posted by Nancy
Today's guest is a debut author and one of my buddies from Georgia Romance Writers, a past president who has sometimes been mistaken for my twin (and vice-versa). This only happens at National, not in Atlanta, where we're both known much better, so be warned if you think you see either of us in Orlando.
Although Maureen Hardegree concedes to having all the usual baggage of a middle child, she is NOT a ghost handler. She does, however, believe in connecting with her inner teenager and in feeding her active imagination—it likes Italian food and chocolate. When she’s not writing, she’s working on costumes for the Northeast Atlanta Ballet . . . or doing the bidding of her husband, daughter, and cats Pixie and Turnip Ann. Welcome, Maureen!
We love call stories in the Lair. Will you share yours?
My offer took place via e-mail! I’ve been published with BelleBooks since 2005 in their Southern Stories Collections and Mossy Creek Hometown Series, but hadn’t yet made the leap to a sale in novel-length fiction. When Bellebooks expanded to the Bell Bridge Books imprint, I noted that they were looking for YA. I believed Haint Misbehavin’, which won the Children’s/YA category of the Sandy Writing Contest as A Ghoul Just Wants to Have Fun in 2007, would be a good fit for their YA line. I changed the title because I wanted something that reflected the story better, and I knew Deb Smith liked a good pun. Besides my ghost is truly a haint (Southern for ghost), not a ghoul. I also revised it extensively, cutting it down and giving the sister relationships more subplot thanks to some suggestions from contest judges and editors.
I also felt comfortable querying editor Deb Smith about my middle grade YA in the fall of 2008 because we’d worked well together in the past. She liked the partial enough to pass it onto Deb Dixon, who asked for the full in January of 2009. I saw Deb Dixon at a Georgia Romance Writers meeting in the spring of 2009, and she told me my manuscript was toward the top of her YA to-be-read pile.
In the meantime, I’d started a different book, which I’d hoped to sell to Harlequin American. In June of 2009, I had an e-mail from Deb Smith in my inbox about Haint Misbehavin’. My heart pounded as I opened it, expecting a rejection. Having almost sold several times to other publishers with several other books, I keep my expectations low. ☺ I think my daughter can attest to the squeal of joy that forced her from her bed that morning. It was similar to a recent squeal I let out when Deb let me know also via e-mail that Bonnie Bell’s Lipsmacker Lounge was going to offer a review of Haint.
Tell us about Heather, your heroine, and her friends.
Heather, who will be a high school freshman in the fall, wants nothing more than to be perceived as normal. Since pre-school, she’s been plagued with the nickname Princess and the Pea because she’s hypersensitive and often breaks out in hives. Actually, she has two additional goals for the summer: one is to have her popular older sister like her and the other is to gain the positive attention of the hottest lifeguard on the planet—Drew Blanton. She gets along with her younger sister Claire, who’s a bit of a ditz. Her older sister Audrey finds Heather an embarrassment and doesn’t stop her popular friends from making Heather their favorite object of ridicule. Heather’s best friend is Tina Wilson, who can’t keep a secret and is a boy magnet. Tina’s popularity hasn’t rubbed off on Heather, unfortunately. During the course of this story, Heather reluctantly befriends geeky altar boy Xavier Monroe.
How does life change when you can interact with ghosts?
For Heather it means constantly having to hide her ability so that no one else knows. When ghosts are around, she’s on edge. She doesn’t want her weirdo status to expand exponentially. It means seeing or feeling entities as she goes about her regular life, which can make shopping at the mall or sunning at the neighborhood pool complicated. It also means having to put someone else’s needs before her own.
What's keeping Heather and Drew apart?
At the beginning of the book, Drew doesn’t even know who Heather is. As the story develops, what keeps them apart is her reluctance to stand up for herself and that he sees her as the funny girl sidekick, not as girlfriend material. During the course of the series, I’ve set up a love triangle. Will Heather ultimately get together with Drew or with geeky altar boy Xavier?
Here's a video peek:
Wow, how cool! Would you like to share an excerpt?
Sure! Here’s a sample:
“We’re playing. Now.” Amy sounded as miffed as Audrey does when someone leaves two Pringles at the bottom of the canister. I swear I don’t do it on purpose . . . most of the time.
The little girl balled up her fists like she wanted to hit me, and then, I swear to God, she levitated off the ground. My heart drummed in my chest.
There had to be a logical explanation for it. I must be having a sunstroke for real. I felt my forehead. My skin was sweaty, but normal, except for that tingle I feel just before I erupt in hives. I backed up to gain a little perspective. Amy followed. I don’t think heatstroke manifestations can do that.
That left me with three options. I was insane, I was still in bed sleeping, or this Amy girl was playing some kind of cruel trick on me.
She looked real; she wasn’t all filmy, so she had to be real, right?
I steeled myself and focused on her arm. Slowly, I extended my pointing finger. My skin cooled, then crawled as my fingertip touched her sleeve, which suddenly lost its substance, yet remained three-dimensional. I poked right through her like she was some hologram, but no hologram was dimensional.
Oh, my, God. I was crazy. My pulse sped so fast I could barely hear anything else. I stumbled back away from her, dropping the jar of dead beetles.
If I wasn’t insane? Then this kid who could levitate and turn translucent was magic, or she was dead.
My legs no longer worked. I was stuck, planted just like the vines that surrounded me. I tried to swallow, tried to remember how to breathe. “What are you?” I managed to croak.
“I done told you, I’m Amy.”
She levitated higher—as if I needed any more convincing of her ghostly nature at this point. Her little ankle boots rose nearly a foot off the ground. She came eye to eye with me, only her brown eyes didn’t reflect back my image.
The elastic in the waistband of my underpants started to itch, and then I felt the two metal hooks in my bra and the elastic in the bra band rub against my skin along my rib cage, like it always did when I was nervous. I started scratching the top of my head, then at the bumps rising on my neck.
The temperature of the air around me turned frosty. I rubbed my itchy arms against the chill. “I’m not sure what you are, Amy. I’m not even sure that I’m awake. For all I know, I could still be in bed, and you’re some bad dream. But just in case I’m wrong, could you please go away?”
I prayed that if she was truly a ghost that she wasn’t like Geneva’s, who according to my aunt, was bent on sticking around. “Why not?”
She shrugged. “I wanna play Hide and Go Seek.”
Okay, this had to be a dream. Ghosts in movies don’t play cheesy kids’ games. They wanted to go toward the light or something like that.
“If you don’t play with me, Heather, you’ll be right sor-ry,” she sang.
That’s when one of the galvanized wires training the grape vine closest to me pinged and dropped its burden like someone had snapped it with cutters. The whole vine arm with its spurs and large leaves slumped, nearly touching the ground. It was rust, not Amy, because Amy didn’t exist, because I was in bed having a nightmare, because fate wouldn’t be so cruel as to stick me with a whiny kid ghost after years of trying to live down a nickname from preschool that wouldn’t die.
What do you do when you're not writing?
Well, I can assure you I’m not cleaning my house unless I’m stuck on a plot point or company’s coming. ☺ I spend a lot of time at my daughter’s ballet studio as a costume committee chair. While she’s in dance class every day after school for a couple hours and most Saturdays, I’m often in the company sewing room altering costumes for the next production or fitting dancers. The pre-professional Northeast Atlanta Ballet performs an average of three full productions each season, and the company owns their costumes and most set pieces. Last year we did four productions, but that’s highly unusual. During productions, we perform up to six shows in a weekend plus two school shows for students from title one schools.
I’m there at the performing arts center working in the Green Room, fixing costume issues, helping dancers into and out of tutus, making certain all costumes and their headpieces and other accoutrements are accounted for at the end of each show. Who knew learning to sew in high school would lead to this? It’s a big commitment, but I’m happy to make it for my daughter. Plus, I’m around the audience I hope books like Haint Misbehavin’ might appeal to. I hear how the girls talk to one another. I learn what music they like, what their biggest conflicts are. I’m immersed in YA culture with a bunhead slant, you could say.
What's next for you?
I’m working on Book Two in the Ghost Handler series Hainted Love, which takes place during the family vacation to Jekyll Island, Georgia. I have another short story “Sister Knows Best” included in Book Eight of the Mossy Creek Hometown series Homecoming in Mossy Creek that’s coming out in the fall. I’ve been working on a novella and have also been revising another novel that I’d like to send out soon.
As to ballet, this dance season includes The Nutcracker, Cinderella, and Little Mermaid with pieces from Anchors Away and Paquita. So I’ll probably look at some of those costumes over the summer to see what repairs can be made prior to fittings. The ballet season follows the school calendar, which means I have a lot more time during the summer to get projects finished.
Maureen is giving a book to one commenter today, so tell us: What's your favorite ghost story? If you could talk to ghosts, would that be a boon? If so, what would you ask?