Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mini Colorful Interview with Jessica Leader + Giveaway!

Jessica Leader is an author making her debut with the middle grade novel Nice and Mean. It's a very cute read that brought me back to my middle school years (which wasn't all that long ago but still). My review.

I'm participating in a blog tour celebrating the release of Nice and Mean. Welcome Jessica!

Reading in Color: What was the hardest part about writing Nice and Mean?

Jessica Leader: Balancing backstory and forward action in the first two chapters. Oof! A killer. Especially since I had to do it twice.

RiC: What was the easiest part about writing Nice and Mean?

Jessica Leader: I have very vivid memories of middle school, and I taught middle school for many years, so it was easy to render the school scenes and—I must admit—the teacher dialogue. There’s one moment where Sachi’s beloved English teacher, Ms. Avery, comes into the classroom to find everyone throwing around soda bottles, and barks, “My classroom, my time,” while she whips a baseball cap off a student’s head. When I read what I’d written, I started cracking up, because it was the kind of thing I might say, although hopefully, I would have shown more restraint with the cap. I wasn’t picturing Ms. Avery like myself at all, but clearly, we use similar speaking styles when we’re steamed.

RiC: Why did you decide to make Sachi Indian American?

Jessica Leader: I wouldn’t say I decided to make Sachi Indian-American so much as she came to me as an Indian-American character and I put her in the story I was writing. She and Marina, the “mean” half of Nice and Mean, weren’t always main characters; they actually appeared as supporting characters in the first manuscript I ever wrote. When I recognized that I needed to move on from that story, I knew those two girls had greater fictional destinies to fulfill. That’s how Nice and Mean came to be.

Sachi was inspired by a student in an English class I observed as part of my teacher training. Like Sachi, the girl had emigrated from India when she was five, and she wrote this lovely memoir about coming to the United States for the first time and being scared of people with blue eyes. She was kind, smart, and poised, and her classmates adored her. And yet, I got this feeling from her that she was keeping something from people, and that they didn’t really know her. This inspired me to create a character in the same predicament, voila—a Sachi was born.

RiC: Why did you choose to have her emigrate from India, rather than being from a family who immigrated before she was born?

Jessica Leader: Friends who immigrated as children have told me that they always long for home and often have a sense of loss. Sachi didn’t feel either of those things much—until seventh grade, when the story takes place. That’s when her friends start implying that she’s sheltered, and she gets paired with the aggressive Marina Glass to make a video she’d hoped would change the way people saw her. I think there’s something about growing up that can make people feel like they’re lost and have left something behind, so making that element of Sachi’s life literal through her geographic history made sense.

RiC: What did you learn about Indian culture that surprised you?

Jessica Leader: When I showed some Indian-American readers a near-final draft of the book, they were “quite impressed” with how accurately I’d portrayed the Indian family, which felt great to hear. They cautioned, though, that in the draft they’d read, the character of the older sister, Priyanka, functioned too much like a mom, policing Sachi’s behavior and warning her against embarrassing the family. They said that in other Asian cultures, the oldest sibling might be an enforcer, but in Indian culture, all the kids would function as kids.

That it turned out to be an exciting development because it gave me a chance to develop Priyanka and deepen her resolution with Sachi. I’m doing a ton of research for the YA novel I’m writing now, and I’m finding a similar phenomenon: knowing your subject intricately can make your story more moving.

RiC: Fill in the blank: ______ is nice but __________ is mean

Jessica Leader: Caring about people is nice, but caring too much about people is mean.

Of course it’s good to care about other people; its part of what makes us human. But caring too much about people—what they’ve got that you don’t have; what they might think about you—makes Marina edgy and vengeful, and makes Sachi afraid to tell friends and family what she needs. Without wanting to give too much away, I would say that the events in Nice and Mean show them that when they relax their hyper-awareness of others and focus on what they enjoy, life is a lot better for them and those around them.

Thanks for having me on the blog, Ari! Over and out!

Thank you Jessica :)

Yesterday Jessica was over at The Page Flipper and tomorrow she will be talking to Lauren at Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf

Jessica has kindly sponsored a giveaway for all you readers.

You can win one of the following books (your pick)
* Summer Camp Secrets by Katy Grant (for all your middle-grade reading pleasure)
* The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (hm, I'm sensing a summer theme)
* Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson (a page-turner by Jess's indispensible friend) RiC: Psst here's my review of this amazing book
* A signed copy of Need by Carrie Jones (yes! Signed by the author! Not by Jess; that would be weird)
* Boys Are Dogs by Leslie Margolis (one of Jess's favorite middle-grade books)
* The Year I Turned Sixteen by Diane Schwemm (worth all ten pounds)

Nice and Mean swag
* signed N&M bookmarks

Swag of Nice Girl Sachi:

* Indian bangle bracelets (not as special as Nani's ring, but still important)

* Indian coconut candies (these are so good--you're lucky Jess didn't eat all of them)

Swag of Mean Marina:

* Dr. Pepper lip gloss (Dr. Pepper: the only drink)

* Pilot Rolling Ball pens (PRBs: the only pen)

* stick-on rhinestones (Yuck! Marina wishes you wouldn't mention these. The mess with Rachel is their fault!)

My giveaway ends June 12, 2010
Open to U.S. only
Fill out THIS FORM

To win the Grand Prize check out Jessica Leader's blog. The Grand Prize consists of all the swag I'm giving away here and an autographed copy of Nice and Mean. Learn how to earn points by spreading the word, or win the battle of wits where you get to vote for your favorite nice or mean character in books, TV and movies

Follow Jessica on Twitter @JessicaLeader
Become a fan of Nice and Mean on Facebook


  1. Great interview. I loved Leader's comments about the middle school classroom, and I have to admit I have said something similar to my class. Thanks also for the giveaway.

  2. Loved the interview. I like the way she filled in the blank. It's very true :)

  3. I didn't know about NICE AND MEAN release (something about possibly living under a rock comes to mind), but enjoyed learning about it, about Jessica and a little bit about Indian culture as represented in the book. I look forward to reading the book when that will be possible. Will spread the word about the giveaway.

    If Jessica saw the movie THE NAMESAKE, I wonder what she thought of it... :)

  4. So nice to hear from everyone! I'm relieved, Jan, that you've said similar things to your middle-schoolers, and Bookaholic Jessica (great name, of course), I'm glad you like the blanks. That was a hard one Ari threw me, but I'm glad she did!

    Nathalie--I read THE NAMESAKE I liked a lot of elements of it, though I liked Lahiri's INTERPRETER OF MALADIES stories more, possibly because I read those first. She's a beautiful writer and I can't hardly think of anyone who characterizes the loneliness of outsiderdom better than her. What did you think?

  5. Jessica, I so agree with you regarding Lahiri's writing. Poignant is one the words I would use to describe it. I migrated a bit, and the loneliness of outsiderdom (so well put!) you talked about strikes a chord...

  6. @Jan-You and Jess sound like my kinds of teacher! I like teachers who can have fun and aren't afraid to get a little tough/violent to quiet kids down. Maybe I'm weird like that but it makes me respect them more, they seem more human. Haha. Though I admit, I didn't care for Ms. Avery.

    Good luck in the giveaway!

    @Bookaholic Jessica-It's so true and that idea flows quite well throughout the book.

    @Nathalie-I liked The Namesake until the end, the end forced me to leave the characters before I was ready, I wanted more and a more resolved ending. I'll have to read The Namesake though.

    Thanks for spreading the word about the giveaway! You'll like Nice and Mean =)

    @Jessica-You knocked the fill in the blank out of the ballpark! It's a great message and one that you don't see much of in books, especially middle grade novels.

    Sounds like I need to read Jhumpa Lahiri asap! The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies


I love to hear from you!! Thank you for sharing :) And don't be Anon, I try to always reply back and I like to know who I'm replying to ;)