Today I’m touring the lovely Elise Allen and her book, Populazzi (I know – I have title envy too!!) After starting her career in television, ELISE ALLEN co-authored Hilary Duff’s New York Times Bestseller Elixir, as well as its sequels, Devoted and True. She received an Emmy nomination for her work on the PBS show Dinosaur Train, and fulfilled a lifelong dream when she wrote for the Muppets. She lives in Los Angeles, where she indulges her inexplicable desire to run marathons.
Okay – let’s face it, Elise had me at Muppets! I’m a Beaker girl from way back though now that my husband has a drum kit, I do like to let my inner Animal come and play every now and then! Anyway, I digress, today we’re not here to talk about my Muppet fetish, it’s all about Elise!
Cara Leonard always wished she could be one of those girls: confident, self-possessed, and never at a loss for the perfect thing to say. One of the Populazzi.
It always seemed impossible… but now could be her chance.
When Cara moves to a new school just before junior year, her best friend urges her to seize the opportunity and change her life… with the help of The Ladder. Its rungs are relationships, and if Cara transforms herself into the perfect girlfriend for guys higher and higher on the Popularity Tower, she can reach the ultimate goal: Supreme Populazzi, the most popular girl in school.
The Ladder seems like a lighthearted social experiment — a straight climb up — but it quickly becomes gnarled and twisted. And when everything goes wrong, only the most audacious act Cara can think of has a chance of setting things even a little bit right.
1 How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I was reading Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, and it hit me that the very stratified society of turn-of-last-century Manhattan was a lot like the equally stratified world of high school. That’s how the idea started percolating, but before I could make it work, I had to solve a puzzle. In Wharton’s book, her main character Undine is an incredibly unlikeable social climber. That’s on purpose. It’s a biting satire, and it’s terrific. I loved that, but I didn’t want to do the same. Instead, I wanted to create a character who’d make the choice to social climb, but in a way that kept her likable and relatable. It took a long time to crack the nut, but in the end I feel like I succeeded, and I’m really happy with the result.
2 What’s been your favorite author moment so far in your career?
Bringing my then-91-year-old grandmother to my launch party. For her it was like seeing me win an Oscar. She was so proud she cried; I was really happy to be able to share the experience with her.
3 It’s Oscar speech time! Who are the three people that you would most like to thank for helping you write this book?
1) I’m going to cheat and use one slot for three people: Randy-Maddie-Riley. That would be my husband-daughter-dog, without whom I’m completely lost.
2) Samantha McFerrin, my editor. I sold her Populazzi on a pitch and a treatment. Only the bones were there, and I’m so grateful for her confidence in me to deliver something great. I’m also grateful because the book wouldn’t have become what it is without her guidance. Every step of the way, she pushed me to dive deeper, take even more risks, and be even more emotionally honest.
3) Fonda Snyder, of Alchemy Ink, my manager… but more importantly my friend and mentor. She’s the one who first approached me about writing a YA novel, and has been my staunchest supporter every step of the way.
4 Describe a typical writing day
What is this thing you call a “typical writing day”?
Often, I write in the middle of the night. I lay down with my daughter at her bedtime, ostensibly just to hang with her until she falls asleep… but I almost always fall asleep first. That’s between 8 and 9. I wake up sometime between 10:30pm and 2am to hit the bathroom (my small bladder coming through for me), then stay up and work for a few hours, until I get sleepy again.
One weekend day a week, my husband takes my daughter and I park myself at the computer all day long, breaking only to nosh, swig coffee, and go to the gym.
It’s probably not the healthiest of writing lifestyles, but I like it; it works for me.
5 Tell me one strange random fact about this book.
In the book, one of Cara’s quirks is a love of shockingly gross food combinations… all of which I have loved. I went through a phase where my morning wasn’t complete until I had a bowl full of raw rolled oats stirred together with cottage cheese and preserves – just enough cheese and preserves to coat the oats to perfection.
I’m serious. It’s kind of delicious. You know if that was cream cheese I could kind of buy it but the cottage cheese is a big no-no for me!!!