Today I’m thrilled to welcome my YA writing friend and fellow Lighthouse Writers workshopper Jenny Peterson. Jenny’s short story, “Tonight, You’re Mine,” has just released in PROM DATES TO DIE FOR, a new paranormal anthology from Buzz Books, and she’s here to dish about the new collection, writing for teens, and of course… prom!
Describe your real-life prom experience (or lack thereof) with seven random words:
Minivan. Masquerade. Late-night. Dare. Skinny dipping. Secret kissing. Friends.
What inspired you and your fellow YA authors Lena Brown, Heather Dearly, Kelly Para, and Aaron Smith to write this particular collection of stories?
Prom is already kind of abnormal to begin with, right? Teenage guys trying to pretend they’re comfortable in a suit, dates picking through fancy dinners when all they really want is Taco Bell. (Actually, all I ever really want is Taco Bell.) It’s a whole bunch of people trying to create this fantasy that doesn’t really exist. So we went ahead and *really* added that fantasy.
For my story, I played around with the idea of a perfect prom. My main character, Rachel, has decided that prom night is the ideal time to also lose her virginity. She’s the type that would have charts and graphs to back this up. Even when some seriously weird stuff starts going down, she charges ahead with her plans. It’s not until she comes face to kind-of face with a hideous pink slug-like thing does she realize prom night isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Apparently, “adult proms” are a thing now. Seriously. Self-proclaimed grown-ups get all dressed up, rent a limo with their friends, go to a dance with a horrible band, and then get totally wasted and bust out the air guitar and I love you mans and someone always ends up crying in the bathroom, all in some vain attempt to redefine this teen rite-of-passage-gone-awry. Any thoughts on this trend? Healing group therapy for post-prom traumatic stress, or just another case of grown-ups behaving badly?
Okay, so my friends once threw me a “half-birthday”–as in we celebrated like I was turning 13, not 26. We played laser tag and made mix tapes of early ’90s music. It was awesome. (It was also a lesson in stamina. Pre-pubescent boys have a hell of a lot more energy in the laser tag arena than a bunch of adults.)
So adult prom? IN. As long as the updo-sporting adults aren’t, like, flipping tables at Olive Garden, I think it’s a fun way to embrace your inner teen.
Um… will you go to Adult Prom with me?
You bring the Aqua Net, I’ll bring the Zima.
You’re working on at least two other full-length YA projects. What drew you to YA in the first place? Do you write it to cope with the tragic emotional aftermath of your own teen years? Or is it just me? Can I get an amen? Or a drink? Or an adult prom date? Anyone?
I’m mixing you a gin and tonic right now.
Like most annoyingly pretentious teens, I pulled away from YA when I was actually, you know, the demographic. I devoured the classics, but my favorites (like “Pride & Prejudice”) all had young(ish) adult protagonists. Then I discovered Harry Potter at age 17, and it was all over. I don’t think anyone can meet Ron Weasley and *not* want to spend the rest of their life with him. (Ron+Hermione 4eva)
I turned back to YA and realized it was just perfect for me. Being a teen or young adult is all about first experiences–first kiss, first heartbreak, first “real” decisions without Mom and Dad. You’re trying out new skins and discovering who you want to be. It’s such a fascinating, poignant, fun time of life to write about.
If you could give one piece of advice to your teen self on the night before prom, what would it be?
Jennifer Renee Coon, do NOT spend the entire dance hawk-eyeing your oh-so-recent ex-boyfriend. And certainly do NOT position yourself near him while laughing loudly and pretending you’re having the Best. Night. Ever. You’ll have an awesome time without a Capital D Date. I promise.
For you, what is the most challenging thing about writing fiction for teens? I mean, aside from the obvious answer of being forced to relive your own horrific high school memories in the never-ending search for authentic ideas.
This isn’t so much a challenge, but something I’m always aware of: I never want to sound like a Very Old Person lecturing the Young Whippersnapper. I often find that people who don’t read YA automatically think it is simplistic and After-School Special-y, which is totally not true. I strive in my writing to never talk down to my audience.
What’s the best part?
Everything! I get this amazing excuse to read awesome YA every day (for “research”), and I get to jump into all these different worlds where there is limitless potential.
You’re the head of the prom committee, and this time, you get to plan the special super-awesome Jenny Prom with no limitations. What’s your prom theme, song, and color? Are there any other special details or plans we should know about for this amazing event? What are you wearing? And most importantly, what’s in the punch?
If this was Teen Jenny Prom, I’d probably enforce a strict “X-Files” theme and wear a pantsuit with sensible heels (to run away from the aliens, obvs. … and run into Mulder’s arms for a long-awaited make-out session). Thankfully, I’m a bit better at masking my extreme dorkiness today (says the girl who recently went to a Joss Whedon trivia event).
Okay, so Super Awesome Jenny Prom would take place on a boat, because why not. Not a cruise, those are lame. Like a European Lesser Prince’s yacht. (European Lesser Prince included.) The prom theme would be Yachts Are Awesome, Yo. The music would be yacht rock, so brush up on your Kenny Loggins and Toto. The colors would be blue (for the ocean!) and hints of gold to keep the European Lesser Princes in attendance comfortable. Most importantly, there is a lot (a LOT) of champagne in the punch.
Special details? Bring a swimsuit and Italian phrasebook. And try not to be the popular girl. She’ll probably be the first to fall overboard and get eaten by sharks.
Um… will you go to Jenny Prom with me?
I’m swinging the boat around and will pick you up in an hour.
Congratulations on the new release, Jenny! And thanks for making me feel marginally better about myself by accepting both of my prom date invitations. :-)