Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Which Crystal Allen Drops By to Chat about Characters and Voice, Plus a Contest

(Want to win a copy? Read to end of post!!)

Crystal Allen rocks! As you may know, we share not only an agent - the fabulous Jen Rofe - but also a city - Houston - and a love of breakfast food. Crystal says I always out order her. I say it's a rough competitive world. PW gave her a starred review. I'm entitled to my pretty breakfast quesadilla at Empire Cafe. We also share a release month; Haunted came out on 2/1 and Crystal's much anticipated debut MG novel, How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy is due out on 2/22, from Balzer Bray, a division of Harper Collins. It is getting all sorts of well-deserved buzz. Plus it has bowling. Which is totally cool. Yes, Crystal makes bowling cool! In fact it is entirely possible that I will have to make Ethan take Anne bowling in the final book of the Dreaming Anastasia trilogy. Maybe Baba Yaga, too. Seriously! A witch with detachable hands bowling? It boggles the mind.

Here's wha that fabu PW review had to say about Lamar:

“Cocky, sharp-tongued, and a known prankster, 13-year-old Lamar Washington is a protagonist readers won’t soon forget… Debut author Allen gives Lamar a singular (and often comically misguided) way with words …Under all the braggadocio is a boy with a big heart, and from the first sentence Lamar will have readers hooked.”

I asked Crystal to stop by and talk about what it's like to write a character as strong-voiced as Lamar. Here's what she had to say. (And at the end, a CONTEST!!)

Lamar has a dominating personality. He demands attention, and he began his quest for it while I was focused on an intense episode of CSI. He just popped up in my head, fully dressed in jeans, Michael Jordan sneakers and a T-shirt, and began strutting around my brain like he lived there. At that time, I had no idea who he was and immediately thought I needed some serious medication. I was so outdone by Lamar's presence and even tried to figure out if he was someone from my past or someone I had recently met, and why all of a sudden he was so strong in my thoughts.

His face wasn't nearly as clear as his actions at the time, but I knew he wanted to take me somewhere. In the middle of my freak-out, I got a visual of a small town street. Lamar rhythm-walked down that street toward a bowling alley, opened the door and went inside. The sounds the smells, the music inside the bowling alley were vivid. It was then that I realized I was hanging out with Lamar.

See, months earlier, I'd developed a storyline with a bowling alley as a secondary gathering spot for a group of multicultural elementary school characters. That story included Lamar, but the story wasn't told from his perspective. It was actually in third person at the time. So, for him to step out of the crowd and man up in such a big way, surprised me. :)

Lamar has taken me through an emotional beat down. I've laughed at him, cried with him, hollered at him, turned off the computer on him, told him "No! I'm not writing that!" and then wrote it anyway, and had many, many conversations with him about his life and how he was choosing to live it.

As a mother of two boys, it was difficult to watch Lamar make decisions that make mothers cringe. But, I had to allow him to make those mistakes and keep my own inhibitions in check.
Now that How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy is finished, I've had problems getting Lamar out of my head. As I've attempted to write stories about other male characters, Lamar's voice rings in my ears, calling my new characters 'weak' or 'chumps' or saying something only Lamar would say. I've had to work extra hard to shut him down! :) But, I believe over time, I'll take the mental duct tape off of his mouth, and write another story about my most favorite character; especially since that's what he's trying to make me do anyway!

Thanks for such an engaging post, Crystal!
Until 2/22 when you can read Lamar yourself, you can find out more about Crystal at her website:

CONTEST: Want to win an autographed copy of Lamar? Comment on this post and tell me and Crystal why you think bowling is cool. Best responses will go into the contest hat! May the best bowling commentator win! Contest is open until 2/22.


Janet Fox said...

I cannot wait to read this!!! Tell Crystal that if I don't win, she'd better be at TLA and be willing to sell and sign one for me there!

And that's all I can say about bowling.

Emmie K. said...

Sounds like a great book, and a very interesting character! I can't wait to read it.

Bowling is cool to me because it's one of the few sports I can play without tripping over my own feet (usually). I'm very competitive, so I also like it because so many people can play against each other without needing teams.

Crystal said...

Can't wait to read this . . . I have a feeling it's going to win some awards! :)

Bowling is cool because it's one of the few sports you can play year-round, whether it's blistering-hot or teeth-chattering cold outside. And also, you can sit down until it's your turn! :)

Varsha Bajaj said...

i want to win this. Bowling is fun because you can eat nachos and play at the same time.

Kelly Lyons said...

Fantastic interview! Thank you for featuring Crystal. She's a star! Loved hearing more about Lamar and how he demanded her attention. Can't wait to read the book.

Why is bowling cool? Hmmm. Well, I've never been good at sports. But when I underperform at bowling, it feels okay. Sure, I see the folks who are serious bowlers. But it feels like there are just as many who go to laugh and bond. My hubby and I are having a double date to a new fancy bowling spot on Saturday as a matter of fact. It's not about getting the most strikes, just about spending some quality time together and having fun.

Christina said...

Yay, Crystal. Cannot wait to read this one!

Thanks for the post, Joy.

Bowling is the coolest because you get to wear awesome shoes, buy socks from the vending machine, munch on Skittles and stale nachos, dry your sweaty hands on that little air blower thingy, spend an hour finding the perfect ball *usually the pink sparkly ones are best*, waste ten dollars on the Claw game, and no matter how bad you are, no one will kick you off their team (its too hard to get your name off the computer)!

Linda Leschak said...

I once bought a pair of really ugly shoes, thinking they'd make me look like a bowler! And bowlers can get away with anything from the ankle down, can't they? Ugly or not, I thought my shoes were pretty cool looking - multi color, flat soles, leather. I never wore them . . . not once. All I did was take them down from their place in my closet and admire them from time to time.
You’re probably thinking, Oh, she knows nothing about bowling and how cool it really is! But I think it means that somewhere, buried in my psyche, is a subliminal love for the game. Or maybe just for the idea of having permission to wear goofy shoes.

I am so looking forward to reading about Lamar! Whether I win him or not, I can't wait.

Chantee Hale said...

Yea! I've been looking forward to this book's release for months now, but winning a copy is cool, too...
I like bowling because it's one of the few games I can get my whole family to play - the competitive daughter, the bored by anything not video-game hubby, and myself (of course). Even without having bowling skills, we can still have fun doing it together.

Theresa said...

Rolling bowling balls beats throwing them :)

I'm a School Librarian. I read books. It's what I do. Can't wait to read this book!

Theresa said...

A little confused - maybe I was hit in the head with a bowling ball.

Not sure if I need to post again, since Google loggin me in.

So, here's a RT

Rolling bowling balls beats throwing them:)

I'm a School Librarian. I read books. It's what I do. Can't wait to read this book!

Joy said...

Tada! See my most recent post! The winner of the autographed copy is Christina. Gotta love "Pink sparkly" bowling balls. The contest hat has spoken. Congrats! and please send me your snail mail at joy at joypreble dot com

Douglas said...

I grew up in Gary, Indiana with guys who sound like Lamar. We hung out at the bowling alley on Saturday mornings after league play. What is cool about bowling for me is that at 15 years of age I was able to capture my hard working father's attention long enough for us to bowl in a tournament-where we won first place for Father and Son. That trophy sits on my desk and reminds me of one of the best memories I have of my now departed father. I really love the bodacious title as well. Congrats and best wishes on your launch.