I totally judged a book by its cover. Or, in this case, its title.
When I was asked to be on the blog tour for Elise Allen's POPULAZZI, I thought, "Populazzi? Is that like fetch? Is Harcourt trying to make fetch happen?"
Then, I looked at the cover:
And I thought, "Is that one of those gold name necklaces? That I wanted? In MIDDLE school?"
But the summary for the book made it sound cute and fluffy, and summer was coming up, and I could use some cute & fluffy reading. So I agreed to do the blog tour.
Then, I told Frankie about the tour. And she said, "Oh yeah, isn't Elise Allen the co-writer for Elixir, that Hilary Duff book?"
When she said that, I judged again. The book of the same Hilary Duff I had hidden on my iPod? What kind of blog tour had I just signed up for?!
I stressed that I wouldn't like the book. And the FNC had made a promise when we started blogging that we wouldn't suggest books that we didn't love. What if I didn't love POPULAZZI?
It turns out, the person I should have been judging was myself. Because POPULAZZI by Elise Allen is what I wanted it to be--cute and fluffy--but it's also well-written, smart, funny, and a squirm-in-your-seat honest look at what it's like trying to fit in, and trying to figure out who you might be in high school.
So it's no surprise that when I interviewed Elise Allen for the blog tour that she was also smart, funny and honest! (Though she didn't make me squirm. :) Read on to find out about how she made Cara a likeable character, her writing process, who she thinks is the ultimate Queen Bee, and how she stalked the FNC!
1) When I read the back copy of the book, I worried I wouldn't find Cara likeable because of her social climbing. But I loved her! How did you balance the overall story arc with creating a relatable character?
It was a tough nut to crack, and thanks for the affirmation that it worked! For me, what it really came down to was taking the time to truly get inside Cara’s head so I could be completely honest about what she was thinking and feeling.
From the beginning, I knew it was possible to go on her journey in a way that kept her likable and relatable. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I’ve been in many situations in life where I felt woefully insecure or out of place, and if someone I knew and trusted (the way Cara knows and trusts Claudia) gave me a crutch like the Ladder to help… I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t at least consider it.
Cara not only considers it, but sticks with it, even when that’s not necessarily the best choice. To keep her likable even when she made bad choices, it was all about constantly checking in with her emotionally, making sure her thought process made sense and rang true, whether or not it was leading her down the right path.
2) Cara plays the chameleon to catch a boy's attention, but maintains a strong, unique personality throughout. How difficult was to not let Cara go full-on chameleon on you?
Great question, and it ties in with my answer above. I concentrated very hard on maintaining the honesty of Cara’s character, and why she was becoming all these different versions of herself. As long as that remained genuine, there was no danger she’d lose her core identity, no matter how many masks she donned.
3) How much of your own high school experience did you draw inspiration from?
A lot… but indirectly. I remember identifying the Popularity Tower (though I called it the Popularity Web at the time), and knowing my place was nowhere near the top (or the center, in the Web version). I have vivid memories of feeling trapped in my own head, too insecure to let my real self show through around people who intimidated me… and a lot of people intimidated me. I drooled over those golden souls who were never tongue tied, always confident, always ready with the perfect thing to say. It was very easy (a little too easy J) to tap back into that.
4) What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A little of each. I do like to outline, but with the knowledge that the outline is very rough and going to change. When I look at the original treatment I wrote for Populazzi, it bears only the slightest resemblance to the final book, but I never could have gotten to the finished product without that skeleton.
5) Being a Philly-based blogger, I was tickled to see your novel set in Malvern, a suburb of Philadelphia. Do you have a Philly connection, or what made you pick your setting?
I do! And Sara, when I saw this question, I have to admit I did a little digging online and found out you’re a Friends' Central woman! I went to Westtown School from 6th through 12th grades, which means I visited your alma mater for many a field hockey game!
I was born and raised in the Philly ‘burbs: Downingtown from kindergarten through 6th grade, then Berwyn until I left for college. I worked summers acting at Sesame Place, I’ve gotten completely lost on the bike path through Valley Forge National Park, and I’ve spent waaaaay too many hours at the King of Prussia Court and Plaza.
L.A. has been my home since college graduation. I love it here, it’s where my daughter was born, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else; but I’ll always have a soft spot for Philly. I have a lot of friends and family there, and it feels great when I go back and visit. I’m planning to be there in the fall to do a book event – maybe we can meet in person!
6) Who, in your opinion, is the ultimate Queen Bee? (Regina George is mine!)
Regina George is spectacular, and I’m with you on that one. I also have to give an honorable mention to Caroline Mulford, Jake Ryan’s prom queen girlfriend in Sixteen Candles. She’s somewhat of a caricature in the movie, but that’s okay, because she so embodies how those of us not in the Populazzi see those bright and shiny few from afar: perfect, gorgeous, and untouchable (you know, before she gets completely wasted and feeds Anthony Michael Hall her birth control pills).
Thanks for the interview, and for having me on the blog – I really enjoyed it!
E-A-G-L-E-S-EAGLES!!!!! (See, you got me on the Philly thing and it’s football season…)
Thanks so much for answering our questions, Elise! And Go Eagles!!
POPULAZZI by Elise Allen is available now at your favorite bookstore or website. If you're a fan of smart, funny, realistic fiction, this is definitely a book that should be on your shelves!