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Lisa Madigan: A WBBT Interview

I am thrilled and delighted to be kicking off this year's WBBT with an interview with L.K. Madigan, the award-winning author of Flash Burnout, which won the 2010 William C. Morris YA Debut Award honoring a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. Flash Burnout is a work of contemporary YA fiction with a male protagonist named Blake who struggles to find balance between his girlfriend and his friend (who is a girl, and has a major issue). Lisa did such a great job channeling her inner male teen that many readers of Flash Burnout assumed she must be a guy. Lisa's second novel, The Mermaid's Mirror, is a YA fantasy novel featuring a female main character named Lena that was released in early October of this year.

1. Do you have a preference between writing fantasy and realistic fiction?

That’s like asking if I prefer cheese or chocolate. Oh wait ...  No, I love both genres. I even blended them in The Mermaid’s Mirror.

2. Do you prefer to write a male or female main character, and why?

Writing from the male perspective was great fun, and despite my ovaries, I seem to have channeled Blake pretty well – my editor told me when she shared the manuscript with her colleagues, most of them didn’t realize I was a woman.

Of course, writing female characters is fun, too. I get to call upon my own years of teen girl drama.

In some ways it was liberating to write from the male perspective. Even in our enlightened 21st century, it seems that boy characters are still allowed to behave in ways that are judged more harshly in girls. A boy character dates a lot of different people, rather than having a serious relationship? He’s carefree and easy-going. A girl character does the same? She’s just easy. A boy character disobeys his parents? He’s bold and strong-willed. A girl character does the same? She’s a brat. (I’ve read reviews in which Lena is called a brat … I suspect that’s because she’s strong-willed.)

3. Do you think that we as authors have a duty to portray characters in non-traditional gender roles? And do you think that the gender-specific labels applied to gender-neutral conduct will go away any time soon?

That's a pretty tough question. Part of me recoils at the idea of authors having a "duty" to do anything other than tell a good story. But if literature and the arts fail to reflect our evolving society, how relevant are they? I do think that gender-specific labels are slowly eroding ... it's just taking a long time.

4. Flash Burnout tells the story of Blake Hewson, a high school sophomore with an interest in photography who manages to snap a photo of his friend Marissa's meth-addicted (and missing) mother. With photography, drug issues and a visit to the morgue, I have to imagine that the book required a bit of research along the way. What was the weirdest thing you did for research? What was your favorite bit of research, and why?

The weirdest thing I did was visit the State Medical Examiner’s office. I didn’t watch an autopsy, but I did tour the facility and look through a lot of photos.

My favorite bit of research was spending time at high school radio stations. I visited two … one in Seattle and one in Portland. I ended up not using that research in Flash Burnout, because the character of the girl DJ (Cappie) only interacts with Blake outside of the radio station. But I did use that research in a different manuscript – I hope one day to see it published!

5. At the start of The Mermaid's Mirror, Lena seems like an ordinary teenage girl with overprotective parents; her dad won't let her surf because he nearly drowned prior to Lena's birth. Come to find out that Lena is, in fact, half mermaid . . . something that comes as a surprise to Lena, but not as a complete shock to the reader because of the way you managed to plant hints from the start that things were a little "off" for Lena – like her waking in her bed from vivid dreams of being at the beach to find grains of sand between her toes.

Was it hard for you to balance the modern-day real world of Northern California with the supernatural world of Lena's mother? Did you read a lot of prior mermaid books or brush up on ancient mermaid lore in any way?

It felt very natural to weave together my favorite Northern California coastal setting and the fantasy world of the mermaids. There’s something so haunting and hypnotic about that region … the idea of a magical world beneath the waves feels quite possible.

There’s a surprising dearth of mermaid lore, but I’ve read as much of it as I could find. I did have one particular fairy tale in mind as I wrote The Mermaid’s Mirror, but I don’t like to identify it, because that would spoil my story.

6. Like Blake, who is torn between his girlfriend and his female friend, Lena ends up with two boys in her life – her land-bound boyfriend, Kai, and her sea-dwelling soul-mate, Nix. Care to spill on how you go about creating such interesting and diverse boyfriends?

Oh, that’s easy! I’m boy crazy. *nodding* It’s no secret – I even admit it on my website: “I’ve been boy crazy since the age of twelve. I have spent decades staring at, listening to, laughing with, and fretting over boys of every age. I’ve had lots of male friendships, but only one true love. I’ve been able to study him up close for many years. Now we’re raising a boy.”

7. Without giving away the ending of the book, I will say that it was bittersweet (and that you made me cry, dammit!) and that Lena had to make an extremely difficult choice between two good options. I want to first praise you for forcing Lena's hand the way you did, then ask why you did it. And how you felt about it.

It’s interesting to me that I’ve known all along the book had to end a certain way; it was only after I started seeing reviews from unhappy readers that I realized, “Oh. Some people actually thought there was an alternative.” I’m still firmly resolved that Lena’s story ended the “right” way … but I do sympathize with readers who were upset. All I can say is, “I’m planning to write a sequel!”

As for how I felt as I wrote the ending? Devastated.

7. Did you always know Lena's story would end the way it did because you foresaw a sequel?

Hmm. If I'm really honest with myself, I think I did know when I first wrote the book that I wasn't finished with Lena's world. At the same time, if this book ends up as a stand-alone - after all, I can't force my editor to publish a sequel - I'm proud of the story. It's whole and complete, in its own 'bittersweet' way.

8. I noticed that similarities between the books include intact nuclear families (always nice to see) and a girl searching for her missing mother. Would you agree that in many ways, both books are about exploring the significance and meaning of relationships and about finding one's place in the world? If not, feel free to ignore this question, but if so, where those themes consciously in your mind from the start or something that developed during the writing process? When, if ever, do you consider theme as an aspect of your writing – does it start before, during, or after the first (or some subsequent) draft?

It makes me sound so smart when you talk about my THEMES.

But I confess when I sit down to write, it’s simply because I have a seed of an idea … a story I want to tell. Themes reveal themselves much later in the process. As a matter of fact, I do agree that both of my books explore the many variations of love, friendship, and family. (And yes, finding one’s place in the world.) The teen years are the first time we begin to question, well, everything. Shades of gray begin to blur the lines of our black-and-white realities. I’ve always been fascinated by people and situations that can’t be easily categorized.

9. What's next?

I’m revising a contemporary realistic boy book, and I swear, I’m getting ready to write the sequel to The Mermaid’s Mirror!

Speed round:

Cheese or chocolate?

Coffee or tea? Both in hot and iced form, yes, thank you.

Cats or dogs? Two big, hair-farmer dogs.

Favorite color? Blue.

Favorite snack food? Junior Mints.

Favorite ice cream? Love Potion # 31 from Baskin-Robbins.

Water or soda? Water, the elixir of life!

What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? Most recent download was “Light You Up,” by Shawn

What's the last movie you memorized lines from? It would have to be something from my son’s early childhood – movies we watched over and over with him. My husband and I still quote lines from the first two Toy Story movies to each other: “You are a sad, strange little man.” “Howdy howdy howdy.” “Red alert! Red alert!” “Have you been shrink-wrapped? I am MISSING MY ARM!”

To find out more about Lisa, you can check her webite, which includes information about her and her books as well as additional information for teachers and writers. If you are interested in purchasing a signed copy of either of her novels, you may contact Lisa's local independent bookseller, Annie Bloom's Books. A huge thanks to Lisa for stopping by today!

Other Stops on the WBBT today:

R.J. Anderson at Hip Writer Mama

Paolo Bacigalupi at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Maya Gold at Bildungsroman

Elizabeth Hand at Chasing Ray

Kiva - loans that change lives

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( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:50 am (UTC)
I loved this interview (especially her responses regarding theme and the relationships she develops within her novels). Thank you for sharing! Great questions, too.
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the comment & compliment - I found her answer about theme really interesting, since I think she handles it really well and it seems like it's organic for her!
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading!
Dec. 6th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
tanita says
WOW. I am only timidly starting to bolster my imagination with physical research... I'm not sure going to the morgue is going to be something I can do right off! But with Lisa Madigan's books, the work pays off. Excellent interview.
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
Re: tanita says
Thank you!
Dec. 6th, 2010 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks for having me, Kelly!!!
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)
It was entirely my pleasure!!
Dec. 6th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
Now I'm singing, I just want to light you up... :)

Great interview ladies!!

Dec. 6th, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks Lisa!
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
It's such an earworm of a song, isn't it?

Thanks, Leese.
Dec. 6th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
Awesome interview! I saw FLASH BURNOUT last time I was at the library, picked it up, and then VERY regretfully put it back for a time when I would be less crazed/busy and more appreciative. But now I don't think I'm going to be able to wait. And really, now, THE MERMAID'S MIRROR being set in my neck of the woods (-ish) is making that sound irresistible, too.

Thanks, Kelly and Lisa!
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
I am now torn. You will love FLASH BURNOUT for its story and grit and male protag, but you will love THE MERMAID'S MIRROR for it setting and its feisty heroine and her merman loverboy. *cannot decide which to recommend first*
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks!
Dec. 6th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Lisa and Kelly! Enjoyed Mermaid's Mirror and can't wait for the sequel :).
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
I sure hope to see a sequel, too! I thought it was funny that Lisa only saw the book as being able to resolve one way, didn't you?
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jama!!
Dec. 6th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, there will be a sequel?! *cheers and does happy dance*

Great interview, both of you :)
Dec. 6th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
Here's hoping!! And thanks!
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
Yes, here's hoping!

Thanks, Robin!
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 7th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
What's kind of funny about that is that in the email that came with that answer, Lisa apologized for not being eloquent enough. Silly Lisa.
Dec. 7th, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
Heehee, thanks, Jenn!

I seriously sat and pondered that question for ages. And I wrote-and-deleted a ton of answers. There was just SO MUCH to say that I gave up and said very little.

Dec. 7th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this, Kelly. You're making my to-be-read pile taller.

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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