Today, Olivia from YA-Mag sat down with author Joy Preble to talk about her latest novel, THE A-WORD! Check it out….
Jenna Samuels is about to turn fifteen. It’s been almost a year since her stoner brother, Casey, bit the dust. Almost a year since he returned as her guardian angel, along with his “angel boss,” Amber Velasco, the hot twenty-something former EMT. Almost a year since Casey and Amber used up their one-time-only angel power of flight to save Jenna from the evil Dr. Renfroe, swooping down to catch her as she tumbled off the balcony at the Houston Galleria. In short, a lot of A-word shenanigans and a mostly happy ending.
Except now Casey’s begun to wonder why he’s still hanging around—not that he minds protecting Jenna. She’s a handful, but there’s got to be a bigger picture, right? Something to distract him from his on again/off again, doomed relationship with cheerleader Lanie Phelps, who has no idea her boyfriend is, well, dead. After all, he can’t use his angel wings anymore. Neither can Amber.
Enter Bo Shivers, Amber’s “angel boss”—a mysterious A-word guy Jenna and Casey didn’t even know existed. Whiskey-guzzling. Handsome in a grizzled way. Unpredictable. Okay, make that crazy. Bo lost his angel wings in an earthly flight a long, long, long time back—and he’s been a thorn in Angel Management’s side ever since. But Bo knows something is coming. Something big. Something that was worth forfeiting wings for Jenna… something that might just change everything for everyone.
Olivia with YA-Mag: Joy, welcome to the Young Adult Magazine! I’m excited to be talking with you about THE A-WORD!
YA: Let’s talk about Jenna. How did you two first meet? What makes her the perfect character to tell this story vs. any other character?
Joy Preble: My Soho Press editor, Dan Ehrenhaft, asked me if I wanted to write a series from the point of view of a girl whose family was a huge mess and whose stoner brother returned from a fatal car accident as her guardian angel. As soon as I started writing some sample pages, there was Jenna— a sassy, funny, Texas girl with this ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. Her voice came to me almost immediately. She’s the perfect narrator because she’s just turning 15 but she’s been taking care of herself for awhile now while their family imploded, so she’s this great combination of wise but naïve. And as she has no particular set of faith beliefs, she’s flying blind (pun intended!) when her brother comes back with wings.
YA: What sets Jenna’s story apart from other YA angel tales, like the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick or Lauren Kate’s Fallen series? What will readers find that is unique to this tale?
JP: What I love about writing the SWEET DEAD LIFE series is that while Jenna is surrounded by a bunch of disgruntled angels—her brother, EMT/bartender Amber Velasco, and in THE A-WORD, mysterious, whiskey-guzzling Bo Shivers—Jenna herself is fully human. So is her best friend Maggie and in book 2, her boyfriend Ryan. And because this mystery of both world-altering and personal consequences is afoot for them all to solve, what I ended up with is spunky girl detective tumbled into a-word land, with a touch of Judd Apatow movie sensibility. The reader gets treated to Jenna’s smart-mouthed but heartfelt narration of love and loss and other universal questions including what it means to have a dead brother who keeps hanging around, alongside the every day drama of high school and first romance. Plus breakfast tacos. A funny, bittersweet, irreverent angel series.
YA: What non-book influences (films, television shows, music, plays, etc) helped spark this story?
JP: Well, Veronica Mars and the above-mentioned Judd Apatow movies, certainly. And the angels in THE SWEET DEAD LIFE and THE A-WORD, while definitely very attractive to humans, are much less brooding warrior hotties than they are cranky and grumpy and hanging on to a lot of bad habits. They often miss being human a great deal. So I’d say they have more in common with the angels in films like Dogma or Michael, where John Travolta chain smokes through the whole movie but smells like cookies. And to break the rules of this question just one tiny bit, the books definitely have some elements of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez magical realism short story, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. Because since the TSDL angels often behave rather disreputably, their heavenly being status flies under the radar. (This was my second flying reference, in case anyone is keeping count.)
YA: When you were a teen, what was your favorite book (YA or otherwise)? Now that you’re an author for teens, what is your favorite contemporary YA?
JP: In high school I had varied and often subversive taste in literature. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein was a favorite. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey was another. A collection of short stories called Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. And pretty much everything by Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. And of course, the book everyone pretended they weren’t reading: Flowers in the Attic. Currently, I have too many YA favorites to name, but my latest book crush is THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by my brilliant friend and fellow NU grad, Jen Mathieu.
YA: What is the story behind the title THE A-WORD?
JP: Ha! This book was called SWEET DEAD LIFE 2 through the first two drafts. And we were still laughing about how my editor had originally wanted to call SWEET DEAD LIFE ‘Plop’ because, he reasoned, it was a stoner version of Fallen. Luckily clearer heads prevailed on that one! But in book one, Jenna can’t get her head around her brother being an angel and she keeps calling him an ‘a word’ which was always funny since he’s also sometimes a jerk. So one day, Editor Dan sent back notes and they were titled THE A-WORD. And I thought, yeah, that’s it!
YA: This is the second in the “Sweet Dead Life” series. What can you tease us about the next installment?
JP: Well, what I can say is this: If a zillion people read this interview and the books blow up and you see everyone reading them on every corner, then we’ll move ahead to book 3, which would, among other things, set into motion the big bad thing that wants Jenna out of the picture, the thing that has given her three sometimes comically misguided angels protecting her while she just wants to hang out with Ryan. Plus more kissing.
YA: If you could cast the Dream Film of THE A-WORD, who would be in the lead roles?
JP: I just thought about this the other day, actually! I think Hailee Steinfeld – who is amazing in Begin Again and True Grit, among other films—would make the perfect Jenna. And Logan Lerman, who’s so wonderful in Perks of Being a Wallflower, has always been my vision of Casey. Bo Shivers – who in my original notes for THE A-WORD was referred to only as Crusty Cowboy Angel—would be some actor morph of Sam Elliott and Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
YA: What’s up next for you in YA land? Any pet projects you can tease us about?
JP: Oh yes! I’ve got a darker and very twisty contemporary mystery/romance/roadtrip YA called FINDING PARIS, which arrives April 21, 2015, from Harper Collins/Balzer and Bray. I’m so proud and excited about this book! And then in Spring, 2016, IT WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS is coming from Soho Teen. The basic pitch is: A girl, a boy, a Fountain of Youth, and what happens when you’re stuck at seventeen. It’s a murder mystery and an epic romance that starts in Florida and moves to Texas and other places and stretches from the early 20th century to today. That’s all I can tell you for now. Except that there are alligators. And kissing. (Although not with the gators)
YA: All right, last one! If you could spend one day with Jenna, Casey, and Amber, what would you do together? What would advice would you give to Jenna about her past or future?
JP: We would begin with breakfast kolaches at whatever place Amber said was best. We’d go hang out at the mall so Jenna could continue shopping for her signature outfit and also mock places like Spencer’s where one can buy such wonders as the Fartinator. And then we’d go out for tacos for Casey, possibly even back to Manny’s Real Tex Mex, so he could make sure the bad guys weren’t mounting a new offensive and also cast longing glances at his on again/off again love, Lanie Phelps, if she was there with her friends. As for advice, I’d tell Jenna that Ryan is a keeper. And that she better watch out because something BIG is coming.
YA: Thank you very much, Joy! And again, from YA Mag, congratulations on THE A-WORD!
Readers, be sure to check out Joy Preble at her website www.JoyPreble.com. Or follow her on Twitter @JoyPreble.
THE A-WORD, published by Soho Teen, is now available at your favorite retailers and local independent bookstores!
Olivia Hennis is a transplanted New England girl dropped by a tornado into the magical Land of Jersey. For more info, follow her on Twitter.