Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Interview: Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

You may have seen the blog review yesterday of Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading. The authors were nice enough to answer a few questions for the blog. Enjoy!
I’m sure you’ve answered this before, but can you briefly explain your co-authoring process?

Darcy: Basically, Charity creates the characters and the plot, then writes the story and comes up with a really nifty title, then I apply the sparkly eyeliner, and voila!

Charity: Ha, ha. Darcy’s such a kidder. In truth, we each bring our own strengths to the writing process, and even to individual characters. Darcy had a feel for several characters in the book that eluded me. I can keep the story structure in my head and she can zero in on when we’ve used an uncommon word too many times.

What inspires you to write, specifically for the teen crowd?

Darcy: The teen years are a part of life when you experience a lot of things for the first time. Everything is new and exciting and that makes it a lot of fun to write about.

Charity: Even in the darkest YA stories, there’s often a thread of hope, and I think I’m drawn to that.

There are multiple references to various geeky things in here (Firefly, Star Wars, etc.). Do you have firsthand experience with these geek-trends or did you research what was cool for the nerdy crowd?

Darcy: Lol. We didn’t have to study the nerdy crowd; we are the nerdy crowd. Among other things - the first Star Wars movie came out the year I graduated from high school. I spent a good chunk of that summer waiting in lines at movie theaters, watching it over and over again.

Charity: I saw the original Star Wars in the theater at least fifteen times. After it had been out for a while, the local theater ran it as the dollar matinee on the weekends. I went several Sundays in a row.

Party Quest is the online game the kids play. Have either (or both) of you ever played any online games?

Darcy: I am a Tetris and Mahjong freak but I haven’t ventured into the world of online role playing games. I believe they have the potential for sucking my entire life away. My kids were way into them for a while though – especially Maple Story – so cute!

Charity: I live in fear of online games like that for the very reason Darcy stated. My son plays a few (and is pretty good at managing his time with them, too--better than I would be).

The book could’ve been titled The Geek Girl’s Fantasy Come True, even with the bumps in Bethany’s road. Because the odds are against any geek girl becoming a cheerleader (almost anywhere), what do you think readers (and fellow geeks) will take away from reading your book?

Darcy: I hope readers will pick up on one of the main themes in our book: No risk, no reward. Maybe the odds are against you but your chances of gaining something you really want are absolutely nil if you never even try. Besides, the odds might not really that bad. Just ask Charity – she was a geek girl AND a cheerleader. And, almost everywhere I go I meet girls who say this is their story.

Charity: It’s true, I was a geek girl and cheerleader (one season during my senior year in high school), although sadly, there was no Jack on the scene for me. So … yeah, I see your point about fiction = wish fulfillment. Darcy touched on our theme, and I find that I must constantly relearn this, which might be why it ended up in the story--unintentionally. Themes have a way of sneaking up on me.

You say the theme is no risk = no reward. What has been the biggest risk for you that has gotten the reward you wanted?

It’s not the same as a geek girl trying out for cheerleading but since you asked:

Three years ago, when my son was diagnosed with tongue cancer, we were herded from doctor to doctor and told what his treatment would be. Options weren’t given or explained and, frankly, we were all in such shock at first that we were happy to have someone else making the decisions. It took thirty days for my son to heal from the biopsy so he could begin radiation and chemotherapy. It also took thirty days for us to get in to see the chemo specialist.

He was the first doctor to raise a question about my son’s planned treatment. He told us how unusual it was for a young person to get the type of cancer my son had, and how much more dangerous chemo drugs and radiation could be to younger people – both immediately and throughout the rest of his life. He told us he had been trying to contact a super specialist at a teaching hospital in a neighboring state ever since my son’s file landed on his desk, but he still hadn’t been able to reach him.

It was the Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. My son was due to start both the chemo and the radiation on the next business day. After a month of preparation and tears and waiting while my son got sicker and sicker, it was finally time to start fighting back against the cancer. But…

If my son started the treatment program as scheduled, it meant he would give up the possibility of being seen at the teaching hospital. Once he’d had that first round of radiation there could be no turning back. We took the weekend to decide.

On Tuesday morning we all took a deep breath and drove to the radiation facility… where we told them, no, our son would not begin treatment that day. Next we drove to the chemo specialist’s office. We camped in the doctor’s lobby for six hours, waiting to see if the teaching hospital would accept my son as a patient.

Even if they did, it would mean delaying treatment until he could be seen, then delaying it even more until new tests were run. Our son’s original doctor had told us the tumor had already grown too large to be completely removed without compromising his ability to eat and talk. How much larger would it grow if we waited? Would they still be able to get the cancer under control?

It was a huge risk but the reward has been well worth it. The teaching hospital accepted my son’s case. They scheduled an appointment for him right away. We met with a team of doctors, one of whom was a surgeon who felt she could remove the cancer. Within three weeks he was scheduled for surgery. The tumor was completely removed and, though he had a lot of hard work ahead of him, my son would eventually be able to eat and talk again. All without being subjected to the radiation and drugs that could have damaged his organs or caused him to develop a secondary cancer.

Today, my son has a fading scar across his neck. He eats a little slower than most people. He has a little bit of a lisp and trouble saying L’s, especially when he’s tired. But he’s healthy and cancer-free – and we have reason to hope he has a long, long life ahead of him.

When your kids have questions about how important it is to be popular, what do you tell them?

Darcy: My kids are a little older now. My “baby” just turned 22 and her older brother will be 25 this year. They don’t come to me for advice as much as they used to but when they did, I told them: Don’t worry so much what other people think of you because the truth is – most everyone is so busy worrying about themselves that they don’t have time to examine every move you make. Just try to act confident and be friendly and you’ll do fine. And hey, it worked!

Charity: Well, my oldest is thirteen so this is a timely question. I tell him (and his younger sister) not to let other people’s opinions keep you from doing what you love. So my son plays football and the violin.

And yeah, he’s lost some friends because he’s sticking with the things he wants to do that don’t necessarily have an immediate return (working toward being an Eagle Scout, for instance). But he’s making new ones along the way.

What’s the geekiest thing you’ve ever done?

Darcy: I do geeky things every day so it’s pretty hard to pick. Probably the nerdiest thing I’ve done lately was show up at a library event dressed like Mollie Weasley (the mom from Harry Potter). My costume was complete with wand and a Better Gnomes and Gargoyles spell cookbook. Once I got there I realized the contest was just for kids -- but I am such a geek that I still wasn’t embarrassed.

Charity: You mean other than spending the Sundays of my youth watching Star Wars? I think that cinches my geek street cred.

So what's next for the two of you? Either separately or together or both?

Darcy: Charity has a solo novel she’s been working on that I can’t wait to read! We’re also teaming up on a non-fiction project for younger readers and we’re cooking up a couple of Geek Girl-esque stories too.

And finally, if you could claim any book as your own, what would it be?

Darcy: Ooh, just one? Every time I read a great book I wish I had written it. It happened again just last week when I finally got around to reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I do a lot of work with teen volunteers so I went to a high school cafeteria to meet with some of them. Since I arrived early, I took my book in with me. I’d barely read a page or two before I came to a scene that surprised me so much that I actually gasped out loud. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, then went back to the book. The next scene was so sad and sweet and tender that I had to start sniffling, then full-on crying.

I want to write a book like that, a book that pulls you into the characters’ lives so quickly and so deeply that you can’t help but express your emotions about it – even when you’re in a busy high school cafeteria.

Charity: Oh, good. I see Darcy hasn’t stolen Pride and Prejudice from me. Because I want to claim that one, for all the reasons Darcy mentioned above.
Thanks go out to Charity and Darcy for the interview. I had fun reading all the answers and I can't wait to read whatever's next from the two of them! So if you haven't yet, be sure to check out Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading. It's an awesome read!
~ Vilate

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