Thursday, April 1, 2010

Debut YA Author L.K. Madigan: Flash Burnout

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a teenage guy? Or, maybe you are a teenage guy and you've wondered what it's like to read solid fiction about one. In her debut novel Flash Burnout, Portland author L.K. Madigan has deftly captured the voice of Blake. 

Blake's an affable fifteen year-old who just wants to spend time with his girlfriend - that is, when he's not busy secretly helping another girl friend with her problems at home. With snapshots of hilarious real dialog interspersed with a gallery of poignant scenarios, L.K. Madigan brings into focus tough questions of love, sex, drug addiction and friendship.

School Library Journal called Flash Burnout "an exceptional novel, ....thought-provoking on many levels." The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)  wholeheartedly agreed, and in January,  presented L.K. Madigan with the 2010 William C. Morris Award, which honors a book written for young adults by a previously unpublished author.

L.K. Madigan took time from her writing to talk with me about the inspiration for Flash Burnout, her upcoming novel The Mermaid's Mirror, "Eyebrows of Fabulosity" and exactly how many words aspiring writers have to write before the magic happens.

AB: Congratulations on winning the William C. Morris award for Flash Burnout!  What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

LKM: I wish I had a simple answer to the question of inspiration, but the book was born through a series of events:

Dissatisfaction with an earlier manuscript;

The phrase, “She had the most heartbroken eyes in the world” circling around in my head;

and a conversation with a medical examiner friend about the number of meth cases he was seeing.

A teenage boy’s voice started talking in my head. (Yes, it gets loud in there.) He was talking about a girl he knew, but it wasn’t his girlfriend … it was his girl friend. The better he got to know her, the more he learned about her troubled life, including her meth-addicted mother. How much was he willing to risk in order to help?

AB: I love the cover of Flash Burnout. It really sets the stage for a book about a teen dude with a penchant for photography and a girl(s) problem. One thing I noticed, however, is that the protagonist on the cover appears Asian-American. I seem to recall Blake and his family being described somewhat differently. What are your impressions of the cover?

LKM: I loved the cover immediately – it tells a story. I never really noticed that the model appears Asian. I was more focused on his Eyebrows of Fabulosity! I sent my editor a photo of a teen family member as inspiration for Blake, and his mom swears she can “see Zach’s eyebrows” in the photo. Blake’s ethnicity is incidental – the only mention of his heritage is his Italian-American grandparents. It’s quite possible he has an Asian forebear.

AB: Your second novel The Mermaid’s Mirror will be out this fall. Could you give us a little taste of what it’s like?

LKM: It’s a contemporary fantasy with a girl main character, so it’s the polar opposite of Flash Burnout. It’s about … wait for it … a girl surfer who finds a mermaid. Here’s the pitch in less than 50 words:

Sixteen-year-old Lena wants to learn to surf, despite her father’s objections. Something lures Lena to the sea … an ancient, powerful magic. One morning she catches sight of this magic: a beautiful woman – with a silvery tail.

AB: What inspired you to make writing for young readers your career focus?

LKM: During college and throughout my twenties, I tried my hand at “literary fiction,” writing a coming-of-age novel and some short stories. Then I got busy with life, and writing took a backseat. After I had my son, I started reading children’s books. I fell in love with them … so deceptively simple! I took a summer class in Writing for Children, thinking I wanted to write picture books and easy readers. But I couldn’t stop thinking about an idea I had for a novel – about a girl surfer and a mermaid. I started writing the story, and it felt so right. I always felt a kind of self-consciousness when I wrote adult literary fiction – writing for a younger audience just flowed. I was able to lose myself in the characters completely.

AB: What kind of young reader were you?

LKM: Avid. Books on my lap at the dinner table … books in bed long after I was supposed to turn off the light … a stack of books checked out from the library every week … Scholastic book orders lovingly turned in and eagerly awaited …

AB: What advice do you have for those interested in writing YA?

LKM: Read as much in the genre as you can. Which is the fun part – YA literature is full of treasures! Then – here’s the hard part – you have to sit down and write your book. There’s a photography quote in Flash Burnout by Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst.” We writers put it this way: “Your first million words are crap.” So get started writing those million words … because it’s only through actual writing that you will find your voice.

AB: Do you find the time to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

LKM: Yes, I always find time to read! Some of my recent favorites (excluding books by close friends) have been Harmonic Feedback, by Tara Kelly (it comes out in May, and full disclosure: we share an agent), How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Natalie Standiford, Leaving Gee's Bend, by Irene Latham, and Dirty Little Secrets, by C.J. Omololu. 

AB: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! Just one more before we wrap it up: After Flash Burnout and The Mermaid’s Mirror, what can your fans look forward to next?

LKM: I’m working on another contemporary realistic YA with a boy narrator. It takes place six months later at the same high school in Portland as the one in Flash Burnout, so Blake and some other characters make appearances. I don’t have a contract for this book, so we’ll see whether or not my editor likes it.