Interview with Jessica Verdi (Author of THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME)

Meet Jessica!

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Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, tattoos, and her dog. Jessica is also the author of My Life After Now.

Hi Jessica, welcome to Whimsically Yours!! Why did you decide to write this book? More specifically, why did you decide to set it at an anti-gay camp?

When I was toying with ideas for the topic of my second novel, this story really called out to me. I’ve always been fascinated by these so-called conversion camps, places where religious leaders claim they can turn gay kids straight. There is no doubt in my mind that they’re claiming to do the impossible, and that telling LGBTQ kids there’s something wrong with them is nothing short of abuse, but the root behind these camps actually, in a twisted way, stems from a good place. The parents who send their kids to these programs truly believe their children are on the wrong path in life and that they will go to hell if they don’t make a change. These parents are desperate to “save” their kids, in their own misguided way. This is something that has long intrigued me, and a world I knew I wanted to explore in the book.

But it all came together for me when, funnily enough, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s song “Hair.” The chorus of that song goes,

I just want to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am.

And I started thinking about all the kids who aren’t loved for who they are, and that made me so sad. And I knew I had to tell Lexi’s story.
I think you balance the preachy-over religiousness of the camp counselors with also still allowing for Christianity to not be seen as bad or the source of all of Lexi and the other campers’ problems. How did you do this? Was there ever a time you were worried this book would come off as a bad or stereotypical portrayal as Christians as homophobic?

Thank you! Finding that fine line between a biased, educational pamphlet and a book that has no opinion at all is something I always work hard to accomplish in everything I write, because I personally never want to write either of those. So I always try to do two things. 1) Make the characters and situations as layered and relatable as possible, so the reader, no matter who they are, will identify with and root for them, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. 2) Present many sides of the story. I personally don’t agree with these ex-gay programs, but there are characters in the book who have their own reasons for believing in it and wanting it to work. There are also characters, like Matthew, who thinks it’s complete and total B.S. I think if every character has a believable, understandable motivation, the rest will fall into place.

Why did you choose Lexi as your main character? All of the campers in this book seem to have stories that easily could’ve made for a great novel.

That’s a good question, and I guess the only answer I have is that I just really knew her. Not that I didn’t know all my characters incredibly well, but there was something about Lexi’s story that I really related to on a different level—even though we have very different lives. She was special and unique but also so familiar. I hope readers feel that way about her too.

Do you think you’d ever revisit the lives of Lexi or any of the other campers or is this it?

Never say never, right? I love Lexi, Carolyn, Daniel, and Mathew so much, so I’d love to revisit them some day, and see where they end up a few years down the line. But for now I have no specific plans for a sequel. There are so many other characters bouncing around in my head that I’d love to get to know. 🙂

The Great Gatsby is a text that’s central to the plot of the story (it’s also one of my favorite novels). Why The Great Gatsby? Was it always your intention to have passages of the book throughout The Summer I Wasn’t Me?

I’ve always really connected with pop culture, and I feel like I’m always relating things I encounter in my daily life to something that happened in a show or a lyric of a song or whatever. So when I’m writing I like giving the reader the opportunity to, as they’re reading, make connections between my book and something they may already be familiar with, since that’s what I like to do in my own life. Finding links, familiarity, shared experiences.

I love The Great Gatsby, and it seemed to be the perfect parallel for Lexi’s story. I’ve always read that book as a queer text, but there are other similarities between the stories as well. They’re both about trying to change who you are to please the person you love, they both have themes of forbidden love, they’re both about being in a new place, they both take place in the summer. And so I thought it was a good way to illustrate that there is always more than one way to look at something.

What’s your patronus? (Speaking of Harry Potter, I loved Daniel’s bit paralleling HP with Jesus.)

I’m so glad you liked that scene. I love that moment too, when Daniel finally finds a way to stand up for himself a little bit. My patronus is probably an elephant. They’re my favorite animal—so beautiful and smart and loving and gentle.

What is the first story you remember writing?

I was always a big reader growing up, but I didn’t really start writing until I was in my mid-late twenties. The first book I ever wrote was an adult chick lit magical realism story about friendship and music and finding love. 🙂

Fun Fact about yourself most people don’t know or wouldn’t expect?

I have terrible handwriting. Just awful. But luckily I’m a pretty good typer. <–ha, I’m with you there! -P

What was your favorite childhood book/author?

Oh I had so many! One series I read over and over again was Judy Blume’s Fudge series. LOVED it.

What other projects are you working on/any closing words about The Summer I Wasn’t Me, etc…?

I have a book coming out next year called What You Left Behind. It’s my first novel from the point of view of a boy main character. It’s the story of Ryden, a teen boy who got his girlfriend pregnant while she had cancer. She decided to continue with the pregnancy even though it meant stopping her chemo treatments. The story starts a few months after she dies while giving birth, when Ryden is struggling to reconcile the intense guilt he feels with the struggles of being a new dad.

And as for The Summer I Wasn’t Me, on a very basic level, I hope Lexi’s story will help readers to know they are a-ok just the way they are. And if someone is telling you otherwise (whether they’re criticizing your sexuality, your appearance, your disability, your hobbies and interests, or anything else) they’re the ones who have to take a long, hard look at themselves, and maybe start to make some new choices, not you.

Thank you so much for stopping by! My review of the book will be posted Wednesday but in the meantime here’s a bit about it:

image001The Summer I Wasn’t Me
Sourcebooks Fire, April 1, 2014
ISBN 9781402277887
Lexi has a secret…

Ever since her mom found out she was in love with a girl, seventeen year old Lexi’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

You are on the road to truth. Help is on the way

The road signs leading to New Horizons summer camp promise a new life for Lexi- she swears she can change. She can learn to like boys. But denying her feeling is harder than she thinks. And when she falls head over heels for Carolyn, one of her fellow campers, Lexi will have to risk her mother’s approval for the one person who might love her no matter what.

In The Summer I Wasn’t Me, Verdi writes with raw honesty and an open heart, asking the hard questions and exploring emotional depths and difficult truths in her character that no YA author has done before.

Praise for The Summer I Wasn’t Me

“A powerful indictment of reparative therapy- a sweet love story- and an unforgettable main character!.”

– Nancy Garden, author of Annie On my Mind

Trust me, you want to read this book. Gave it to my friend, she finished it in a few hours and called me bawling about how beautiful it was 🙂

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

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What’s Up Wednesday & #YABbootcamp Check-In

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Good Afternoon 🙂 It’s Wednesday and today I’m combining my weekly ‘What’s Up Wednesday’ post with my weekly YABbootcamp Check-in (yay efficiency)!

What I’m Reading

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 Last week I finished reading my ARC of The Summer I Wasn’t Me (which is now out). It was amazing!!! My review and an interview with the author is to come, but I have to say that Jessica Verdi knows how to tell a story. It’s my first book of hers I’ve read, but it won’t be my last. She had me crying one moment and cheering on the characters the next. It was very bittersweet and very hard to read but completely worth it 🙂aa-stormfront

This week I’ve been reading (and watching) a lot of Urban Fantasy more specifically books that fall into the Speculative Noir genre since that’s what I’d define my WIP as (more on that later). 38619I’m currently reading Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher and Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews (not really Speculative Noir but it’s a YA UF I’ve been meaning to read) and then I’m on to re-read an all time favorite of mine, Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake #1) by Laurell K. Hamilton. book13It’s like part of my research in world & character building for my WIP and I’m loving them all so much!

What I’m Writing

I sent the first chapter of my WIP to one of my amazing CPs and just got it back yesterday! I have since then revised the chapter and I think I now have an opening I’m really proud of that sets up the story, protagonist, and world well.

The WIP is a YA Speculative Noir set in NOLA. I’d originally defined it as Urban Fantasy but for various reasons that didn’t capture what the book came off as, how I wanted it to be categorized, and the world and the MC’s viewpoint about the world well enough. Not to mention, though I can be a sucker for flowery language this book seemed to lean more towards a simplistic, simile laden writing style that reminded me so much of books I love like Guilty Pleasures and Storm Front. Interestingly enough it was an agent, Brooks Sherman, who defined my book for me. Read this and you’ll see what I mean. In it he talks about speculative noir and dark YA with noir elements like the TV show Veronica Mars. As soon as I read that I knew he was talking about books like my WIP which I consider to Veronica Mars meets The Dresden Files (book series) & Lost Girl (TV show). And, yes, (if I don’t get an agent from the MS I’m currently querying) I will be querying him once this WIP is nice and polished.

You can read an excerpt from the revised CHAPTER ONE, at my writer website, patricecaldwell.com!

What Else I’ve Been Doing

I’ve had a pretty busy weekend!!

easter brunchSunday was Easter and the society I’m in, Zeta Alpha, put on an Easter Brunch (it was potluck style and I made Texas-style breakfast burritos!).

<–my friends and I (aren’t we cute & so happy (thank you, sun!!))photo (7)

Oh, and then Sage the Gemini kicked off Spring Week (a week of concerts & other festivities) that evening!! He’s a rapper out of the Bay Area and though I only knew a couple of his songs it was really fun. Also, he was a great entertainer. He was hilarious and he took his shirt off 😉

Monday was the Boston Marathon!! My friends and I went out in full force to support the runners. Wellesley has a special tradition, the scream tunnel in which students line the road and try to get kisses from the runners. I got one once and it was really sweaty so although I no longer partake in that part of the tradition, it was still a very fun day!

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<–so cute & happy once again. It was a wonderful Marathon day that concluded with me doing my laundry (finally!) and watching TV with a friend 🙂

Oh, and my bookshelf got a new addition, #BostonStrong!! Screen shot 2014-04-23 at 3.51.16 PM

What Inspires Me Right Now

I’m inspired by a lot of things. The stories about the Marathon runner survivors from last year who were able to complete the race this year, my friends and classmates who are some of the smartest & busiest women I know and yet we still make time to hang out and support one another, my mother who is going back to school to complete her bachelors while working, my father who finally quite his day job to pursue his wellness company full time & become a full-blown Texas farmer (the baby chicks hatched during the Winter and they’re getting so big so fast), my fellow writers who find time to write amongst juggling day jobs, children, and an assortment of other things, and, of course, myself for, even if I forget sometimes/often, I have a lot to be proud of.

Also, there’s some amazing conversations about Diversity in Literature (specifically Children’s Lit) going on right now/the past couple weeks. I have links to a few in my Writer Resources section, but if you’ve ever wanted to join in the conversation or learn more, now is the perfect time 🙂

Happy Wednesday and I hope it’s not so rainy where you are 🙂 Have a great week!!

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

What’s Up Wednesday :)

wuwspringWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk.  If you want to participate you should link your What’s Up Wednesday posts to the list on Jaime’s blog so that we can all stop by and say, “Hi!” It’s a great way to connect with other writers!

What I’m Reading

photo (4)I received an ARC of Brandy Colbert’s YA Contemporary debut, POINTE, and I’m finishing it up now. It’s such a beautifully written book and the author captures teens so realistically. Also, it focuses a lot around dance, and as someone who did theater forever & almost pursued it professionally (thanks goodness I didn’t) I love performance arts books as I find I can really get into the character’s head because I understood the pressures and the hustle and bustle.

Also, it’s got some great suspense…this is a book that keeps you flipping the pages.

What I’m Writing

Thanks to YABbootcamp, Team Defiance and the other participants have been keeping me accountable with my writing!

I’ve started revisions on what was my NA Urban Fantasy, but is now my YA Urban Fantasy. The revised book blurb is below, but I changed it from NA to YA, because I really enjoy YA. I like writing for that age group and something about it being NA felt too weird for me as I’m in that age group. I started rewriting it as YA and everything started to click in that way that when you’re reading over your own work you get shivers. So excited!!

THE UNALIGNED (The Sup Files #1) – When sixteen-year-old Bria Dauphine sets up shop as a freelance detective she figures, with her abilities, it’ll be easy money and will allow her to save more towards college than working at the local coffee shop—the only job she can get—would. Unfortunately, most of the cases she receives are requests from old ladies asking to her to find their cats, and old ladies don’t pay much, if at all.

But, when her best friend, a witch-in-training, goes missing, on the day of her claiming ceremony—the ceremony that decides whether she’ll belong to the side of the Light or the Dark supernaturals, Bria is New Orleans P.D.’s first go to gal because not only is she unaligned, meaning she’s free to go anywhere she pleases, she’s the best–well, technically, the only–clairvoyant in town. If she can get that nose of hers to work right.

To find her friend, and keep herself from another year staffing the front desk at her father’s hedge fund–a death sentence in itself–Bria teams up with Ty, a human whose life she saves on the first day of school. Together, it’ll be up to them to find the killer, before the case goes public and uncover the truth about Bria’s mother’s recent death—a truth on which the success of their case hinges. That is, of course, if the killer doesn’t find them first.

So much for easy money.

(Status: Rewriting/Revising – YA Urban Fantasy – think Veronica Mars meets The Dresden Files & Lost Girl)

You can view the inspirational Pinterest board here: http://www.pinterest.com/patrice93/the-sup-files/ (It’s one of my finest/favorite ones)

What Else I’ve Been Doing

elections spamMy college just had College Government Elections (which are actually taken quite seriously/run like real campaigns here) and being that I’m the president of our black student union and I’m the Multicultural Presidents Rep, I ended up on Elections Committee. It was a fun/stressful past couple weeks monitoring the candidates, coming up with the rules, etc…, but it’s over and I don’t have to be neutral anymore and my friend won CG President!

Other than that I’m working on freeing my life. I’ve been really busy this semester and last year. But my senior fall promises to be very chill as I won’t have any leadership positions (finally I have learned how to say no) and my classes are no where as difficult as the ones that are currently burying me in assignment after assignment. However, it’s cool because I’ll be at home in Texas this summer, actually I’ll be working in Austin, so I am ready for the summer to begin!

What Inspires Me Right Nowphoto (5)

SUMMMEEEERRRRRRRR! I think that’s about it, LOL. Oh, and my writing…it gets me up in the morning. At this point it is certainly not my classes as they’re killing me. However the week of April 20th starts of Spring Week which is basically a week of concerts, Marathon Monday, etc… it’s pure bliss. After that is finals and then summer 😀 (haha, I think you’ve got the message.) –> The bluebonnets are blooming in Texas (it was a picture I took during Spring Break)!

How is everything going for you? Are you excited for summer!?

#YABbootcamp Month Two Goals!!

YAB-Spring-Writing-Challenge-2014Month One (March) of the YA Bucaneers’ Spring Writing Bootcamp is over, yay!! Now that the sun’s finally out (I wore capris today around Boston!!), it’s time to let the words flow 🙂

During March I began a new story and was able to write over 20,000 words of it!! I had set out to write 10,000 words/week, but I fell short every week and then Spring Break came and all I did was bask in the Texas sun so, it’s time to set some more realistic goals.

April Goals

  • write 30 minutes- 1 hour every day (much more easy to track/meet than 10,000 words/week)
  • read 30 minutes-1 hour every day (so many amazing books, especially debuts, coming out…I have to keep up!)
  • do my class assignments/end of semester assignments ahead of time so that when the end of April/May comes aka Spring Week and all the other college spring shenanigans, I can have no worries.

Basically April 20th is the date by which I want to have my life back and order and my manuscript complete, woohoo!!!

Gosh, April is going to be crazy…I think it just hit me that I’m graduating in 2015. It’s almost time to pick where I want to live next year & the courses I want to take next semester and it all seems so very final. I can’t believe I’ve been in college for three going on four years. That being said, I wouldn’t go back, I’m excited for the future, but, for now, I really need to get writing & turn in an assignment I was supposed to complete before Spring Break…oops (it’s getting to that time in the year when you start not caring/I’m pretty much done with my major so senior year is going to be great)!

Good luck on your April goals everyone 🙂

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

 

Expectations

Placing expectations on yourself and not others is an important life lesson. It’s one that I’m continuously learning, especially relating to my writing…I can only control me, I can hope things turn out as I expect them to, but in the in that’s all dependent on a bunch of factors I can’t control. Take care of yourself and cater to yourself and meet your expectations for yourself, that’s really all you can control 🙂
-Patrice

Blog, Personal Training, Semi Private Training, Group Fitness, Bootcamp, Bastrop, South Austin

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“I’m not in this world
To live up to your expectations
Neither are you here to live up to mine, yeah
I don’t owe no one
No obligation”

Peter Tosh – I Am That I Am

Expectations high and low are the ruination of relationships and situations. It’s best to keep your expectations for yourself, not for others. And if you do make the mistake of placing high or low expectations on others don’t be surprised if they don’t or want meet your expectations. You see there is expectation and then there is reality. You have every right to expect such and such or expect a person to behave a certain way, but reality doesn’t always equal expectations. Which creates a problem for you, a problem you totally created through your expectations. But we all place expectations on people and situations all the time. This is somewhat insane behavior because…

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