Doesn’t your mouth water for a good book? I know mine does. And when that book comes with a humorous cover, a collection of intriguing characters, and lots of local references, that’s all the more reason to dip into the story. Lemonade Mouth, the second YA novel by talented author Mark Peter Hughes, is one such book that is worth a look.
But not only that! Circulation: The RIEMA Blog is extremely lucky to be able to make its long overdue return to the blogosphere with our first ever featured author interview. Introducing: Mark Peter Hughes himself! And also introducing Emily Brown, a RIEMA Board Member-at-Large and librarian at the Mount Pleasant branch of Providence Public Library. Emily will be semi-regularly conducting interviews of various notable, important, eye-catching, and just plain fun folks who make us librarians – and the readers we serve – sit up and take notice.
We thank Mark Peter Hughes for his time, enthusiasm, and use of images. Best of all, if you attend the RIEMA Annual Dinner on Thursday, October 23 at Chelo’s in Warwick, RI, you’ll get to meet Mark and hear him speak! Please do join us – the cost is $30.00, and you can register by printing out and mailing in the linked registration form postmarked by Friday, October 10. The form is available here: flyer_2008
Without further ado, here is our very first Emily’s Post: The Mark Peter Hughes Interview. Enjoy, and please don’t forget to drop us a line in the comments.
Emily Brown: I know that last summer you went on a road trip to promote Lemonade Mouth, and I was sort of hoping for some anecdotes from that. Did you see any particularly strange animals or have any particularly bad accidents?
Mark Peter Hughes: Well, we had our car wrapped with the cover of Lemonade Mouth. And in fact, I thought the car was going to die between now and then, but it’s still kicking—
EB: So you still drive around with a car that says “Lemonade Mouth” on it?
MPH: Yes, I still get waves and honks. It’s actually quite funny. Let’s see, some anecdotes. There are just so many. We were gone for 8 weeks. We did 13,000 miles and about 60 bookstores, and I went with my family of 3 small kids and my wife. So it was a full summer-long adventure. Well, I remember when we were in San Francisco, the cabs didn’t look that different from our yellow minivan, so we kept getting hailed.
EB: It seemed like you visited a lot of independent bookstores. I was almost surprised when I was looking at your blog that there still are so many independent bookstores. Any particularly memorable ones?
MPH: They all have their own personalities. There was the Wild Rumpus in St. Paul—I hope I’m not getting this wrong—maybe that was the one in Minneapolis. Anyway, the Wild Rumpus was full of animals, these exotic animals, everywhere. It was like a menagerie, like a zoo, and my kids loved it.
EB: Actual animals or stuffed animals?
MPH: No, actual animals. I couldn’t even tell you some of the animals that they had. One guy walked around with this —it was sort of like a little mouse, but it wasn’t, it was like a weeble or something and he had it in his pocket. They were just all over the place. They had big cages for animals there.
EB: That’s memorable.
MPH: It was one of many memorable stops.
EB: I also want to know about this alternative rock band you were in.
MPH: You’re talking about Exhibit A. When I was in my 20s, I was in a band called Exhibit A and we were the band that opened up for the band that you actually came to see. I did it for 3 years and we played everywhere there was to play in the Boston area.
EB: What instrument did you play?
MPH: I played mostly the guitar, but we were a weird band and I would also play the violin, although I’ve never taken a lesson and I’d just play it very badly. And we’d write a song around that: “I don’t ever want to play second fiddle in the orchestra of love.” It was a weird and fun band, kind of like Lemonade Mouth.
EB: So what kind of music do you listen to now and has it changed since you were in your twenties—or even younger?
MPH: Well, there was a period recently in which I heard a lot of Barney, a lot of Wiggles and Raffi. And I recently rediscovered the Sugar Cubes—I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them?
EB: I haven’t.
MPH: Oh, you’ve got to go download an mp3 or something of Motorcrash or Eat the Menu. They’re from Iceland and from ’88 to ’92, they were actually quite huge. They were international superstars. They were the biggest thing out of Iceland. They were kind of like the B-52s. But Icelandic. [Ed. note: Sounds like Mark is talking about singer Bjork’s former band before she started her solo career.]
EB: Thanks for the tip. To kind of switch from music back to writing, you strike me as someone who is interested in different forms. You’ve used haiku, diary entries, oral history. Do you think about how your writing’s going to look on the page?
MPH: I absolutely think about how it’s going to look on the page. It’s almost like a resume. You have to look at the white space on the page. It helps tell the story. Sometimes you want a lot of words all together on the page. It helps set a certain mood or a tension. Other times you want the invitation of white space for dialog and things like that.
EB: You mentioned dialog, and sometimes I read books for young adults and children, and the dialog doesn’t really ring true. I would say that the way your characters spoke was really believable. I’m wondering if that was something you put conscious thought into or if it was easy to develop teen characters who talk like real teenagers.
MPH: I work hard at it. With this particular novel, where you have 5 different voices, I basically wrote it from beginning to ending, but when I went back to do the more extensive rewrites, I paid even more attention to voice. So I would sit there and say, I’m going to rewrite all Stella’s parts. I would put them all together and write in that voice. And then I would group all of the Wen things and write in his voice, etc., to try to make it consistent.
EB: Was it a conscious choice to write for young adults, or is that just what came out when you sat down and began writing?
MPH: It was not at all a conscious choice. I sat down to write a novel about a girl whose diary was on the Internet and the main character happened to be a 13-year-old girl, and I was a draft or two into it before someone pointed out to me, you know, you’re writing a young adult novel. And it was like, whoa, you’re right. I didn’t realize it.
EB: I have to preface this by saying that I always feel put on the spot when people ask me this, which they do all the time because I’m a librarian, but I am going to ask you: what are you reading right now or what have you read in the past year that you really liked?
MPH: I liked M.T. Andersons’ new one.
EB: Octavian Nothing?
MPH: Yeah. It blew me away. Have you read it?
EB: I thought it was stunning.
MPH: I think he’s terrific. I have been reading some of the things my son has been reading, the Alex Rider adventures—Stormbreaker and others by Anthony Horowitz. It’s interesting because he’s going for something very different from what M.T. Anderson is going for, and I think it’s just as valid. The action-adventure is more up in the front. It’s more plot-driven and less character driven.
EB: I feel like that’s part of this debate now, too, about what kind of books boys most like to read.
MPH: It’s something people have often mentioned to me. Especially right after I Am the Wallpaper came out, I had a bunch of booksellers and librarians at conferences come over and tell me, “Next time, write a boy book, because we don’t have enough of them.”
EB: And did you take that to heart?
MPH: Well, I thought about it a lot. I would hate to think that I’m choosing what I write based on girl, boy, or any particular market. And in fact, Lemonade Mouth is a story from the perspective of three girls and two boys, so you could argue it’s both.
EB: So, winding down, it seems like you’ve done a lot of things that people talk about doing. You’ve quit your job to write full time, you’ve had a book published. Do you have any other goals you’re determined to accomplish? Oh, and the cross-country road trip! I forgot that on my list! You’ve done many things on people’s life to-do lists.
MPH: I don’t know if I’m going to jump out of an airplane. Sometimes I really want to do it and sometimes I just get terrified even thinking about it. But right now I’m very happy to be where I am. I just want to get what I’m currently writing written. I want it to be done. So I can go on to another and another and another.