Friday, January 18, 2013

Interview with YA Author Juli Alexander

Amanda is drowning in Deadline Hell as she prepares for the release of her new book Pas De Death, so her friend, the fabulous Juli Alexander is here today with a Q&A about her new YA spy novel, Investigating the Hottie.

Take it away, Juli!

Amanda: I loved, loved, loved Investigating the Hottie. How did you come up with the idea?

Juli: Thanks, Amanda.  Hottie was my first YA, and my first completed manuscript of any kind. I dreamed up the idea after seeing the Princess Diaries.  I’m a huge Meg Cabot fan, and I started thinking what if the main character found out she was a spy, instead of a princess?  What if her aunt were her family connection to the world of espionage?

Amanda: Awesome. Next time you're here in DC, we'll need to take a research trip to the Spy Museum. Fellow Killer Robin Kaye lives in the area, and rumor has it another one of our lovely Killers might be moving here as well! It'll be awesome. Field trip followed by drinks at the martini bar next door. Whaddya say?

Anyway, I digress. You were a Golden Heart finalist with this book, but it was the 5th of the five novels you indie-published this past year. Why did you wait on this one and decide to start off with the other books (which I also loved, but this one was my favorite)?

Juli: Hottie faced challenges when we shopped it in NYC because every line had a spy book.  I wanted to be sure that I was ready to launch and market Hottie.  I published the others, and then decided to evaluate Hottie.  I thought the manuscript would need more updates, but after some technology changes (Palm Pilot to iPad), I published it.  Turns out, readers are ready for a quirky spy book. 

Amanda: You got that right. :) You invented a super secret spy government organization, GASI. How did you do the research for this?

Juli: My research on super secret spy organizations was exhaustive.  I decided to make the acronym sound like a synonym for flatulence, and the agency solidified in my mind from there.  Amanda’s aunt, an agent, has signed her up, and her parents don’t know. 

I plotted this book like a movie made for a tween/teen cable channel and went for a fun ride from start to finish. It didn’t hurt that my son was ten and that I had fully acclimated to ten-year-old boy humor.  I’m now adapting to teenage boy humor, but it isn’t as charming.

Amanda: You do a great job of "keeping it real" -- your books really do ring true to teen girls. How do you reach this perfect balance?

Juli: Sometimes I think I’m one of those lucky women who never matured beyond that awkward fourteen year old. 

Amanda: Ha! Me, too. Probably why we get along so well.

Juli: Each of my characters has at least a piece of my own backstory, like Amanda Peterson being accused of leading during her first couple’s dance. 

I also conduct extensive research on a daily basis, watching every teen movie, reading every YA book, and finding “professional excuses” to immerse myself in teen culture.  I have to watch The Vampire Diaries, people; it’s part of my job! 

Amanda: I freaking love that show. My favorite episodes are when they show the flashbacks to when the vmapires lived in different eras. I love seeing the fashion, especially Katherine Pierce's Civil War corsets and hoop skirts.

Juli: It doesn’t hurt that my 17-year-old son has a crew of twenty or so high school boys and girls who, it seems, no longer need to knock on our front door. 

Amanda: Yeah, my 3-year-old and 1-year-old aren't any help in the YA department, unfortunately. Do you have any plans for other mysteries in the future?

Juli: The Hottie series is about to take priority.  I have a contract with my readers for one more book in the Stirring Up Trouble series.  Then I am going to focus on Amanda and Will and the adventures ahead of them.  Undercover with the Hottie, book two, will involve Amanda and Will investigating a threat at the United Nations.  Despite their budding romance, they’ll have to convince the other teens that they are brother and sister.  I plan to release this sequel in May or June of 2013. 

Something you guys at Killer Fiction must have already figured out—mysteries are amazingly fun to write.  My love for mysteries started early and involves every facet of my life.  Ever since reading, Harriet the Spy, I’ve wanted a dumbwaiter.  How cool would that be? And if I could be a cartoon character, I’d be Kim Possible.  I’m excited to spend as much time in the teen mystery genre as I can manage.

Amanda: Most of our readers here at Killer Fiction are adults who prefer adult mysteries and romances, but who have daughters/nieces/granddaughters. Can you recommend some other teen mysteries to add to their shopping lists? 

Juli: For all teens, I recommend Meg Cabot’s 1-800-Where-R-You Series and Amanda Brice’s Dani Spevak Mystery Series.  These are fun, compelling, and devoid of parent-angering issues.

Amanda: Okay, thank you, but that totally wasn't intended as a fishing expedition for you to compliment me. Really! Although I'm never going to complain anytime my books are mention in the same sentence as Meg Cabot's. ;)

Juli: I also love Carl Hiaasan, Anthony Horowitz, and Rick Riordan books. 
Amanda: Love Anthony Horowitz! Right on.
Juli: For teens 15 and up, I recommend Stephanie Hale’s Revenge of the Homecoming Queen and S.R. Johannes’s Untraceable.  I adore the Heather Wells mysteries by Meg Cabot, starting with Size 12 is Not Fat, even though it isn’t technically a teen book. 
I’m dying to read Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl Series and also Shannon Greenland’s The Specialist series. I haven’t allowed myself to read them because they have the potential to be quite similar to my Hottie books.  Once I finish my series, I’ll be excited to read them. 
Amanda: I'm totally the same way. Despite it appearing in my also-boughts (and me in hers), I haven't gone anywhere near Jennifer Lynn Barnes' The Squad series, featuring undercover cheerleaders. Hers is a spy series whereas mine's more of a cozy mystery, but it just seems too similar to my dance series. Probably because I both danced and cheered growing up. :) But as soon as I say my final goodbye to Dani (probably sometime in 2014 or 2015, depending on whether the fans still want more books), you better believe I'll be catching up!
Anyway, thanks so much for joining us today, Juli.

Here's the blurb for Investigating the Hottie, which has been hands-down my favorite read so far in 2013. (Yes, I know it's early, but seriously -- it's really good! Funny, exciting, romantic...the real deal.)

Peterson. Amanda Peterson. When my life suddenly turns into the Princess Diaries meets Mission Impossible, can I do in a week what I haven’t managed to do in all my fifteen years—reel in a hottie?
When Amanda spends a week with her aunt, Christie, she learns that her aunt is a spy. Christie admits that Amanda has security clearance and has already started her training. When her aunt asks her to investigate a teenage hacker, Amanda thinks that spending time with a nerd should be doable despite her social ineptitude. Unfortunately for Amanda, the hacker is a hottie.

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