Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared—again—and his dad won’t talk about it.
Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to hold his head above water in the meantime?
Hi Jenny, welcome to the Lucky 13s and congratulations on the release of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE! What will you be doing to celebrate?
Well, I will be doing a signing at my local bookstore when it comes out. That’s pretty thrilling since I’ve walked into that store countless times wondering what it would actually be like to have a book on a shelf there. Once…I even took a picture of the shelf where my book would go if I ever got published. I know, that’s a little embarrassing to admit but that picture somehow gave me a lot of hope.
So, I think I’ll just celebrate by taking a moment to look at The Downside of Being Charle on the shelf—maybe take a picture. That’s going to be pretty cool.
I absolutely loved the book - Charlie’s experiences felt so real and raw, and I was cheering him on right from the start. I loved Ahmed, too! Can you tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind the characters and the story?
I had already stopped teaching when I wrote The Downside of Being Charlie, but I missed it a lot. And I missed my students who every day reminded me what being a teenager had really been like and what a complex and fantastically warped time those years are in our lives. I wanted to give a voice to that experience, so even though Charlie wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular, my students in general definitely inspired me to write this story. Charlie’s outlook on the world and his feelings are so much of what of what I observed as a teacher and remember from my own teen years.
What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
Seeing how the characters develop. That’s always the really cool part to me because suddenly they become real and they have histories and memories and that’s just amazing to me. I loved seeing who Charlie became and I loved getting to know him and Ahmed and the other characters in this book. It’s like when you meet someone and you feel connected to that person and you don’t really know why, but you do. And somehow you know he/she is probably a pretty interesting individual.
Was there anything about it that surprised you?
I’m surprised by how much my story changed from the one I set out to write. This was originally going to be a story about Tanya told from Charlie’s perspective. But as I wrote, I noticed that Charlie was somewhat sympathetic to Tanya’s struggle and I wondered why. The more I wrote, the more I realized Charlie had some major struggles and suddenly his story seemed to take over and be the one that needed to be told. So the book went in this whole different direction, which I think probably happens pretty often (and also happened to me with my second novel), but it still surprises me.
What has your journey to publication been like?
It’s been cool and strange. Sort of surreal really, because even though you hope and tell yourself it will happen (and take pictures of books on shelves) because that’s the only way you can justify all the work you put into something that has no guarantees, when it finally does happen, you kind of don’t believe it. I kept waiting to hear that somebody had changed their mind, or somebody made a mistake and they were looking for another Jenny Torres Sanchez who had written a different book about some other boy named Charlie. But, incredibly, it was me. Sometimes I don’t think about it at all and then out of nowhere, it will hit me—this is really happening! And I get a bit choked up because it’s been a long journey. I’ve had a fair share of rejection and self-doubt and yes, tears. So it feels pretty amazing. It’s just crazy.
Do you have a typical writing day, and can you describe it?
I definitely have a routine and almost to a fault. If I don’t follow my typical writing day, I feel like I can’t write at all. This is how it goes: After I drop my kids off at school, I head to the bookstore, order an Americano, and sit in a corner seat for the next two to three hours staring at my screen, or off into space with little spurts of writing. I probably look a bit miserable and unfriendly as I sit there staring/writing because I scowl a lot when I’m thinking hard about something. So, sometimes I get weird looks. But something tells me this is true for many writers.
What’s next for you?
My second YA novel is Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. It’s a story of a teenage girl dealing with an unlikely death by hanging out at the local cemetery, talking to Emily Dickinson’s corpse, and chilling out at places like hole in the wall clubs and tattoo shops. It’s dark but funny and I can’t wait for readers to get to know Frenchie Garcia.
And last of all, because we’re a superstitious lot here at the Lucky 13s, we love to find out what other writers’ superstitions and lucky charms are. Do you have any, and if so, what are they?
With The Downside of Being Charlie, it was a particular writing spot at the local café. I wrote the whole manuscript there (and I’m a little ashamed about how territorial I got about a particular seat). But then they got these big comfy chairs and moved the furniture around and it just didn’t feel the same any more. Apparently, I write best at tiny tables while sitting in hard, uncomfortable chairs. Who knew? Anyway, I found a new corner spot at the local bookstore and although initially I kind of felt like a trader, I’ve made peace with it.
Before writing her debut novel, The Downside of Being Charlie, Jenny Torres Sanchez studied English at the University of Central Florida and taught high school for several years in the Orange County school system. Her students were some of the coolest, funniest, strangest, and most eclectic people she's ever met. She's grateful to have taught every single one of them and credits them for inspiring her to write YA. Jenny currently writes full-time and lives in Florida with her husband and children.
You can follow her on Twitter at @jetchez, find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jenny-Torres-Sanchez/230802230264187
and you can check out her website here: http://jennytorressanchez.com/Home.html
Thanks for such a fab interview, Jenny! It's been great to have you on the blog, and here's wishing you every success with THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE!