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Interview With Shelley Adina

She wrote her first teen novel at age 13, and hasn’t stopped writing since. Her new YA series All About Us promises to be a hit. A growing market, a new series … Shelley Adina is here to tell us about the first book, It’s All About Us, and her adventures in writing YA.

Shelley, It’s All About Us just launched with a fabulous website, and a marketing plan to drool over. Tell us what drew you back to YA and the phenomenal results you’re experiencing already.

I’m one of those people who has never seen To Kill a Mockingbird, but has seen Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion a bazillion times. Schindler’s List? Nope, never. 10 Things I Hate About You? A dozen times at least. And we won’t even talk about High School Musical! YA has always been one of my favorite movie genres, so you might wonder what took me so long to realize I should write it. I wonder that, myself. When I was in high school, I belonged to a toxic church that required us to wear our hair up in granny buns and our hems halfway to our ankles. We weren’t allowed to watch TV or go to the movies. Makeup, dancing, and dating “outside” were forbidden. You can imagine the misery of being a teenager under those circumstances. With these books, I get to live my teen years over again vicariously through my characters—with a Platinum Visa, designer clothes, and limousines to boot.

I remember the moment when I first came up with the idea, though. I was eavesdrop—er, I mean, shopping. I overheard some women talking about their daughters’ reading material—a glitz and glam series whose name I won’t mention—and I could tell by their voices how distressed they were about it. Yet on the other side of the coin, their girls were reading. We all want kids to be reading, right? A light went on in my head and I thought, “What if there was a series of books where, given similar choices and circumstances, the characters made different decisions based on their faith?” So I called my agent (Jennifer Jackson at the Donald Maass Literary Agency) and pitched it, and she said, “If you can write it, I can sell it.” And she did.

FaithWords has been incredibly supportive of the series. The website they built is not only adorable, but my characters blog weekly, dishing on fashion, movies, music, school issues, friends, you name it. They have their own MySpace and FaceBook pages (friend them!). There are cool prizes to win. I just got an endorsement for the third book in the series, Be Strong and Curvaceous, from Mandisa, who was an American Idol finalist and is now with Women of Faith.

Some days I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming!

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?

I’ve learned to be sensitive to that breeze on the back of my neck that tells me God has opened a window behind me while I was staring at the closed door in front. This series was a breeze like that. An idea. A shivery feeling on the back of my neck. A pitch. A sale. The Lord was in on it from the beginning.

How do you balance your writing time with other responsibilities?

Back in the day, I was an executive assistant who managed the time of very expensive people. Now that I only have myself to manage, it’s pretty straightforward. I work at an ad agency three days a week, and the rest of the week I write. I do PR stuff and bookkeeping in the mornings, and write in the afternoons. My goal is 2,000 words a day, which may be slow but it gets the job done, since I’m contracted to produce a book every four months.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture?

I’ve been out of the toxic church for ten years, but I still feel like a newbie Christian! You see, the beliefs I was brought up with were so pervasive and strongly inculcated that it took several years to shake them off and learn truth. I can still hardly wrap my mind around the concept of grace—but what a sense of freedom it gives! So my concepts of faith and spirituality are very simple because I’m still taking baby steps. Consequently, I keep it simple in the books. I just had an online review from the Fictionistas, a secular fiction blog, that thrilled me to bits because it showed me I’d accomplished exactly what I meant to with the story:

“Shelley Adina hit a perfect balance. Her characters are strong Christians, and their faith is a big part of the story . . . but she never really hits you over the head with it. It’s just a part of their lives, just like shopping and cute boys are a part of their lives.”

In each book in the series, the protagonist learns to find within herself a biblical power. It’s never mentioned or spelled out, but it’s always there as part of the underlying theme. In It’s All About Us, Lissa Mansfield discovers the power of discernment—especially when it comes to boys. In The Fruit of My Lipstick, Gillian Chang learns the power of honesty—with herself. And in Be Strong and Curvaceous, Carly Aragon finds out that there’s such a thing as being too nice and going with the flow—that sometimes you need the power of courage. I had pocket mirrors made that say, “What’s your power?” Every time a girl puts on her lip gloss, she’s reminded about the powers God makes available to her.

What would you describe as your biggest obstacle in writing and how do you overcome it?

The first 100 pages are agonizing—like wading through cold oatmeal. Even though I’m an outliner and know where the story is going, getting through that first 100 is the worst. Part of it is that the series is multicultural, with a different heroine narrating every book in first person, and every girl has a different voice. Once I nail that and get through the first third, something happens and it gets easier. By the time I get to the last third, I’m rolling right through to the end.

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

My books begin with a “flash” of an opening scene, like a trailer for a movie. I see people and places and maybe an event, but I don’t really know the plot that leads to and from that point. For It’s All About Us, I saw a blonde girl standing on the steps of a boarding school, unwilling to go in, and I thought, How come she doesn’t want to go in? Where has she come from? What’s waiting for her in there? I started writing it in third person, which was a complete failure. Then I flipped it into first person, and that girl came alive like nobody’s business.

The story ideas come from places like People magazine, the newspaper, YouTube, overheard conversations, a show on the Discovery Channel, you name it. Everything goes into a pot boiling away in the back of my brain, and before long a story comes out! So far in this series I’ve dealt with the technical virgin, date abuse, a stalker, and a handsome prince. Not to mention clothes, midterms, shoes, and crème brulée.

What makes your style of storytelling unique?

I’m all about the drama, girlfriend. In YA the audience loves it—that’s what keeps them turning pages. And teens experience things very deeply and personally, though the circumstances might seem prosaic to the outside observer. Building in that drama and deeply personal reaction to people and events is the fun part :) And then I use pacing, word choice, made-up vocab, and humor to flavor the story and keep it moving at a good clip.

Finish this question. Writing YA is like …

… yakking with a bunch of your best friends. When they stop talking, the book is done.

Any parting words for up-and-coming writers?

Don’t give up. This business isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re burning to tell a story, get all the training you can and tell it. Check university extensions and community colleges for writing classes. Take classes online. Focus on your craft until it becomes instinctive and the story flows through it. And then pull out all the stops, be true to the story in your heart, and write!

Thanks for sharing with us, Shelley!

Thanks for sitting down with me :) And tell any teenage girls you know that if they register on, not only can they dish the daily with the girls of Spencer Academy, they can enter to win an iPod touch and all kinds of other cool stuff!

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