Sometimes as readers we forget that YA can be fun. Sure, we enjoy discussing its technical and literary components, but YA is often at its best with some gleeful enjoyment thrown into the mix. The novels of Mark Peter Hughes offer both the joys and tribulations of being a young adult and provide us with pure fun as well.
His novels, “i am the wallpaper,” “A Crack in the Sky,” “Lemonade Mouth” and “Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up” (coming out on November 13!) tackle pesky younger neighbors, musical identity, a post-apocalyptic world, and our pasts’ inability to remain in our past. His books will make you laugh, ruminate, ponder, and pause. In short, they will completely drain your e-reader battery.
YARN: In ¨Lemonade Mouth¨ you juggle the narratives of numerous characters, especially during the band´s first concert. How do you plan ahead to tackle such an endeavor? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having so many in one book?
MPH: In both LM books, “Lemonade Mouth” and “Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up,” part of the punch of the story is the powerful impact that these five revolutionary kids have on the lives of those around them. I wanted to show this by letting the reader hear from those who “witness” the band’s biggest moments. Since most of chapters are told from the point of view of the five band-member voices (Olivia, Wen, Stella, Mo, Charlie), I thought that the best places to give the outside perspectives would be whenever the band is performing or otherwise doing things that leave the biggest impression on its fans or detractors.
As far as planning, I worked these scenes out the way I work out every scene of every book – by outlining moment by moment and taking lots of time to envision different possibilities and scenarios before actually writing out the final versions. That, of course, takes more time than I’d like, but I’ve tried to write in a different way (i.e. “faster”) and simply couldn’t do it. For good or bad, it’s who I am as a writer.
YARN: You mention on your website that you sporadically kept diaries in your childhood. Have you ever gone back and read them? Have you seen remnants of your novels in these entries?
MPH: Yes, I occasionally read my old diaries and cringe. Being a kid isn’t always pretty, and in my case that’s as true as for anyone. I wouldn’t say that my diary entries have sparked specific moments in my novels per se, but certainly I’ve tried to stay true to the emotional feel of them.
YARN: What does your writing process consist of, from the idea to publication? Do you outline, draft, revise? What is your favorite part it? Your least favorite?
MPH: I outline, outline, outline. Then I write, write, write, often veering away from my outlines. The first draft is by far the most painful for me – it probably takes about 80 percent of my overall effort. Then I’ll seek feedback from my editors and friends. Then I revise, revise, revise. Typically, I’ll do nine or ten revisions, but I love the revision process. If I feel that a change doesn’t make the story better, I won’t make it. In that way, each draft feels like I’m bringing the manuscript a little closer to its best.
YARN: Have you ever felt “stuck” in your writing? What advice can you give teens who might be struggling with writing assignments and need to get unstuck before the due date?
MPH: Absolutely, yes. I’ve often felt “stuck” in my writing. For me, getting unstuck takes a certain kind of faith, one in which I have to remind myself that it’s okay to write something terrible, that to write and finish something requires continuous movement forward, even if that means writing something unreadable. I put all my faith in the revision process. A crappy first draft is a wonderful thing (really!) because it means I have something that I can then re-shape and improve, which to me is so much easier than the near-impossible goal of creating something wonderful right off. As a writer, what I fear most is a blank page.
YARN: Floey Packer in ¨I am the Wallpaper¨ is a budding Buddhist. What attracted you to this religion for this character? Do you believe spirituality is an often overlooked topic in YA? What is your favorite Buddhist saying?
MPH: I’m not a Buddhist and I certainly wouldn’t claim to be any kind of expert on the topic, but I do love the way Buddhism seems to invite people to look at the world though a new, wider perspective. We are all connected. Everything we do matters. This way of thinking felt exactly right for the transformation Floey undergoes – with her sister leaving, her friendships changing, and her own young-adulthood right around the corner. Her interest in Buddhism, like mine, isn’t as a new religion she aspires to take on, but is instead a way of seeing familiar things in a new light, one interesting way to re-consider all the aspects of her changing life. I do think that fits well as a topic in YA, but then again I think there are many other spiritual paths that might work equally well.
Favorite Buddhist saying: This isn’t really a saying, but I gotta go with a joke (it’s in “I Am The Wallpaper”): This Zen master goes up to a hot dog stand and says, “Make me one with everything.” (Ha! But wait, there’s more!) So the hotdog vendor gives him his hot dog and takes his money. After a moment the Zen master says, “Where’s my change?” but the hot dog vendor just stares at him and says, “Change must come from within.” (Ha again!)
YARN: Wen appears in both ¨I am the Wallpaper¨ and ¨Lemonade Mouth¨ as a prominent character. What made you decide to continue telling his story? What are the benefits and drawbacks of revisiting such a character?
MPH: When I started thinking about Lemonade Mouth I knew it was going to be about a band and that one of its members would be trumpet-playing Wen from “I Am the Wallpaper.” I just liked writing about him and knew he had much more of a journey ahead, both musically and as a character. Drawbacks? I’m not sure. I’m very glad he’s in the band. I think he’s a typical good kid, sometimes confused but well-meaning even as he screws up. To me he’s an important emotional anchor within “Lemonade Mouth.” In some ways, Wen is me as a kid.
YARN: “Lemonade Mouth” was made into a movie that premiered at a middle school in the town where you live (which happens to be just the next town over from where YARN’s very own Kerri Majors lives!). What was it like to see your characters come to life that way? Were you ever nervous about your book being made into a movie?
MPH: I’ve enjoyed the whole movie-making experience. Sure, there were moments when I fretted about how the movie might end up changing my characters, but overall I’m pleased with the film. There are differences from the book, of course, but in many important ways the movie and book share the same overall story and message of empowerment and revolution. Given that the book is 300+ pages long and the movie script was only about 100 pages, I’m surprised at how little Disney ended up changing. And in any case, the movie is the movie and the book is still the book. They’re two different animals, really. Cousins, perhaps, but hopefully both good in their own different ways.
On YA and Other Books/Stuff
YARN: It is evident from your novel ¨Lemonade Mouth¨ that you are a huge music buff. What band/musician made you a music lover? What music would you recommend to our readers?
MPH: I’ve always been into music. I’m a musician and have been in bands for years, and my influences are kind of all over the place, which is sort of why “Lemonade Mouth” is also musically all over the place, with each kid adding his or her own different aspect to the mix (jazz, latin, guitar rock, classical — all with a strong focus on lyrics and fun). Bands I’d recommend to readers? Hmmm. Right now I’m getting into The Ting Tings, The Reverend Horton Heat, Earl Scruggs, Jason Mraz, and Eguie Castrillo.
YARN: You visit many schools across the country and hold workshops about writing creative fiction and beyond. What made you decide to start such workshops? Have attendees kept in contact with you after the fact? Which is your favorite workshop to do?
MPH: I love visiting schools and working with young readers and writers. I started doing it locally but I’ve been fortunate that word has spread so I’ve been able to connect with schools all over the country. I love talking with students about the nitty-gritty of the writing craft: the power of specific, sensory language and images; what it takes to create a memorable character; how and where to begin a story or scene; how a plot takes shape. I lead students in writing exercises and then we discuss them as a group. It’s so much fun, and often students later share their story progress with me via email. I love it.
YARN: You have your very own YouTube channel, tweet regularly, and post often on your website. Do you feel that these are now required extensions of your profession? Is this more so in YA or just a general shift in contemporary literature? Do you think social media creates more of a bond between author and reader?
MPH: This is yet another area in which I’m by no means an expert. I just do what feels natural and right by connecting with readers online. I appreciate the power the Internet brings in enabling authors like myself to hear from and speak with those who wish to connect with me.
YARN: Since the “Lemonade Mouth” movie premiered in your home town–not, say, Hollywood–and you’re having your first big book party for “Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up” at the closest B&N to your town, we’d venture to say that you like to “think global and act local.” Do you want to share any thoughts you have about the benefits of a home town to a writer?
MPH: Community is everything. We are all connected on the larger scale but we live where we live and we interact with our neighbors and family and friends most of all. I’m grateful for the support of the many people who I see every day at the grocery store, the post office, the local Starbucks, the local schools, and everywhere else I go regularly. Without a strong connection to those who live with or near us, what else would any of us (author or not) really be left with?
YARN: Thanks so much for talking with us, Mark! Good luck with “Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up.”
Mark Peter Hughes is the author of celebrated books for middle graders and teens including “I Am the Wallpaper,” “A Crack In the Sky,” and “Lemonade Mouth,” which the Disney Channel made into the #1 cable movie of 2011. His latest novel, “Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up,” continues the story of a group of awkward high school musicians who break rules and push limits without always meaning to, and the trouble and growing revolution it sets off. Connect with Mark at www.markpeterhughes.com.