Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Interview With Debbie Rigaud

In December, I read and reviewed Perfect Shot by Debbie Rigaud. Perfect Shot was everything it should've been, entertaining and page turning good. It was so nice to read a contemporary YA romance with Black characters. When I asked Debbie Rigaud for an interview, she was kind enough to say yes.

Before, I sent off my questions, I did extensive research (author's blog). I learned that Debbie Rigaud is a Haitian American, and wrote an essay in Transculturalism edited by Claude Grunitzky. The collection was published in 2004. Rigaud's essay is about what it meant to have Haitian roots growing up in America. As well as Haiti's fight for independence.

I asked Debbie a few questions about the essay and Haiti in general. I felt talk about Haiti deserved its own space. I will post that soon, either here or at Color Online.

Hi- Debbie. Please tell us, a little about yourself? And Perfect Shot?

:-) Gladly. I am a magazine writer/editor turned YA Author. I was raised in Jersey (born in NYC) and currently live abroad in Bermuda, thanks to my hubby's job. My first piece of YA fiction was a novella published in the Kimani Tru anthology titled Hallway Diaries .

Perfect Shot is my solo debut. It's a Simon Pulse romantic comedy about a sporty girl who signs up for a modeling contest just to catch the eye of the cute contest intern collecting applications.

Aside from being about the wacky things we do when under the spell of a crush, Perfect Shot is also about challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones. I had so much fun writing it.

With African American YA novels being pigeonholed, did you ever feel discouraged from writing Perfect Shot?

Not at all. Granted, I am sensitive to the fact that it's not an easy path, thanks to certain publisher's perception that a book featuring Black protagonists cannot be a commercial success.

But the fact is, I felt encouraged because of my desire to offer African-American teens and young readers in general, stories that more closely reflect their multicultural experiences.

Plus, my background in magazine publishing provided the perfect training for pitching diverse stories to mainstream gatekeepers. I remember, and this was 10 years ago-- feeling triumphant when my piece about double Dutch as a competitive sport made it into Seventeen magazine. It was like, YES!

Are you a better turner or jumper?

If I had to choose, I think I'm slightly better at jumping. I just love everything about double Dutch. A few years back, I pulled my car over when I saw a few teens jumping double Dutch in the street. I asked them if they'd let me turn so that I can get to jump next. They did. And it was funny, because a few minutes later, another woman my age also pulled over and asked if she could join in. I recognized that same nostalgic look in her eyes.

I thought you found a great balance between laughter and romance. How much of that was revision and how much was editor input?

I'm so glad you appreciated the humor. I always wonder if I get too carried away with the jokes, but that's the way my mind works sometimes. My editor Michael del Rosario was awesome. But he was more instrumental in encouraging me to rev up the conflict throughout the story.

I admit that I was mindful of being the first African-American author in the series. At first, I avoided writing scenes that I thought might reinforce stereotypes about aggression in our community, and I think this showed in my first draft. Michael helped me strike that right balance.

I didn't just appreciate the humor, I loved it. As much as I enjoy YA literature there needs to be more diverse stories told with characters of color. Sometimes I get a serious urge to lose myself in a contemporary YA novel with characters of color. While I was reading Perfect Shot (and laughing) I couldn't help but think I want more of this.

Debbie, do you think there will come a time, when you will get tired of people referring to you as the first Black author of a Simon Pulse's
romantic comedy novel?

Well, in a perfect world, I'd like to just be known as a good writer for the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies. But I'm aware of the milestone. And if it can make things less difficult for others who follow, than that's a title I accept.

Tell us a little about London't best friend Pam? HDQ, and their friendship.

One suggestion my editor made after reading my first draft was, More Pam! From the feedback lots of readers adore London's bff. Pam is a style blogger who has a flair for the dramatics, thanks to her HDQ or Haitian Drama Queen? leanings. (Spend one evening with my hilariously theatrical family and you?ll understand why I was inspired to create a character like Pam.)

As a friend, Pam is the best road dog a girl can ask for. A healthy risk-taker, she was instrumental in getting London to seize her moment by doing something unexpected to meet Brent. London and Pam make a great team because they accept and support each other wholeheartedl. HDQ tendencies and all.

Pam was great. Many romantic comedies are ruined for me because the bestfriend comes across as annoying, mean or spiteful. Pam was nothing but supportive. When the novel opens, the two have part time jobs at Art Attack. As someone who works in retail I found London's inner monologues at the register very funny. Did you do retail time? If so where?

Yes, I did. Lots of it. In high school I worked at Mandee's, the clothing store. Interestingly enough, after a customer complained that there were no Black girls on register, my manager marched right up to me and said, "You, Debbie--you're on register." I remember thinking, Why me?

London is a very likable and well developed character. I appreciated that you took the time to mention her awkward middle school years, when she wasn't comfortable with her height and was called names like giraffe. How tall are you? Is London's middle school experience mirrored after your own?

You got me. By the 7th grade, I had already reached my full adult height of 5'6", so I was dubbed too tall. So yes, to a certain extent, London's middle school experiences as the awkwardly tall, lanky girl mirrored my own. But as I developed her character, London grew into her own person.

It's interesting how that happens. You start off having definite ideas about a certain character, then as you write, a different person than you'd imagined takes shape. In the end, London and I are different. If only I could stand up to confrontation or boldly compete in the way that she does.

London was pretty serious on the volleyball court. She also held her own in the modeling competition. If Tyra Banks ever runs out of ideas for Next Top Model challenges, she should give you a call.

Debbie - I need your help. I really want Sport & Boys click lit or (S&B)chick lit to become a part of the YA vernacular. So the next time you talkabout Perfect Shot can you slip that in. Can you ask Jennifer Echols who wrote The Ex Games ,another S&S romantic comedy author to do the same?

I'll be happy to spread the word about S&B lit. And I'm honored to even be mentioned alongside cool S&B chick lit authors like Jennifer Echols.

I like how you slipped in S&B all nice and easy in your answer. Do more of that.

Are you working on anything now?

Yes. I'm working on another YA romantic comedy, as well as a story about a Haitian-American girl trying to break from her sheltered life. I'm really into paranormal stories, so that's a project I also plan to complete this year.

Will we see London and Pam again?

Now that you mention it, revisiting London and Pam would be awesome. It's the perfect excuse to write another S&B chick lit story!

What 2010 novels are you looking forward to?

So many. The next on my (very long) reading list is 8th Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Ruday-Perkovich. Looking ahead, there's Mitali Perkins? The Bamboo People, Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson, Endless Summer by Jennifer Echols, and The Mark by Jen Nadol sounds interesting.

Debbie, I wish you much success. Perfect Shot is a wonderful read. I hope it finds it way into the hands of many readers.

Thank you so much, Doret! I am beyond thrilled that you and so many readers appreciated Perfect Shot. It's such a tremendous encouragement.


Mrs. Pilkington said...

so glad to see an interview with this author! really looking forward to reading PERFECT SHOT, i wish i'd had books like this when i was younger. extremely glad to have it now. pam and london's relationship sounds so good, and...volleyball! and it's a great one, doret. i'm looking forward to the interview on Haiti -- and more from Debbie Rigaud.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

I hadn't heard of this book until reading this interview. I have some students who I know would love this book.

Doret said...

Gbemi - I was glad I had the chance to ask Debbie a few questions about Haiti.

Evelyn - Perfect Shot is good for Ages 11up. And its only $7.00

Hull.Margaret said...

I am confused. You start off by saying the author is Hatian American and then refer to her as African American in your interview.
With all that is going on in Haiti right now, would it be encouraging to be known as a Haitian/American?

Anonymous said...

Black Americans and Haitians are both of African origins. But, that's not so much what the interview is about. I think that's going to be on another blog.

Doret, I enjoyed this interview so much! I remember your excitement when you first mentioned this book! I'm glad you were able to connect with Debbie. I think instead of going to Amazon, I'll go to the bookstore and request it this weekend so they can be introduced to this book as well!

Danielle Nicki said...

This interview was encouraging to me in a few ways. First, I have always been a lover of reading but as a YA I had very few, if any, characters that looked, talked and went through similar things as me and my family. I'm so excited read this and pass it along to others! Second, as a writer myself, I'm encouraged to see a female author of color trailblazing for people like me. You have one more loyal follower Debbie Rigaud!

Jennifer Echols said...

Doret and Debbie, thanks so much for the shout out! I love the S&B Chick Lit idea. I'm about to go on a ski trip (I am not making this up!) but when I get back, I'll do my part by blogging about it.

Debbie Rigaud said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Suddenly, writing full-time doesn't feel like such a lonely career choice. :-)

I'm so grateful for this feature. Thank you, Doret.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I just won Perfect Shot in a contest! I totally can't wait to read and review it, it sounds so cute, and seriously, who doesn't get sucked into those ANTM marathons on TV, or the Tyra Show for that matter.

Fabulous interview, I can't wait to meet Pam and London :-)

Also, Debbie sounds awesome, am looking forward to more of her books!

MissA said...

I'm so grateful we have Perfect Shot and I can't wait to see what Debbie comes up with next! I will totally add S&B chick lit to my future reviews.

Duble Dutch is something I still haven't mastered! I'm a decent turner, but jumper, NO! It's so embarrasing (I was once told the reason I couldn't Double Dutch was because I was only half-Black, my Latina blood prevented me from fully getting it. LOL!)

Pam was an amazing character, <3 HDQ!

@April-I think you will really enjoy Perfect Shot, congrats on winning a copy!