When I first "met" Luisa Plaja it was as the person behind the very cool and trendy YA Chicklish website. I had NO idea she was a writer until I received a book in the post from her publishers...It's always the quiet ones, readers, that you have to watch out for! I devoured Extreme Kissing, initially unsure what to expect but the effortless writing got me, as did the quirky characters. And because I wanted to know more about the elusive author Luisa Plaja, I got Luisa to agree to do an interview with MFB! Yes, I am a devious plotster.
Could you introduce yourself to some of the readers who may not know you and tell us a bit about your books you have published.
My name's Luisa and I've got a big nose... Ahem, sorry, my name's Luisa Plaja and I love teen fiction, especially of the romantic comedy and/or down-to-earth coming-of-age variety (both sometimes known as 'teen chick lit' if the main character is a girl). My debut, Split by a Kiss, is this type of novel, and I've been told it's like a book version of Mean Girls crossed with Sliding Doors. My most recent book is Extreme Kissing, the story of two best friends and one life-changing day out.
What made you realise you wanted to be a writer, and more importantly, a writer of YA fiction?
I've wanted to be a writer all my life, probably since I first encountered books. I thought being published was an impossible dream, though. As for YA/teen, it's my favourite type of fiction, and there's no way it's just for young adults. I think anyone who never reads in this category is missing out. I've never really stopped reading YA fiction and it feels natural to write about teenage protagonists.
Also, apart from being a writer, what would your other dream job be?
Ooh... something in films or filmmaking. Maybe even a projectionist - I've always thought that looked like an amazing job. But, honestly, writing is my dream job.
In your most recent novel, Extreme Kissing (link to review), you have your two main characters Carlota and Bethany go loping around London doing crazy things – what on earth made you think this up for them?
There are several things behind it. Firstly, it was similar to something I'd occasionally do with my friends when I was a teenager myself, although without half of the fun, danger and life-altering consequences of Carlota and Bethany's day out. All right, without ANY of it. I've also always loved teenage magazines, Carolota-style. Lastly, I read an article about a grown-up form of 'extreme travel', involving things like sticking a pin in a map of the world and flying to that country. I thought it would be fun to do this on a smaller scale, accessible to teenagers. I mean, really you could do it without leaving the house - an extreme day in. It could involve writing a novel!
Have you ever considered going Extreme Travelling yourself and if you did, which famous person would you choose to gallivant with?
When H from the book blog About Books asked me this recently, I decided I'd like to go extreme travelling with Peter Petrelli from Heroes. If it had to be a real person, then... hmm. Maybe some other authors or book bloggers. We could take random book challenges on the way! I think it would be a lot of fun.
We are fortunate that we get YA books from both the UK and the USA to read and review – why do you think there is such a difference between the two markets?
I think primarily it's because of the age of the readers the books are targeted at. In general, YA fiction in the UK is targeted at younger readers - perhaps 10-14 - wheareas YA fiction in the US is aimed at readers into their early twenties. I think this is gradually changing, though, and I've seen more 'older' YA fiction in the UK recently.
Could you tell us how you went about being published?
I had a dream journey to publication. I wrote the final scene of Split by a Kiss and sent an email enquiry to a top agent telling her about my book. She asked to see the manuscript, and two weeks later she phoned and asked to meet. That was an amazing moment - my first serious submission and an agent wanted to see me! I remember happily swinging my bewildered (but happy) toddlers around the room for joy. I signed with her and, after some revisions, my book sold fairly quickly to Random House.
When you set about writing – do you come up with your characters first or the story concept or do the characters dictate the story?
Characters probably come first, and definitely dictate the story. Even if I have a rough idea of the concept first, once I start to explore the characters everything changes. Split by a Kiss is a case in point. I started out writing the story of a British girl in the States. I wanted to write about culture shock, really. The splitting of my character into two happened when the unexpected effect of her British accent got her into a tricky situation and she had a tough decision to make. At this point, my character was on the brink of changing to adapt to her new situation, and there really were two ways she would react. So I decided to write about both paths.
And probably the most scary question yet: How do you keep it real? Or more importantly, how do you hit the right tone in writing for teens so that they feel you do not write/talk “down” at them.
Well, I really hope that's the case. The answer is that I don't write for teens - I write for myself. You can make what you like of that, but my mum would probably tell you that I never grew up. I might argue that teenagers are already grown up, really, and writing for teens is no different than writing for adults, except for the age of the protagonists, and the issues they're concerned with. I find those issues fascinating.
Are there novels or “how to” books which you think influenced you in your own writing career?
I love this question, but I think it's impossible to answer! I've probably been influenced in some way by everything I've ever read. I used to devour 'how to write' books when I was a teenager, but a very kind author I wrote to at the time told me to stop reading them, and that the only way to be a writer was to write. I think there's a lot of truth in that. So my answer is that a kind author called Mara Kay was probably my biggest influence.
What can we expect from you in the next few months?
Well, I'm writing away as usual, but I'm also involved in a few other projects. One of them is the Sex in Teen Lit special at Ink and Paper, where the fabulous Jo will be reviewing Extreme Kissing and interviewing me as well as some other authors, including Melvin Burgess, Mary Hooper and Joanna Kenrick. I think it's going to be amazing, and you can read all about it here: http://www.inkandpaperspecials.blogspot.com/
I'm also supporting the Oxfam Bookfest and doing a charity event at my local Oxfam shop. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/content/books/bookfest.html
You also run Chicklish one of my go-to sites for children's and YA book reviews – how did this come about? More importantly, how do you get the teens to review for you and can we hire them?
A few years ago I was talking to some writer friends about how little information we could find online about UK teen fiction, especially the more light-hearted variety. Most of the sites we found were US-based. We decided to redress the balance and Keris Stainton, whose wonderful debut YA novel will be out next year, founded Chicklish. It's been going for over three years now and we've gathered various fantastic contributors along the way, including writers Alexandra Fouracres, Karen Saunders and Carly Bennett and some teenage reviewers who have written to us offering to review. I've recently involved one of my local schools in reviewing too, with great results.
You write for the teen / YA market and have read very widely in the field so you are a bit of an expert. Do you think the genre has undergone a change, with authors feeling they can tackle scarier and more intense subjects such as pregnancy, drug-use, self-harm etc. without the old parent-pitchfork brigade running them out of town?
Hmm, that's an interesting question. I'm not sure whether I've seen drastic changes, to be honest! I think teen fiction will tend to reflect an era, like other types of fiction - hence the slightly 70s tone of some Judy Blume novels, and the 80s materialism of a series like Sweet Valley High, morphing into the realistic drama of a 90s series like Katherine Applegate's Making Out, and the celebrity-style scandal-filled Gossip Girl for the noughties. I think there have always been books about intense subjects, though. In fact, if anything, there has been a gentle change away from issue-led books and towards books where the issue is just part of a wider story.
I remember from previous email-conversations that you used to read a lot of horror and are quite a horror fan...do you think you will ever write a YA horror?
I'm not sure! I think I love writing romance too much. Of course, there's romantic horror... The answer is, I don't know, but I do love what I'm writing at the moment!
Do you have any favourite horror books or movies that you still pick up to flick through or watch?
Movies: Definitely. I'm a massive Dario Argento fan, and my favourite of his films is probably Suspiria. Books: Yes, those too. Stephen King will always be the master for me, and I still maintain that Carrie is YA fiction. ;)
And more importantly: do you have a zombie apocalypse plan?
Of course; everyone should have one. Mine involves holing myself up with a stash of food and a load of books and waiting for it all to subside. At least if I'm eaten, I'll be eaten happy.
Final question: advice for any unpublished authors out there, looking to break into the YA market?
Enjoy what you write and don't give up. Oh, and read a lot, because YA fiction is excellent.