Hello Barbara and welcome. Please tell us a little about yourself and Pull?
Born and raised in Chicago. While I am not the main character in Pull, he and I are both products of divorce. I was the eldest of five children (meaning he does not know how lucky he was to have only two siblings). I graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago, earned college degrees in Biochemistry and Computer Science and worked first in the medical field and then in the IT department at AT&T.
I began writing seriously in 2007 just after I retired. I’ve taken courses at local junior colleges, as well as becoming a member of RWA and SCBWI and taking many on-line writing courses. I won’t begin to count how many hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written since then. Pull is my first published novel, but not my first completed book.
P. S. I don’t play basketball, I don’t do construction, and I have no sons. I have an adult daughter, and teen boys are just the creatures I used to warn her about.
Pull is set in your home town of Chicago. Have you had the opportunity to do a event at Hyde Park ?
No, but I would love to, especially since many of my memories of Hyde Park helped create my fictional Farrington High School. When I first sold I tried to visit with the vice-principal, the school year was ending and there was no time time. When school started up again I sent them a letter about myself and my book but never heard anything back. I know I should persevere, so maybe I'll give them another try, especially now that other schools are issuing me invitations.
Hyde Park better hurry up and schedule an event, while you can still fit them in.
I must admit, I am prone to judge a book quickly, from the start David Albacore comes across as someone I want to know.
Did anyone you know in real life inspire the character of David?
David is loosely based on my nephew, Craig Houston Jr. Although neither a basketball player or into construction, he was a wonderful young man, always cheerful and helpful, even after his parents divorce. He too found school a chore, but had reached college when he died at twenty-one following an asthma attack.
After school David works at job he loves construction, to help support him and his sisters.
Where did this love of construction come from?
I assume you mean David, because I’m like that guy who can’t drive a nail straight. Although I did share a pizza slice with a young construction worker one winter night when I first started writing Pull. But that’s another story and besides I only used him for research. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
David went into construction first because he needed a job that paid more than minimum wage and found a family friend willing to hire a part-timer. Once in the trade, he found himself a natural. Some people learn from books, some from their hands. He’s the latter. Add in co-workers who treated him like a man from the start, and a boss he learned to respect, and he was hooked. I think he likes the solitary nature of the work too. There is a crew, but mostly he gets to work alone, just him and his thoughts. And at the end of the shift, he has something tangible to show for his efforts.
"Tantly written gripping and realistic, the strength of this story comes from the
author's refusal to take shortcuts or make up a traditional happy ending, but to let a true story twist,turn, and play out to its realistic, unromanticized, satisfying conclusions." - Tanita S.Davis, Coretta Scott King Award winning author of Mare's War
David falls for Yolanda Dare. I was surprised that Yolanda turned out to be the girl ,David was interested because the "supposedly easy girl" is never the love interest. This was one of the many things I liked about Pull.
Why did you decide the love interest would be the girl with the reputation?
Yolanda didn’t start out that way. According to her original character sketch she was supposed to be a typical little princess, a youngest daughter with an impressive set of older, overprotective brothers who didn’t like this David person who wandered into her life. But for some reason, when I wrote the cafeteria scene, Barney and Yolanda became immediate enemies. I made the decision not to fight that, which meant changes in other areas.
Yolanda’s boyfriend became the catalyst for their enmity, and he couldn’t be a nice guy, because she was going to leave him for David. Which meant I needed a reason why she would stay with a creep. That led to self-esteem issues and secrets she needed to hide, so suddenly, by the magic of Goal-Motivation-Conflict she lost the loving family and developed reputation that kept her from having friends who might pry into her secrets.
Every school has these so-called bad girls. Every student knows who the bad girls are, and a lot of girls envy their apparent freedom and fun lifestyle. I used Yolanda to show readers, especially young female readers, that fun can be a facade and that everything isn’t always what it seems.
There are many things standing in the way of David and Yolanda getting together. Including Yolanda's, cheating and abusive boyfriend Malik.
Do you think David had it in him to be a Malik, if things had worked out differently?
Oh yes, I fear the potential is there, especially with David’s male role-model a wife abuser who modeled the behavior that men had to be in charge. I think at the beginning his fear that he could repeat his father’s violence is justified. And let’s face it, he’s got looks, and talent, and he’s a basketball star—he’d have girls all over him and no matter what he did. His need to protect his sisters and eventually Yolanda, were the catalysts to facilitate his change. As one of my critique partners told me, there is a fine line between Alpha Male and Obnoxious Male. To me,these two guys stand just barely on their side of the line.
David keeps a close eye on his sister Barney. Though Malik still finds a way to start sweet talking Barney. I really liked this storyline. In YA you already ever see the unsuspecting girl being worked on by an older guy. Yet,so many girls Barney's age end up in bad sexual relationships because they're vulnerable. That could've easily happened to Barney, after being exposed to her parents abusive relationship and uprooted to a new home.
If Malik is so bad, why do so many girls try so hard to get his attention?
Before I start a new work I have two quotes from my research into teenagers that I reread. One reminds me that teenage girls have a near universal fear that “a girl unremarked by boys ceases to exist.” The other that “there are few forces more potent to the adolescent girl than the male gaze.” I used that to develop Malik and his relationships with Yolanda, Barney and the other girls around him.
Malik has it all, looks, money, a car and he’s captain of the basketball team. He’s a silver-tongued devil as well. He spends time and energy perfecting his image. He also at least pretends to be exclusive, giving girls the feeling that they need to fight to get him. He’s the ultimate bad boys and those guys have always been attractive, even adult women find themselves taken in by the allure of the independent maverick. Even when intellect tells us he’s wrong, emotions overrule
Add in any kind of self-esteem issue which too many high school girls have, and he ends up being one of those sticky-glue traps that are easy to fall into and hard to get out of again.
I can't do this interview and not mention the first kiss, early on in the story. It takes place in the cafeteria but doesn't involve David. He and Barney are simply sitting at Neill and Carl's lunch table when they kiss.
I was reading Pull the week it seemed teen gay suicides were being reported daily because of bullying. Neill and Carl's kiss was unexpected and much appreciated. I had pretty much given up hope finding any gay or lesbian characters in any YA books by Black authors this year.
Was Neill and Carl's relationship a conscious decision?
Neil was a conscious decision. I wanted a gay youth that was neither a stereotype nor someone David had to rescue. Neill’s job was to be strong, confident, intelligent and David’s friend. Carl was added in to put Neill in a committed relationship, so there would be no “lusting after the new hunk” complications. The kiss was absolutely organic, the characters made the decision to act as I wrote the scene; I just went along with them.
At the end David had to make a difficult decision, either follow his mother's dream of college or his love of construction?
I agreed with David's choice, because it seemed liked the right one for him. What do you want readers to take away from David's decision?
I hope readers see that David agonized over the decision. One size does not fit all. David put a lot of thought into his choice and he made a plan. To me, the plan is the sign of his maturity, he acknowledged there were risks and sought assistance to make things work out. And that’s why I’m sure he will succeed.
I hope that both young people and adult readers faced with difficult decisions will be able to
consider consequences before jumping into situations, and not just accept the easy or popular or authority sanctioned solution.
I see you bribed, I mean gave a TSA agent a copy of Pull.
So how many books did you have in your suitcase? Are there any you think we should know about?
I swear it wasn’t a bribe, and she still undid my suitcase to prove it. She just loved the idea of “the contemporary novel that has a seventeen-year-old male African-American protagonist” and gushed over it so much I felt honored handing one over to her.
Besides my own books I had fourteen others inside the suitcase (please don’t ask me how I did it, and it took the both of us to repack the bag.) In keeping with the YALSA theme, Diversity, Literature & Teens, I picked up a number of titles that I might never have seen otherwise, and all of them are proving unputdownable so it’s hard to only name a few. . but here goes
• Ash by Malinda Lo – a GLBT retelling of the Cinderella story with a
far eastern twist where the Cinderella, a.k.a. Ash, falls for the King’s
huntress. (By the way, I also got the prequel – Huntress A paranormal
with no vampires or werewolves but very interesting creatures from
• Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman – A story of a fourteen-year-old whom
the world thinks is severely retarded due to cerebral palsy and whose
father may, or may not, have decided to kill him. At the end of the book
I’m the one dying…I want to read the forthcoming sequel.
• Jazz in Love by Neesha Neminger – A culture clash story of a seventeen-
year-old American born, high-caste girl of Indian ancestry whose parents
launch a Guided Dating Plan to find her a suitable pre-screened mate.
• Muchacho by Louanne Johnson – where an extremely intelligent Latino
boy plays dumb for all the wrong reasons, until he meets the beautiful, and
highly intelligent, girl of his dreams and has to make decisions about his
David geeks construction. What do you geek?
I'm a big time huge science geek!! I received degrees in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin (yeah Badgers!) and Michigan State. After working in that field for about five years I went back to school and got yet another degree in Computer Science from DePaul University. I'm also an amateur astronomer with a lifetime membership at Chicago's Adler Planetarium and have a history of eclipse chasing.
Eclipse chasing sounds very cool. Barbara, hopefully your love of science will find its way into future stories. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all these questions with such care. Congratulations on a wonderful YA debut
The first few chapters of Pull are available for download on the author's website
Be sure to check out the other WBBT interviews today
Josh Berk - Finding Wonderland
Adam Gidwitz - Fuse #8 Production
Salley Mavor - Seven Impossible Things
Daisy Whitney - Bildungsroman
The rounds up can always be found at Chasing Ray