Between The Lines is a sporadic feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which authors and other industry professionals provide further insight into the writing and publishing process in the form of interviews, guest posts, etc. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy as we read between the lines.
About Amy Spalding
Amy Spalding grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the better weather of Los Angeles. She has a B.A. in Advertising & Marketing Communications from Webster University, and an M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
By day, she manages the digital media team for an indie film advertising agency. By later day and night, Amy writes, performs, and pets as many cats as she can.
About Jasmine Guillory
Jasmine Guillory is a graduate of Wellesley College and Stanford Law School. She is a Bay Area native who has towering stacks of books in her living room, a cake recipe for every occasion, and upwards of 50 lipsticks. The Wedding Date is her first novel.
Jasmine Guillory Interviews Amy Spalding
Amy! I’m so excited that THE SUMMER OF JORDI PEREZ (AND THE BEST BURGER IN LOS ANGELES) is now out, because I love that book and I can’t wait for everyone to read it! This is your fifth book, and your fourth set in LA; what’s your favorite thing about LA as a setting for books, especially books about teenagers?
I love that Los Angeles is actually lots of little towns and areas comprising this giant metropolis, and neighborhoods are so specific and very much their own thing. Most of my L.A. books are actually set very close to one another, but they can feel completely different because of the specific flavor of individual neighborhoods. This is such a wonderful gift as a setting and backdrop, as I love including real restaurants, shops, etc., in my books. I also think that the rest of the country also has an idea of what they think Los Angeles is like (Hollywood, palm trees, convertibles, the beach, etc.) that is so different from my daily experience, and I love showing that L.A. has all these other sides too.
JORDI is a fun book about two queer teenage girls where none of the angst and conflict has anything to do with them being queer. How and why did you decide to write the book that way?
When I set out to write the book, I kept thinking about how many queer YA novels are tragic. Someone is bullied, someone is shunned, someone is thrown out of their home, someone dies. Look, I’m all for darkly realistic stories that show important truths, but back when I was starting to put together the ideas for this book, I wasn’t seeing many lighter books as a balance. Even books with happier endings often required something really hard to overcome to get there, and it nearly always involved coming out/acceptance/etc. Again, I’m not saying these books aren’t important and don’t tell of important and real things many queer teens go through. But I kept thinking if I were a queer teen right now, I’d also want books to show me the best of what I might go through. I’d want fun and fluffy books! I’d want swoony girls with great hair to fall for!
I also think a lot of queer YA is centered around the coming out experience, which isn’t necessarily everyone’s actual narrative. Coming out is often so much more complicated, messier, ongoing than it’s portrayed. It can also inadvertently recenter the experience around straight people reacting to the queer person, instead of keeping the focus on them.
What it boils down to, I think, is that previously, straight audiences were considered first and foremost for queer stories in YA, and what’s exciting now is that seems cast aside. Does this mean straight readers can’t get lots out of these stories? No! In fact, the variety of stories out there means more things everyone might like! I’m thrilled at how much the landscape seems to have shifted from when I initially began thinking about this book until now as it’s being released.
I love to read romance (obviously, since I write romances about grownups!). All of your books so far have been teen rom-coms; what is it about this kind of story – especially for and about teens – that appeals to you?
I love the magic of the world of rom-coms. In real life, if you dropped your grocery bag, you would probably just smash some eggs and be sad. In rom-coms, a Bartlett pear might wobble away from you and into the beautifully delicate hands of an attractive person with great hair and now they are gonna marry you!! I can’t get enough of this magic.
There’s also a safety in rom-coms — as a reader (or viewer of movies and TV!), you can get through the sad parts, the dark night of the soul, because you know where rom-coms are leading. And so it’s a fun way to test your emotions because inherently the safety net is there.
Rom-coms also have a basic structure all set up for you, as a writer, so it’s so much fun to get in there and see how you can mess with it. How can you sneak in your meet cute or make the reader wait longer for that first kiss than they’re expecting? I love thinking of tropes but then also thinking of ways to bust them.
One of my favorite things about your books is that the family relationships are so complex and ring so true to me, and JORDI is a great example of this, with both Abby and Jordi’s families. Why do family relationships like this interest you so much, and is there anything you’ve done to learn how to write them so well?
I have to say that when my first books came out and people kept talking about how glad they were that I dealt so much with family, I was surprised, because honestly I never thought about not including family. Family is such a huge part of many people’s lives, particularly as young people when you typically still live with at least one parent and, potentially, siblings. So if I’m writing about a teen’s life, they’re just going to be included, even if they aren’t a huge part of the actual plot.
I also think that family can be a great way to inform or to shade in why a character might feel a certain way, make certain choices, expect certain things. And, often, your teenage years are when you really start to comprehend just how different families can be, and also a time when you may be seeing your parents as actual humans for the first time. So it’s always a fun complication to have on hand, even when there’s little drama there or no dramatic shifts.
Recently you tweeted that if you had to change anything in JORDI, you would have Abby talk more about how stressful it is to keep her hair pink. As someone who has always wanted pink hair but has been put off by the maintenance, please tell me everything about what it’s like to have pink hair, the good and the bad.
Look, I love my hair right now. But it is so much work! First, you have to bleach it, then tone it, then dye it pink. This doesn’t sound too bad, really, that’s just a few steps. But the pink dye does not stay. If you wash your hair with standard shampoo, you could wash, like, half the vibrancy out in one go. So I had to switch to a non-sulfates shampoo, which I can’t say is more expensive than my last one, because I was already a shampoo snob, but it doesn’t smell as delightful and doesn’t lather up satisfyingly. I also use oVertone conditioner to infuse pink back into it, along with a weekly treatment from oVertone that is basically like dyeing it more. Even in doing all of this, my hair slowly fades constantly, which means I can’t just redye it when my roots show, I have to redye it often. And that’s WITH the pink conditioner AND with skipping as many shampoos as I can. (AND I HATE SKIPPING SHAMPOOING! I LOVE SHAMPOOING MY HAIR! And YES I know about co-washing and I do it OFTEN but it’s not nearly as satisfying to me.)
But here’s the thing – I love how it looks and I get tons of compliments. I’m not someone who’s afraid of her age (usually) but I will say for a very old woman I have been carded a lot more since I dyed my hair pink. Also I’ve just, like, always wanted to have it, and it’s exciting that now I do.
Fashion plays a big role in JORDI. Have you always been into fashion, like Abby, or did this become a love of yours more recently?
It’s been more recent. For a long time, being fat meant you could shop at, like, Lane Bryant or The Avenue, or Catherine’s Plus Sizes or whatever it’s called, or the plus size sections in department stores that they hid away from the other women’s clothing in the lower level or upper reaches of the store lurking behind the coordinating Calphalon pots and pans. So, like, I tried, but I never felt cute. And then Torrid opened in my town, and it really changed things up for me. Things were still pretty limited, though, so I’d say my full fashion love started in earnest a few years back once Modcloth and similar stores began carrying plus sizes, so I could fully shop for the toddler grandma (™ Cynara Geissler) style my heart desired. Basically, once I could get the clothes I actually wanted and felt good in, everything changed for me for the better.
You’ve been a published YA writer for over five years now, and I know you’ve been writing YA for longer than that. What big changes, good and bad, have you seen in YA publishing in the past five years?
I feel like publishers are finally seeing that readers want diversity in storytelling, in characters, in authors, in genres, and the New York Times list keeps proving that. I love seeing the huge variety of stories out there, not just right now, but the incredible-sounding books getting picked up for future publication. I hope that YA continues to fight for inclusion and boosting marginalized voices, and that racism within the industry is as addressed as sexism is.
What are some of the YA books that have come out recently, and that are about to come out, that you’re the most excited about?
I am so excited for Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation! I just heard on a podcast that it’s not horror, so I’m even more thrilled because, look, zombies terrify me. I am quite scared of everything! I was fortunate enough to be an early reader of Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel and I can report that it’s as sweet and funny and warm as her first two books, plus set on my side of Los Angeles. I loved Ship It by Britta Lundin, which is funny and wise and takes on fandom from so many sides — plus, like, swoony love interest with an undercut. I’m in the midst of Adrienne Kisner’s Dear Rachel Maddow and am enjoying it so, so, much, and not just because Rachel Maddow’s name is in the title (though, like, not not because of that either, let’s be real).
And, finally, it’s not YA, but Jen Wang’s The Prince & the Dressmaker is the most beautiful book I’ve read in ages and I want to push it into the hands of all of you. ALL OF YOU! Imagine me pushing this beautiful fairy tale into your li’l outstretched hands.
Let’s talk about BURGERS. Abby and her friend Jax go on a search for the best burger in LA in this book. Did you go on any such burger hunts while writing, and also, what are your favorite toppings for burgers?
Oh, I ate so many burgers to write this book. It was a joy. Any of my friends who knew I was working on this book were so eager to explore different burger restaurants with me, making it the most fun I’ve ever had researching.
As for toppings, this is a great question. I am always in favor of just about any cheese, and I love condiments. Like, a really good aioli will make my whole day. Also really into fried eggs on burgers, especially when the yolk is still a little runny. I think most burgers can benefit from onions of some kind — caramelized onions, grilled onions, fried onion strings. ONIONS! I also occasionally really love a ridiculous burger. Recently I ate one that had buns made from two grilled cheese sandwiches. I also love the burger from Shake Shack that includes a deep-fried portabello mushroom filled with cheese. Who thought to do that? That person is a wild genius.
Now I’m very hungry. Thanks for all of the book recommendations and for all of the burgers I’m going to east ASAP, Amy!
Title The Summer of Jordi Perez (And The Best Burger In Los Angeles)
Author Amy Spalding
Pages 284 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, F/F Romance
Publication Date April 3rd 2018 by Sky Pony Press
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.
But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosseplaying bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother ― the city’s celebrity health nut ― that she’s perfectly content with who she is.
Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?