While it is most certainly still summer here in Florida (and will be for the next three months or so...) I think it's about time I kick-off the fall author interviews. To get us going, I'm starting off with a conversation with Kristi Belcamino, whose first Young Adult novel City of Angels debuted this past spring. As luck would have it, today also marks the release of yet another novel by Belcamino- Blessed are the Peacemakers, the latest installment in her Gabriella Giovanni mystery series. Be sure to check out both books and keep reading as Belcamino and I discuss tough teen heroines, writing for young adults and the current crime fiction scene. Cheers!
Steph Post: Nikki Black, the teenage protagonist of City of Angels is as badass in the story as she looks on the novel's cover. What prompted you to create a young, but tough-as-nails, heroine for your book?
Kristi Belcamino: I don’t have a profound answer except to say that I love reading about tough-as-nails heroines and love writing them even more!
SP: One of the elements of City of Angels that really sets it apart from other young adult novels is the setting of the '90s underground L.A. scene. How important do you think the setting of the novel is to its story and to its framing of Nikki's character?
KB: This is one of my books where I feel like the setting needed to be its own character. The atmosphere, the pervasive feeling of living in L.A. during that time, the deep knowledge that history was being made, is, in a way, that same feeling of being young and free of major responsibilities, just stepping out into the world with your whole life ahead of you. When I lived in Los Angeles at the time it felt like there was nowhere else on earth I should be, as if I were at the epicenter of everything! I tried to capture that in this book.
SP: City of Angels has been marketed as a YA novel, but even from the opening pages, in which Nikki flees from the scene of an adult movie she has been violently coerced into almost making, I could see where this story might be too much for younger readers. Nikki is seventeen, but she's a tough seventeen. How have teens responded to City of Angels? And did you ever worry that the story's material might be too mature for YA readers?
KB: It was really important to me that this novel be described as a book for mature teens. Some of the subject matter is dark and the book contains issues that some teens may not have ever heard about. But the reality is that nothing is off limits in the YA market.
Some of my favorite YA books deal with deeper, darker, more complex issues that might make some people squirm: The Outsiders (classism, murder, abuse), Forever by Judy Blume (masturbation, sex) The Perks of Being a Wallflower (rape, molestation), Eleanor and Park (classism, abuse), The Fault in Our Stars (teen cancer), The Hunger Games (kids killing kids), and so on.
I also count on the reader knowing from my book description ("… an edgy, gritty, mature young adult mystery") —and the opening pages—that this is not light reading material. I trust people to make their own decisions.
Once my kids hit middle school I stopped censoring what they read.
When my daughter was in middle school she began reading a book she picked out from the school library (the library was shared with the high school). The book was so disturbing that she had to stop reading.
It was The Lovely Bones.
I wrote about that experience for the New York Times.
SP: City of Angels is written from Nikki's perspective and I think you've absolutely managed to capture and portray the thoughts, feelings and reactions of a teenaged girl. Was it difficult for you to get into the head of a teen character?
KB: Thank you for saying that. It wasn’t difficult, but I think that is because, despite nearing 50 years old, I’m lucky to still vividly remember what it felt like to be a teenage girl. And living in L.A. in the late 1980s and early '90s was such a powerful, poignant time in my life that I still acutely recall the emotions and feelings I had at the time.
SP: Although City of Angels is your first YA novel, it is far from your first mark on the mystery and crime writing scene. You are most well-known for your Gabriella Giovanni mystery series featuring a tough crime reporter. Was it hard to switch from writing for adults to writing YA? Were there any noticeable differences in the writing process?
KB: To be honest, at first I thought it would be very difficult to make that switch, but it really wasn’t. As a writer, I’m sure you know this as well, but once I’m immersed in a new book I get completely caught up in the characters and world and just tell their stories. I didn’t consciously think about whether the book was for adults or young adults and that might be why the subject matter is not censored.
SP: City of Angels just debuted this past spring, but I'd love to know what's next for you. Will you stay in the YA genre? Go back to adult mysteries? Or is there something entirely new you're working on?
KB: The fifth book in my adult mystery series, Blessed are the Peacemakers, comes out Tuesday (Aug. 15) and I have another adult mystery coming out in October that will be the first in a new series.
And, yes, I do have another young adult book written called Gutterpunks that is set in Minneapolis and will probably be released into the wild at some point.
SP: And finally, since you know the crime fiction scene so well and because I love to share the book-love: are there any up-and-coming crime novels or authors I should have on my radar?
KB: These crime fiction authors are fairly new on the scene (in the last few years) and are terrific. I will read anything and everything they ever write: Laura McHugh, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Claire Booth.
As far as authors you should have on your radar: Chelsea Cain, Sara Gran, Gregg Hurwitz, Lisa Unger … I could go on and on, but these should keep you busy for a while.
Oh, and you should definitely read T.M. Causey’s The Saints of the Lost & Found.
I’m going to stop now or I might never be able to finish this interview … thanks so much for having me, Steph!
Thank you, Kristi! Readers, be sure to check out City of Angels and Blessed are the Peacemakers- on shelves now.