1. Where did the idea for Populazzi come from?
I was reading Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, and it hit me that the very stratified society of turn-of-last-century Manhattan was a lot like the equally stratified world of high school. That’s how the idea started percolating, but before I could make it work, I had to solve a puzzle. In Wharton’s book, the MC Undine Spragg is an incredibly unlikeable social climber. That’s on purpose. It’s a biting satire, and it’s terrific. I loved that in Wharton’s book, but I didn’t want to do the same. Instead, I wanted to create a character who’d make the choice to social climb, but in a way that kept her likable and relatable. It took a long time to crack the nut, but in the end I feel like I succeeded, and I’m really happy with the result.
2. Which character from Populazzi is most like you and why?
That’s a tough one, since they all have a little piece of me. I can point to things in Cara, Claudia, Archer, Trista… even Robert Schwarner that are tiny shards of my own experience and personality. That said, during the writing process each of the characters morphed so fully into their own person that it’s unfair to even compare them to anyone from real life.
3. The “Ladder” seems to be something a lot of high school teens actually worry about these days. Did you ever try and climb the “Ladder?”
Oh, I’m an open book. Happy to answer.Honestly, I didn’t have the guts to climb the Ladder in high school. I dreamed about it, and really did have the journals that started every year with, “This will be the year everything changes…” but I was always too shy and self-conscious to be pro-active about getting in with the populazzi. I did have an amazing small group of very close friends with whom I felt totally comfortable, but I just shrunk in front of everyone else, and that bothered me a lot. In retrospect it shouldn’t have. I had people I loved and who loved me – who cared what anyone else thought? Sadly, I didn’t look at it that way back then.
4. If you met Cara in real life on day, what would you tell her?
I’d tell her she’s right: French fries dipped in chocolate milkshake are seriously delicious.
5. Going with the last question, if you could tell your teen self something, what would you tell Teen Elise?
Ahhh, Teen Elise. There’s so much she needs to learn. For starters, there’s the hair. The blown-out curls in a foot-high corona all around her head. And then there’s the electric blue eyeliner. And the stretch pants. And the shoulder pads. I’m really not sure the 80’s is even enough of an excuse for the walking fashion faux pas that was Teen Elise.But I’m guessing I have a limited time with Teen Elise, so I’d let all that go and cut to the chase. “Elise,” I’d say, “bubbeleh, you’ve got to stop stressing about what other people think. Here’s the truth:Your friends love you, so don’t freak about that. Love them back, appreciate them, and enjoy every minute you have with them, because you’ll never again all be together the way you are right now.(Except for Sari. You guys may have been besties in 7th and 8th grade, but she dumped your butt because she’s done with you, so stop trying to win her back. It’s embarrassing already.)Your boyfriend? He’s going to cheat on you midway through freshman year of college and shred your heart, but he’s perfect for you right now, so stop looking for something better – you’re creating drama neither one of you needs.The popular crowd you’re terrified looks down at you because you’re a goofball? Guess what? They do look down at you because you’re a goofball! But you know what? You happen to be a goofball, so why the hell do you crave approval from people who look down on that?!Okay, I’m exaggerating. Not all the popular crowd looks down at you because you’re a goofball. There’s a whole segment of them that doesn’t look down at you at all… because they have no idea you exist. Uh-huh. You know how get so nervous about being judged that you clam up and don’t say anything and hope people will somehow see through to the brilliantly witty goofball inside? Not happening. People aren’t interested in dragging your personality out of you. If you want to be seen – really seen -- you have to be brave enough to fearlessly be yourself and deal with the consequences. The people who respond well are the ones worth your attention. The people who don’t… look, you won’t mesh with everyone, and that’s fine. Be okay with it, and be okay with you, because you’re worth a lot more than you think you are.”Hmmm… I seem to go all tough-love when I talk to Teen Elise. Maybe I think she might still be lurking around and listening. ☺
6. Can you describe your book in 140 words or less?
Words, or characters? I’m guessing you’re going for the Twitter 140 characters, so I’m running with that. Please forgive me if I’m wrong. Here goes:Plan: Hit new school, climb ladder of boys 2 prove misfit can B popular. Result: Success! Problem: Mass, unmitigated disaster.
**Yeah, I meant characters....fail on my part!**
7. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was already out here in L.A. doggedly pursuing an acting career that I made the switch. I had a day job answering the phones for Saved by the Bell: The College Years, and the more I read the scripts and hung out in the writers’ room, the more I realized I could make a living as a writer, and have waaaaay more fun than I did trying to act. I immediately started writing spec scripts, and within two years I had a staff job writing for Bill Cosby’s lesser-known sitcom, Cosby.
8. What was the hardest part of writing Populazzi? The easiest?
One of the things I love about the book is that it has a great blend of tones. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and starts out very light, then in places it gets quite dark. Some of the darker areas hit a little close to home for me, and writing them in a way that was emotionally honest and not overwrought took a lot of drafts, a lot of finessing, and a lot of baked chips. That was the hardest part. I credit my editor for both reeling me in at times, and pushing me to dive deeper at others.The easiest part was the dialogue, especially the banter between Cara and Archer. I could write that all day and night. That, and anything involving Robert Schwarner, with whom I might be secretly in love.
9. What’s the most surprising part of getting published?
How little it changes anything. Don’t get me wrong – it’s wonderful and thrilling and exciting, and I’ll never get over the OMG factor of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on a shelf. There’s also no greater joy than hearing from people who read the book, enjoyed it, and want to talk about it with me.But those things aren’t surprises.I have a wild imagination. When I imagined getting published, I pictured a worldwide event not dissimilar to the Facebook IPO. I pictured Oprah turning up on my doorstep with cookies. I pictured saying the words, “Wow, thanks, Ellen! I’m so glad you loved the book so much you wanted me on the show! You know who else loved it? Every Hot Young Actress in Hollywood, and they’re all arm wrestling to see which one of them will get to play Cara Leonard! Oooh, look at the time. Hate to cut this short, but I’m meeting J.K. Rowling to talk story. See ya!”Um… that didn’t so much happen. What did happen is everything in my life continued the way it always did… except now I’m a published author and I can add writing books to the list of cool things I get to do.
10. How did your work on TV shows and Internet shows help you write Populazzi, if at all?
It’s certainly why the dialogue came so easily to me; I’m used to writing in script form. I also think it helped when it came to the notes and revision process. In television, you get notes from a battalion of people, and they’re not always voiced kindly. Coming from that, I stopped being precious about my work a long time ago. I’m well aware that early drafts are just that, and they can improve a lot based on input from fresh eyes. I loved getting my editor’s input because she saw missteps I was too close to see. On the rare occasions where I disagreed with her notes I’d fight back, but far more often I’d smack my pal against my forehead and say, “Of course! How did I miss that???”, then dive into a new draft completely inspired.
11. You also worked with Hilary Duff (!!) on Elixir and most recently, Devoted! I have to ask: what was it like working with Hilary Duff?
Hilary is spectacular; I’ve loved getting to know her and spend time with her on the Elixir series. She’s incredibly talented and creative, with a keen ear for dialogue and a natural sense of what works on the page. Beyond that, she’s just a great person, and remarkably dedicated to her fans. I’ve been to a couple of her book signings, and I’m just awed by how genuinely she loves and appreciates everyone who comes out to see her.
**Brings me back to the glory of Disney Channel and Lizzie McGuire!**
12. What’s the one piece of advice you think all writers should know?
The first draft is going to be crap… and that’s okay! Writing is like sculpting, except while a sculptor starts with clay, we start with nothing. That crap first draft? That’s our clay. We have to get it down on paper before we can even start molding, shaping, and creating. So my advice is get out of your own way, don’t get overly critical of yourself, and write that first draft so you have your shapeless hunk of raw material and can start sculpting.
13. Can you tell us what you’re currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Some Assembly Required, which is her non-fiction sequel of sorts to her book Operating Instructions. Operating Instructions is about her son’s first year; Some Assembly Required is about her grandson’s.Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. In both her fiction and non-fiction, she has a way with words that makes me want to throw my and everyone else’s computers out the window, because no way can any of the rest of us write prose as elegantly brilliant as hers.
14. Last but not least, can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?
The complicated part is I have several projects on my plate that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, though I’d love to!What I can say is that Hilary and I are putting the last touches on book three of the Elixir series. It’s called True, and it comes out April 16, 2013. This is the book that will wrap up the series, and I’m really excited about it.As for other news, I promise to share everything else the minute I can. The best way to keep tabs on what’s going on with me is at my website, or on Twitter, @EliseLAllen!Thanks so much for having me, Kailia! I loved your questions, and I so appreciate you featuring Populazzi on the blog!
So, can I say, these answers? AWESOME! I love it when an author gives a nice answer, something they think about and not just something short and generic!
My Review of Populazzi!
And the trailer:
So, I hope all of you had as much fun reading this interview as I did! Isn't Elise really awesome? And pretty too!