When author, Paula Chase Hyman, wrote a manuscript in 2003 about a bright-eyed optimistic fourteen-year-old suburban girl who happened to be African American, the landscape of young adult fiction featuring contemporary Black characters was barren.
In 2004, Hyperion released Dana Davidson’s Jason & Kyra and from there the slow trickle of books featuring characters of color without race being the primary focus began. And in 2006, So Not The Drama, Chase Hyman’s debut was acquired by Kensington Books to launch their YA line. She went on to write four more books that followed Mina Mooney and her group of friends and The Del Rio Bay series officially joined the small fray of books depicting a more heterogeneous teen point-of-view.
Since then, Chase Hyman has been on a journey to inject books like hers into the literary mainstream, so they’re mentioned in the same discussion as books by Sarah Dessen, Cicely Von Ziegesar and Meg Cabot.
The last book in her series, Flipping The Script, was released in April ’09.
Dedicated to working with teens, she co-founded the Committed Black Women in 1993, a high school mentoring group and coached a competitive squad for five years.
She recently co-founded The Brown Bookshelf with five author friends. The site is dedicated to honoring vanguard authors and showcasing the myriad of talented African American children’s lit authors and illustrators flying under-the-radar of librarians, parents and teachers.
Visit her at www.paulachasehyman.com and www.thebrownbookshelf.com.
Which cliché best describes you as an author?
I’m a Meg Cabot type of author. I like dwelling in the head of one character until their story is entirely played out and although I never write a book thinking “what lesson shall I teach today,” I always look back on a finished book and realize I’ve taken the character through a life-changing decision or three.
Using either television, film or literary references, give us the one or two sentence pitch you’d give film agents on The Del Rio Bay series.
It’s The Hills meets Taking The Stage minus the purple labels. Can you tell I watch my fair share of MTV?
Why did you feel compelled to write The Del Rio Bay series?
Sick and tired, tired and sick of not seeing more slices of the Black suburban experience shown. There was a time when I’d use the phrase the “Black experience” so lightly. Not anymore. There is no such thing and now I cringe when I hear the phrase. There’s no Black or White experience, there are just human experiences. But what we see in pop culture portrayals are often defined as the “fill in the blank” experience. I wanted to add a new portrayal to the pot.
What are you doing to inject books like yours into the literary mainstream so that they can be mentioned in the same discussion as books by Sarah Dessen, Cicely Von Ziegesar, and Meg Cabot?
Wow…hollering into the wind, a lot. I do what I can. But it’s not just about touching as many blogs, librarians and booksellers with “hey, this is my book.” It’s also networking and being a part of a community. I try to be an active member in the children’s literature writing community. That means sharing resources, advice and guidance. I find that doing that goes a long way to establishing credibility. And when you’re credible where craft is concerned, people take your work more seriously. When folks see that you’re in it because you have a passion for the target reader, they don’t mind spreading the word about your book. So, that’s done a great deal to help establish me as a “serious” writer or at least as serious as any of the mainstream writers.
The last book in The Del Rio Bay Series, Flipping the Script, was released in April. What can we look for from you next?
I’m working on a stand alone novel that deals with a tense mother-daughter relationship. It’s interesting how working on a stand alone is a bit challenging because I’m naturally drawn to series work where I can spend more time with a character. Still, challenging myself is what got me into the publishing industry, in the first place. So I’m all in.
What is your mission statement as a writer? Why do you do it and what do you hope to provide, to give as a result of your writing?
My mission statement is – always tell the story that’s inside me. I don’t write to trends. I don’t bend to suggestions or advice. Maybe that’s to my detriment at times. But in the end, I can only tell the story that’s burning inside my brain. And ironically, that’s the answer to why I do it. I write because these stories are in me wanting to be told.
So far, my stories have always had an underlying message, but when I write, I do so to entertain. I am not consciously teaching a lesson at all. I just want to give readers a good story, something they can wrap themselves in for a few hours. That’s the joy reading has always brought to me and I write to pass on the same to my readers.
You’re on a desert island with a cell phone. Miraculously it has two bars and enough battery life to make one three minute call. Who do you call?
I would say my husband. But there’s a 90% chance he’d call this person for her advice anyway, so I’ll say my mom. My mom is very resourceful. It’s where I get it from. If anyone could move heaven and earth to figure out where I am and how to get me back home, it would be her.
If someone were deserted on an island and came across your series washed ashore, what’s the one thing they’d take from them and want to share with the world once they got back to civilization?
That a book doesn’t have to be literary to inform or evoke emotion. Before I began writing YA fiction, I never gave much thought to the “hierarchy” of books and how adults viewed fiction for young readers. I read for pleasure and it never mattered to me what anyone thought of what I liked to read. But once I started doing signings and workshops, I met too many adults prejudiced against non-literary YA books, books they felt weren’t “educational” enough. The irony was, often these same adults were clutching racy books or en route to pick out a “trashy” leisure read of their own. But for their young reader, the book had to meet a certain, vague standard with even more vague parameters.
I wondered why reading had to be so restricted and high-brow for young readers but could be an escape for adults. I can honestly see why there are so many reluctant readers in the world. It’s hard to embrace reading as a hobby when so often books are seen as devices of mental torture instead of outlets for escape. We need to get back to promoting reading as a fun thing before we push away an entire generation of readers.