A conversation with Shauna Cross
You’re a derby doll yourself -- is this book at all autobiographical?
A little bit. I grew up in the ‘burbs outside of Austin and spent my pre-teen years doing the driver’s license countdown to freedom. The minute I could get to Austin by myself, I discovered a whole new world.
What made you decide to take up Roller Derby?
I went to one practice and it was love at first skate. The girls were misfits, but hilarious -- a bunch of wild bandits who didn’t fit the mold of traditional sports. But, kind and encouraging.
I love that it’s a serious sport that doesn’t take itself seriously. Plus, Roller Derby enthusiastically celebrates a very healthy idea of sexuality. You’re sexy because you’re strong and athletic, not because you’re underfed and falling all over yourself to please some boy who totally doesn’t even deserve it.
It’s like self-esteem camp on skates. With a badass soundtrack. Muy Caliente!
Bodeen, Texas is a fictional town. Is it based on a real place?
Kind of. It’s loosely based on a small town called Brenham, Texas, home of the regionally famed Bluebell ice cream (d-lish!). Small towns can be charming, but I think for a lot of teens, they are stifling boring -- especially if you don’t fit in.
This is your first published book -- tell us about your road to publication.
Well, I’ve been a semi-successful screenwriter for a coupla years (translation: they pay me to write scripts, but the movies haven’t been made yet). On a lark, I thought it would be fun to try writing a novel -- just for me.
My awesome friend, and fellow writer, Kirsten Smith introduced me to Writers House book agent Steven Malk. When I had 30 pages, I sent them to Steve. I was so nervous to hear back because, unlike screenplays, I felt intimately exposed. This book has me all over it.
I never set out to be a “novelist;” I didn’t go to Bread Loaf or an Ivy League school or have any fancy pedigree that I assume most people in publishing must have. So, it was scary.
But Steve loved the pages and helped get the book sold in a matter of days.
The hilarious irony is that I’ve worked years to get my screenwriting off the ground, but I stumbled into a publishing career in a matter of months.
However, I am one of those people who take every opportunity thrown my way. Even if I’m scared, I will try something new. Failure is the best learning experience ever. Just like Roller Derby. Anyone can do it -- you just have to be willing to fall on your ass a few (hundred) times. Every once in a while, it really pays off.
Tell us about your writing process. Where do you write? When? What do you eat/drink while you’re crafting a story?
I write in my little, 1920’s apartment in Los Angeles (a cool city that gets a bad rap), which means I live in jam-stained pajamas. Classy.
I wake up, get coffee, crank my stereo (must have music to think), procrastinate surfing the web, then get out ye old spiral notebook and handwrite everything before I type it all in.
I never write in public -- it makes me feel like a zoo exhibit (“Look, kids! A writer!”) -- but I do a lot of thinking there. Then I go home and put it on paper.
I try to be healthy, but have been known to binge on Maple Brown Sugar Pop-Tarts in the home stretch of a deadline. Mmmm . . . Pop-Tarts.
Your descriptions of pageant life -- the pushy mom, the social climbing, the pink suits -- are extremely vivid. Do you have firsthand experience?
Just by observation. I never entered the Tiara Olympics myself. I was a competitive ice skater when I was a kid, which has its share of rhinestones and stage moms.
For the record, my own mom is super-rad and not the least bit pushy.
I’m also fascinated by the theme of finding your own identity, discovering who you are -- I think it’s a really important journey. I’m forever intrigued by parents who try to put an identity on their kids. It’s so tragic.
How did you come up with Bliss’s derby name? What about your own?
‘Babe Ruthless’ just seemed to echo who she is, the youngest, but tough.
My skate name is ‘Maggie Mayhem,’ but when I thought of ‘Malice in Wonderland’ for the book I wish I had that one! It was too late to change.
All the other names in the book are kindly on loan to me by the girls who really skate under them. They rule.
In derby world, your derby name is a big thing. And don’t even get me started on the drama that can go down if someone tries to take somebody else’s name from another league. Lord have mercy!
Bliss’s voice is very colorful in her use of contemporary teen language. How did you manage to capture the tone so accurately?
Um, that’s just totally how I talk. Is that a bad thing?
In junior and high school I was an insane journal keeper, as well as note-writer to my friends (see kids, back in the day we didn’t have texting, Myspace or Facebook. We had to write our notes on paper. The horror!).
Anyway, I decided to write the book as if it were just a really long letter to my BFF.