Jonah Lisa talks about her contemporary YA debut, just published by Viking, with fellow author Rebecca Denton. Jonah Lisa’s a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online group for YA and MG authors debuting in 2016; Rebecca rolls with the Swanky Seventeen.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
She can score a goal, do sixty box jumps in a row, bench press a hundred and fifty pounds…but can she learn to curtsey?
Megan McKnight is a soccer star with Olympic dreams, but she’s not a girly girl. So when her Southern belle mother secretly enters her in the 2016 Dallas debutante season, she’s furious—and has no idea what she’s in for. When Megan’s attitude gets her on probation with the mother hen of the debs, she’s got a month to prove she can ballroom dance, display impeccable manners, and curtsey like a proper Texas lady or she’ll get the boot and disgrace her family. The perk of being a debutante, of course, is going to parties, and it’s at one of these lavish affairs where Megan gets swept off her feet by the debonair and down-to-earth Hank Waterhouse. If only she didn’t have to contend with a backstabbing blonde and her handsome but surly billionaire boyfriend, Megan thinks, being a deb might not be so bad after all. But that’s before she humiliates herself in front of a room full of ten-year-olds, becomes embroiled in a media-frenzy scandal, and gets punched in the face by another girl. The season has officially begun…but the drama is just getting started.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonah Lisa Dyer is a screenwriter, author and native Texan. She writes with her husband, Stephen, in a tiny mountain town in Idaho. Produced films include HYSTERIA (Maggie Gyllenhaal & Hugh Dancy, Sony Pictures Classics, 2012) and AWAY & BACK (Jason Lee & Minka Kelly, Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2015). Jonah Lisa is a crafty homebody who loves to knit for people.
TALKING ABOUT ‘THE SEASON’
You’re a hugely experienced screen writer (OMG ‘Hysteria,’ staring Maggie Gyllenhaal —Fangirl Squeal!) but this is your debut YA novel. How do the two formats compare as a writer? ‘The Season’ certainly had the pace and the feel of a film!
I know! We love Maggie G! We had our kids with us on that shoot in London and took them trick or treating with Maggie & Peter Sarsgaard & their little girl. We also had American Idol watching parties with Felicity Jones & regularly enjoyed breakfast with Jonathan Pryce, the High Sparrow himself! It was blast! That wasn’t your question, was it?
I imagine our novels will always be filmic and visual. It’s just how we think. But the best part of writing a novel as screenwriters has been the space to get inside our characters’ heads. In a screenplay, unless you have voiceover (and if you do, it better be sparse!) you are have to tell your story visually and through dialogue. It’s been a pleasure to write the internal life of our main character. Also, in a screenplay you have roughly 120 pages to tell your story, and the way you format for dialogue there is a lot of white space on the page, so you really have to move the plot along. I’m sure we’ll always have a snappy pace in novels but it was absolutely luxurious to have so many pages to work with!
How exactly do you work with a writing partner? Give us a quick day by day.
It really depends on whether we’re outlining, drafting or revising. When outlining we work together very closely. We talk, go on walks, pace the living room and really hash out the story on our feet. Lots of pacing & gesturing is involved. Then one of us takes the lead on moving from a very detailed written treatment into a rough draft. One of us will work as long as we can, until we get stuck or burned out, then pass it off. I don’t know how people do it alone. When we revise we work in tandem again. We both make a notes pass on the page and then work through the piece in chunks handing it back & forth or sometimes even sitting together at the keyboard as we work through sections. We also sometimes record working conversations so that whoever is drafting has a good record of how we discussed a certain scene or chapter. This is really helpful because I have an acting background and often create dialogue sections out loud. Once we are in late drafts, we sometimes argue over exact word choice or even the placement of a comma. The key to this system working is that we agree on the tone & voice we’re aiming for at the very beginning of the process.
The Season is just so vividly TEXAN and is definitely in and of itself an antagonist force in the story. Did you experience any of that world growing up? Were you a debutant?
We both grew up in Texas so we know that world very well. It’s funny, but Stephen is actually the one with the Texas debutante pedigree! His generation & branch of the family eschewed that world, but his grandmothers, mother, aunts & cousins are all Dallas Debs. Three out of four of my grandparents grew up as Texas sharecroppers and I was raised in the middle class suburbs, so going to Thanksgiving dinner at Stephen’s Aunt’s or lunch at his grandmother’s country club was a nerve-wracking & other-worldly experience.
For The Season we drew from Stephen’s knowledge of that world and my discomfort in it! Like most good little Texan girls of an era, I DID attend Louinda’s Dance & Charm School for a year or two. Yes, really. So while I might not have known what fork to use or been comfortable being served by maids, I could at least sit like a lady and be polite. It’s worth noting that I left Louinda’s to play soccer.
I absolutely LOVED The Season, particularly as the story is based on the sublime Pride and Prejudice, did you go into this with the idea to do a retelling?
We absolutely did! The concept from the very beginning was “Pride & Prejudice in the world of Texas Debutantes.” Being from the film world, we often think in loglines. From there we started trying to determine who those Austen characters would be in the modern world. Once we landed on making our Elizabeth Bennett a jock, and the family struggling ranchers, we were off to the races. We used the P&P plot as a loose guide throughout, but were always willing to step off that path whenever it felt necessary to the modern setting & characters.
Any weird writing rituals?
Stephen is a daily writer. He just sits down and works, like a shoemaker or something. It’s disgusting.
He does love to make & listen to a soundtrack while he works.
I have to have harmonic convergence of the planets, a clean house & spartan workspace before I can work.
I also have one of those essential oil diffuser things and love to get some aromatherapy going for clarity and anxiety relief.
What is your favorite ever YA novel?
I definitely enjoyed Judy Blume back in the day but YA was not really on my radar again until I read THE HUNGER GAMES. After that I devoured everything. It was my gateway drug and still one of my all-time favorites.
Stephen’s favorite—DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank—is from before YA was marketed as it’s own genre…it was just considered literature!
What is the theme song for your story?
We like to think Megan’s theme song is UP AGAINST THE WALL REDNECK MOTHER by Jerry Jeff Walker. It’s what the band plays after her debutante masquerade ball devolves into a bar room brawl.
Oddest job you ever had?
Stephen was the first American volunteer at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and was also the sommelier in a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Dallas. La-de-da!
Jonah Lisa worked as a nurse’s assistant in a general practitioner’s office from ages 17-21 and was the only student in her high school to have assisted during a out-patent surgical vasectomy.
1 dog, Banjo. A Bridle Lab/Pit mix from the shelter.
1 cat, Thumper. A black & white mouser-extraordinaire.
Beatles or the Stones?
Stephen = Beatles
Jonah Lisa = Stones
This says it all, really. We compliment each other perfectly!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Rebecca lives in Hackney with a one year old, a trumpet, 2 guitars, a keyboard, several percussion instruments and a guy called Bernie.
She spent her career traveling the world making Music TV for MTV, working on kids TV shows, and wrangling audiences for shows such as BBC’s Being Human and ITV’s Switch.
She has now turned that dab hand to writing racy tales of rock n roll for Young Adults. Her debut, ‘Going Solo,’ will be published next year.