An international novel with a haunting concept. Having multiple personalities sounds like science fiction to some of us but Liz Coley knew someone who was a multiple. This person was kind enough to open up and inspire Liz into creating her debut Pretty Girl-13.
Discover more about Liz and her captivating novel as she answers some of our questions.
I wrote the first scene and main character sketch for The Captain’s Kid sometime in 2000, hand wrote the manuscript between 2002 and 2004 in a notebook during piano lessons, and started submitting it unsuccessfully in 2005. During NaNoWriMo 2010, I completely rewrote it in first person and changed both the opening and ending significantly. Although my beta readers, three teenaged boys, devoured it without stopping to eat or breathe, one of my agents bluntly advised, “Well, I think you’ve spent enough time on this. You can put it away.” So it is retired to the maybe – someday file. I lovingly consider it my firstborn. My own kids haven’t reread it since the original version, but they are still very fond of the characters and story. They are my best cheerleaders.
You’ve owned many pets. Have any of them made it into your short stories or novels?
Dog lovers aren’t going to like this answer, but the one dog we have owned was rather forced upon me, an admitted cat person. In my as yet unpublished Tor Maddox series, which begins with an outbreak of canine flu, the first dog to die is a white Webstie, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the one scooting around my feet obliviously as I write this.
We know that someone you knew, who was a recovered multiple, inspired PRETTY GIRL-13. What was one answer to a question you asked him/her that surprised you most and why?
As I understand it, this person integrated all his/her dissociated personalities except for an innocent child alter. The child continues to live within his/her mind in playhouse on a cliff near the sea and is sometimes purposely invited out to play when appropriate. Yes, truth can be stranger than fiction.
Can you tell us a little about PRETTY GIRL-13’s main character, Angela?
As far as Angela knows, she is an any girl, a seventh grader doing decently in school, but not a brainiac. Her dad is in sales; her mom is a volunteer at the library. She’s interested in one cute boy, and she has a small circle of best girlfriends. But running beneath this surface of total normality, there are secrets she hasn’t told herself. And that’s before her three-year disappearance. I can’t imagine anything more confusing than finding out that you aren’t who you believe you are and that your memories are unreliable.
Has PRETTY GIRL-13 always been the title of your novel? If not what were other title suggestions?
The very first thing I knew about this book was the title. From the title came the premise, from the premise came the main character, and from the main character came the story. I’m very glad the title has stuck through the acquisition, editing, and marketing processes. I refer to the novel as PG-13, after the movie rating, but that doesn’t translate to non-US cultures.
PRETTY GIRL-13 is a stand-alone novel. Are you interested in writing a trilogy or a saga or do you prefer stand-alones?
My stories tend to be stand-alone length ideas. That said, there are exceptions. I can see taking some of my characters on new journeys. I would have continued The Captain’s Kid into a trilogy, had there been interest, and I envisioned a possible sequel about Chel’s sister Maya for my self-published novel Out of Xibalba. With my unpublished “political thriller for teenaged girls” Tor Maddox series, I developed a good cast of recurring characters and a long, unresolved, impossible romance arc, with independent adventures and issues for each story.
How do you feel about writing an adult novel? What is it about young adult books that you find most intriguing?
My short stories have all featured adult protagonists, so I suppose that someday I might accidentally write an adult novel. For now, in terms of longer tales, I migrate to the emotional upheavals of adolescence. It feels more natural for me to write about that age because I remember it intensely.
What was your favorite/least favorite line to write in PRETTY GIRL-13?
There was a line in an explicit scene that gave me the squirms to write and to read. My editor felt the same way, that it left a creepy and indelible image in the mind. I didn’t argue at all when she suggested cutting it. I won’t stain your brain with it here. In terms of favorite lines, the one I loved most that isn’t a spoiler is in reference to Abraim after he kisses Angie’s scarred wrist. “But he never let go of her hand.” It captures his sweetness.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? (a teaser)
If Pretty Girl-13 is about secrets, then my work in progress, working title W.I.L.D. Nights, is about lies. It begins with the line: “Last night I dreamed again of burning.” This novel required the very careful portrayal of an unreliable narrator as her guilt over a terrible lie spills into her nightmares and blurs the lines between dreams and reality, because the most dangerous lie is the one you tell yourself. One of my favorite aspects of this project is that the table of contents (chapter titles), when read aloud, is a poem.
Finally, what would you like to say to your readers before diving into PRETTY GIRL-13?
Well, my own mother hasn’t read this book, because she doesn’t like to read sad, scary things, especially about children (although Jane Eyre is one of her favorites). And she doesn’t like roller-coasters. Fortunately, a lot of other people do, if only to feel the tension and catharsis, or else there wouldn’t be coaster parks. This novel is a roller coaster that doesn’t have an easy exit. Don’t start reading too late at night.
Liz Coley’s short fiction has been published in Cosmos Magazine as well as in several print anthologies. She is the author of a young adult alternate history novel Out of Xibalba (self-published under the LC Teen imprint); the story starts when the world ends. Her debut novel with HarperCollins is psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13, which is being released in at least ten languages on four continents. Today, February 28, marks the launch of the UK edition. Liz is married with three kids and enjoys singing, playing tennis, cooking, and reading.