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Monday, October 20, 2014

Interview: Mary Elizabeth Summer

Interview with
Mary Elizabeth Summer,
author of 
Trust Me, I'm Lying

"Gotta strike while the irony's hot."
--Trust Me, I'm Lying

I’m pleased to welcome Mary Elizabeth Summer, author of the YA debut Trust Me, I’m Lying, to The Happy Book Reviewer!

In the aptly-titled Trust Me, I’m Lying, main character Julep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High. For extra spending money, Julep runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students. But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. She enlists help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming and her loyal hacker sidekick. But Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. Julep Depree’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her.

You’ve said you enjoy contributing to “the delinquency of minors by writing books about unruly teenagers with criminal tendencies.” I can’t help but ask what kind of teenager were you?? (And would your mother agree?)

Mary Elizabeth Summer: I was pretty much the opposite of Julep. I was shy and bookish, and I worried too much about getting in trouble and what other people thought. The worst thing I ever did was lose my passport while sleeping on a beach in Israel and then lie to my mother about how it happened. But even then, she caught me lying immediately. (I'm like George Washington--I literally cannot tell a lie.) But I loved the opportunity to get into Julep's head and see how the other half lives, the people who have the world all figured out and can manipulate it to suit their purposes. It's heady stuff. 

Is it more fun writing about bad boys and bad girls than upstanding citizens?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: The short answer is: Yes, absolutely. The longer answer is: There's so much room for exploring internal conflict when writing about bad kids. Why are they the way they are? Is what they're doing really all that bad, or are there shades of grey between rule-breaking and hurting people? What if being "bad" is actually allowing them to experience first hand where their line is? What goes into their decision about whether or not to cross that line? What happens when they do--what (and who) do they leave behind? And if they don't cross their line, how do they deal with the darkness that tempted them?

I think teens have the best of all possible worlds. They have freedom to explore themselves without a lot of the constraints adults are shackled by. But they also have a lot of power once they decide to take it. What they do with that power shows (and influences) the kind of people they are. There are endless possibilities, bottomless fathoms to plumb. Who wouldn't want to write about it? And as for the bad kids, well, sometimes it takes a bad person to take down an even worse one.

This is your first published novel. Did you find writing the book or finding a publisher to be the hard part?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: Honestly, all the parts were both hard and easy. I wrote the book like I was running down a hill, but that doesn't mean I didn't trip and fall during the drafting. It had its frustrating moments, but it was mostly easy. Then I found an agent a lot faster than I meant to (long story). Then the submission process (i.e., finding a publisher) was about average in terms of time and level of difficulty. I think the hardest (and most rewarding) part of it all has been this debut year, trying to write book 2 while working toward book 1 coming out. It's such a huge learning curve, being a first-time author. But I've had such tremendous support along the way that I really feel like my debut experience was charmed from the start.

So what advice would you give to someone just starting out as a writer?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: As far as advice goes, I say write. Write like you can't live a day without it, because you really can't. The bells and whistles that come with publishing and sharing your work are great, but when there are rejections and setbacks and delays and disappointments (and there will be! there will be lots!), writing will get you through. I can't stress this enough. On the days I felt most down, writing was the only thing that made me feel better. It's more effective than chocolate, and I don't say that lightly.

If a high school class were reading Trust Me, I’m Lying some day, what themes would the teacher want the students to pick up on? Or would the book be more likely to be banned from the curriculum?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: Identity and self-actualization for sure. There are several references to The Adventures of Pinocchio in the book, and Julep says at one point that she wants to be a "real girl." The question in my head as I was writing the book was, 'When you can be anybody, how do you know who you are?' And to me that's Julep's greatest struggle--trying to figure out how to be herself. But there's also a multi-character father-child relationship theme that snuck in there somehow. And of course the theme of 'what is bad, really?' I can imagine teachers forming discussions around a lot of issues mentioned in the book as well--foster care, abandonment, etc.--and, honestly, they're all smarter than me, so they may pick up on things I didn't even know were there.

As for potential banning, I doubt book 1 would ever be banned. Book 2, on the other hand...

So Julep Depree is getting a sequel? 

Mary Elizabeth Summer: Yes! There's definitely a book 2, and possibly a book 3. I'm copyediting book 2 now. And then I'll start outlining a proposal for book 3. And then I'll get to work on my super secret shiny new project that I've been dying to start on. But I can't tell you about it, because it isn't totally a thing yet. I'll tell you this, though: it's code name is Razor*. (*Note: I'm the only one who calls it this, so I'm not sure it really counts as a "code.")

You studied writing in school, but thinking further back, what was the first creative piece you ever wrote? Do you still have a copy of it?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: My first creative piece was a series of short stories I wrote as part of ongoing weekly spelling assignments in fifth or sixth grade. It featured the continuing, hilarious adventures of my little brother, and was comprised of as many of the weekly spelling words as I could cram in (not just the three that were required). Sadly, the stories are lost to the annals of time, but the writing addiction I acquired while penning (or rather penciling) the stories is with me to this day.

Tell us about your blog tour, book launch party (online or in real life), author chat plans, or anything else around your release date in October? If so, how can readers be involved?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: I'm doing all of the above! Blogs (not unlike this wonderful blog) will be featuring interviews and guest posts about characters, writing process, book snippets and who knows what else. I'll have all the details up on my own blog at www.mesummer.com. I'll also have a Facebook launch party on October 14th at my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MaryElizabethSummer). There will be prizes, games, and surprise guests, so it's well worth stopping by throughout the day. On top of all that, I'll have a real-life launch party on Thursday, October 16th at Powell's Bookstore (the Cedar Hills Crossing location) with more prizes, a reading, Q&A, book signing, yummy snacks, etc. Everyone's invited, so bring all your friends. 

Anyone who knows me knows I collect book quotes. So, add to my collection! What is a favorite line from Trust Me, I’m Lying?

Mary Elizabeth Summer: Ooo, this one's tricky. There are several zingers I'm rather fond of. Hmmm. I'll go with: "Gotta strike while the irony's hot."

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And check out my latest Young Adult adventure/romance, 
Deep Green, 
available in Print & e-Book
*25% off with the promo code 20EPdb14

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