New Voice: J.K. Rock on Camp Boyfriend

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

J.K. Rock is the YA writing partnership of sister-in-laws Joanne and Karen Rock and the talent behind the Camp Boyfriend series (Spencer Hill, 2013)(discussion guide)(educational resources)(pre-sale). From the promotional copy:

They said it couldn’t be done, but geeky sophomore Lauren Carlson transformed herself into a popular girl after moving to a new school half-way across the country. Amazing what losing your braces and going out for cheerleading will do. 

Only trouble is, the popular crowd is wearing on Lauren’s nerves and she can’t wait to return to summer camp where she’s valued for her brain instead of her handsprings. She misses her old friends and most of all, her long time camp-only boyfriend, Seth. 

This year she intends to upgrade their relationship to year-round status once she’s broken up with her new, jock boyfriend, Matt. He doesn’t begin to know the real her, a girl fascinated by the night sky who dreams of discovering new planets and galaxies.

But Matt isn’t giving her up without a fight. As he makes his case to stay together, Lauren begins to realize his feelings run deeper than she ever would have guessed. What if the guy she thought she was meant to be with forever isn’t really The One? 

Returning to Camp Juniper Point was supposed to ground her uprooted life, but she’s more adrift than ever. Everything feels different and soon Lauren’s friends are turning on her and both guys question what she really wants. 

As summer tensions escalate, Lauren wonders if she’s changed more than she thought. Will her first big discovery be herself?

What is it like, to be a debut author (or illustrator or author-illustrator) in 2013? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

K: Being a debut author is a hold-on-tight, don’t-let-go, thrill-of-your-life ride. I love the sense of accomplishment in seeing my imagination made real–an actual book that others can read and hopefully love. There’s no greater feeling.

The strong sense of community and support from fellow authors, bloggers, reviewers and the fans of our series prequel novella, Camp Kiss, isn’t as much a surprise as it is a revelation.

Writing can sometimes feel isolating. Yet once I began attending workshops, conferences, and interacting on social media, I realized that the world is brimming with amazing, talented people, including, most importantly, my incredible co-author and sister-in-law, Joanne.

J: I feel very fortunate to have sold a project with a dear friend who happens to be tremendously creative and talented. Sharing the workload with such a smart, inspiring person has been a non-stop joy. That alone makes my 2013 YA debut much different from books I’ve sold in the past under my own name.

But another key difference to debuting in 2013 is the vast access to readers through social media. The social media aspect of our promotion has been really rewarding for the instant, easy communication with readers. On the other hand, setting up all new homes for J.K. Rock online has been a challenge! We wanted to be everywhere that readers are, and that’s a tall order today.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Joanne with Duchess

J: Lauren’s voice came to us in stages.

We had one vision of her early on in the creative process, but it shifted and focused more as we wrote so that we had a clearer idea of her at the end of the book, which meant we had to go back for some tightening in the revision stage but we’re very happy with her voice.

One reason that she was a challenging voice to find is her dual nature. She experienced a real shift in perceptions and life experiences when she moved from New York to Texas and started to make new friends and find new interests.

Lauren is actually searching hard for her voice in Camp Boyfriend, and we wanted to make that search feel authentic.

K: As an eighth grade teacher and maintaining close friendships with my former students as they’ve grown up, has helped me to hear lots of young adult voices.

What I’ve learned is that each is distinct and there is no one-size-fits-all YA voice. Each teenager sounds the way he or she does because of their unique experiences and personalities.

When it came to writing Lauren, we let her life guide us in how she would sound without worrying about whether it fit a certain expectation. That isn’t the reality I know in working with young adults.

Karen with her writing staff

My advice to YA authors is to find every opportunity to interact with teenagers in authentic ways, and, most importantly, to listen. They have so much to say that we need to hear. Let them do the talking so that your mind can take notes.

2 thoughts on “New Voice: J.K. Rock on Camp Boyfriend

  1. We couldn't be more excited to visit with you on the blog, Cyn! Thank you so much for giving us the chance to connect with your readers :-).

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