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!