Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kea Alwang - Treehugger

Author Kea Alwang is with us today to talk about her book Treehugger.

Where do you currently live?
Northern New Jersey

Tell us a little bit about your life.
I grew up in Queens, New York, but now live in Northern New Jersey with my podcaster husband, film-obsessed son, book-munching daughter, two self-absorbed parakeets, and a well-behaved corn snake. After working in video post-production, children's entertainment, magazine production, and non-fiction writing, the time came to work on the dream job: writing a novel. Coffee, chocolate, martial arts, and reading are my other pastimes.

When did you first start writing?
I have loved writing since early grade school. I always wrote little plays and stories, but almost gave it up in fifth grade thanks to a substitute library teacher who hung around for a week. She told me my writing was bad because I purposely used bad grammar while writing a character's dialogue. She also thought my writing was "out there" and not properly organized. Fortunately, the real librarian who loved my creative writing work came back and told me the substitute was wrong.

What was your very first story about?
Old King Cole from the nursery rhymes. He was in charge of a kingdom of fairytale characters.The Gingerbread Man was there, Tom Thumb, Alice from Wonderland, etc.

Have you written anything that you were too afraid to let anyone read?
Yes. The characters were based too much on friends. Not entirely--just enough to know those friends could get ticked at me, so I kept it to myself! For some reason, I turned one of the guys into a cross dresser. Yeah. That would not have gone over very well at all! But it did add to the story.

Did you experience anything you've written yourself?
Yes, there are three scenes in Treehugger that are based on moments that actually happened to me. Naturally, they are far more exciting in the book, but I was able to give Chloe (Star) her initial reactions from first-hand experience on those occasions. Without giving away spoilers, they take place at the opening slumber party and on her first day of high school.

Who are several of your greatest literary inspirations?
I am a huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver. There is something about her writing that draws me into the story and makes me just want to stay there whether a scene is exciting or she is just describing a landscape. I do enjoy Stephenie Meyer, too. Her novel, The Host, is really a great story with complicated, emotionally-charged characters. I enjoyed her Twilight series, too, but her writing excels in The Host. Wally Lamb is another author I admire. Once you've read, She's Come Undone, you really gain insight to the fact that we all just want to be loved no matter who we are or how our lives have panned out. Ray Bradbury is another inspiration.

What kind of education have you received, and how has that affected your writing?
I have a Bachelor's degree in Communications and a minor in Business and, more than anything else, I think that prepared me to learn how to reinvent myself. I've done it many times: from television, to kid's entertainment, to production at a magazine, to teaching karate. Writing however, has always been something I was drawn to through it all. 

How much research time customarily goes into your projects?
This is my first novel and is based on places I created in my head for the most part. Still, from time to time, I need to look up scientific principles in order to see how far I can stretch them! Compared to the non-fiction article writing I've done, I need a lot less research for writing fiction. I'm sure that wouldn't be the case if most of the story took place across planet Earth.

Who is your favorite literary character?
As in just one? That's nearly impossible to say. However, if we're talking of all time, I always love the way Codi Nolan of Kingolver's Animal Dreams goes about searching for who she was and who she turned out to be. Although, at the moment, all I can think about for a great character is Peeta of The Hunger Games since I'm in the middle of the second book! Loyalty, sweetness, heroism ... he has it all and then some!

Who is your favorite character of your own creation?
CK of Treehugger always comes to mind. I wrote him to be Chloe's saving grace. The two navigate a very different sort of relationship, and while it gets complicated here and there, they are the epidome of true friendship. CK is deeply wounded by loss, yet he gives of himself so freely to Chloe and Leada through plutonic love and uncompromised loyalty. While CK came about in my head as his own person, there are hints of traits from special people in my life that have helped to create him.

If you were ever to write an autobiography, what would its title be?
So ... I'm Writing a Book

Tell us about your featured book.
Treehugger is the first book in a new series titled, Based on a Dream. It is available in print and in various e-reader formats. Mixing intergalactic adventure with adolescent trials such as navigating relationships and not fitting in,Treehugger introduces a new set of heroes to follow, admire, and cheer for. The story asks the questions, how deep can true friendships run, and how well can they prepare us to stand on our own when we need to?

Blurb: For fourteen-year-old Chloe, planet hopping is a gift. Righting the wrongs of the multiverse on behalf of a mysterious life form is a privilege. Leading a double life has its perks. Being Earth-born, however, simply bites. Chloe knows she will never fit in when high school starts; that's a given. It's not like she can reveal her true self and her unusual abilities on Earth anyway. She used to be okay with that, as long as her two best friends were part of her extraterrestrial life, understanding her the way nobody else could. That was before those friends vanished. That was before some jerk displayed her underwear on his head. Now two-thirds short of feeling whole, Chloe becomes an enemy to herself just as a terrifying nemesis threatens to resurface. Can she fight through weakened skills, fearsome flashbacks, and evolving relationships to meet her future head on? Does it really matter what world you're on when trying to find yourself?

Why did you write that?
I had some dreams about the main characters (Chloe aka Star, CK, and Leada) when I was very young. I was so entralled by the first dream and the characters that I started daydreaming about them. When I was eleven, I began writing about them. I never really forgot them, so several years ago I started taking them seriously. I think it's sad how so many kids get caught in a desperate attempt to be like everyone else just to avoid the pain of not fitting in. I think Treehugger shows the importance of becoming who you were meant to be and finding others who will accept you for who you are.

What's a negative trait about other people that you most notice, or that bothers you the most?
When someone takes a bad day out on someone who had nothing to do with their misery. That truly irks me.

Do you ever notice it in yourself?
I think we all are prone to taking things out on others. However, it's definitely something I try to minimize!

If you were forced to give something you adore up for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Chocolate. Of course, if the person who was forcing me didn't know me well ... well, then I would just tell them brussell sprouts and keep my chocolate!

What is the hardest thing about growing up?
e.e. cummings once said, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." I would add it takes a whole lot of genuine self-esteem to do so as well!

What is something you absolutely must have in your kitchen?
The coffee maker! Oh, and a picture of my grandmother making heavy cream. Every holiday, that was her job. I keep the picture in the kitchen so she's always with me there.

What is pain to you?
Brain freeze from a frosty drink. Sometimes it's so bad I panic, thinking I'm going to die!

You've been forced under various circumstances to choose a personal motto. What is it?
"Creative people are rarely tidy!"

Have you ever received a present you really hated? If so, what was it?
My husband's grandmother gave me a house dress. You know ... one of those things old ladies wear? I plan on wearing denim until I'm 100, so this gift was literally despair in a box. I turned to my mother-in-law and asked, "Does she hate me or something?"

What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? Would you have it again?
Chicken heart soup. I was a kid on a playdate and thought it was some sort of cutesy name. Like chicken soup with chicken in the shape of hearts, only the chicken wasn't truly heart shaped. Years later, I recalled this and it ocurred to me that it was probably actually chicken hearts. And no, I wouldn't have it again!

What's the first thing you would do if you could become invisible?
Well, that depends: Do my clothes become invisible with me? If not, I probably wouldn't go anywhere because I would have to wear nothing in order to not be seen. What if the invisibility suddenly stopped working? If my clothes would become invisible with me, the first thing I would do is investigate the next news story where the truth is being sought. I'm thinking if someone could follow around a murder suspect without being detected, the truth would come out soon enough. Following my kids through a school day would probably be worth my time as well!

Do you ever have recurring dreams? What is your most common one about?
When I was much younger, I used to have recurring dreams about some of the characters in my novel. Other than that, someone I briefly worked for at a printing shop shows up in my dreams from time to time. Weird how the brain works, isn't it? Why would someone who had so little to do with me life show up in my dreams years later?

What is the kindest thing that anyone has ever done for you?
When I was working full time in Manhattan and had a newborn at home, the boss I had at the time knew I was conflicted between being home and being at work. He suggested I work four days instead of five, didn't have my pay reduced, and was over-the-top supportive. It's not like we were close friends, and if corporate knew, he might have been in trouble; he just knew I would get my job done and wanted to be a decent human being. Eventually, when baby number two came, I did leave my job, but that extra day he gave me each week helped so much in the beginning. I'll never forget that. When I hear of my friend's employer who wants to reduce her pay because this new mother needs to come in an hour late ten times a month for child care reasons, it makes me sick.

Our special thanks to Kea for taking the time to answer our questions. Her work can be found below. Check it out today.

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