LOATHING LOLA

Okay, I know I’m a bit behind the times – Loathing Lola has been out for a while now, but over the holidays I scaled the mountain of books on my ‘to be read’ pile and discovered this debut YA novel by William Kostakis’.

Loathing Lola was full of surprises right from the start. Leopard-clad Lola was not who I expected her to be from the title, but she was a great character nonetheless – someone who was colourful and memorable and the lynch pin for  important plot points in the story.

In spite of the name of the book, this is not Lola’s story. Loathing Lola is about fifteen-year-old Courtney Marlow who thinks that starring in a reality show on national television will solve her mum’s financial problems and allow her to be a positive role model for teens across Australia.

Courtney is hoping to show that many kids her age live a ‘normal’ life without boob jobs and eating disorders. But Courtney’s life is far from ordinary. Her boyfriend died recently in a car accident and her new stepmother Lola seems intent on becoming a major part of her life.

She also has to deal with the conniving Katie and at times the reader’s not the only one wondering whether Katie is actually a friend. Luckily for Courtney, she has a reliable friend in Katie’s twin, Tim as well as a hunky new love interest who might just be the guy to help her get over her recent tragic loss.

In Loathing Lola, things aren’t quite what they seem to be and there are plenty of clever twists and turns in the story that keep you guessing till the end.

Courtney is a very believable character who readers will care about and she has an engaging authentic voice — hardly surprising seeing as author, William Kostakis was just nineteen when Loathing Lola was published.

The dialogue and setting are also very real, as are the problems faced by the main character.

This clever book is laced with humour to darken the lighter moments and is a satire on both Australian culture and reality tv. The laughs begin right from the start at the funeral of Courtney’s boyfriend when the irrational Chloe tries to lay claim to the dead guy.

The foreshadowing in Loathing Lola is effective and the tension gives the reader a sense of foreboding amidst the humour – the feeling that unless something changes, things might not end well.

Loathing Lola is published by Pan MacMillan.

A personal mini-essay on: Getting personal

Creative writing is, by nature, a very personal profession. Writers write words, and these words, ideally, trigger emotional responses in readers. Writers draw on their own experiences and feelings, in the hope that in representing these, the reader will  feel a story just as much as read it.

I thought I’d write this post on ‘personal’ writing as an author, more than a reader, so please, forgive the shameless mentions of Loathing Lola. It’d be hard to write personally about getting personal without it. 🙂

Getting personal in print is more than simply revealing secrets and sharing life stories with characters’ real names substituted for fake ones, the magical ingredient of stories – the ‘What If?’ mechanism that makes a real event ‘creative’ – allows you as an author to divorce yourself from simply retelling your life. Instead, you look at the event that inspired you, and its characters, and you look at them with an author’s eye – you look at their motives, their hidden insecurities… re-writing your world creatively allows for you to better understand your world. And grow.

Loathing Lola began as a novel I wrote in Years 5 and 6, and was drafted close to twenty times before its eventually-published incarnation. In Year 5, I was in the middle of my parents’ divorce. I didn’t write about their divorce, but I did, in a way. Most of my character’s feelings were my own, the references to past experiences (the unpaid Child Support, the Apprehensive Violence Order, our own financial struggles) were very real. To alleviate the suspicion of those reading it, I changed the gender of the protagonist to female, and I wrote about her hating her father’s new girlfriend and striving to get her parents back together. While it wasn’t literally about my life, I never did anything Courtney did (the ‘What If’ driving the story being: ‘What if I did?’), a psychiatrist would have a field day reading it.

As I grew older, the story evolved. Looking back at the story, I didn’t believe what I had written, because despite the heat-of-the-moment things I had written about unpaid Child Support, the Apprehensive Violence Order, and our own financial struggles, I didn’t hate my father, and I didn’t hate my new stepmother. To be fair, I didn’t know them. And I sure as hell didn’t want my parents back together. I only came to these realisations when I read the father/stepmother characters’ stereotypical portrayal in Loathing Lola‘s earlier drafts, and Courtney’s unrealistic Hollywood-style unbridled hate for the stepmother and need to The Parent Trap them back together. The unbelievable aspects of the story forced me to look inside, and question my own real-world beliefs.

This caused me some problems, because I now had a title I loved (Loathing Lola) and a character who didn’t loathe Lola. Great. Reality TV was my saviour (another ‘What If’: ‘What if my life was on TV?’), because it allowed me to challenge the ‘typical’ perception that children should hate their step-parents because they’re replacing their biological ones. In the final version, Courtney has to deal with people expecting her to hate her stepmother, when she doesn’t know really know her. This blind, stereotypical hate is something Courtney rejects in the narrative.

So, while I’m not female, and I’ve never had a TV show, getting personal and working through my own feelings through Courtney not only gave me a stronger and more realistic narrative, but it really forced me to look at myself, and my own feelings. Was I feeling them because I had to? Were they justified? Or was I just feeling ‘typical’ feelings because I didn’t actually know them?

And while it’s difficult dealing with emotional uglies – I’m currently working on a book that focuses primarily on dealing with my close friend’s death, and it’s hard – it’s rewarding, not only for readers, but for authors. I like to think I better understand myself, and my life, thanks to Loathing Lola, a piece of personal fiction.

Interview with GREIG BECK

Beneath the Dark Ice – pitch it in one sentence.

Taught adventure thriller with scares a plenty!

The best action/thrillers are those with more than just explosions, those that have depth, an engagement with mythology. In Beneath the Dark Ice, you play with legends like the Kraken and Atlantis, and draw on elements of Mayan and Olmec archaeology. Were these things you were interested in prior to writing the novel, or did you simply discover them during the writing process?

That’s easy – both! I was brought up on a diet of horror-thrillers and science fiction and was happiest reading or watching shows about (all cultures’) myths and legends. Even today small facts that add colour to our history jump out at me. Did you know they recently found evidence of a 16th century vampire in Venice? Buried with a paving stone jammed in her jaws to stop her coming back from the grave? Or in New Mexico, there is evidence that dinosaurs survived for nearly a million years after they became extinct everywhere else – our real Lost Valley. These little things are still ‘wow’ moments for me and add to a collection of myths and mysteries I keep with me in an ideas book.

But discovery is important as well. The (novel) writing process directs you to creating or obtaining believable details. Your readers wouldn’t let you get away with being lazy in the descriptive or exposition process… and you don’t need to be.  Research has been made easier for today’s author via the internet. It brings so much detail to you from enthusiasts, experts, and other authors, keeping your mind working the possibilities and expanding on your own knowledge.

Bottom line is, I started with a basic knowledge skeleton and once I started digging, I kept uncovering more and more flesh for the bones.

I read somewhere that your writing impulse developed out of your habit of storytelling to your son, Alex – would you say your book’s target audience is restricted to young males?

You could say the creative process started with storytelling to Alex. I’d either make up a story or read him a book, and then halfway through I’d stop and say, “What do you think happens then?” We’d have fun describing all sorts of different endings. Even though Alex is now 11, I wouldn’t let him read Beneath the Dark Ice – way too many scary scenes. I wrote the book for an audience of people who enjoyed adventure thrillers, but also like some terror included. There was no real target demographic in mind.

Who would you say were your biggest influences?

Without doubt Graham Masterton, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. And the classic sci-fi writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and Pierre Boulle.

What can you tell us about your next release, Return of the Prophet?

You actually caught me in the middle of its final editing. The 2nd book also contains Captain Alex Hunter, and this time he is sent on a mission to the Middle East. A significant radiation spike leads the US government to believe the Iranians are performing subsurface nuclear test detonations. What they find is that they have inadvertently created a miniature black hole. While they try and perfect the technology to continue to create these Dark Events they accidently open a doorway – a portal through which ‘something’ slips through. Alex has to stop the creation of the black holes before they devour the Earth and also confront the thing out in the desert. Just as much fun as the first book, and just as thrilling and frightening!

There have been comparisons made between you and other Pan Macmillan blockbuster action authors, most notably, Matthew Reilly. How do you feel you differentiate yourself from what Matthew, and others, offer in the genre?

I like to think my books are more than just thrillers. Like the other thriller writers, my books are well researched with a high degree of technological realism, but there is also a terror element that I believe gives my readers some good heart stopping scares. The best description I have heard of my style was, Matthew Reilly, with teeth!

If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?

Just one?! It’s a tough question because every book has merit – even if it’s only to serve as an example of how not to do some particular thing. But… if you asked me what book made my brain hurt, well, that would be during my study days. Try reading Valuing the Firm and Strategic Acquisitions without suffering a migraine and wishing for an immediate induced coma!

Last Australian book you read?

Hey, this is no kiss-up, but it was Loathing Lola. It was a lot of fun and I’ve managed to pinch heaps of ideas. Thanks William!

If you could claim any other authors work as your own, whose would it be?

Early Stephen King. What a spread of great ideas that guy had. Whatever he was drinking at the time, i wish i could buy some.

The token filler question: What is the most valuable piece of advice you were never told?

As a writer it would be to read across genres. Though, they tell you to write what you like to read, you should also read beyond just what you’re comfortable reading. You need to experience many different forms of style and type. Some guys just do humour, pathos, fear, anger and rage, etc much better than others.

Last thing – keep a look out for lucky breaks – they do happen!

Interview with JAMES ROY

Earlier this year, I was invited by the Children’s Book Council Australia (NSW Sub-Branch) to speak at their 2009 Triple-A Event, where we reflect on a year of children’s releases and toast the shortlist when it’s announced at midday. I was the Older Readers speaker, which meant I had to read every entrant in the Older Readers category. That meant I had to read the copy of James Roy’s Hunting Elephants that was sitting in my bookshelf. Despite having met the author a few times and my general feelings of guilt stemming from not actually having read any of his books, I’d been putting off reading it, because, frankly, the blurb didn’t appeal to me. Vietnam vets, a rural wedding… to say I was dreading it would be to understate the fact. Significantly.

I won’t sugarcoat it – I read it because I was forced to. Well, I started reading it because I was forced to. I finished it in a day because I absolutely loved it. It was mature, it didn’t talk down to its readers, but at the same time, it showing off. It was just genuinely well-written. That’s the key to its broad appeal – and I handed the book to Mum when I finished. She loved it, and this is the woman who’s only finished reading one other book in the past fifteen years: my own.

I selected Hunting Elephants as one of my picks for the CBCA Older Readers Shortlist, and I was really disappointed when it didn’t make it. But not being on the Shortlist  doesn’t mean a book isn’t deserving of your time, and Hunting Elephants is certainly deserving of your time.

We’re continuing our tradition of exclusive author interviews here at Boomerang by sitting down with James Roy, author extraordinaire and avid olive hater.

First off – why the hate for olives? I mean, granted, I’m Greek, but surely, no one can hate them enough to mention them in jacketflap bios AND on their website?

I don’t rightly know. Maybe it’s because they’re so bold and intense and singular (almost un-subtle) in their flavour, although I’m sure there are aficionados who will accuse me of being a trog for saying that. But I mean, even if you don’t like artichokes, they’re still a bit ‘pick ’em off if you can be bothered’, and if you get a bite of gherkin in your burger, you barely notice. But olives are almost aggressive in their boldness of flavour. I just don’t like them. Is this really what we’re going to be talking about?

Hahaha… You know my priorities: olives first, literature second. 🙂 Now, literature: 2008’s release, Hunting Elephants was one of my favourites of the year. What I loved most was the way you approached representing cystic fibrosis, and didn’t blatantly try to manipulate the audience into “feeling for the sick kid”. There was a certain understated realism to its portrayal – was it based on a personal experience… or just a lot of research?

First, thanks. And that’s more like it. Sure beats the olives question…

When I worked as a registered nurse on the adolescent unit of a major children’s hospital, there were several issues I didn’t feel I wanted to discuss in my writing, mainly because I was dealing with that stuff every day. Dying kids, mental illness, cancer, eating disorders and cystic fibrosis. But I was still observing it, and biding my time as a writer, and I wrote about other things. Then, when I stopped doing that job, I was ready to write about some of that stuff. In Town, I included a character with anorexia nervosa, and in Hunting Elephants it was CF. I saw one boy die exactly the way Joel did in Hunting Elephants, and it wasn’t pretty. Fortunately many kids with CF are getting transplants nowadays, but it’s still a tough life. So here’s my soapbox moment: tick the organ donor card on your license renewal form, people, and support CF fund-raisers. There is a cure out there somewhere.

We’ve had heaps of requests that we ask authors about their process… so, how did you go about writing Hunting Elephants? Are you a planner? What was the biggest change that came out of the editing process?

I’m not a planner. Any time I try to plan, I end up getting impatient and frustrated and just getting on with the writing. I fly by the seat of my pants, and let the book come out of asking one question, which was first said by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing).

And Studio 60… and I think I’m the only person on the planet who preferred / watched the short-lived Studio 60

Well, he said that his characters come out of asking this: “What do they want?” Lili Wilkinson goes one step further, and suggests we also ask: “What do they need?”, remembering that sometimes the want and the need are in opposition. And once you know what a character wants, you make it almost impossible to get it. That’s the conflict, right there. So this is a question that I’m asking, almost subconsciously, the whole time I’m writing.

Hunting Elephants was going to be about a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War, full of creepy stories and adventures. But when I researched and interviewed, I learnt that there is the clichéd, typecast view of the Vietnam vet – angry, sullen, traumatised, unwilling to open up – and then there are all the others. Plus one guy who didn’t in fact do very much during the war, but was more comfortable letting people believe he saw and did traumatic stuff, rather than acknowledge that his experience wasn’t in fact all that harrowing. I found his story much more interesting.

A caveat to that: this is not to say that the support guys who were based at Nui Dat weren’t  fought against, but simply that what we believe we see and what we actually see and what we’re allowed to believe are often three completely separate things.

What about it are you most proud of?

The structure. Flashback isn’t something I’ve always done well, so I found that the way it worked in Hunting Elephants was quite pleasing. I’m also quite proud of the cystic fibrosis stuff, because it feels like something of a tribute to the kids I nursed over the years, and their families, who are confronted with emotions and challenges no one should ever have to face.

You mentioned Town earlier and it’s something we have to talk about. A friend and fellow blogger, Adele Walsh, over at Persnickety Snark, picked this quotation from it that made my morning:

“And to Mr Richard Foster who is joining our geography and maths facility. He’s apparently quite the cyclist, so those of you wanting a good hard ride might like to track him down.” p.15

Town received a lot of award attention (insert dramatically long list of accolades here, including the NSW Premier’s Award [Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2008]), did you write it thinking it’d be so well-received, or did its reception surprise you?

Strangely, when I finished it, I felt incredibly satisfied. With almost everything else I’ve ever written, I get a serious case of cold feet once the final proofs have gone back to the publisher, and it’s now out of my control. I agonise about whether I rushed it, whether I could have sent away a better book with another six months at it, and I doubt whether it will even get bought, much less get good reviews. And shortlists and awards are the furthest thing from my mind. But with Town, I knew that it was a good book. That sounds arrogant, but I don’t mean it to be. I just felt very, very satisfied, and didn’t feel that I would have changed a single word even if I’d had another year at it. Which is ironic, because on the first reprint, we had to change several words that were typos.

Did its reception surprise me? A little, I guess. I felt it was the best book I could produce, but when it got a five-star review in Australian Bookseller and Publisher, I was a little stunned. In a good way. A very good way. And when someone tells me that they’ve read it (it’s not even necessary that they’ve enjoyed it – having read it is enough) I’m still a little surprised and flattered. I think this is because after years of writing books that got good reviews, I still felt slightly invisible. I still haven’t seen someone reading one of my books on a train or a bus, though. But I have seen someone reading Loathing Lola. True story.

Tempted to use that to a segue-way to a conversation about me… but I won’t. I know you keep churning out novels, what’s next on the horizon? Tell us about them.

Earlier this year was The Gimlet Eye, in the Quentaris series. As my first proper fantasy book, that was a lot of fun. And in the US was Max Quigley, Technically Not a Bully, which was a rebadge of Problem Child.

Later this year is Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada, which is Book 1 in a trilogy for middle-grade readers. It’s a kind of existential sci-fi thing about a boy who is transported to Verdada, the land of lost things. It’s all happy happy, joy joy in Verdada. Or so it appears…

And very early in 2010 is Anonymity Jones, a YA book about a girl whose life is in something of a tailspin, and the drastic measures she takes to regain some kind of control. I know, that’s never been done before in a YA book, has it? What’s different for me with this book is that it’s quite short, so I’ve had to be very direct and (hopefully) elegant in my prose.

And after that? The remainder of the Edsel Grizzler trilogy, and another collection of linked short stories like Town, only set in the city. The working title? City, obviously. I’m pretty excited about that one.

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 2010 mayhaps?… Working on anything at the moment?

Always. I’m just tidying up the end of Anonymity Jones, plus working on a couple of commissioned pieces. Plus I’m putting notes aside for some of the ten or so projects I’ve got slated for the future.

Ever considered writing another Mack book?

I was planning to, but every plot point I tried seemed too convenient or coincidental, and a little opportunistic. Never say never, but at the moment I don’t think so.

What inspired you to write The ‘S’ Word? A frustrating puberty?

Ha! Nice try!

Actually, yes, kind of. My sex education was largely from World Book Encyclopaedia. In fact, I think my mother thought I was going to be a fashion designer, because every time she came into my room I was reading about Sewing Machines. Of course, this was only a page or two over from Sex.

But to be completely serious, there were so many books for girls about their ‘changing bodies’ and ‘relationships’, but very little for boys of 10-14. There were books for much older boys, and for little kids, but I wanted middle-grade boys to be able to open my book and get answers to what was worrying or confusing or interesting them without feeling intimidated by the language, or patronised by the level of information.

I also wanted to emphasise to the next generation of young men that sexual development isn’t about the mechanics of sex, but about relationships and mutual respect. This is why I dedicated whole chapters to discussing how we talk to girls, how to behave on dates, etc. I felt a little stung by a review that said this book was potentially detrimental to relationships, because that was EXACTLY what much of the book was about. I’m still not convinced that reviewer even read the book.

I also want to acknowledge Gus Gordon for his fantastic illustrations. I asked him for a chapter header, and one illo per chapter, two illos for the longer chapters. He came back with complete cartoons, each of which tells a proper little story. He was worried that a couple of them had gone too far, but I don’t think we rejected a single one.

On your website, you mention you hate authors who take themselves too seriously, or refer to themselves in the third person… Are you willing to name-drop?

Mmm, nice try. No, although I think they – and you and your readers – know who they are.

I will say this, though. Any published writer who begins to believe that their success is a birthright or an inevitability needs to be very careful, because they’re possibly destined for a nasty surprise. I am a big believer in the sliding doors principle, where tiny circumstances can affect later outcomes. I would never argue that I am a better writer than every unpublished author, nor would I argue that I am a worse writer than some hugely successful authors. I feel privileged that I get to do this as a full-time job, and of course there needs to a be a bit of ability and truckloads of hard work. I am blessed with both those things. But there also needs to be good fortune. Consider this: had the editor to whom I sent my first book been having an off day, or had just filled her 1996 publishing schedule that morning, or simply not liked my writing, or I’d sent the wrong sample chapters, I could still be writing cover letters and filing rejection slips in my scrapbook. And that situation could come back any day.

As I say, I feel immensely privileged to be able to make stories up for a living. I filled out an online form a couple of days ago, and under occupation, I clicked on Arts/Communication. And under that was a list of about twenty jobs. Writer wasn’t on there. So few people get to do it. Yeah, I feel lucky.

So to the authors who get to smug about their success, I’d say this: be wary of believing your own publicity. There’s that old saying – ‘Be nice to the little people on the way up, because you’ll probably hit them on the way back down.’ Panel-beat that however you like for this scenario, and it still holds true.

Of your books – which one has the best opening line?

Can I have three?
“It was the last time I saw her.” (Almost Wednesday)
“Harry was dying.” (Hunting Elephants)
“Once, in a street not very far from yours, there lived a girl, whose name was Anonymity Jones.” (Anonymity Jones)

I like the last one best… Who do you prefer to write for, children or young adults?

Both. I know that sounds glib, but I really do love both, for different reasons. My imagination was somewhat snap-frozen at 10-13, thanks in no small part to the place I was living at the time, so I love writing about that time in kids’ lives, when things are simpler in many ways, but complex in others. Life’s a little more optimistic then than it is once true adolescence hits, perhaps. And yet I love being able to stretch my legs a little more when I write for older readers.

As far as speaking goes, I absolutely love getting up in front of an audience of Grade Fives and Sixes – their enthusiasm is so much fun, and they respond in a really fresh way. High school audiences can be a bit more of a challenge, but when it works, it’s incredibly rewarding.

The most frustrating thing about being a writer?

When I was a registered nurse, I had a staff room. I had colleagues. I had peer support. Writers don’t get that every day. So the loneliness – or perhaps I should say solitude – of writing can be challenging.

But I think my biggest personal frustration is that after thirteen years and almost twenty books, I still have to do as much schools work as I do, because for the most part, good reviews don’t necessarily ensure good royalties. I love schools work, but once in a while I’d like to be able to call my agent and say ‘I’m not doing any school gigs for the next three months – I’ve got some writing I want to do and I need some uninterrupted time’, and know that I can still pay the mortgage.

If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?

Easy. Roald Dahl. Some authors can write funny, some can write gross, some can write important and moving. Roald Dahl did the lot. Plus he wrote some pretty good stuff for grownups.

If you could rid the world of ONE book, which would it be?

I’m tempted to say Mein Kampf, but I don’t know how widely it’s read. So probably Twilight. I think it and its companion books set the liberated woman back by about thirty years, nothing much happens, I’ve read fan fiction that is better, and I think it’s dishonest in its description of many Western teens and their attitude to sex.

Last Australian book you read?

Into White Silence by Anthony Eaton. Brilliant, creepy, chilling, and I wish I’d written it.

And the last non-Australian book I read was Tamar, by Mal Peet. It won the Carnegie Medal, and is such a fantastic blend of history, mystery and young adult angst.

An Introduction

Hi everyone,

My name’s William Kostakis. I’ve been entrusted to help ‘throw the boomerang’. Avid followers of Boomerang Books will notice I’ll be popping up on the Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog.

Why?

Boomerang Books prides itself on delivering a quality service to its customers, through online discounts and book giveaways, while helping promote the Australian publishing industry. It’ll be my job to produce original content for Boomerang Books over a range of different sites, but my presence will most obviously be felt here on the blog, where, if all goes to plan, we’ll be hosting exclusive author interviews, book reviews, short stories, literary event recaps – the possibilities are endless.

Here’s where you come in: What content would you like to be featured on the blog? We’ll strive to deliver that content. Who are your favourite Australian authors? We’ll hunt them down and interview them.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a nineteen-soon-to-be-twenty-year-old young adult author based in Sydney. My debut, Loathing Lola, was released last year through Pan Macmillan. I’ve been blogging (and will continue to blog) over at my own site HERE. That’s more of a ‘this is what I’m doing today’ sort of blog, but my contributions to this blog will be more… I want to say ‘journalistic’, but it seems too serious a word? I’d love for this blog to evolve into a place where Aussie authors can meet their readers and share their stories, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

Watch this space.

William

(And also, if you have Twitter, don’t forget to start following us HERE. I’m looking at producing some content exclusively for our Twitter subscribers. It’s free, it’s fun and it’s horribly addictive…)