a part of my life from my love of Nadia Comaneci to having many Romanian friends. Such a random thing to add to the story but perfect for my blog!  Where did this come from?

Maria:I love that you love that. I suppose it dates us—Nadia Comaneci was just the epitome of cool wasn’t she? I chose her because Charlie likes cool and unusual people. I wanted Marta to be an outcast, to feel like she’s on the fringe because that’s the way Charlie feels inside. Wait until you read book 2- Marta’s aunt comes into town and her take on American culture will have you laughing.

Jules: Anything else you would like to share?  I really appreciated that you showed a human side of a 13 year old girl. One that wasn’t neat and pretty, Charlie is a girl with deep seated issues who turns her life around. As a former Charlie, I really appreciated that you didn’t paint her as having a cookie cutter life and also showed Marta’s tough life as well.

Maria: I love you! You see the whole point. Some people who want cookie cutter kids look at Charlie and Marta and say, “Wow, Charlie is so mean.” Or “she’s a brat, shallow, superficial….” And that IS the point, 13 year-old girls aren’t always so sweet or kind. Nor should they be, right? It’s all part of the journey. And kids need to read about someone who is NOT necessarily a role model, but someone who is struggling through it just like they are.
I thank you for the opportunity to have such an intelligent conversation about these girls. I hope your daughter liked the book.

Julie: Thank you so much Maria, I adore you and I am so glad we had this chat. Thanks for sharing with me about 
your book. You have to come back and chat with me some more when book two and three come out! I think that we could talk forever.

I am giving away a copy of Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child. Leave me a comment on this post to be entered in the giveaway. This would make a great stocking stuffer for any of the young girls in your life!

Follow her on Twitter: @Maria_T_Lennon