A Colorful Interview with Del Rio Bay series author Paula Chase-Hyman
Reading in Color: What inspired you to write about the Del Rio Bay Clique?
Paula Chase-Hyman: When I wrote So Not The Drama in 2003 the landscape for contemporary brown books, especially series books, was pretty barren. There was a definite need for books written for young, African American readers that wasn't historical fiction or what I call inner city blues. But I didn't write "in color." In other words, I wrote it knowing my main character, Mina, was Black. But my vision for the books has always been that the things the characters experience are universal to simply being a teen.
The world I portray in my series is a world very similar to the one I grew up in - multi-cultural and suburban. So my inspiration was nothing more than my own teen lifestyle.
RiC: What kind of research (TV shows, magazines, other books, teens?) do you do for your books to help you get into the YA mindset?
PC: Honestly? None. Research to me means you're actively searching for information to help round out the portrayals. I've never done that. My "secret" is I'm a pop culture junkie. The music I listen to and the shows I watch happens to be what a lot of young readers also listen to/watch. My ability to think teen comes naturally. Maybe deep down inside (or not so deep, in some case) I'm still sixteen.
There are definitely some artists that get me in the teen groove faster than others, though. Ne-yo's Because of You CD was a big inspiration when I was writing Who You Wit'? The CD had quite a few songs that were bulging with sexual tension and it got me thinking about the underlying tension that often accompanies a new teen relationship when it reaches the point where the couple is deciding if they should take it to a new level of intimacy.
RiC: Were you sad that Flipping the Script was the last book in the Del Rio Bay Clique Series?
PC: Yes and no. Yes, because I'd been writing about these characters for five years. They felt like my own kids. I knew them inside and out and really wanted to take them to graduation. But no, because every writer must keep a small part of their creative energy apart from future books. The focus should always be on what you're working on, then and there.
Since my publisher, not me, dictated if there would be a book six, I kept that in mind, all along. So when I wrote Flipping The Script I wrote it thinking - this could be it. So I wanted to bring closure to as many of the characters story lines as possible.
The series didn't necessarily end on the note I wanted...but I'm satisfied with how I ended it.
RiC: What can we expect from you next? More Del Rio Bay or something totally different?
PC: Definitely something different. Del Rio Bay is like my first child - nurtured and now grown and on its own. I'll always look back on it fondly and I'm still actively promoting it, trying to introduce it to new readers. But creatively I've moved on. Right now, I have two projects in the wings. One is another series idea. But it would be a big edgier than Del Rio Bay. The other is a stand-alone novel that looks at a complicated mother-daughter relationship. I've started both and am at a point where I need to commit to getting one done.
RiC: Do you see yourself in any of the clique characters in Del Rio Bay?
PC: Oh yeah. Every one of the clique has a little P in them, for sure. But Mina...oh yeah, she's a little bit me, a little bit my oldest daughter. But mostly she's like a lot of young girls trying to find her place, molding her identity. For as flighty as Mina came off, sometimes she's actually a lot stronger than I was at her age. I did that on purpose. I wanted her to be smart without being arrogant, innocent yet not naieve.
RiC: What are you currently reading? Any YA books? Any recommendations (besides your own books of course!)
PC: I just finished Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger and last month I read Kendra by Coe Booth. Both great books. My goal was to read a lot more YA this summer, but I got side tracked and only got a few good reads in. I may not get a chance to read them all, but I stay tapped into good books by managing thebrownbookshelf. And to keep it well-rounded, I follow readergirlz, ourteenvoices and teensreadtoo. You would think the book selection would become repetitious...but if you check each site, you'll get a lot of different flavors of books. Great resources.
RiC: Do you have any advice for teens in high school going through many of the situations that the clique goes through (friendship, popularity, sex, etc.) or what's the most important thing you learned in high school?
PC: Wow...high school is so far back I'm not sure what I learned back then. LOL You know, I think navigating teen years is tough. And it's a lot tougher than many adults give it credit for being. But that's because once you've surpassed a stage, the details on how you survived it become fuzzy because you're focused on the present stage. When it comes to getting through friendship issues, sex etc...it's all about knowing yourself well enough to make the right decision for you. If you stay true to who you are, most decisions you make will be the "right" one. It's when we make decisions based on what someone else wants us to do or because we think doing something (drugs, sex, drinking) will please someone else...that's when we get into trouble and that's when we make poor decisions.
In the end, you live with every decision you make. So you've got to make ones you can live with. For as long as I can remember (maybe even as far back as high school) I've believed in not having regrets. That doesn't mean I haven't made poor decisions. It means that after I made a poor decision, I didn't sit around regretting the mess I'd made. I made a conscious decision to re-evaluate and make sure I didn't repeat the mistake. It's an outlook that I've had to draw on for nearly every aspect of my life and it's worked for me.
RiC: If your books could be made into a movie who would play the clique characters and the mean girls?
PC: I never know how to answer that question. Outside of the few on Disney or Nick, there aren't a whole host of young African American actors/actresses out there for me to choose from. At best, the role would go to someone who is the flavor of the month.
I always thought KeKe Palmer would make a perfect Mina. But beyond that, I couldn't begin to name anyone. Likely, my series would make a perfect vehicle for an unknown actor to become recognized like the young actors who did Harry Potter. No one knew them and they essentially grew along with the books.
RiC: Whose your author crush? and/or What authors have inspired you?
PC: Right now, Scott Westerfeld. I enjoyed the Uglies trilogy...well there are more than three books, so I guess it's a series. I really like sci-fi, horror and all around weird stuff. His work really feeds that craving for the odd. But I'm known to go with the vibe I'm feeling, so that crush could change at any moment.
My biggest inspirations are Mildred Taylor, Francine Pascal and Judy Blume because those are the authors I read the most as a young reader. Because I began reading up so early, I don't recall reading a great deal of YA. But Blume, Taylor and Pascal I read religiously.
RiC: Do you have a music playlist for any (or all) of your books?
PC: If I had to choose a song that speaks to the overall vibe of each book it would be:
So Not The Drama - Mims, This is Why I'm Hot
Don't Get It Twisted - Ne-yo, Sexy Love
That's What's Up - Chris Brown, Poppin'
Who You Wit? - Ne-yo, Say It
Flipping The Script - Beyonce, Irreplaceable
Ne-yo's on there twice because his music has this underlying tension that's always present in the series whenever relationships are involved.
RiC: Do you have any recommendations of websites/blogs where readers can find lists/reviews of books on people of color?
PC: The Brown Bookshelf, is a site I co-founded with fellow children's authors. We highlight everything from Picture books to YA novels. It's a great place to discover new authors and learn about those who have blazed trails in literature for readers of color. Our Teen Voices is also a good site. They're strictly teen books. And Color Online has become quite a resource for me, over the last six months. Each website feeds a different need. So readers can get a well-rounded perspective about what's out there for them.
RiC: Describe your series in 5 words. Describe yourself in 5 words.
PC: For the series: fun, emotional, genuine, escapism fiction
Myself...hmm...straight-forward but loopy creative type.
Notice that some of my words for both seem contradictory, but it's because by nature I'm driven by my moods. So at any moment any of those words may capture me perfectly.
RiC: In the first two books (So Not the Drama and Don't Get it Twisted) the covers have drawings on them (cartoon people almost), and the faces are blank, but in the last 3 books the covers have actual models on them. Did you have any say in this? Why did you (or your publishing company) decide to switch?
PC: When I sold the series, I desperately wanted the book to strike a chord with any young reader who wanted to escape into a world that was somewhat like their own but also just "perfect" enough that they wished they could live in it. My cast was multi-cultural, so I didn't want the cover to depict a model of a single race, because I felt it would exclude too many. So when my editor asked for cover input I told her I wanted something vibrant and fun with funky lettering that would catch a teen reader's eye. The So Not The Drama cover was borne of that input.
But then after book two, my editor came back and said that the book covers weren't appealing to what the publisher felt was the primary readership, African American teens. They wanted photo covers because 1) it would let readers know the cast was multi-cultural and 2) most of the other popular series books had photo covers as well.
I was pretty bummed. My great experiment to show that readers really don't care much about race as long as the story is good, failed. Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike the photo covers, but I really liked the graphic covers best...which is really no surprise because I tend to like covers without faces. I'm the type of reader that likes to imagine how the character looks on my own.
Thanks for the interview Paula!
*RiC Note: I totally agree with Paula that Keke Palmer would be the best Mina. Before this interview I had already casted Keke as Mina on storycasting.com (that site could become addicting!) Also, I think the song Obsessed by Mariah Carey goes well with Don’t Get it Twisted. Especially the line in the song where Mariah sings “finally found a girl that you couldn’t impress.” Very Brian and Mina, I think.