Author Update: April Lurie on The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine & The Less-Dead

Welcome back, April Lurie! You last visited Cynsations in June 2007 interview to talk about Brothers, Boyfriends and Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)! Do you have any news to share about this title? How about any of your other back-list books?

Thanks for having me back! Actually, yes, I have good news about Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds. It made the Texas Lone Star List. It’s also a New York Public Library Book for the Teenage.

Since then, you have published two new books for young adults–The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008) and The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010)! Let’s take the first one first! In your own words, could you tell us about The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine?

I wish I had a one-liner for this book, but I don’t. It’s one of those complicated stories about life, love, jealousy, sibling relationships, karma, and trying to find one’s place in the world.

Dylan is a fifteen-year-old guy who’s in love with his best friend Angie, who unfortunately has no romantic interest in Dylan–at least not yet. Meanwhile, she decides to cast him as the main character in her movie set in Greenwich Village. Dylan reluctantly agrees, and in the process he discovers his “latent powers.” There are other things going on like underwear theft and drug deals and rock concerts, but you’ll have to read the book to find out all the gritty details.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?

The inspiration for this book came from the darkest period of my life–when my son Daniel ran away from home.

He was fifteen at the time, in a rock band, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. He was kicked out of school for smoking weed on campus, in trouble with the police, and eventually he ran away. The police found him a month later.

Before I go on, I should say that he’s doing great now! He’s twenty-two, and he just graduated college with a music degree.

Anyway, I never thought I would revisit that time in my life, but I decided to give it a try. It turned out to be cathartic.

Strangely, I think it’s the funniest book I’ve written to date, but I’ve discovered that sometimes pain and humor go hand in hand.

What were the challenges?

The first challenge was that I’m a a girl and I had to write from a fifteen-year-old boy’s point of view.

The next challenge was getting my son Daniel’s approval. Thankfully, he liked the book. It was a huge relief.

What do you hope that readers take away from the story?

Mostly, I hope readers will form a bond with Dylan. It’s a character-driven story, and if readers walk away feeling glad that they got to know this young man, well, that makes it all worth while.

How about your new release, The Less-Dead? Could you tell us a little about it?

I’d love to. This book is much easier to describe. So, here’s my one liner: It’s about sixteen-year-old Noah who hunts down a serial killer in Austin, Texas.

On the surface, the story is a mystery, but it’s also an exploration of Evangelical Christianity versus the gay community and a young man’s struggle with with his own feelings about homosexuality and having a gay friend.

How did the novel evolve over time?

Strangely, my editor suggested I write a story about a serial killer. I wanted to set the book in Austin, which is such an interesting place because it’s in the Bible Belt, but it’s also a very liberal city with a thriving gay-and-lesbian community. It was the perfect place to present a serial killer who is targeting gay foster teens.

What advice do you have for other writers when it comes to writing a mystery?

Don’t make the same mistakes I did! When I wrote the first, second, and third drafts of this book, I focused mostly on the plot, and I forgot all about Noah and his personal journey.

Thankfully, my editor helped me find the heart of the story, which was Noah coming to terms with his own prejudice. My editor is a genius.

In The Less-Dead, you included a fairly substantial author’s note and additional resources. Why did you feel this was important?

The book has received a number of reviews now, and they all mention the lengthy author’s note. It’s getting attention, and I’m glad.

I list the six “clobber passages” in the Bible that supposedly condemn homosexuality, and I show how these passages have been misunderstood over the centuries.

I hope my author’s note will reach the right people.

These books both strike me as titles where you’re dealing with intense themes and edgy situations. However, in neither case did you elect to use strong profanity. Was this simply a reflection of the individual characters? Or was it more of a stylistic decision–the way you write?

I think a little of both. Dylan and Noah narrate their stories, and they’re guys who don’t use much profanity. If you don’t need the F-bomb, I figure, don’t use it.

But if you have a character whose speech requires it, by all means pepper the dialogue with as many four-letter words as necessary.

Likewise, both stories feature male protagonists. What advice do you have for those trying to write across gender?

Oh gosh, this could bet me in trouble with some of my guy friends. Guys are well, simpler. They respond more readily to visual stimuli like say, a girl in a bikini, but are sometime clueless when it comes to deeper things like say, an emotional conversation. (Of course, I’m saying this with a smile on my face.)

And for guys who want to write across gender, consult my good friend Varian Johnson. He’s an expert.

You’re a teacher at the Institute of Children’s Literature! Could you tell us a little about what the Institute offers?

ICL is a really great program for both beginning children’s and young adult writers and more advanced students. Students work one-on-one with an instructor via email or snail mail. The beginning course teaches the basics of writing short stories, and the advanced course takes the student through the process of writing a novel.

You’re also a member of the Delacorte Dames & Dude. How did this group come to be? What is its mission?

Oh yes, the famous DDDs–Shana Burg, Bethany Hegedus, Varian Johnson, Margo Rabb, Jennifer Ziegler, and me. Mostly we get together to drink wine, share our ups and downs, and give each other moral support. Jenny was the one who gave us our name, and it stuck. If we have a mission, I have no idea what it is. Oh, wait a minute. Friendship. That’s it.

From a creative standpoint, who are your early readers? Do you have a critique group? If so, who are the members, and what about it works for you?

My first reader is my husband, Ed. He’s awesome because he’s brutally honest. We have a really good working relationship.

I also have an amazing critique group, and we usually meet once a month. The members are Julie Lake, Varian Johnson, Brian Yansky, Frances Hill Yansky, and Helen Hemphill. When the six of us get together, we usually wind up laughing ourselves sick. It’s great fun.

How do you balance writing, teaching, being an author/ambassador for your books, and your personal life?

Mostly I take one day at a time. I try to set goals, but if things don’t work out as planned, I just take a deep breath and move on. My kids always seem to keep my life fun and vastly entertaining.

Over the past few years, how have you grown as a writer–both in terms of skills and in terms of your creative philosophy?

Every time I approach a new project, I’m excited, scared, worried that I won’t remember how to string a sentence together, and overwhelmed at the hugeness of writing a novel.

But I think I’ve learned a little bit each time around. At least I hope I have.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but my work-in-progress is a story about mushrooms, a psychopath, friendship, and first love. I suppose that either sounds intriguing or insane!

Cynsational Notes

April Afloat: April Lurie’s blog.

“In her compelling mystery, Lurie draws attention to the prejudice and hatred many gay teens face … suspenseful and emotional.” —Publishers Weekly

“Lurie has wrought a compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep readers riveted to the end.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Peppered with surprises … Lurie’s character detail are totally refreshing … dead on.” —Booklist