1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I teach college and do research on building literacy with incarcerated teens. I’m a mom of two young kids, and my time is split between writing, teaching, and being with my family. Recently I won a grant to start a fiction and memoir-writing program at King County Juvenile Detention Center, and I’m really excited to start working with teens again.
Aside from those basics, the best way I can think of to tell about myself is to share the art that has meant the most to me. That includes but isn’t limited to The Godfather (the first and second movies), Tristan and Isolde in any form, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Feed by M. T. Anderson, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, In the First Circle by Aleksandr Soltzenhitsyn, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Coleridge, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Longfellow, “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, Rudolph Nureyev’s performance in Le Corsaire, Mozart’s Requiem, “The Angel Cried” by any Orthodox choir, the painting “Liverpool from Wapping” by John Atkinson Greenshaw, Psalm 51 in the Bible, and for some strange reason… The Lost Boys (the movie). This list could go on a lot longer, but I have to stop somewhere.
2. Can you describe Torn in a sentence?
It’s a book that explores what it means for a woman to be a true friend.
3. How long have you known you wanted to be a writer?
I can’t remember a time when writing wasn’t my life dream. I think my goal started to crystallize in the middle elementary years, when I attempted to write a “novel” about an Aztec princess whose slave lover was being sacrificed to the gods. (My dad made the mistake of bringing home an informational picture book about the Aztecs.) Then in fourth grade, a friend and I launched “The Nutty News,” which was an entire newspaper dedicated to nuts. We had features like “The Murder of Mr. Hazelnut.” Everything was illustrated, of course. It was great. I still have copies.
4. Were there any real life events that inspired you to write Torn?
Yes. I was on my own very early as a teen, and without a family, my friends assumed an all-important role. One friend in particular, Carolyn, offered me a temporary place to stay, but more importantly, her lifelong support and love. The two of us were inseparable during high school, and then we went to college together and shared an apartment post-college. Carolyn and I got each other into (and bailed each other out of) more stupid situations than I care to recount. We also had a terrible habit of wearing identical outfits. It looked planned—but it wasn’t. We’d show up to school in the same gear, take one look at each other, and laugh hysterically. Grad school finally took us in separate directions, but we stay in good touch. Torn is dedicated to her.
5. If you could cast anyone alive or dead to play Stella and Ruby, who would they be?
I’d love Emma Stone to play Ruby. She looks fiery. Stella I’m not sure about.
6. Was there any particular scene in Torn that was especially difficult to write?
The last two chapters were tough for me. The original ending was sad and edgy, maybe too edgy for a teen book. But rewriting it was difficult, because I already knew what happened to the characters, and it was hard to shift gears. The original ending still lingers in my mind like an amputated limb.
7. Which of your characters do you think are most like you?
In high school I had Ruby’s wildness, willfulness, and sense of adventure—as well as her sheer stupidity. Somewhere under the layers of civilized adulthood, I still have some thrill-seeking Ruby left in me. I mostly exorcise her through writing and running.
8. Can you tell us anything about what you're working on now?
I have a middle-grade novel coming out in fall of 2013 about a gifted, hyper kid with a behavior problem. He works through his issues with a child psychologist, and the book is about the trajectory of his therapy. It’s got a strong graphic element, and it’s funny—or I hope it’s funny! Kids misbehaving are always funny to me, except when they’re my own. This book has been entertaining to write, because my mother is a child psychologist, and I was able to tap into a lifetime of dinner table-analysis. (“Stephanie, the reason you’re angry right now is because when you were three…”)
9. And lastly, any advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Stick with it and take joy in the process! Publication is wonderful, but don’t lose sight of the pleasure in the act itself. Writers typically have an apprentice period lasting many years, and that’s a lovely time for playing and practicing and developing a style. It’s not just something to get through.
Contact Stephanie Guerra:
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Published May 15, 2012 by Marshall Cavendish
Goodreads | Amazon
Stella Chavez is your classic good girl: straight As, clean-cut boyfriends, and soccer trophies . You’d never guess that Stella’s dad was a drug addict who walked out when she was a kid. Or that inside, Stella wishes for something more.
New girl Ruby Caroline seems like Stella’s polar opposite: cursing, smoking, and teetering in sky-high heels . But with Ruby, Stella gets a taste of another world—a world in which parents act like roommates, college men are way more interesting than high school boys, and there is nothing that shouldn’t be tried once.
It’s not long before Stella finds herself torn: between the best friend she’s ever had and the friends she’s known forever, between her family and her own independence, between who she was and who she wants to be.
But Ruby has a darker side, a side she doesn’t show anyone—not even Stella. As Stella watches her friend slowly unravel, she will have to search deep inside herself for the strength to be a true friend, even if it means committing the ultimate betrayal.