TrueColors Series #1, Dark Blue: Color Me LonelyTrueColors Series #1, Dark Blue: Color Me Lonely
Melody Carlson
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Kara Hendricks and Jordan Ferguson have been best friends since kindergarten. By now--sophomore year--they're more like sisters, really. Jordan has always been the leader in the friendship, but still she's the perfect friend. That is, until she stars to hang with a new, "cool" crowd and decides Kara is a popularity liability.

Best friends forever? Yeah, right.

Devastated, Kara feels betrayed and abandoned by everyone--even God. How could Jordan do this? Why did God let this happen? Yet for all the hurt and insecurity, these dark blue days contain a life-changing secret. Now that Jordan is gone, Kara had the chance to discover something about herself that she never knew before. But first, she must learn to trust again. It won't be easy.

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Melody Carlson is an award-winning author of more than sixty books for teens, children and adults. She enjoys an active lifestyle of hiking, skiing, and boating in Oregon's beautiful Cascade mountains with her husband, two sons, and a chocolate Lab.

You've been writing a lot of books for teens lately! Tell us about the new True Colors series. What do you want to say to teens in this series?
The main premise behind this series was to hit one issue per book. It's starting out kind of gently because later on the issues will get a lot heavier, and I figured I'd get these girls warmed up first!  Interestingly enough, the first book idea came from a couple of readers. They begged me to write a story about girls who've had a friendship break up. They'd gone through something like that, and I dedicated it to them. They wanted it to be called Dark Blue, and to be a stand-alone book for young adults, but it's hard to put a single book like that out in the Christian market. They also mentioned that they wanted to hear about issues, which is funny coming from teens because I never would have thought that.

In the Diary of a Teenage Girl series, we cover lots of issues, but we skip around and only scratch the surface sometimes. But even so that series opens up the conversation about some hard topics. It works for Diary, but the comments from these girls got me to thinking, and I made a list of all the big issues for teens, and thought, "Wow, if I could do one book on each one of these issues, it would be really powerful."

Kara's struggles seem so vivid and realistic. You really capture the feelings of loneliness and losing a friend. What was your inspiration for this story, and how did you do your research?
I probably got ideas from conversations with a lot of different girls, but I didn't really pull much of this from anything I went through as a teen. Although I’m sure I saw a lot of it around me. As a writer, it's really easy for me to put myself into someone else's shoes and to feel what they might. As far as the friends breaking apart, I do remember an incident in junior high, I think I sort of abandoned a friend, but I was slightly oblivious about it at the time. It made me feel really bad for this girl as I was writing the book, and I had even more empathy for Kara because I wondered if I did that to my friend without meaning to. I think it’s kind of like that with Jordan, she wasn't really trying to hurt the other girl, but she was pretty oblivious.

The whole issue of friendship and relationships is pretty huge for teen girls. In fact, I've given this book to several girls who’ve responded positively. One girl doesn't like to read very much, and so I told her she didn't have to read it, but that she could just give it to one of her friends. She said, "Well, what's it about?" I told her it was about two girls whose friendship breaks apart, and her eyes just got huge. Her mom told me later that she'd just gone through this excruciatingly painful thing with a girl friend, and she was on the hurting end.

I like how you portrayed Kara, when she was really depressed, as not looking at anybody, and trying to be invisible, but when she came out of it, people seemed nicer to her. You seemed to be saying that how you present yourself really is important.
Yes, it is a gentle way of teaching teens that maybe if you act differently, the world will treat you differently.

You write about Kara's journey to faith. Do you hope that non-Christian Teens will read this book?
I really do hope that non-Christians read it. I know I'm writing for the Christian market, but I want to write it in such a way that any girl could pick it up, or a girl could give it to a girl friend. That happens a lot, and I have gotten so many letters from non-Christian teens who tell me that somebody's given them the book, and they'll say, "When she (the protagonist) made a commitment, I made a commitment," or something like that. It makes me think, "Wow, this is why I write!"

I've been thinking about this lately. This series is for Christian girls, I don't want to make it seem like it's not. I think that Christian girls need to be reminded of some of these things even if they're not experiencing them. The one I just wrote is on sexuality. The girl in it is making poor choices, her friends are making even worse choices, and bad things are happening. A lot of Christian girls are going to read this and they're probably going to think, "Well, I wouldn't go there, and I wouldn't do that." But they all know somebody who will. And I tried to really make some major points in this book!

That book is Torch Red, is that right?
It's Torch Red, yes. It comes out in July [2004]. Even if a strong Christian girl is doing really well, and would never ever dream of doing any of these things—actually, one of the reasons I wrote this was because of a conversation with one of my nieces. I took her to lunch to pick her brain about some things, and she started telling me about all this stuff that's going on in her school. She was from a home-school background and then went to high school, which was a little bit of a shock. She was so disgusted with some things she was seeing, and I don't blame her for being disgusted, but she was also being really judgmental about these girls, and some of them were her friends, or she thought they were her friends.

Not that we don't want Christian girls to be discerning about friendships, but I wanted to show her that these girls doing these skanky things are hurting too, and if they're making stupid choices that doesn't mean we have to hate them. They really need to be loved. Unless you go through something hard yourself, which can happen at any point in life, sometimes it is easy to think, "Well, come on, just shape up!"

So, the next book, Deep Green, comes out in April 2004. It's about jealousy, is that correct?
Yes, it's about a love triangle. It involves the same high school and characters who are in Dark Blue. One of the things about the series is that it isn't meant to be a continued series. You could read either of those books and the order wouldn't matter, the stories would still hold and make sense. Of course, a person would know more if they read Dark Blue first. In Deep Green, there's a love triangle with Jordan, the girl who was a little insensitive in the last book. It's kind of funny because Jordan gets hers in this book! She is trying to be Miss Popularity, and so she gets involved with the "cool guy," which then becomes the love triangle that gets way out of control. It's all about jealousy, stupid choices, and consequences.

Does each of the books deal with a different character and an issue from that character's point of view?
Exactly. Torch Red goes to another high school, although one of the characters that's in the jealousy triangle, Shawna, is in it. She transfers to another school (where Torch Red is set) because of what happens to her in Deep Green. She got kicked out of cheerleading because she'd made some really stupid choices. With the fourth book (Pitch Black) I'm just going to take it to a totally different high school.

So you're using some of the same characters, but the books are only loosely related?
Somebody asked me if these characters would reappear in later books. I might pull one or two into some of the later stories, just for fun. I want readers to be able to look at the bookshelf, and see a whole rainbow of colors, and simply pick whichever one she wants, and read it without worrying about the order.

Will we see what happens to Kara? When I finished the book, I really wanted more!
Yeah, that's why she gets to grow up a little bit in Deep Green. She ends up coming to Jordan's rescue when Jordan is falling apart. She and Edgar Peebles turn into quite an evangelical team, it's kind of cute.

How many books will there be in the series?
Right now we have nine contracted. I'm sure it'll depend on how they do, but I have ideas for up to 12 or more, and I'm sure it could just keep on going. But I wanted to hit the hot topics to start with, and there are a lot of them.

What do you think are the main issues teenagers deal with these days?
Well, after the sexuality one, I'm writing about suicide, which is unfortunately a big thing right now. Have you heard about the pact suicides? It’s very sad. There are so many topics to hit on in a suicide book, like the fact that there's not a lot of respect for life. I can't wait to write it. I know it's going to be hard and heavy, but I did the first chapter, and I was so pulled in.

I'm also going to write about (not necessarily in this order), divorced parents, alcoholism and drugs, depression, anorexia and one on a girl that's really overweight. If you start reading some of these teen magazines, or talking to teens, there's almost no limit to the hard topics you could write about.

Do you have a lot of contact with teens? You have two sons, right?
Right, they're in they're in their 20's now—they act like teenagers sometimes! I've got a couple of teen nieces who are good resources, and I don't mind hanging out with teens or listening in on their conversations!

Are you involved in youth ministry?
We've been on the adult committee for Young Life, and we're trying to decide right now whether we're going to continue with it.

What inspires you to write for teens?
It's really interesting, because when I was a teenager, I was involved with the "in" crowd; things like cheerleading, and stuff like that. But at the same time, I was also very introspective—I kind of had this split personality thing going on! I would be right in the midst of all kinds of activities, but then sometimes, it's almost like I would take this mental step back and just be an observer. I know I never thought about it at the time, I just figured I was one weird chick! But now I look back and I think it was really a blessing. It was hard at the time, though, because sometimes I would want to be serious about things and have a serious conversation, but my friends wouldn't want to.

I also got saved when I was 15 after I'd come from a totally unchurched background, and I'd believed I was an atheist.  So I had a lot of really sharp contrasts going on during my teen years. Now I think what a blessing that I was like that. I know a lot of writers who say, "I don't know how you write for teens." They have the personality type that probably put them on the sidelines in school, and they were watching things but they weren't really seeing the inside story or what was really going on. That's where I think I lucked out. It was hard at the time, because I sometimes felt bad that some of my friends were pretty shallow.

I liked how you brought that out in the first Diary of a Teenage Girl books. Caitlin was part of the "in crowd," and yet, you really got to see that sometimes the popular kids aren't as happy as they seem.
Oh, yeah, it's a hard life being popular. You really have to watch your step before someone knocks you off the ladder.

You seem to use similar characters in your books, like the "goth" character who's trying to be shocking...
I love having a character like that! Kind of unexpected. But my younger son went through a goth period, so it was up close and personal for me, and I guess I have an understanding and empathy for it.

You use the "losers" to bring out that point too. They're jealous of the popular kids, but they don't see what's really going on in that crowd.
Kids on the outside usually assume that life is great for the popular kids. In fact, in the suicide book, the boy who kills himself is from the popular crowd. Actually, I still don't know exactly why he did it, but there are clues. I'll find out as I write the book, which makes it a lot more interesting! But I don’t want to hide that the popular kids have struggles and problems too. It's not as easy as it looks.

Now that Road Trip has come out, and Face the Music will be out in May, How many more books will there be in the Diary of a Teenage Girl series?
There are four more books. In the ninth one, we're introducing a new character. Her name's Kim, and she's actually a Korean adoptee. I had worked at Hope International Children's Services, and they have a big Korean adoption program. I'd always thought it'd be fun to do one of these characters. I thought it would be an interesting perspective because it's hard enough being a teenager, not to mention being of different ethnicity. Kim is really a very strong character; I'm having a good time with her. She's quite the personality, but she's still going through struggles.

All three of those factors - being adopted, being a teenager, and being of a different ethnicity - would be really tough on kids.
And it's sort of ironic too, because a lot of the international adoptees go to homes that don't have children. Kim's best friend jokingly calls her the Asian Princess because her parents give her everything. They love her dearly, she's an only child, and yet at the same time, there's this contrast of feelings inside of her. She knows that her birth mom was probably a hooker, and Kim was left on the street as an infant. It's just very interesting idea to play with.

In the first story, her dad's an editor at the small town newspaper. It's the same town that the other books take place in—she was a friend of Chloe's. She got in trouble for getting a speeding ticket, and her parents had said if she got one ticket, she wasn't going to be able to get a car. So her dad strikes a deal with her where if she'll write this advice column in his newspaper (because he's trying to get this teen page going), he won't tell the mom! Of course, he does tell the mom, so he kind of pulls one over on her. So Kim's writing this column that's called "Just Ask Jamie," and the readers don't know if Jamie is a girl or a boy. All her friends are reading the column. In the other Diaries, Chloe wrote poems and Caitlin did letters to God, but Kim has these little column excerpts.

So you're focusing so many books on each character?
There are four books for each character. And we'll see what happens after Kim.

Face the Music will be the last one with Chloe?
Yes, although she will make appearances in Kim’s books. Actually, Caitlin and Josh are going to come back as fairly major characters in the Kim series because Josh has graduated from college and is going to be working as a youth pastor at the church where Kim starts going. It's like an ongoing soap opera!

How did you get involved in writing the Degrees of Guilt series?
They just contacted me and asked if I wanted to do it, and at the time I wasn't terribly busy! It was intriguing; the idea of three people writing the same story was. The first one we did was very fun and it was actually quite easy and painless. The second one was a lot trickier.

Is that the Degrees of Betrayal series that's coming out in the summer [2004]?
Yeah, I had missed the initial meetings on it because I didn't go to CBA [Christian Booksellers Association Conference] last year. My mistake! So they were cooking away on it and I was off in my own world. The premise is a love triangle, which was ironic because I was writing Deep Green at the same time. Betrayal was complicated to write because we were all working on the same story – two girls who were best friends in love with the same guy – and the stories are so intermeshed with each other that it was a real challenge.

So how does that work, do you collaborate with the other authors?
Yes, as far as the storylines go, but the way that we wrote the first one was with each character telling their own story, so we had more freedom, as long as we got the timelines right. But with the love triangle, they're all intertwined with each other. It was a hard job for the editor too!

With Miranda's Story you write that in present tense, and in a first person perspective, which is not done that often in fiction.
I know! I think every book is different, and sometimes, when I start a book, I feel like this is the way this story demands to be told. Writing in present-tense first-person seems to have such emotional intensity. I also wrote Finding Alice like that. I tried not to at first, but I couldn't do it any other way, it's like the book insisted on being told like that.

Are your books, Looking for Cassandra Jane and Finding Alice geared toward teens or an older audience?
They're primarily marketed for an adult audience but I think that older teen readers can read them. These are great crossover books because they are about young women. Actually, Cassandra Jane is a coming of age story. And in Finding Alice, the main character is in college. It's not a huge leap, but the subject matter is a little heavier. In Finding Alice, she develops schizophrenia in her senior year of college, and it totally unravels her life. Looking for Cassandra Jane is a about this poor girl who's grown up in an abusive, sad situation. She goes from foster home to foster home, and then finally joins a Christian cult. It's set in the 60's, so it's kind of wild. I have gotten good responses from teen readers who have read both of these books and really liked them.

What do you want to say about writing for teens?
It wasn't a place I ever thought I was going to go with my writing, although when I did first start, I had teens in mind because my boys were young teens at the time. We were having a hard time finding wholesome things for them to read. Of course I ended up writing for girls instead of boys!

I really love doing novels and the kids books are fun too, so it kind of took me by surprise to get back into the teen arena. But the response I've gotten from the girls is so great. I think if somebody said, "Ok, you have to pick one genre, one group to write for," I think, as hard as it would be to give up novels because that artist side of me loves the novel (and not that the teen books aren't novels), even so I would probably choose to write for teens. The impact here is amazing. I never dreamed teens would get so hooked on these books!

It's hard to find a lot of good stuff for teens.
Well, I know why. I used to work at Multnomah, and one of the jobs I had was doing the Juvenile and YA [Young Adult] fiction. It was so hard to make the numbers work, because the price point on the books is usually expected to be pretty low, especially back then, and the market was small, and it's also divided by sex because boys don't read girl books. So your margins are so tight that can't afford to take the risk, and then you have to have a series... it really is hard, and in fact when I did the first Diary book, we only contracted for one book, and we decided to just see what would happen—see how it would do. Now, the first Diary book is at almost 100,000 copies, which, for YA, is amazing, but it shows you if you do it right it can succeed.

One new thing I'm thinking about is possibly developing some sort of a Bible study series for teens—something that would really grab them. I've been looking and there's not that much out there.

I like how you use different groups, like the popular crowd, the geek crowd, the artsy crowd, to look at a story from all kinds of points of view. It give teens a sense of what other people are thinking and gets them outside themselves a little bit.
It's important for teens to see life from a different point of view, and also for them to realize that someone understands what they're going through. One way to understand how their peers feel is to read fiction. For instance the book about the girl who's overweight, I can't wait to do that one! Teens can be so cruel, and if they had to be in that girl's skin for just one day, they would be falling apart. So, let's let them experience those emotions through fiction.

I’m hoping that maybe they’ll expand their circles. Especially for Christians. I hope they’ll ask themselves, "Ok, should I reach out to that 'Amy-type person' who looks so frightening with her freaky makeup and pierced body-parts?"

But I think as Christians, we get into our own little cliques and clubs.
I know there's safety in hanging with Christians, but I'm trying to get them to just reach out a little. They would all grow so much. And who knows what might happen with the kids whose lives get touched!