Monica McKayhan writes adult and young adult fiction, with seven novels currently in print. Her first novel for young adults, Indigo Summer, was the launch title for Harlequin’s young adult imprint, Kimani TRU which made its debut in January of 2007. That same year in May, Indigo Summer was named to the Essence bestsellers list, another first for Kimani Press. It also appeared on the bestsellers list in the May 2007 issue of Black Issues Book Review and was named to the American Library Association’s list of 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Monica most recently placed three additional titles in the series with Harlequin’s young adult imprint, Kimani TRU.
For our final day of 28 Days Later, please welcome Monica McKayhan.
Indigo Summer is the main character in most of your novels for young adults. How did you create this character? What compels you to continue her and her friends’ stories in subsequent books?
Indigo Summer was created as a result of the lack of books out there for young people who look, talk and behave just like her. She’s flawed, experiencing struggles in school, identifying with her emotions…all the things that our sons and daughters are experiencing at the age of fifteen. It’s imperative that I continue her story as well as the stories of her friends, because in the Indigo Summer series, the characters are dealing with real issues that young people are facing today. In each book, I try to tackle one or two issues and it’s my goal to offer a solution to the youngsters who are reading the books. In the first book, Indigo Summer, Indigo is faced with the choice of having sex before she’s ready, and it was my intent to let my readers know that it’s okay to say no; that you don’t have to be forced into making a decision that could change your entire life. In Trouble Follows, my character Jade is being inappropriately touched by her teacher. I can’t tell you how many young people are being inappropriately touched by adults and don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes, as parents, we’re unaware of the things our kids deal with on a daily basis. And we take for granted that they will know what to do…and they really don’t. Besides being entertaining, Indigo Summer is important for helping young people make good decisions.
What are some of the challenges of writing a series?
The greatest challenge to writing a series is making certain that the subsequent books are just as entertaining, if not more, than the one prior. That first book is always hard to top. Early on, my editor and I decided that each book would be about Indigo’s friends and their struggles, as opposed to Indigo Summer being the center of attention. That keeps it interesting for me, as well as my readers. Another challenge of writing a series of this type is that the books are written at such a rapid pace. Because the books are hitting the shelves every six months, I’m constantly working on the next project. As soon as I meet one deadline, the next one is just around the corner. That leaves little room for down time, or opportunities for other projects. However, when I visit schools and I hear young people tell me that Indigo Summer was the first book that they’d read from cover to cover, I know that writing YA is worth the sacrifice.
The fourth novel in the Indigo Summer series, Jaded (Kimani, 2008), is told from the alternating viewpoints of Jade Morgan and Terrence, her boyfriend. What inspired you to write this novel?
After the first book, readers were eager to know more about Jade (Indigo’s best friend who moved away much too soon). So it was important to write her story. She moved back to Atlanta in Trouble Follows and readers were happy about that. However, those who have read Jaded, find that Terrence is by far the most interesting and well-rounded character in the book. Terrence is practically raising his younger sister and brother because their mother is struggling with drugs, and is rarely home. I can’t tell you how many kids are heads of their households by default. It seems that they will never be able to have a normal teenage life. This is just one of the many issues that young people face. And for those youngsters who are growing up in dysfunctional homes (as I did), they need to know that they’re not alone and no matter what type of home they come from, they can still have a bright future.
Your fifth book in the series, Deal With It (Kimani, 2009), comes out this June. Can you tell us a little about the novel?
Deal With It delves into the issue of teen pregnancy. Indigo’s friend, Tameka, who’s sixteen and college-bound, discovers that one intimate night with her boyfriend has changed her life forever. Tameka’s boyfriend, Vance, who also has a voice in the book, is a high school senior with a bright future as well. The issue of teen pregnancy forces them to not only make some tough choices, but to step up to the plate even though they both are way too young to be anybody’s parent. Also in the book, Indigo Summer is jealous when her best friend Jade becomes captain of the dance team and for the first time they are at odds with each other. Between ignoring each other at school and engaging in a physical altercation in the middle of Macy’s department store, they take anger to a whole other level. In the end, they both learn a valuable lesson about friendship.
Deal With It is a book about taking responsibility for your actions, and dealing with the consequences.
You write novels for both adults and young adults. Do you find that you approach your novels for young adults differently than you do for adults?
The audiences of adult and young adult books are different, and so the approach to writing for each audience has to be different. I first had the desire to write for young people when I discovered that teens were reading their parents books (inappropriate adult books). There was clearly a lack of stories for young people of color. I’m glad to know that the market has changed drastically over the past couple of years, but it wasn’t always this way. When I first started writing YA, I discovered that a good portion of my readers were “reluctant readers” and therefore, not interested in the traditional story. Keeping in mind that some of my readers were used to reading racy books with adult content, while some of my readers were considered to be reluctant readers, it was imperative that I catered to both types of readers. I create stories with real characters that look, sound and act like my readers with captivating stories that they can relate to, while simultaneously making sure that my books are an “easy read.” In addition, there has to be a message in every book. As an author and mother, I use my writing platform as an opportunity to speak positive things into the lives of our kids. I absolutely believe that “it takes a village” and so my approach to writing YA reflects that.
Writing for adults is vastly different, in that there really doesn’t need to be a lesson. Adults are basically entertained by a good, well-written story with characters that are fully developed.
Can you tell us about any other projects that you’re working on?
Right now, I’m working on my sixth Indigo Summer novel. It’s currently untitled and scheduled for release in December of 2009. In addition, I have ideas for an adult novel, and when I get some free time I will begin work on that as well.