Wednesday, May 2, 2007

BAD TICKETS by Kathleen O'Dell

Join us this week as we welcome Kathleen O'Dell to the Cafe. Well-known for her warm and funny mid-grade novels, including Agnes Parker, Girl in Progress, for which she was named a Publisher's Weekly Flying Start, Kathleen enters the wild world of YA fiction with her newest novel, Bad Tickets, which has already garnered a starred review from Booklist and which School Library Journal calls a "humorous and engaging story with just a bit of spirituality."

The Cafe is delighted to host Kathleen this week and be a part of celebrating her wonderful new novel.

Melissa W.: Tell us about your new book.

Kathleen O.: BAD TICKETS features Mary Margaret Hallinan, a Catholic high school sophomore in Portland, Oregon during the summer of love. Rumblings of what’s going on in San Francisco are being felt all over the world, but she’s still living in a place where most girls believe that their entire destinies are tied to the men they marry. When Mary Margaret meets Jane Stephens, she loves her new friend’s rebel spirit, but upon closer examination finds that for all her so-called adventurousness, Jane is actually following a pretty old-fashioned script.

This is my first young adult book. As I was writing it, I kept on thinking about how many adult struggles are just modified adolescent struggles. One of life’s central conundrums concerns figuring out when being good is actually bad for you and being bad is good for you and being good is good for you and being bad is bad for you (and bad for everyone else). Before you hit your teens, the answer is: be good. Growing up requires examining received wisdom. Even if you conclude that ninety-nine percent of everything your parents taught you was good and true, at least you’ve made it your truth.

Melissa W.: What was your inspiration for this story?

Kathleen O.: I was a kid in 1967, but I remember that summer. On one of the first sunny Portland summer days, I put on my baggy, hand-me-down, red, one-piece bathing suit and went with some fourth grade friends to Blue Lake. The park was filled with glamorous baby-oiled girls in gold and silver bikinis and gorgeous, sulky boys with long bangs hung over their sunglasses. Every kid there had the radio tuned to KISN and Jim Morrison was daring everyone to “Light My Fire.” Sex hung heavy in the air. We picked our way through the crowd of these simmering, shimmering creatures, and when I finally got to the lake I plopped down and stared at my knobby knees in a state of shock. It hardly seemed like the place for a pigtailed girl in an inner tube anymore.

I wanted to capture the experience of these girls who came of age just before the first wave of modern feminism. Even though young people were breaking all kinds of taboos and experimenting with different ways of living in the 60’s, many men still wanted a cool “old lady”--someone nurturing and mellow who tended to her man and the organic baking.

Another source of inspiration is my memory of a recurring nightmare I had in my teens. I dreamed I was getting married in my high school gym, and that I was wearing a Jackie Kennedy suit and a leopard pill box hat--something that even someone my mom’s age was too hip to wear. The priest would be reading the vows as I kept on urging myself to run away! Now! Before it’s too late! I always woke up breathless and terrified before I realized that I was safe in my pink bedroom in my twin bed and perfectly single. The thought of lock stepping from the high school gym into a married life was scary to me in part because like Mary Margaret, I was the oldest in my family. I had already devoted a big chunk of my life to domestic stuff such as babysitting and dishwashing and cooking. The romance I was looking for involved the freedom to take care of only myself. Oh, and to have my own bedroom. That was a big thing to me.

Melissa W.: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Kathleen O.: Mary Margaret’s mother, with her omnipresent cigarette and laundry basket, really got to me. Every time I got into her head, I felt incredibly sad. I was a homemaker with little kids for years, and whenever I felt burnt to a crispy critter, I would set myself down and tell myself that staying home for now was my choice, that my two kids would eventually grow up, and that there was a different life waiting for me not too far down the road. That’s not true of Cynthia Hallinan. She feels she made a lifetime bargain when she married her high school sweetheart, and she’s determined to deal with pregnancy after pregnancy even though she’s depressed, unsupported and miserable.

Melissa W.: What's on your nightstand right now?

Kathleen O.: There are Starbucks receipts with scribbled revision notes all over them. At night, right before I fall asleep, I get these flashes on how to work out the kinks of my latest manuscript. I jump out of bed, dig blindly through my purse for scrap paper and start scrawling. You’d think I’d keep a notebook nearby, wouldn’t you, seeing that I’m a writer tending toward nightly inspiration? But no. I’m also superstitious and believe that if I’m too premeditated, the inspiration won’t show up. This morning’s note read: “Tessa-- SWITZRLND--Boarding school? Has to rtrn home @ the end ar havee aplace.” At least I think that’s what it said. I wrote it in the dark.

Melissa W.: Best of luck deciphering your notes! And thank you so much for stopping by the Cafe. We wish you much success with your new book! Congratulations!

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Kathleen, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!


R.A. Nelson said...

Hi Kathleen! Congrats on your starred review -- so well deserved. I absolutely love BAD TICKETS. I was wondering, where did you get the inspiration for the character of Jane?

MaryP said...

Kathleen, I was just about to enter my teen years at this time too. It seemed like that era was an analogy for the teen years itself! So much transition. I can't wait to read Bad Tickets. Are there any scenes that come from personal experiences (I know there muct be!) that made it into the book?

Kathleen O said...

Hey you two!
Russ: Years ago I read the autobiography of Marianne Faithfull, and if she had lived in the Portland suburbs in 1967, she might have been Jane. MF was frank about the power of her extraordinary beauty (she described herself as "an angel with big tits") who captivated the grooviest man in the world at the time. Jane's playground is smaller, but the attitude is the same.

You know Mary, I never thought about it until you mentioned it, but those years were like a world-wide adolescence, weren't they?

The landmarks in the book all come from this little neighborhood I lived in when I attended Catholic school, and I'm pushing the book on all my high school friends because I know they'll love spotting all the old places. Anyway, there's a scene in the book where Mary Margaret is caught at night by police in tall grass in... an embarrassing situation. Yeah. Me too. But don't tell my kids, okay?

MarPerez said...

Oh, Kathleen,

I can't wait to read BAD TICKETS! I recently learned a little bit more about Marianne Faithfull and am intrigued by her life story.

I'm going to recommend BAD TICKETS to my friend who grew up during that time too.


Kathleen O said...

Thanks, Marlene. I think that FAITHFULL, the autobiograpy, came out in 2000. It's a page turner and had a big print run. I'll bet you can still find it--a perfect book for summer...

Steven said...

Hi Kathleen,
I am part of a community book group for parents and kids aged 12 & 13. Is Bad Tickets age appropriate for them? What is the best target age group? My daughter and I have read two of your other books and loved them. Can't wait to read this one!

Kathleen O said...

Hi Steven:
I wrote BAD TICKETS for older teens, although I've noted that in some places it is recommended for ages 12 and up. Speaking for myself, I wouldn't give the book to girls under 14.

I'm so glad you've enjoyed my middle-grade books. AGNES PARKER...KEEPING COOL IN MIDDLE SCHOOL comes out this July. That book is a much better match for girls 9-12...

Smith said...

Hi Kathleen,
I just finished reading Bad Tickets. I like to screen YA books before my kids read them. I have to tell you, I can't wait to pass this on to my daughter, the thought of teen pregnancy keeps me up at night! I think this story will speak directly to her. My question for you is, what was your inspiration for Mitchell? I found him refreshingly different than the typical YA high school boy. He's exactly the kind of guy I would have had a crush on a million years ago when I was Mary Margaret's age.
Keep up the good work - I can't wait to read your next book!

Kathleen O said...

Hello Smith;
I made up Mitchell. I don't know how he's different from other YA boys. Is he crankier? Curmudgeonly-er? (Is that even a word?)

I'm glad BT passes your pre-read! Hope your daughter enjoys it and that you get more sleep at night...

creek said...

Hi Kathleen,
Your books have a wonderful blend of humor, insight and originality. Have you always been creative? Where do you get your inspiration?

I love that your stories feel real and not sanitized. Your charactors feel like they're created from your heart, not just your mind. You must be a keen observer of life. Do you enjoy reality TV shows like me? If so, do you have a favorite?

Keep those books coming. You're a real talent and I always look forward to reading your books. Even though I'm a little out of the suggested age range at 49.

Kathleen O said...

Thanks for the nice words. I've learned that daydreaming and frequently going off-task are all potentially creative activities. So I guess I'm super creative if you factor in all the behavior that others might label "lazy." Lazy, I say? Harrumph.

One of the best ways to avoid reality is to watch reality TV, don't you agree? I like Project Runway AND the podcast that comes from Tim Gunn after each episode.

Anonymous said...

Hello. This is my first time blogging (except for when I blog about the Bachelor and other fine reality shows) with a real live AUTHOR.

I am a massage therapist, graphic artist, ex-teacher, writer-wannabe and just LOVE it that you have found a nitch in these books for teens! I wish I'd had something like this to read when I was a teenager. Like Creek (nice name) I am pretty much beyond the suggested age range. (54)

My question to you is, how did you start your first book? I mean really in the beginning. Did you just set aside a day and begin writing? I have a children's book idea & I think it's such a great story and have had it in my head since my two boys were eensy and they're in their 20's now.

Keep on writing and if you're ever at a book signing (or Kathy Griffin concert), I hope to meet you!

Kathleen O said...

People work in different ways, but I found my own key to writing (and finishing) a novel. I have to write every day--including weekends and holidays. (Of course, circumstances may force you to skip a day here and there, but the occasion must be rare.) I also have a word count I must achieve before I can consider myself done for the day. Sometimes I'm hot and go over the word count, other days I sweat every word. Tip number three: sea salt caramels. I reserve the caramels for writing time. They are primarily for luring me to open my laptop and are most useful during revisions. You, however, may have another treat you find more effective. I do counsel against anything alcoholic.

Julie said...

Good advice. Congratulations Kathy!

Verenice said...

This book is really inspiring and good.It doen't stop at one place it makes you keep reading it.I read this book in 5 days and i enjoyed it.Congrants Kathleen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sanjay said...

She is very pretty her hair is very beautifully I absolutely love bad tickets I was wondering.

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