Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Interview with "The Mockingbirds" author Daisy Whitney!

by Brittany Geragotelis

I'm sent no less than 30 books a month working at the magazine, ranging from historical romance to paranormal romance to angsty teen tales to celeb tell-alls, and very few catch my eye and attention in a way that makes me want to suggest the book to friends. One advanced reader copy that I had the good fortune of reading several months ago, was
The Mockingbirds by author Daisy Whitney...and it blew me away.
photo credit: Little Brown

The book centers around a college girl, Alex, who wakes up the morning after a night of drinking,to find that she's lost her virginity—and doesn't remember the details. Not one to take her V-card lightly, she knows something's wrong with the situation. Through endless days of self-doubt, self-discovery, fear and shame, uber-strong Alex discovers that she was actually date-raped, and decides (after much deliberation) to go after her attacker. In the end, she enlists in the help of a secret society, the Mockingbirds, that enacts its own justice on those who've done wrong and have been found wanting.

I was impressed with Daisy's writing style and her voice throughout the novel. Also, a lot of authors who write about serious situations tend to go the way of dark, violent and doom and gloom, instead of telling the story
behind the darkness. Daisy did a beautiful and honest job of giving the appropriate details from the violent act, while spending more time on the recovery of the victim. I personally found this to be more true to the story than those books that harp on the gore and shock factors.

When I was shopping around my own novel,
Sober in the City, about a girl who gets sober in NYC, most agents rejected it on the basis that "it wasn't true to alcoholism." They wanted more relapses, sob stories and darkness. To them, just because my story was one of recovery, hope and was even funny at times, it must have not been realistic. But the reason I wrote it the way I did was because I felt it was a lot more inspiring and realistic to talk about the recovery aspect, rather than the downward spiral. But people want the trainwreck. This is partly why I fell in love with Daisy's book; she focused on her main character taking her life back. The character's a survivor and I think the way Daisy wrote her makes for a much stronger book.

So, enough of this love-fest (although I'm starting to think this might be one of my best and most inspirational interviews). After I read
The Mockingbirds, and then did a little googling of Daisy herself, I learned that this awesome author is pretty interesting off the page, too. And she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about writing, publishing and taking a stand for yourself. So take a look at her answers below...and then rush out to buy her book, on sale NOW!

Name: Daisy WhitneyHometown: San FranciscoBest Known For: My awesome necklaces from Paris and writing edgy YA!Fun Fact About Her: I wear two colors of toenail polish at all times, alternating toes.
Brittany: The Mockingbirds deals with the tough subject of date rape, but was incredibly beautifully written. Was it difficult to balance the two?
Thank you—I'm glad you liked the writing! Once I knew how I wanted to tell the story, Alex's voice was so clear to me and the way she sees the world (in a very observational way) sort of unspooled in front of me. So, in that sense, connecting to her was relatively easy because she has such a specific way of viewing the world. I think her observational nature helps to connect readers to the subject matter.
Brittany: You had a similar experience in college. How did this experience change you?
Daisy: Like my main character, I was date-raped as a teen and I also pressed charges. More than anything, this experience taught me about the healing power of speaking up. I've learned that talking about the tough things we go through—to a counselor, a trusted friend, a peer—can help us grow, change and move on.
Brittany: Because you stood up for yourself, policies and the ways that your university dealt with situations like date rape were changed. Did you set out to do that and how did people react to your insistence that the administration deal with this appropriately?
My goal in pressing charges was very much to take my life back, but the possibility that other people could potentially benefit, definitely gave me the courage to speak up, too. Of course, there are always people who don't like change and there are also people who see the world in black and white, so I encountered my share of challenges during that time. But one of my most touching memories was receiving a letter two years later from a girl who had never been date-raped, but thanked me for speaking up for all women. I also want to point out that I was by no means the only one who wanted to change the way the university handled date rape—I had a tremendous support group of friends and adults at the Women's Center at Brown. Because of all of them, change was possible.
Brittany: In The Mockingbirds, Alex finds herself becoming an inspiration to those around her for her strength and honesty. What were you hoping readers would take away from the book?
I hope readers are entertained! And I also hope teens will know that they have what it takes as teenagers to take a stand for right and wrong and to use their voices for good! There is always someone who will listen and there is empowerment in speaking up for yourself and for others. Taking a stand is cool!
Brittany: I thought the idea of a student-run justice system was brilliant. In reality, do you think this sort of thing would ever really work? What's to keep the guilty parties from saying "Screw you! You're not the law!"?
I sincerely hope that adults and teachers will be open to listening to teens when they encounter problems. But I also know that, sadly, there can sometimes be institutional blindness and that's where the Mockingbirds came from. I do know this—never underestimate what a group of smart, determined, thoughtful teens can do!
Brittany: Some people might think that the punishment that Alex's rapist received wasn't harsh enough compared to the crime. Why did you choose to go in this direction as opposed to something more drastic?
It would be lovely if rapists would all get their proper due from the police and the judicial system. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. In The Mockingbirds, the justice that is doled out needed to be achievable given that the group is an underground, student-run court. For the students that the fictional Themis Academy draws—driven, ambitious, dedicated—losing the thing you love most is as powerful a punishment as students can mete out in a peer-run court.
Brittany: Do you have any advice for other young women who are going through a similar experience and are having a tough time?
Daisy: Talk to your parents! Talk to a teacher! Talk to an adult who will listen to you and stand by you. At the very least, talk to a friend.
photo courtesy of Daisy Whitney
Brittany: Besides writing awesome YA lit and being a mom, what else are you passionate about?
I'm crazy about my dog! I think she might be my soulmate. I also love shoes and chocolate, and I'm passionate about recycling, eating food that's grown sustainably whenever possible, supporting my friends, and raising my children to be compassionate and caring. I also have the world's greatest husband and I'm passionate about him!
Brittany: You seem to be a wizard when it comes to the online world, especially when it comes to videos and social media. Any advice for other aspiring authors who want to increase their online presence to score an agent and/or publishing deal?
Daisy: Honestly, the best thing you can do for your online presence is write a great book! Publishers and agents fall in love with the work first. My advice on developing an online presence is to be authentic, pick and choose your platforms, be consistent, have a personal code, know that what you put online should reflect your "brand," and that it should never get in the way of writing your next book!
Brittany: A lot of my followers are aspiring authors. Can you tell us what your journey to publication was like?
Bumpy! I wrote three unpublished chick-lit novels—that's 300,000 words between them! Then I switched to YA and the fourth time was the charm. The lesson here is, if you believe in yourself, keep going, keep working, and keep writing, because with hard work and talent, dreams have a funny way of coming true.
Brittany: This business is full of rejection. How do you deal with disappointments in your daily life?
Chocolate. Yoga. And a good shake of the fist in the mirror! Plus, I'm the kind of person who actually gets revved up when people tell me I can't do something. A newspaper editor once told me I'd never have a career as a freelance writer. In fact, I've been making a living now as a freelance writer/reporter for 15 years!

Thanks so much to the inspiring Daisy Whitney! Now,
go buy her book!