May 7, 2013

Guest Post: The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble

The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble
May 14th, 2013 from Soho Teen

“I found out two things today. One, I think I’m dying. And two, my brother is a perv.”

So begins the diary of 14-year-old Jenna Samuels, who is having a very bad eighth-grade year. Her single mother spends all day in bed. Dad vanished when she was eight. Her 16-year-old brother, Casey, tries to hold together what’s left of the family by working two after-school jobs— difficult, as he’s stoned all the time. To make matters worse, Jenna is sick. When she collapses one day, Casey tries to race her to the hospital in their beat-up Prius and crashes instead.

Jenna wakes up in the ER to find Casey beside her. Beatified. Literally. The flab and zits? Gone. Before long, Jenna figures out that Casey didn’t survive the accident at all. He’s an “A-word.” (She can’t bring herself to utter the truth.) Soon they discover that Jenna isn’t just dying: she’s being poisoned. And Casey has been sent back to help solve the mystery that not only holds the key to her survival, but also to their mother’s mysterious depression and father’s disappearance.

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Super happy to have my friend and fantastic author Joy Preble on the blog today!! Joy chats about why she included drugs in her novel and gives readers a compliment in regards to being able to decipher what is right and wrong on their own. Welcome, Joy! 

So here’s the thing: When my editor at Soho Press first approached me about writing what would become THE SWEET DEAD LIFE, he had this kernel of an idea about a stoner dude whose sister was dying under mysterious circumstances and who would bite it in a car accident and come back as her rather improbable guardian angel and solve a big mystery. That was it. Like that one sentence. And he asked me if I thought I could do something with that. Of course I said YES! I absolutely could - and then I asked if he minded if I set it in Houston because that’s how the story was coming to me, and he said no problem and I wrote the sample chapters and everyone loved them and that was kind of that.

Point being that Casey’s initial drug use was always part of editor’s vision of this novel that from the beginning we pitched as FALLEN meets VERONICA MARS meets Judd Apatow movies like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS.

And honestly, it was a brilliant vision. Because the idea of this flabby/too many late night run for Jack in the Box tacos dude becoming an angelic hero appealed to me HUGELY. Who’s to say it couldn't happen, right?

That said, there’s reference to drug use, although we never actually see anyone doing drugs. Which although sometimes used for comic effect is not something that the book takes lightly. In THE SWEET DEAD LIFE, Casey’s fondness for weed is simply what it is. A part of the whole. A flaw in someone who at his core can’t help but being an angel. I've known lots of people who do the occasional recreational drug. Some are good. Some not so much. They’re people just like everyone else.

Which is my feeling about Casey as a character in a YA novel. He is who he is - even after he’s dead. I am neither endorsing nor glorifying nor vilifying his habits, simply creating a fully developed person who goes on this crazy amazing journey in which he dies and comes back to save his sister and solve the mystery of the terrible things that have befallen his family. He is a reluctant and sometimes unwilling but never unqualified hero. And if he tokes up now and then, so be it. That’s who he is. To take that element out would be to censor his full nature, as long as said element is not inserted gratuitously, which it is not. YA or adult novel - your characters need to be who they are. And I believe strongly that my readers are able to navigate those distinctions.

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