Author Interview: Marlene Perez on Unexpected Development

Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004). What did Megan do over her summer vacation, Mrs. Westland? Sex. That’s what she relates in her answering essay. But that’s not all. Megan also works at a pancake house, fends off sexual harassment, contemplates breast reduction surgery, and finds herself overwhelmed when a crush turns into a real boyfriend with everything that implies. Highly recommended. Ages 12-up. More on Unexpected Development from Cynsations.

Marlene Perez on Marlene Perez: “I’m the youngest of twelve children. I credit my love of reading to my siblings because they taught me to read before kindergarten. I grew up in Story City, a small town in Iowa. My parents divorced when I was a baby, and my mom raised us by herself. I now live in Orange County, California, also known as ‘The OC.’ I’m married with two great kids and a wonderful, supportive husband. We also have a cat, a dog, and a corn snake. I’m not so fond of the snake, but I am getting used to it.” Read Marlene Perez’s Journal.

What was your initial inspiration for writing Unexpected Development (Roaring Brook, 2004)?

Like Megan, the main character in Unexpected Development, I developed early and plentifully. I also worked in a pancake house during high school and college. I still have nightmares where I’m the only server in a packed restaurant. The other inspiration was that, in my own experience, anyhow, a lot of people didn’t realize that their perceptions/assumptions about girls with large breasts were NOT factually based and could be hurtful.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

In August of 1999, I attended the SCBWI National Conference in LA and heard Norma Fox Mazer (author interview) speak. She talked about her method for shutting up that internal editor that we all have in our heads.

After hearing her speak, I realized that I could write a novel. I’d tried before, but ended up with a couple of really good chapters and nothing else, because I thought everything had to be perfect (or as close as I could get to perfection) before I moved on to the next chapter.

Nowadays, I’m a big believer in a down-and-dirty first draft. It took me six months to write a first draft and I lost count of the number of times I revised, polished, tweaked, and edited it after that.

An agent signed me up in August of 2002, the day before I left for another SCBWI National Conference. He sent out the manuscript in January 2003, and Deborah Brodie from Roaring Brook bought it in March 2003. It was originally scheduled for publication in the spring of 2004, but Roaring Brook Press was put up for sale and Unexpected Development’s publication was delayed until the fall. It all worked out well in the end, but it was a little scary at first.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I think the psychological part of writing is sometimes the hardest. It was hard to put myself out there and risk being rejected, risk failure, and risk my own idea that I could do it “someday.” But the most important thing to me was that I was as true and as honest as I could be. My first instinct was to protect my character, but eventually, I figured out that she had to go out there and endure the teasing and the comments. And I’ve learned the theme of teen sexuality is a sensitive one, especially novels about female teen sexuality where no one dies or gets a disease. We should be responsible about potential sexual consequences, but I don’t think we need to portray every sexual female as someone who should and will be punished.

Your site highlights an “alter ego,” Lana Perez. Who is she, and what does she do? Why are there two of you?

Lana Perez is my pen name for the mid-grade series fiction I write for Mirrorstone Books. The main series I write for is Starsisterz. Bright Lights for Bella is the first of the “Bella” books in that series. There’s a little of my own daughter in Bella, so I’m particular attached to that character. There are two of me for a couple of reasons. I wanted to a different name for my series fiction, something that would help to define the differences in style for the reader. It’s not a secret, at least not a very well-kept one, but it’s fun. And the other reason is that I simply like pen names. When I was a kid, I thought it was really cool to discover that some of my favorite authors had different identities.

As a reader, what are some of your favorite recent YA novels and why?

I read a lot. I always have. One of my favorite recent YAs is A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview). In fact, it’s probably the best book I’ve read in the last three years, YA or otherwise. I was blown away by Jennifer Richard Jacobson‘s Stained (Atheneum, 2005)(author interview). I’m a huge fan of fantasy, particularly modern or urban fantasy like Holly Black‘s. I have a mad literary crush on Neil Gaiman. I love his work. I like YA by Libba Bray, Elise Broach, E. Lockhart, D.L. Garfinkle, Lara Zeises, and Brent Hartinger. I love vampire fiction and read as much of it as I can, so I’m looking forward to your upcoming novel.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just finished a manuscript tentatively titled Cupid In the Corner Pocket, which is a girl whose only love is pool, until she falls for the same guy as her best friend. And I recently started working on a modern fantasy that I’m really excited about.

Cynsational Notes

The “upcoming novel” of mine that Marlene mentions is Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and I’m honored by her enthusiasm.

“A Day at the ALA Midwinter Conference” by Marlene Perez from Smartwriters (February 2004).

Chat Log September 7, 2004: Publication Party with Marlene Perez from the YA Authors Cafe.

See more author interviews as well as recommended young adult titles and YA book links.