Today is an extraordinarily exciting day for The Bookette because I am lucky enough to host the first stop on The Rules of Attraction UK Blog Tour. I am a huge fan of Simone Elkeles so it was a huge squealing moment when the lovely people at Simon and Schuster invited me to do the interview segment. So without further ado, here is my author interview with SIMONE ELKELES. Enjoy!
Becky: Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction both explore the effect of gang culture on teens. What inspired you to write about this issue?
Simone: Fairfield (the setting for Perfect Chemistry) is based off of a high school next to where I grew up. There is a large Latino community on one side of the tracks (yes, there are literally train tracks separating the two sides) and a very wealthy community with people living in mansions on Lake Michigan on the other side. When I heard that suburban gangs in the area were on the rise, I wanted to explore what it would be like for someone from one side of the town to fall for someone on the other side. I do love exploring love stories that have cultures clashing. Once I started researching suburban gangs (which are very different than city gangs), it was eye-opening. I didn’t know how much honor and loyalty to family and community are tied into gang affiliation, especially in the Latino gang culture. Some of the kids in gangs I interviewed have seen more violence, death, drug trafficking and crime than anyone should see in their lifetime. They live not knowing if they’ll survive another day, and some don’t even care. I’ve met really good kids who are stuck in bad situations. They want to get out and live a clean, gang-free life, but don’t know how or don’t think there’s another way to live. My heart goes out to those kids. That part of it makes me want to write about boys like Alex, Carlos, and Luis Fuentes.
Becky: The power of the gang over Alex and then later Carlos is completely convincing. Did you carry out any research into gang culture? Since writing the books have you met any gang members and if so what was that experience like?
Simone: I interviewed suburban gang members as well as police officers and gang detectives who work in the toughest, deadliest parts of Chicago. When I have book discussions at juvenile detention centers, the boys always share tidbits of information with me that I’ve used in my books. I went on a “ride along” with the gang detectives in Chicago and got to talk to some gang members. It was a surreal experience and I actually had to be fitted with a bulletproof vest and was instructed to act like a detective myself (without the guns that my “partners” wore). When I see the lives these kids are living, I am more motivated than ever to write a story that might inspire someone else to get out of that lifestyle. I have fans that are gang members. They’re actually surprised I didn’t grow up in the streets like them, because they say I portray the reality of their lives. They relate to Alex and Carlos on so many levels. I’ve had more than a few fans say that my books have inspired them to clean up their lives and get out of their gangs.
Becky: Wow, I can't imagine how scary but also powerful such an experience would be.
Love across a cultural divide is at the heart of both books. It is a concept that has inspired many writers and filmmakers. Did you draw on any literary or cultural references when writing? Are there any novelists that inspired your writing?
Simone: I didn’t draw on any specific literature for my book. I hated reading as a teen and didn’t enjoy the classics we were forced to read in school, but that’s what really inspires me. I try to write stories that I would have wanted to read as a teen. My father was Israeli and my husband is Israeli, so I’ve lived with someone from a different culture my entire life (I was born and raised in America). I am fascinated with different cultures and how they clash – I live it every day, ha ha! I think it will be a theme I use for a long time. I did love the play West Side Story, but I hated the ending! I love happy endings!
Becky: I love happy endings too. I always want to perfect idealised ending. Yay! One of my favourite aspects of your writing is the use of Mexican Spanish in the dialogue. I feel it makes the characters more convincing and increases their sex appeal. I wonder are you bilingual? If not, how do you go about ensuring the authenticity of the translation?
Simone: I am not bilingual, which does tend to be a problem! I have a friend who helps me with all the Spanish words in my books and makes sure I’m not accidentally making Alex call Brittany a “fat cow” instead of “beautiful girl.” I also talk to teens who tell me Spanish slang. Lastly, I have the dean of the Spanish department at Loyola University in Chicago go over the entire manuscript and help me. There is definitely the risk that I’ve gotten something wrong, and that scares me but I really have to trust my sources. I wish I didn’t have to rely on others for the Spanish in my books, but I do. I wish I were fluent in Spanish, especially because so many of my fans are fluent in Spanish. (I took French in high school and college.)
Becky: I would love to be fluent in another languge too. I think about all the books that I can't read because I only understand English.
I am so excited to read the third and final book in the series Chain Reaction. I know I am not alone in this. What can we expect from Luis as a character? Will we get to see more of Alex and Carlos?
Simone: I’m so excited to be working on Chain Reaction because Luis is so different from his brothers. Alex is a good guy pretending to be a bad boy, while Carlos is a bad boy with a good heart. Luis is the complete opposite; he’s a funny, great guy with big dreams and no gang affiliation - yet! Of course, this means I have no choice but to turn his life inside out and make him turn to the dark side! (Just when he thinks he’s got life all figured out, Luis learns some disturbing news about his family that destroys his positive outlook on life.)
To answer your other question: Yes! Alex, Brittany, Carlos, Kiara, and a few other characters from the past will be making cameo appearances.
Becky: Oh my goodness. I am in love with Luis already. My heart is fluttering wildly at the thought of the cruel things that may happen to him. CAN. NOT. WAIT!
Do you have a favourite cover from the series, if so which one and why?
Simone: I think the Perfect Chemistry cover will always be my favourite because I worked on that book on-and-off for five years and had a little input on the cover (I rejected my publisher’s first attempt). I call Perfect Chemistry “the book of my heart” because I put so much into those characters Alex and Brittany were more like my friends instead of fictional characters (sounds creepy, I know) by the end. It was so exciting to finally see the cover on the book that I worked so hard for. Plus, I love the raw emotion and sensuality of Alex and Brittany in that sweet embrace where he’s cradling her face – every girl wants to be adored like that. The cover tells a story, and the Perfect Chemistry cover is just...PERFECT.
Becky: Isn't it just?! Although I love the water on Rules of Attraction and the cover for Chain Reaction is so err... steamy!
I’m sure all of my UK fans who are reading this interview will also want to know: will there be a UK book signing in the future?
Simone: I hope so! I would love to meet my UK fans! There’s nothing scheduled yet, though. However, if any of my fans want to interact with me, I’m great about answering questions on my Facebook Fan Page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Simone-Elkeles-Fan-Page/101698336559632 and my Twitter account (@SimoneElkeles).
Becky: Let's hope something is scheduled soon.
And finally, as a very English lady I do love a cup of tea. I ask every writer when I get the chance to tell me if they have a favourite biscuit (I think in the US, you call them cookies) and if so, which one?
Simone: I love tea, and would definitely like to treat you to a cup or two if I get to the UK for a tour! Okay, to be honest I like all cookies (and pretty much anything else sweet or coated with sugar)! I’d probably eat crap if it was coated with sugar. I’m not a huge fan of nuts or raisins in my cookies, but if it’s the only sweet thing around I’ll devour it. Chocolate chip cookies are probably my favourite – with white and milk chocolate pieces mixed together inside. And I like my cookies soft and would prefer to eat them directly from the oven. The only problem is, I can never stop with just one. . . or two. . . or three. . .and so on.
Thanks so much for the interview and for helping me give a shout out to all my fans in the UK!
Becky: No, Simone. Thank YOU for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly and for writing the best books EVER!
I also want to say a huge THANK YOU to Kat at S&S for making this possible. You are just brilliant!
For another who still has yet to read my reviews of Perfect Chemistry go HERE and Rules of Attraction go HERE.