I am very excited to finally have my good friend and fellow author, Thomas Amo, here on my blog for an interview. Thomas is incredibly generous when it comes to helping other authors and has been very instrumental in my own writing career; so I'm happy to have the chance to help him for a change.
Thomas is a genre hopper and has written everything from horror to comedy (check out his other books here). He just released his first YA novel called Forever Me available on Amazon for Kindle and Barnes and Noble for Nook. I was given the honor of beta reading this book, and even though I have been out of high school for a long time, some things never change. Thomas's vivid descriptions brought it all back - the pressure to fit in, wearing the right clothes, being the right weight, wearing the right makeup, etc. and the pain of bullying. Readers of all ages will find it easy to identify with the characters in this book. Here are the details:
Hannah Richards isn't your typical 16 year-old at Wichita Falls High. Fashion, trends, cosmetics and style are unimportant to her. An avid reader, guitar player, and classic movie and television buff, Hannah marches to the beat of her own drum. Visible only to her father, the town sheriff, and her two best friends, Lauren and Haylee, Hannah lives a simple, un-pampered life as an "Eastie."
After coming to the aide of Taylor Monroe, a popular member of the "Stilettos" at school, after a series of misunderstanding with her friends, Hannah is forced to re-invent herself. She quickly gets caught up in a life much different than the one she knows, where status, glamour, makeup, appearance and acceptance become her masters.
Can Hannah survive the lies, deceit, jealousy, and rage that are now waiting for her around every corner? Will she succumb to the pressures of popularity? Or will she be crushed under the heels of the "Stilettos"?
And now, my interview with Thomas Amo:
Q: You give credit for the genesis of this story to a segment you saw on television about a group of high school girls from Texas who decided to go one day a week without wearing any kind of makeup to show that girls don’t need it to be beautiful. Why did that story make such an impact on you?
A. I was truly encouraged by their willingness to go against what most girls at that age would never consider in the first place. I think girls get taught from an early age, that if they want to be popular and attractive, then they have to be a certain body weight, look a certain way. Makeup is usually the first rung on the ladder of social acceptance. Followed by the designer label and hairstyle. What name brand clothes is she going to wear? What's the name on her purse and sunglasses? Because the fashion world has a huge impact on girls. If you don't believe me, ask any teen girl what she's wearing, and you will most likely get a name as an answer instead of jeans and a t-shirt.
Naturally, girls want to be considered pretty or attractive to others besides their families. Taking the step to remove the makeup and just be the girl they are is a bold and brave step for a teen girl today. So it got me thinking about how all of those impact girls during those crucial high school years.
Q: Your previous books have been in the adult genre. What made you decide to try your hand at a YA book?
A. As I mentioned, the segment with the girls on TV really spoke to me, and I thought it was such a good subject to write about. I really wanted to experience the YA genre. It actually began as a screenplay for a production company. I wrote a quick draft and called a friend of mine who is a film producer and told him that I had a script idea to pitch to him. We arranged a meeting and, fortunately for me, he really liked it. So he encouraged me to write the screenplay. I got about 50 pages in and hit a brick wall. Suddenly, it just didn't feel right. I left it for a week or so and came back to it, and decided it really needed to be a novel first. Which was terrible timing because I was in the middle of writing the second installment of a trilogy. But, I called my friend, and said I can't write it as a screenplay right now, it feels like a novel. He told me to go for it, and to call him as soon as the novel was finished. Here we are nearly two years later.
Q: After reading Forever Me, I found that I could identify with many of the characters in the book even though I hadn’t been in high school for awhile. It seems like people stay the same even though the times change. Do you agree?
A. I do agree 100%. The faces change but the players remain the same. There will always be popular kids which usually seem to always go hand in hand with sports. Usually jocks and cheerleaders seem to always be on the top rung of the social hierarchy. The you will always have your nerds, stoners (aka burnouts). There are the Drama students, music students, and, thanks to shows like Glee, now singing is more popular than ever. Of course always bullies. Bullies sadly can come from virtually any clique. Usually though, jocks will pick on everyone who isn't another jock. If a smart kid who's not athletic joins a shop class like welding, mechanics, electrical, etc., he's going to be surrounded by two groups: jocks or stoners. For the jocks, it's an easy grade. For the stoners, it's going to be a vocation. most likely he's going to end up getting picked on by both groups. The teachers remain the same too. There's always the cool teachers and the ones who never see anything happen like a referee in big time wrestling. There's the teachers who really want to teach and then there are those who just want to survive. sometimes school can feel more like preson than it can an educational institution.
Q: As an adult male, what challenges did you face writing from the perspective of a teenage girl?
A. Danger Will Robinson! This is that question that has to be answered carefully. At first, I didn't give it any thought. I just approached it as I would any novel or character I planned to write. Having been a playwright for a decade, I wrote roles for certain actresses, so that helped a lot. So much dialogue helps you learn how people speak, and that's a great way to get insight on how they might be as people/characters. There did come a point though where I thought is anyone going to accept a YA novel written by a man from the perspective of a teenage girl? My good friend and fellow author, Michelle Muto, quickly pointed out to me, "Stephen King did it with his novel, Carrie." That was all the encouragement I needed. Besides, I wasn't going to write a novel that focused on menstruation. Plus, I had my wife and daughter to keep me on track with the developments of the girls in my novel. I did work hard to make it feel real all the time. Even though it's fiction, it was important to me that I would want a teen girl to pick this book up and say, "YES! That's me! That happened to me, or that character is just like me." I think there's never a question when a woman author writes male characters because we readily accept that women are in tune with the universe so much more than men are...but there does seem to be a pause when you see it's a man writing from a woman's perspective. And, if I pass, hopefully the assumption isn't "Oh he was spot on...he must be gay." I have had a wonderful female role model in my life with my mother. She is the strongest woman I've ever known; and, because of her, I've always been quick to regard women with admiration and respect. Check any of my previous work, whether it be in my novels or plays for the stage. My female characters are always strong women. I don't reduce them to bimbos or battle axe stereotypes.
Q: You mention in your acknowledgements that writing the ending was very emotional for you and during that writing process, you were interrupted. How did you deal with that?
A. My Barbara Walters question. I won't go into the actual details because it's too personal. However, I was in the middle of writing the climax of the book, and I had just written a line that caught my breath, and I actually began to cry. I'd never experienced that before as a writer. While I was basking in that moment of euphoria, my phone rang and life did one3 of its nice little screw you moments. And I was like NO!!!! I can't stop now! Any writer will tell you when you're in the moment, if you get disturbed too long...you lose it and that feeling leaves you. It's very much a Jack Nicholson moment from The Shining, when he explains to his wife that when she interrupts him it breaks his concentration and then it will take him time to get back to where he was...of course this is described with four letter words and tearing of paper in a manic Jack style. If you've seen the film, you know what I'm talking about. So yeah, It kinda feels like that. (Thank you Jack and Stanley Kubrick.) Well, I was forced to leave my computer for over and houra nd a half...and I was filled with bitterness and anger because I knew I was close to the end. I came home and was so angry, I knew I would never get my muse back...I paced and actually said to myself "No, I'm not going to let circumstances take this away from me!" I forced myself to sit down and put my music on that I was writing the scene by and forced myself to let the anger go...which was NOT easy. And i was able to get back and finish, but it still hurt me deeply because I so loved writing this book, and I so wanted to know that bliss of how it might have been had I not been interrupted. But you can't go back, so I had to move on.
Q: High school can be so tough for kids. Besides being yourself, what other positive messages do you think YA readers will be able to get from you book?
A. I believe that people CAN change, for the better and for the worse. That while who your friends are can affect your life in so many ways, your friends, family, money, clothes, should never define who you are as a person! Also, I would hope that people get the message of bullying must never be tolerated! Bullying comes in so many forms. Even friends bully friends. If just is not even funny how some jocks will bully a weak kid (call it hazing), and that adults will shrug it off and same lame things like, "Hey, that's life." I remember a terrible incident where a mean kid bullied another until the other kid felt he had only one choice - either kill himself, or kill the bully. The school wouldn't help. The parent of the mean kid encouraged his son to be that way. So the victim shot and killed his tormentor. And sadly, everyone cried over the bully. The father actually had to the nerve to say, "Why couldn't this kid just take an ass beating? He didn't have to kill my son." There was the problem right there. The father believed it was fine for the other boy to be beaten and just take it. That mindset haunted me, and I just pray that students are able to find strength in numbers because sadly, all too often, adults thing ignoring it will make it go away. High school years, while only being four of them, can sometimes be no different than four years of prison.
A big thank you to Thomas Amo for stopping by! Connect with Thomas on Twitter @AuthorThomasAmo, Facebook, and check out his blog here!