Book Nerd Interview
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Not as such. I just never wanted to do anything else. As for my youth, the whole thing was a blur, a result of that one-two punch of growing up weird and shy. Being a writer was one of the only options available to someone who suffered from crippling introversion and whose interior life was a thousand times more satisfying than reality.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
My favorite book coincidentally is also outside my own genre, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Thus began a lifelong love affair with the unlikable protagonist. I am really drawn to the flawed hero, the antihero, someone who struggles and makes mistakes but that the reader nonetheless roots for. Plus it’s funny as hell.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Get the words on the paper. Then and only then do you go back and take out the stuff that doesn't belong. Generally that will be anything that doesn't move the plot forward or develop character.
Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about your book, Permanent Record?
It’s the story of a bullied Iranian-American teenager and the powerful way he retaliates against his tormentors. Badi’s parents withdraw him from public school, where he was the target of relentless humiliations, and enroll him in a private school, but the stories and exaggerations of his past follow him, so the cycle starts all over again. But this time he is pushed too far.
For those who are unfamiliar with Badi, how would you introduce him?
Badi is a brilliant underachiever. He is a first-generation Iranian-American, and like many children of immigrants, he has to deal with the expectations of parents who may not understand the pressures of the average American high school. Though he is saddled with clinical depression and anxiety attacks that require psychiatric help, he remains a hopeful and determined person. He is loyal to his few friends. His main interests are croquet, fencing, the poisonous properties of common garden plants, and minor explosives.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I will post about my new book on my website when the contract is final, but I will say that it is the story of a teenage girl trapped in a highly unusual and dangerous homelife.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Nikki?
When I created Nikki, she was to be Badi’s unrequited love interest, but as the story grew more complex, so did her characterization, including her unresolved feelings about her friendships and her own sexuality.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
What a great question! I love it. I would introduce Badi to Jerry from The Chocolate War. They are both caught up in rebelling against their peers and authority, and they both dare to disturb the universe.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
“How are you?” I have to lie because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for someone’s head exploding.
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Do not be influenced by current trends in publishing and simply write the book you want to read.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
So many…the two that are still etched in my brain after several decades are 1)short-order cook at a public golf course, which goes a long way toward explaining why I won’t eat out in a variety of restaurants, and 2)horse groomer and shit-shoveler (in exchange for riding lessons, which were too expensive). These two were held concurrently all through high school. So next time you’re eating a greasy hamburger at some little diner, ask yourself: did the person who cooked this just come from a horse barn? And did he or she wash her hands?
Who was your first boyfriend?
Does walking around a school parking lot looking for an imaginary contact lens while the baseball team practices count as having a boyfriend?
Tell me about your first kiss
It was a Spin-the-Bottle party in junior high. He just stood there immobile with his tongue hanging out. I had to do all the work.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
I think I’ve spent a large chunk of my life fantasizing about telling men that I don’t love them back.
When was the last time you cried?
I am Italian, if that answers your question.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I guess the 1950s. Any earlier than that and we run into sanitary/medical/plumbing issues that I would have problems with. Later than that, and everyone has leaves in their hair.
What is your greatest adventure?
Motherhood. It’s always fraught with danger, knowing that you hold another person’s well-being (not to mention health and physical safety) in your hands, and that you could screw it all up with some thoughtless words or actions.
Where can readers stalk you?
For sixteen-year-old Badi Hessamizadeh, life is a series of humiliations. After withdrawing from public school under mysterious circumstances, Badi enters Magnificat Academy. To make things “easier,” his dad has even given him a new name: Bud Hess. Grappling with his Iranian-American identity, clinical depression, bullying, and a barely bottled rage, Bud is an outcast who copes by resorting to small revenges and covert acts of defiance, but the pressures of his home life, plummeting grades, and the unrequited affection of his new friend, Nikki, prime him for a more dangerous revolution. Strange letters to the editor begin to appear in Magnificat’s newspaper, hinting that some tragedy will befall the school. Suspicion falls on Bud, and he and Nikki struggle to uncover the real culprit and clear Bud’s name.
Permanent Record explodes with dark humor, emotional depth, and a powerful look at the ways the bullied fight back.
Bud is easily a likeable character. Stella’s character development of Bud is incredible. There is a part of him that many readers will relate to. It is this relation that helps the story very engaging right from the beginning. Characterization is imperative to any story and Bud was certainly a character that we can all root for. Bud, who is Iranian/American, was a nice shift in YA literature where most characters follow a uniform approach. The changing of his environment and status were nicely done. On his journey, readers are able to fully understand his feelings as he goes on it alone.
It was heart-wrenching how his peers, teachers, and especially his family did not fully understand his anxiety disorder. I found the story to be very uplifting. Although it focused a lot on Bud’s depression, there was plenty of humor in the book. It provided the right amount to balance out the story and still remaining to be dedicated on Bud’s search for happiness. The mystery that Bud and his newly made friends, Reggie and Nikki, embark on was a well-done change of direction of the story. Lead by Stella’s incredible writing, readers are able to experience Bud’s wonderful journey through emotions and dark humor. Permanent Record carry many aspects that all readers can appreciate and most importantly, can relate to.