Welcome to the latest post in my book club series! Today’s review is for TRUST ME, I’M LYING by the fabulous Mary Elizabeth Summer, who agreed to answer a few interview questions about the book writing and publishing process as well.
THE BOOK REVIEW:
Julep Dupree is a grifter — a con artist and master of disguise for hire by her fellow students at St. Agatha’s private school. Her cons finance her swanky education, which she thinks she needs to get into Yale and pursue a career that doesn’t involve conning. Her father, her only family, taught her everything he knows, but when he disappears, Julep fears being sent to some horrible foster home. Unable to alert police of his disappearance, Julep hunts for the clues her father left behind, hoping to solve his riddles and discover his whereabouts — or the truth of his demise.
3 Reasons I Loved It:
1. It’s just plain FUN. Julep’s is voice leaps off the page — she’s witty, snarky, and downright hilarious, and her voice never falls flat throughout the novel. It’s also fun to read about the cons Julep performs for the students who hire her — you’re really getting an inside look at how grifters fool their marks. This was one of my favorite parts about writing STEALING PARIS — delving into the various pickpocket strategies the Romani girls use against wealthy tourists — so I particularly enjoyed reading about Julep’s grifting strategies.
2. It’s an action-packed page turner. There are no slow parts to this book — I read the whole thing in a day. There are twists and turns to keep you guessing, and characters’ whose motivations will surprise you (but not in the obnoxious “wait, what?” way). The plot is tightly woven and fast-paced, and you won’t want to put it down.
3. It’s unique. I’ve read so many contemporary YA books lately that follow the same premise — this one’s really unique, and a real breath of fresh air. I’ve already read several books since, and this one was one of the most memorable of the pack.
3 Lingering Questions:
1. What other grifting strategies does Julep know? (Can you tell I loved reading this part?) She does this day-in, day-out, conning everyone from her classmates’ parents to the local barista, and I would have loved to see even more cons in action. Fortunately, a sequel is in the works, so we’ll get to see plenty more of Julep’s clever tricks.
2. (SPOILER ALERT) Why was Julep so blind to Sam’s affection? Julep and Sam have been best friends for years — he’s even her wing man on most of her cons. They can read each other’s behavior and take each other’s queues. So when Sam, for example, is obviously trying to ask her to prom, why is she so clueless? Hopefully Julep will get better at reading boys, lest they try to fool her again. Wink, wink.
3. How did Julep keep her grifting career secret from all adults? It seems that most of Julep’s classmates hired her at one point or another — so how did she manage to keep her secret from all of their parents? Her classmates often need to play along in the con. So how’d all her classmates keep their mouths shut? It would have been fun to see if Julep had any strategies for ensuring her secret stayed safe.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
3 Questions about Your Book:
1. How did you learn about grifting and all of the clever grifting tactics Julep uses throughout the book? Did you make them up, or do lots of research?
You’d be amazed what people will write about on the internet and in books. I couldn’t believe some of the how-tos I was able to get a hold of. Want to know what a silencer sounds like? YouTube it. Want to know how to make fake “novelty” IDs? There’s a book on Amazon with explicit instructions, including where to get the materials you’ll need. (Great book, btw, I highly recommend it.) Want to know how to blow up a boat with a kitchen timer? Ask my uncle, because apparently he knows these things. My super secret trick to finding out how to game the system (any system) is to ask somebody who works there. For example, my wife used to work at Starbucks. I asked her how I could go about getting a free drink, and she told me. Boom. Done. (I even tried it once, and IT TOTALLY WORKED.) So for real. The cons are the easy part. It’s writing romance that’s hard.
2. Julep has such a strong, unique, fun voice. Is she based on someone you know in real life? What did you do to get to know Julep as a character?
Julep’s voice just came to me one day. I wish I could take credit for it, but I really can’t. I asked myself what a teenage con artist would sound like, and there she was. Any time a scene hasn’t worked right or felt off, it’s because my voice was intruding on Julep’s. It’s so obvious to me when it’s her speaking and when it’s me, so I just back the truck up (delete, delete, delete), and run through the same scene with Julep talking. It’s like she exists in some parallel dimension and I just happen to have some kind of one-way, tin-can telephone system set up between us. Donning my armchair psychoanalyst hat, I’d guess that she’s an amalgamation of a lot of characters I’ve come across and loved in my life, several of them devised by the genius that is Joss Whedon. But I think there’s a touch of Mary from In Plain Sight, a smattering of Veronica Mars in there, some Philip Marlowe (or really Humphrey Bogart, as I always see him whenever I think private eye). And maybe, if I were to delve a little deeper, I’d admit that when it comes right down to it, she’s just me, stripped of all repression and insecurity and my crippling need to please people. … Wow, that was depressing. *throws psychoanalyst hat in the trash* Let’s just say, I kind of want to be her when I grow up.
3. What was your process for outlining all of your plot twists that made for such a fun read?
I’m not much of an outliner, actually. I can’t think linearly when I’m brainstorming ideas. I use mind maps while figuring out the story, but when I’ve got enough ideas for scenes, I’ll start building a storyboard. Not that I did that with Trust Me, I’m Lying. Haha. TMIL was totally pantsed up to about 2/3 of the way through. I just kept asking myself “what is the craziest thing that could happen right now?” and then I’d make it happen. Unfortunately, about 2/3 of the way through, I had a bunch of secondary characters and subplots that I had no idea how to tie into the ending. That’s when I started my murder board, which is really just a fancy way of saying I made a backtracking timeline to figure out my story structure. It’s a good technique, but storyboarding from the beginning is a little safer, I think. FWIW, if anyone wants a peek at a preliminary storyboard I wrote for Trust Me, I’m Trouble (Julep book 2), check out my Writer’s Coffeehouse page on my website.
3 Questions about Publishing:
1. What did your path to publication look like?
I started writing seriously in 2005. Wrote a few books but didn’t query them, because I could tell they weren’t ready. In 2010, I had this idea for a book with a teen con artist. I wrote it. In early 2012, I finished it and entered a query contest. Through the query contest, I got my agent. My agent sent the manuscript out on submission (after a quick two-week edit), and then seven months later, I got an offer. It was quickly followed by a couple more offers, and I ended up going with Delacorte Press, which has been a great experience. I got the deal in December of 2012 and the book hit shelves October of 2014. It went through two titles and two covers and five rounds of edits all told. And it made it onto the Autumn 2014 Kids Indie Next List, which still thrills the heck out of me.
2. What about the book publishing process surprised you the most?
The support. It comes from some interesting places. I never understood the value of knowing (and bonding with) other writers until I started down this road. It’s immeasurable. All writers should have writer supporters at every stage of the process. It’s the only way to stay sane, in my opinion.
3. What is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring author seeking publication?
Other than finding and bonding with other writers? Keep writing. No matter where you’re at in the publishing process. It might be tempting to get distracted by the shiny promotional items or titillating reviews or any of the myriad other trappings of the publishing sphere. But writing is the thing that will give you the most satisfaction at the end of the day.
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