Author Interview: Brandy Colbert + ARC giveaway
If you haven’t read Brandy Colbert’s Pointe and you’re a contemporary YA fan, the only excuse you have is that it’s not due out for another month. (April 10th, mark your calendars!)
I am a fussy bastard about books, I’ll admit. I’m a lazy reader, too. So when I like a book? When I can take it down, start to finish, in a couple of days? When I’m lost in the story and don’t notice anything writerly or analyze anything because I’m just following the characters through their lives? I am happy, yall. MORE THAN HAPPY.
And that is what exactly happened to me reading Pointe. Which is I why I urge you to preorder, request from your library or get your ass to the bookstore on April 10th to buy your own copy, the latter of which I will be doing, as I read this in an ARC that I had to send to the next greedy reader.
Anyway, I’m pleased to know Brandy from Twitter and pleased that she wrote such an excellent, beautiful book and pleased that she took the time to answer some of my nosy questions. Brandy, I hope we can meet in real life. Soon.
To enter a giveaway for an ARC of Pointe, go here! (giveaway closed)
Here is what we talked about…
So. What was your daily life like before you started writing Pointe?
I was living in Chicago, working a pretty demanding job as a business writer/editor at an investment banking firm and wondering why I ever left the gorgeous weather of Los Angeles. I’d written two novels at that point; the first got me an agent who didn’t end up being a good fit, and the second manuscript didn’t go anywhere, though it was the book that made me realize I liked writing about darker themes. The business writing job was frustrating at the time—and not only because the early hours were a killer for me. I have a background in journalism, but it felt a bit like I was wasting time writing for someone else instead of focusing on my own work. Actually, that job turned out to greatly improve my craft. The business reports were very formal (no contractions, people mentioned in the reports were referred to as Mr./Mrs./Ms.), but I have no doubt that writing two to three reports each week that were anywhere from 800–1200 words made me a well-rounded and much better writer. I worked on my own writing after work on weeknights, or squeezed it into weekends when I wasn’t with friends.
I think it’s fascinating about business writing helping you be a better writer. I sometimes think that writing poetry made me very good at writing product copy, myself. How did doing what would appear to be a completely different kind of writing come to sharpen your story-telling skills?
I think that in a way, the business writing never let me off the hook, and so from that point forward, I couldn’t allow myself to be a lazy writer. I wrote about the clients’ history, business, and operations—essentially, the potential investors were supposed to know the company front to back by the time they finished reading my objective report—and it was all very precise. I was also fortunate to work with a 30-year newspaper veteran who was incredibly bad-ass and constantly reminded me that everything I produced should be as compelling as possible—even if I was writing about a janitorial supplies distributor (which happened more than once!). When I’d go home to work on my own projects, I’d find that precision seeping into my fiction. I began to focus on the little details that make a fictional world seem real and/or complete, much like I’d have to focus on, say, explaining the construction and operation of a client’s machine to someone who was completely unfamiliar with the brand. I’m not a poet or a copywriter, but I’d imagine there’s some correlation between the two with the need to convey a good amount of information in so few words?
Definitely. Tell me a little about your high school years. Did you write back then, too? Did you do ballet? Did your life look anything like the Theo’s life in Pointe? How was it different?
Oh, high school. I actually loved it, for the most part. I’ve been writing since I was seven years old and have dozens of spiral notebooks filled with my childhood stories, but I don’t remember writing much fiction in high school, if at all. Or if I did, I never really completed anything. I kept fairly extensive diaries, though, and also worked on the school’s yearbook staff my junior and senior years, since I knew from an early age that I wanted to work with words.
Like Theo, I knew what I wanted to do in life from a young age, I had/have excellent parents and friends who care about me, and I went to a predominantly white high school in a predominantly white suburb (there were about five other black kids in my graduating class). I was pretty involved in activities from a young age. In junior high, I was a cheerleader, played the clarinet, and ran track (sprints!), then in high school, I ran track freshman year, and was a member of the dance team my whole time there. I liked to move between groups, but the main classmates I hung out with were pretty well-rounded. Many of the people I saw at parties on the weekend also held high GPAs, were involved in things like student government, and played (and excelled at) sports.
I was unlike Theo in that from the time I was 16, I worked part-time a few nights a week and every weekend at a hardware store. I didn’t have a boyfriend until after high school. She’s also much more impulsive than I ever was, though I made plenty of bad decisions at that age.
I did dance at a studio growing up, but I was focused on tap, and later added jazz. I took tap lessons for eight years and performed in my studio’s dance troupe. I don’t get to dance as often as I’d like to now, but it is one of my favorite things to do in life. I’ve taken many ballet classes, but mostly as an adult, from college on. Ballet is incredibly difficult and doesn’t come naturally to me like tap, but I loved writing about it.
One of the things I love so much about Pointe is the portrayal of kids who are involved in lots of activities and have decent grades yet also take risks in terms of sex, drugs and alcohol. These risks aren’t plot points but more just the local color/setting of the adolescent experience. This mirrors my own growing-up years, as well, but I wonder if you’ve gotten any resistance to this portrayal in the book?
You were actually the first person to mention this aspect of the book, and I was so glad you did! (Also, I noticed and appreciated this same portrayal in your excellent novel, Sex& Violence.[I did NOT make her say that! – ed]). I haven’t received any specific feedback about it, but I have gotten comments about how realistic the book seems, and I’d like to think that is part of the reason. I feel so grateful to have an editor who never let me phone it in, and never made me feel I had to censor myself.
That said, those parts won’t be for everyone, but I didn’t set out to write a clean book. I don’t advocate those types of risks for high school kids, but at the same time, I think it’s foolish to pretend that world doesn’t exist or that teens don’t experiment. My classmates and I did (to varying degrees, of course), and it’s the type of high school life I wanted to portray. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned, but I’m not sure I’d take back much of it. I think I had to mess up a few times to learn who I was as a person—or the type of person I wanted to be—and I’m always glad it happened earlier in life. Rather than, say, a midlife crisis down the road (which I’m not ruling out).
What’s up next for you? (Realize I hate this question, because it kind of acts like you didn’t just do a HUGE thing in writing, editing, publishing and then launching a book. Feel free to tell me you’re going on vacation or headed to the grocery store if you like…)
Ha! My only issue with this question is that I’m pretty private/superstitious about what I’m working on, so I never want to say too much, which makes for a pretty boring answer. I will say this: I am working on another gritty YA contemp that features another black female narrator . . . and another project that I’m really keeping under wraps, for now. But I am extremely excited about both, and hope I can share more soon! And in between that, lots and lots of copyediting, of both the magazine and book variety.