Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mark Peter Hughes - Author Of 'Lemonade Mouth' A BookSense Pick & Nominated 2008 ALA Quick Pick For Reluctant Readers

Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing his views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Mark Peter Hughes, author of Lemonade Mouth which is a top ten BookSense Pick and has been nominated as 2008 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. His first novel I am the Wallpaper, was a finalist in the Delacorte Press Young Adult Novel Competition, which was also a BookSense summer pick and it was selected as one of the New York Public Library’s Best Book for the Teen Age 2006

EI: Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Please tell us more about Mark Peter Hughes -- the man behind the author.

MPH: Starting about age 10, I was always the shortest kid in my grade. I didn’t catch up to my peers until I was a junior in high school! I think this had a lasting effect on me – I sometimes still feel like I’m shorter than everyone else, until I realize that no, I grew.

EI: Do you enjoy writing? What is it about this art form that enchants you the most? Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?

MPH: Yes, I enjoy writing. I would feel sorry for a writer that doesn’t. I love the slow plodding toward something finished. I love revising. I didn’t exactly choose to write novels for teenagers, it’s just that I started writing a story that had a thirteen-year-old as a main character – and it became my first novel, I AM THE WALLPAPER. I was already into the second draft when someone informed me that I was writing a young adult novel!

EI: Could you describe your path that leads you to publication--any stumble along the way? Is there anything about you that you would do differently, knowing what you do now?

MPH: My path to publication was a little unusual since my first novel was a finalist in a publisher’s novel competition. I never sent out unsolicited manuscripts to publishers and/or agents – it just happened. I was very lucky.

EI: Was there a central theme that you wanted readers to grasp?

MPH: Central theme? To everything I write? Hmmm. That’s a tough one. Jeez, I hope the answer is no!

EI: Mr. Hughes, you are well known in the writing community as a Finalist in the Delacorte Press Young Adult Novel competition for ‘I am the Wallpaper’ It was also a BookSense Summer Pick and was selected as one of the New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age 2006 and your latest book ‘Lemonade Mouth’ is also a ‘Top 10 BookSense Pick... Do you ever feel pressure or insecure, or are you able to Separate all that from your own creative process?

MPH: Every time I sit down to write something new I have to start with a blank page. The blank page never read anything I wrote before. It doesn’t care. It’s very scary, but it’s also part of the fun.

EI: Are there any kid or teen books rocked your world while growing up? And why?

MPH: There are too many to list them all, but I loved A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin and the Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I also love just about anything by Dr. Seuss.
EI: When did you get the first inkling that your book might become wildly popular? Can you describe your feelings upon realizing this?

MPH: Any time a book is popular it’s a good thing. As a writer, it’s nice to be read.

EI: How do you imagine audience as you are writing? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

MPH: I spend an awful lot of time (too much, probably) thinking about the characters and plots of my novels before I write them. I brainstorm, I outline, I map out scenes, I create bullet lists and use colors for different characters, and I agonize, agonize, agonize about just about everything. I read that Stephen King just has a quick idea and starts typing, then in just a few days or weeks—bam!—he has a completed first draft with a beginning, middle and ending. I can’t work that way. Someday I hope to, but I’m not there yet!

EI: Let’s shift gears here for a second... let’s talk about ˜ “ Floey Packer ” the protagonist in your novel “ I am the Wallpaper ”. How much of Floey planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with her character?

MPH: Floey started out as a character in a short story I wrote in college. The scene where she is at her sister’s wedding reception and has to sit with her young cousins at the childrens’ table, that was more or less the beginning seed of who she was. But before I started writing the novel, I wrote hundreds of pages of her diary so I could get myself closer to her voice. Barely anything of those initial diary entries actually ended up in the novel, but they were a necessary first step for me!

EI: What was your biggest challenge and obstacle while writing and creating “Floey?” Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story? Are any of the characters in the story actually based on real people in your life?

MPH: Floey was a lot of fun to write, because she pretty much says what she thinks. Her older sister, Lillian, is more or less based on my wife, Karen. Karen truly has the largest network of friends I have ever heard of. We can be in a far-away land on some distant continent, and someone will inevitably step out of the crowd and call, “Karen? Karen, is that really you?” This has actually happened on more than one occasion.

EI: How did you develop or come up with the idea of ‘ I am the Wallpaper?” What inspired you to write this book? What about writing for teens appealed to you?

MPH: The wedding reception scene in I am the Wallpaper started as a short story I wrote in college. For years afterwards I felt like there was more there, though, than just a short story. But I didn’t know I was writing for teens until deep into the writing process. I was just writing a story that had a teenager as the main character.

EI: Please tell us about 'Lemonade Mouth’ ... Would you care to tell us about ‘Charlie, Stella & Olivia’s character? Would care to share a little a bit about them? Can you give us a hint as to what it's about? What do you think readers would expect different from these three characters?

MPH: I was in an alternative rock band in the Boston area in the early 1990s. That’s why when it came to writing my second novel it made sense for me to write about a band. I also wanted to write a story where multiple voices tell a single story. As I wrote, I got deep into the heads of the main characters, Wen, Charlie, Stella, Olivia and Mo – each of whom is very different from the others. When I sent in the final draft to Random House, I was sad to say goodbye.

EI: If you were allowed total control of the Hollywood version of ‘ I am the Wallpaper & Lemonade Mouth’ who would be in it? And in your opinion who do you think should direct?

MPH: The Hollywood versions? Hmmm…. I have no idea. I’ll have to get back to you on this one…

EI: What's up next? Is there another book in the works? What can you share with us?

MPH: Yes, I’m working on another novel, but at this point I’m not talking about it yet. I think that keeping it to myself helps keep the creative process in control.

EI: Mr. Hughes, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know you, and your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

MPH: The best writing tip, I think, is the most obvious—and, unfortunately, likely the dullest. If you want to become a better writer, you have to sit down in the chair and write, write, write. That’s the only true way to get better – and it is guaranteed to work.

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

To learn more about Mark Peter Hughes, please visit him at :

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