Tara Altebrando is the author of the fantastic YA titles What Happens Here and The Pursuit of Happiness, as well as adult novels under the name of Tara McCarthy. If you’ve not read her books, I really, really suggest you do so, and, if you can’t get to the bookstore at the moment, or, you’re already a fan, you can content yourself for the moment with reading her great interview question answers (and, soon, a guest blog).
There’s a lot of traveling in What Happens Here. Have you traveled a lot? What’s one of your most memorable trips, and why?
I would say that I’ve traveled a fair amount. Not compared to some people I know but I’ve been to a bunch of European countries a bunch of times and to Central America and then places like Canada and Mexico and a ton of U.S. states.
I’d have to put a week in Hawaii on the most memorable list. It’s seriously like going to another planet, the landscape is just so unreal. My husband and I splurged on a convertible rental and a helicopter ride and a sunset cruise and even massages on the beach…it was incredible. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as relaxed (as an adult, anyway). It’s a truly transporting place.
Where did you get your inspiration for writing What Happens Here?
If I answer this question too honestly, I give away a big part of the plot of the book. Suffice it to say that the summer before high school, my family took a trip to Europe (my first). When we came back, something bad had happened; actually it had happened before we left but no one told me until after the fact. I modified that experience-a lot-and gave it to the character of Chloe.
You have written two teen novels. You also write for adults under the name Tara McCarthy. What is the same and different about writing for different audiences?
My first response was going to be “the age of the main characters” but in my most recent McCarthy book, “Wouldn’t Miss It for the World,” one of the main characters is a sixteen-year-old who is on a trip to Belize for her rock star brother’s destination wedding. And in “Love Will Tear Us Apart” two of the main characters are seventeen-year-old Siamese twin pop stars. So hmmmn. What IS the difference? I do think the McCarthy books deal with slightly more “adult” concerns. What’s the same about them all is that they’re all stories I wanted to tell and tried very hard to tell well. I learn a lot with each book and bring all of it into the next project regardless of which audience it’s going to be marketed to.
What jobs have you had besides writing? If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?
Well, I used to dress up as a farm girl at a colonial village like Betsy in The Pursuit of Happiness. I also used to work at the Museum of Television and Radio, cataloging TV shows (meaning I had to watch them, then write summaries). But most of the jobs I’ve had have been related to writing in some way. I used to be a music critic for a pop culture magazine in Ireland; I’ve written flap copy for a number of publishing houses; I used to write press materials for a small record label. The astonishing thing is that I’ve lived my entire adult life without ever having a full time job!
If I weren’t a writer, I think I’d like to be an event planner.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what book would you have to have with you?
Right now I would have to say Don Delillo’s “Underworld.” Because I really really want to read it and haven’t had the time. My daughter has taken to crawling over to the book and pulling it off the shelf as if to taunt me. Surely on a deserted island, I could finally get to it.
Setting is a strong part of What Happens Here. Why did you choose to use the two settings of Europe and Las Vegas for the background of the story? Did you get to do any fun travelling research while writing the book?
I knew I wanted to send a teenager to Europe with her family. When I took that first trip with my family, it was a hugely eye-opening event for me and I feel especially grateful to my mother for being so determined to take us there. Even though I don’t think it would become obvious for a bunch of years, I think it significantly altered my view of the world and my place in it. So I wanted to explore all of that through a character.
Somewhere along the way I started to wonder what it would be like if you lived in Las Vegas and saw these casinos modeled after cities like New York and Paris but had never been to the actual places. I started playing around with the settings as sort of mirrors of each other and found that I liked the way it worked.
I took a research trip to Vegas at one point but was newly pregnant and not feeling so hot. So it wasn’t that fun. And right before I wrote the book I’d taken a big trip to Italy with my husband. So a lot of the Venice stuff in the book was very fresh in my mind. I also spent a lot of time looking at pictures of my post-eighth grade trip with my family, and a school trip to Europe I took when I was a senior in high school. Those were some bad hair days but it was neat to try to relive those early trips.
Chloe’s older sister, Zoe, dreams of joining the Cirque de Soleil. This is a rather offbeat ambition, and I was wondering where that idea came from? Are you a performer?
The last time I was in Las Vegas, I went to see Ka. I was already working on What Happens Here and struggling a little bit with the character of Zoe. She was just sort of…there. After seeing Ka, I knew that if I’d seen it as a teenager living in Vegas I would have wanted to be in it so I decided to turn Zoe into an aspiring circus performer.
I’m not a performer now, no. As a girl, I was really into dance and took lessons for years, and then I played the clarinet in concert bands for years, and was also the captain of a color guard in a competitive marching band in high school. So I’ve definitely got some showmanship in my blood. It just has no outlet in my adult life.
What are you writing now?
I am writing a new YA that is TOP SECRET. Mostly because it’s a bit different from my first two and I want to see it through to the end before I show it to anybody. I hope to be telling you and everyone about it in the not too distant future.
Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).
“Don’t you think it’s a little obnoxious to be all ‘top secret’ about your next book?”
Um, yes. Probably.
Thanks so much, Tara!