Monday, January 9, 2012

Interview with Alecia Whitaker, author of THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY!

Hello, everyone! Colleen Clayton, here! Today The Apocalypsies are featuring the lovely Alecia Whitaker, author of THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY, a young adult contemporary novel that was just released a week ago by Poppy, a teen imprint of Little, Brown! Alecia is my agent-sister and I’m very excited to talk with her about her debut. To give you the lowdown on THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY, I’ve snagged a synopsis from

Fourteen-year-old Kentucky girl Ricki Jo Winstead, who would prefer to be called Ericka, thank you very much, is eager to shed her farmer's daughter roots and become part of the popular crowd at her small town high school. She trades her Bible for Seventeen magazine, buys new "sophisticated" clothes and somehow manages to secure a tenuous spot at the cool kids table. She's on top of the world, even though her best friend and the boy next door Luke says he misses "plain old Ricki Jo."

Caught between being a country girl and wannabe country club girl, Ricki Jo begins to forget who she truly is: someone who doesn't care what people think and who wouldn't let a good-looking guy walk all over her. It takes a serious incident out on Luke's farm for Ricki Jo to realize that being a true friend is more important than being popular

Let’s get started!

CC: Hi, Alecia! Congratulations on your debut! I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY several months ago and the first thing that struck me about this book was Ricki Jo’s voice. She is such a spitfire! Also, reading about Ricki Jo’s “firsts” (…first crush, first dance, first hangover…) brought up so many memories of when I was a teen. Ricki Jo’s journey into adolescence reminded me of classic novels by the amazing Judy Blume (*quickly lights candle, genuflects at The Altar Of Judy…) How do you think Ricki Jo’s experiences differ from (or are similar to) the lives of female protagonists of previous generations?

AW: I'd say that the journey into womanhood has been a brutal one from the start of time. Ricki Jo wants to fit in, wants to be considered attractive, wants to check some mighty "firsts" off her list. I'd say that's how I was growing and I'd dare to say that's what Judy Blume felt like as well; it certainly seems to remind me of how Margaret was in ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME MARGARET? The big difference I see is that Ricki Jo is also bursting with self-confidence. For example, she loves to make people laugh, doesn't mind showing off her smarts in school, and will step up to anybody on the basketball court or roller rink. But at the end of the day, she wants to snag the boy of her dreams and I'd say that for most women throughout the ages, that all-consuming teenage desire is one many of us have shared.

CC: One of the major themes in THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY is the incredible pressure placed on young girls to conform to societal standards and to strive for popularity and peer acceptance. Why did you want to make this one of the themes of the story?

AW: Hmmm... I really just wanted to tell a fun story and Ricki Jo took me down this path. It was important for her to fit in, but I like that she isn't the classic wallflower. She is spunky, she is bold, and she forges bravely ahead into embarrassing situations. I think it's important to note that we all try to conform to societal standards; that even the people who you think are already "in" are usually just as desperate for acceptance.

CC: You are from Kentucky so are obviously very familiar with the setting of the book. I have deep ties to Appalachia myself, my folks are from West Virginia. Would you agree or disagree with me in saying that that specific part of our country (meaning Appalachia or the Upper South) is under-represented in contemporary YA literature or, at times, dismissed and unfairly stereotyped by the entertainment industry at large?

AW: Yes! When folks think "south," they think Mississippi or the Carolinas or Georgia, but there are good, smart, talented kids growing up in Kentucky, the Virginias, and Tennessee whom we never read about. We see clips of people from these areas on TV and I always think, "Do producers always have to go to the deepest holler they can find to rep our state? Do they specifically choose the toothless, shoeless, and undereducated?" You're right, Colleen. It's not fair. Every state has people with privilege and without, yet Appalachia is depicted horribly. I love giving commercial fiction to folks from rural areas. What an awesome feeling!

CC: Let’s talk teen romance now! Ricki Jo’s best friend Luke is so funny, loyal, and down-to-earth. His character stands in such contrast to Wolf, the popular jock who seems hell bent on making Ricki Jo feel miserable about herself. How important was it for you to write about this topic, meaning how girls sometimes compromise their own feelings of self-worth in order to win the affection of those who might not have their best interests at heart?

AW: Well, I was certainly in Ricki Jo's shoes on this one. I don't know how to get the head to overrule the heart, especially at that age, but if you ever find out, shout it from the mountaintops. I think that sometimes girls get caught up in a maternal instinct, meaning that they feel like they see a "bad boy" on a deeper level and that they can help him to change. Change is very tricky. A person can only really ever change if it comes from within; changing for someone else is dangerous and heartbreaking and it never lasts.

CC: Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication, about any snags along the way, and perhaps offer some words of encouragement for aspiring YA authors?

AW: Well, I've always been a gifted writer, but I am not good at being my own boss. I need deadlines and goals, someone to make proud. So after years of only having a few personal essays published, I decided to start taking classes at MediaBistro. I was always a good student and I liked the idea that we had "homework" so to speak. In Micol Ostow's Young Adult Writing class, we were permitted to submit 20 pages every week and I didn't want to let her down nor my husband (those classes aren't cheap). The awesome thing about her class, besides the amazing workshop environment, was that she brought in NY editors and agents to speak to us every week and we were able to pick their brains about query letters, the biz, etc. It was great. Our agent, Alyssa Reuben from Paradigm, actually came in to speak to the class on one of the few days that I was absent, but when I queried her, I made sure to mention my connection to Micol in the email's Subject line.

We met and had an instant connection and she gave me notes... which I returned to her the next day. Then we went out on submissions and my rejections stung, but were very nice. I was honestly surprised by how fast it all went because I don't think that is normally the case. When Alyssa pitched me to Poppy and my editor Elizabeth Bewley took on my project, I knew I had found the perfect home.

To aspiring authors I'll say this: Write. That's the most important thing you can do. And persevere. Also, do your research – look up titles similar to yours and find out who repped them. For instance, I wrote a coming of age novel so I wasn't querying Stephen King's agent. And lastly, be patient. I sold my novel 2 years ago and I thought my pub date would never get here, but you know what they say about waiting: it's worth it.

CC: Thanks so much Alecia for visiting The Apocalypsies today! Again, congratulations on THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY and best wishes for a wonderful debut year!

Alecia Whitaker


"Whitaker paints a vivid, finely detailed picture of life in the sometime-hardscrabble heartland. But what draws the reader in is the chaotic precision of her characters, youngsters who are conflicted and frequently inconsistent, yet feel rounded and real...Solid, just like its setting." --Kirkus

"...will capture readers with its honesty and heart." --Publisher's Weekly

THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY is available in bookstores and online now! You can follow Alecia on Twitter @aleciawhitaker or visit her website and blog at Also, if you would like to meet Alecia in person and get your very own signed copy of THE QUEEN OF KENTUCKY, she has readings scheduled in the Lexington, Louisville, and Cynthiana areas of Kentucky! Visit her website for details!