I am so excited to have Lesley Anne Cowan with us today. She is the author of Something Wicked which is released next week. It is a dark, realistic look and not the typical Happily Ever After that you know I love (see, I love all things happy & so when I see someone struggling I need to fix it). Her book concentrates on Melissa, a young girl who has lost her sense of self-worth (or maybe never really had any to begin with?) and her struggles. It struck a nerve with me, having friends dealing with issues over the years and my natural instinct to try and help. I am so happy that Lesley gave us this rare glimpse into Melissa's look on life and hope others can learn from this amazing story. Here is the link to my review. Now for the fun part, the interview!
Can you tell us about Something Wicked
Something Wicked is a young adult literary novel about a sixteen year old girl named Melissa. It deals with contemporary issues surrounding female sexual empowerment and identity, substance abuse, and the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. It is meant to be a stark, honest, provoking story that explores the teenager psyche and unveils the shocking realities of today’s sexually engaged youth.
When reading Something Wicked, Melissa felt so real. I think many people will find they can connect with her, be it themselves or people they know... even if their troubles aren't half as bad. How were you able to connect so strongly with Melissa? (I'm assuming that your work with at-risk kids provides some invaluable insight)
I think you’re right about how my work with young women helps to make my writing voice realistic. Not many people (including ‘normal’ secondary teachers) spend 6 hours a day with the same 8 teenagers in a small room! Such close quarters inevitably lead to some kind of osmosis, I guess. Though none of my characters (or the things that happen to them) are based on real people, Melissa’s character is very, very common in my world. In fact, in both Something Wicked and my first book As She Grows I had to tone things down for fear of sounding too sensationalistic. In reality, the true lives of these young women are often more violent and disturbing.
As a writer, how do you prepare yourself for writing about a dark/angry/depressed character like Melissa?
I don’t feel I prepared at all. Melissa’s voice just arrived on the page like that. Again, I suppose it’s a familiar voice that I hear each day. I suppose writing teen fiction is a little cathartic for me – gives me a place to work out my thoughts related to a rather emotionally loaded job. As well, I think it helps that my general writing/author voice is rather ‘detached’. I think my protagonists (adult or youth) will always have this sort of emotional detachment. Part of the reason why is that I probably have a similar emotional detachment in myself. The other part of the reason why (I believe) is because I work full-time (7 hrs day) and write full-time (3-4 hrs day). Having to constantly go in and out of a manuscript creates a distance between my characters and me.
There are a number of important messages in Something Wicked and wisdom from her Uncle Freestyle. "if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat"(pg 73) and "you decide to be happy. It's a decision"(pg 153 of ARC). What do you hope your readers take away with them after reading Something Wicked?
I liked writing Uncle Freestyle’s wisdom! It allowed me to put the quotes I personally enjoy into the manuscript. Some of those quotes (like the one about the lion and gazelle) came from my father.
What do I hope readers will take away? In both Something Wicked and As She Grows, I wanted to draw a new picture of hope for struggling young women, both for those teens like my protagonist and for those who pass her by on the street. I want readers not to make a quick judgment. I’d like them to look beyond a typecast and understand that hope is found in the many small upward steps on a very long journey toward adulthood.
I think this is an important message for teens. They see too many movies and sitcoms (and books) where problems are clearly wrapped up in a half hour or so. When you’re a teenager, some days are good and you take two steps forward. Then some days are bad and you take twenty steps back! One of the most common questions I get as a teacher of drug-addicted students is: “Do they change?” -- As in, did I fix them? When I first started the job, I think I was looking for this clear evidence of change as well. But now, I realize that change and growth are passed on in little bits that you hope, one day, will help add up to a whole.
Something Wicked deals with a tough subject. Who would you say your book is geared towards: parents (so they may have a better understanding of what teens are experiencing) or teens (so that they know they are not alone)?
This is a really great question because it gets to the heart of something I struggle with in regards to the adolescent fiction industry. Does your book have to change that much when you gear it toward teens instead of adults? It’s a question I often ask young people when I’m at a reading or workshop. I really feel that teen fiction (over 14 – not tween!) should be associated more with adult fiction now, rather than ‘children’. That covers everything from placement of books in the bookstores to editors specializing in teen/adult instead of teen/children. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a slight difference between teen fiction and adult. I think it’s still important to recognize the teen reader’s maturity level. But unfortunately, the age of innocence has risen and by the time a teen is fifteen or so, s/he is exposed to so much through media, it seems that literature should keep up to speed.
My first novel, As She Grows, was published as adult literary fiction in 2003. It was re-released as adolescent fiction in 2009. I find that interesting because I never intended for teens to read it (which is why they liked it so much). Something Wicked, however, was written specifically for teens (to answer your question!). So I’m interested how the two will compare. While writing Something Wicked, knowing a teenager was going to read it, I had to constantly fight that instinctual ‘adult’ voice that told me to make my protagonist ‘do the right thing’ or ‘solve all her problems’. I found it intriguing how strong this sense of obligation to be a moral guide for my readers was, simply because I was aware of my targeted reading audience. I fought that ‘sheltering’ urge as much as possible while writing Something Wicked but I still think As She Grows was a more ‘carefree’ story while Something Wicked holds something back.
To find out more about Lesley and her books, check out: lesleyannecowan.com
You're all invited to the book launch party!
Lesley Anne Cowan in conversation with Emily Pohl-Weary
Saturday June 5, 2pm (Doors Open 1:30pm) FREE
Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, 1214 Queen Street West
Can a sixteen year-old girl beat the odds and rise above a bad situation? Sure, but what if fairy tales don’t come true? How does a young woman surrounded by ugliness find beauty in her life and in herself?
To celebrate the launch of Something Wicked, Lesley Anne Cowan will discuss writing and working with at-risk youth with noted author Emily Pohl-Weary. An extended Q&A will follow the conversation.
A Small Print Toronto event presented by Penguin Group Canada, Gladstone Hotel and Torontoist.com
And thanks to Penguin Canada, I have one copy to giveaway! Please fill out the form below :)