Even after more than a decade of book blogging, I sometimes still get a little starstruck when certain authors email me. Earlier this year, I did a double- and triple-take when I saw I had an email from Alex Flinn asking about working with me on a feature for her new novel, Love, Jacaranda.
ALEX FLINN, you guys. The author of Beastly and other beloved fairy tale retellings — wanted to be on MY blog?!
Needless to say, once I got over my shock and fangirling, I wrote back and enthusiastically set up today’s feature. Thanks to Alex for reaching out and stopping by with today’s guest post.
Be sure to grab Love, Jacaranda in stores next Tuesday, July 7th — and read more about it below.
Raising the Stakes on Romance: Why It’s Important for a Kiss to Be More Than Just a Kiss
by Alex Flinn
Hey, everyone! Thanks to Sara for letting me do this guest blog. My book, Love, Jacaranda, comes out from HarperCollins next week, July 7. This got me thinking about what makes a romance more than just a romance. I’ve written a few, and I’ve read a lot.
So, what do Pride and Prejudice, Titanic, and classic fairy tales like Snow White and The Little Mermaid have in common? They’re all romances that captured readers’ hearts. They’re also are also about something much more than romance.
In Pride and Prejudice, we’re not just worried about whether Lizzie will end up with handsome, rich Mr. Darcy. Rather, the Bennet girls need to find good marriages before their father dies and they are disinherited. There’s a clock ticking.
Or Titanic. Even before the ship starts sinking, viewers know that Rose needs to fall in love with Jack so she can escape the clutches of douchey Cal Hockley. Fairy tales in which a character will sleep forever, be turned to sea foam, or stay a beast if something doesn’t happen within a prescribed time are similar.
It’s way more challenging to have such high stakes in modern stories. Today’s empowered young women want to fall in love, but getting a man isn’t (thank goodness) a matter of survival anymore. This is especially true in young adult novels. The main couple in YA romances might not end up together forever. It’s a Happy For Now situation. Therefore, there must be some other reason for urgency – much like the sinking ship in Titanic. For example, in The Hunger Games, Katniss’s romance with Peeta was important, but it was auxiliary to the main story, the Hunger Games themselves. The couple’s survival was way more compelling than their romance.
Fairy tale retellings come with built-in high stakes. In Beastly, Kyle needs Lindy to fall in love with him by a certain moment, so he won’t stay a beast forever. Similarly, in A Kiss in Time, Jack must wake Talia from her deep sleep because she is in the clutches of an evil fairy. It’s a matter of life and death.
Realistic novels are harder. My upcoming novel, Love, Jacaranda, involves the romance of two high school students, Jarvis and Jacaranda. Jacaranda is a talented singer who’s in the foster care system because her mom in jail. After a video of her singing goes viral, an anonymous benefactor sends her to a prestigious performing arts boarding school, where she meets Jarvis, who is, as she describes him, “Kardashian rich.” She lies to him about her family, which creates problems as their romance builds. But, important as their romance is, the real stakes of the book are whether Jacaranda will be able to stay at the school and fulfill her dreams of being a singer or have to leave the school because of the lies both she and Jarvis have told. What’s at stake isn’t just a romance but Jacaranda’s future.
Stakes are also the reason for the popularity of novels involving sick kids. In novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Extraordinary Means, the stakes are literally life and death as characters battle cancer and tuberculosis. In Everything Everything, Madeline is a “bubble girl” who hasn’t left the house since she was a baby. When she meets Olly, she learns secrets about herself and her illness that cause her to reevaluate everything she’s ever believed.
Romance is sweet, but in modern times, romantic tension can’t be the only tension in a book. This is especially true in young adult. Today’s young women know that finding love is just one facet in the journey to adulthood. Finding out who they are and who they’ll become is more important.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Alex Flinn comes a tale of taking a chance on love and letting your inner voice soar.
Jacaranda Abbott has always tried to keep her mouth shut. As a foster kid, she’s learned the hard way that the less she talks about her mother and why she’s in jail, the better. But when a video of Jacaranda singing goes viral, a mysterious benefactor offers her a life-changing opportunity—a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school to study musical theater. Eager to start over somewhere new, Jacaranda leaps at the chance. She pours her heart out in emails to the benefactor she’s never met.
Suddenly she’s swept up in a world of privilege where the competition is fierce and the talent is next level. As Jacaranda—Jackie to her new friends—tries to find her place, a charming boy from this world of wealth catches her eye. She begins to fall for him, but can he accept her for who she really is?
I learned to read early. But I compensated for this early proficiency by absolutely refusing to read the programmed readers required by the school system — workbooks where you read the story, then answered the questions. When the other kids were on Book 20, I was on Book 1! My teacher, Mrs. Zeiser, told my mother, “Alexandra marches to her own drummer.” I don’t think that was supposed to be a good thing.
My family moved to Miami when I was in middle school. I had a really hard time making friends, so I spent a lot of time reading and writing then. By high school, I’d made some friends and gotten involved in various “gifted and talented” performing arts programs. I studied opera in college (I’m a coloratura — the really loud, high-pitched sopranos.) and then went to law school.
It was law school that probably helped with my first novel. Breathing Underwater deals with the serious and all-too-common problem of dating violence. I based the book on my experiences interning with the State Attorney’s Office and volunteering with battered women. I thought this was a really important topic, as 27 percent of teenage girls surveyed have been hit by a boyfriend. I’m happy that the book is so popular, and if you are reading this bio because the book was assigned for school, I’m happy about that too.
I think I write for young-adults because I never quite got over being one. In my mind, I am still 13-years-old, running laps on the athletic field, wearing this really baggy white gymsuit. I’m continually amazed at the idea that I have a checking account and a mortgage. So I try to write books that gymsuit girl might enjoy. It’s a way of going back to being thirteen . . . knowing what I know now.
Right now, I live half a mile away from my old middle school, in Palmetto Bay, a suburb of Miami, with my husband, daughters, dogs, and cats.