Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #66:
Lisa Graff drops by (again!); we weigh in on her new novel; and book give-away! RAH!

h1 February 14th, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

{Note: It’s February 14th, and the Cybils ’07 award winners are being announced today over at the Cybils blog. 7-Imp can devote an entire post to this after a bit ‘o’ time has passed, but don’t miss the award announcements!}

Jules: Hey, Eisha. Remember when Lisa Graff stopped by 7-Imp last year (almost one year to the date) to chat with us at the release of her first novel, The Thing About Georgie? She’s back for seven impossible things before breakfast (though I’m only awake enough right now for about three). There she is as a wee babe. Isn’t she puddin’? And she’s here to talk about her new middle-grade novel, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower (Laura Geringer Books), which was just released at the end of January and which you and I just read. Best of all, she’s putting up with us throwing another weird-ass closing questionnaire at her, since she answered Pivot last year.

Bernetta is all about twelve-year-old Bernie who, after her supposed best friend (Ashley) implicates her in a cheating and blackmail scam, loses her private school scholarship. With the help of a new friend (with chocolate-brown eyes, ooh la la), Bernie spends the summer using her knowledge of magic and sleight-of-hand both to earn the $9,000 in tuition money and to get revenge.

What did you think of the book, Eisha?

eisha: Yes, she is a total puddin’!!! And I enjoyed this one a lot, Jules. Between this novel, and The Thing About Georgie, I’ve decided that one thing Lisa Graff can certainly deliver is an original concept. At heart, this is a story about friendship, trust, and finding one’s own identity and the limits of one’s own conscience. But told in the framework of a con job, complete with preteen con artists, magicians, and extortionists… It’s a great hook, and will certainly keep readers guessing along with Bernetta about who’s a friend, who’s an enemy.

I also love the attention to detail, and the fun little sleight-of-hand definitions and demonstrations.

How about you, Jules? What did you think?

Jules: I enjoyed every moment of it. And, yes, I guess we should add for those who have yet to read the book that each chapter opens with a sleight-of-hand definition that serves as an overriding metaphor for the dramatic action in the chapter (yeesh, that sentence makes me sound like an over-excited freshman Lit Major, but you know what I mean). And, speaking of metaphor, this is what I loved about the book — how Graff took all this conning, manipulation, quick-fingering (also known as “prestidigitation” — I just learned this and am giddy over this fun, new word), and magic and used it to make comparisons to what was going on in Bernetta’s topsy-turvy life. The word that kept coming to my mind as I read was “tight.” Very tight writing (as with Georgie). Actually, I take that back. The highest compliment I can pay Graff is that I didn’t stop to consciously think about the writing; I was just carried away with the story and then realized after closing the book how tightly all the book’s elements were drawn together, how Graff takes all the fat out of her writing and writes with such concision, as if she’s really considered every word and plot development and whether it needs to be there.

I also loved that it’s a story about a twelve-year-old con artist. Wonderfully impish this book is, though of course in the end, I was so anxious for her to put a stop to her web ‘o’ lies that it made all the sense in the world that she decided to (oops. That was a spoiler. Don’t send me hate mail, people).

And, yes, Eisha. Graff does well with original concepts. A book about dwarfism, and another about con artists. Graff definitely stands out with her subject-matter-choices — but mostly stands out in my mind for her ability to craft middle-grade novels so well and with such . . . well, her own Lisa Flair.

So, let’s find out more about this book and what Lisa’s up to now, shall we (and find out what exactly a “pizookie” is, too. Mmm)? Oh, and if you’d like to try to win a copy of Lisa’s new novel, compliments of HarperCollins, scroll down to the bottom of this interview for the information you need.

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: What was the inspiration behind Bernetta? Was there a particular reason you wanted to create a story that features preteen con artists, and/or magicians?

Lisa: Basically the idea arose out of my love for con artist movies. I realized one day that I’d never read a con artist book for kids and I thought, why not take a stab at it? Bernetta’s story is very loosely based on The Sting — a newcomer to the con game meets an old pro, and together they tackle a rich, evil crook in order to seek revenge for past wrongdoings…except, you know, with twelve-year-olds.

The magician stuff seemed like a natural extension of that. Even before I decided to write about con artists, I’d had the idea to write about a kid whose parent was a professional magician. (I’m pretty sure this idea came to me because in college I was madly in love with this guy who paid his tuition by working as a magician.) Once I made the connection between the two ideas, it seemed perfect. After all, magicians fool people for money, just like con artists do. The only difference is, when the magicians do it, the audience knows they’re being fooled.

7-Imp: Describe the research you had to do for all the magiciany tricks and lingo shared by Bernetta and her father, and for the con artist expertise and movie trivia that Gabe is into? And seriously, HOW MUCH FUN WAS THAT?

Lisa: It was incredibly fun to research this book. Basically, I watched every con artist movie I could get my hands on, to be sure I had all the lingo down and to buff up on the general formula of telling a con artist story. Then I read up on lots of real-life cons, so I could find scams that two twelve-year-olds could realistically pull off. (In fact, the “long con” they pull at the end is a real scam that I plucked directly from a library book entitled Hoaxes and Scams: A Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses, and Swindles — the very same book that Gabe mentions in the novel.)

As far as the magic tricks went, first I read several biographies of famous magicians like Harry Houdini and David Blaine, to get a sense of the way they performed, and the whole “magician persona.” Then I bought a giant book of magic tricks to figure out the sleight-of-hand and all that (and in case you are wondering, I am a terrible magician. Even my cat was not convinced by my magic.)

I didn’t have to do quite as much work when it came to the film trivia. I wanted Gabe to be a huge film buff, and to spew out random movie facts and quotes at inappropriate times — so whenever I came to a place in my writing where I thought Gabe would say something movie-related, I’d ring up my brother, who is himself a bona fide film geek. More than once I called him at eleven o’clock at night to ask him something insane like, “Ryan! What’s a movie where there’s a character who’s all helpful, but then later he turns out to be crazy???” And Ryan would think for about two seconds and go, “Lord of the Rings.” And then he’d hang up and go back to sleep.

7-Imp: Georgie was a great character, but his story felt fairly complete. Bernetta, however… We sense a little unfinished business, what with her uncertain future, and Ashley still lurking out there on the horizon. Is there a potential sequel in the works? If so, where would you like to see Bernetta go from here?

Lisa: I definitely didn’t write the story with a sequel in mind, but lately I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more. In all likelihood, I won’t ever do it, because for one thing I have several other books I’d like to work on first, and for another this was a very hard book to write, plot-wise, and I’m not sure I’m ready to dip my toes back into those waters any time soon. Still, every now and again I find myself wondering how Ashley would plot her revenge on Bernetta and Gabe, and what new capers Gabe would cook up to foil her. And I don’t know why exactly, but I’m certain that any sequel I’d write would prominently feature that Tim kid and his fellow chess geeks. I think there’s may be some juicy stuff lurking under the surface there.

7-Imp: How has your life changed since you’ve become a Published Author?

Lisa: Not much at all, actually. You’d think being published would entitle you to a personal assistant and your own reserved table at Starbucks, but really life has been about the same as before. Although it is much easier to be a narcissist, because now when I get the urge to Google myself, sometimes stuff actually pops up.

7-Imp: What’s next for you? What’s the expected pub date for Allergic to Chocolate?

Lisa: Allergic to Chocolate comes out in Summer 2009. Actually, it’s not called Allergic to Chocolate anymore, since after a massive revision that title fails to make any sort of sense — but no one’s thought up a better title for it yet, so now my editor and I just refer to it as Not Chocolate. I’m currently finishing up what I believe will be my final draft, so hopefully we will come up with a genius title for it soon.

Other than that I’ve been working on a rather kooky beauty experiment, whereby I’m attempting to follow all of the beauty advice from six women’s magazines for six months. I’m currently knee-deep in month five, and so far I’ve had to dye my hair, soak my feet in soy milk, get my eyebrows waxed, and wear a beehive on an airplane. It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least, and one that I’m certain will wind up in a book one way or another. (I’ve recently started posting about it on my blog, if anyone is interested in following my beauty goings-on.)

7-Imp: How are those Longstockings and what are they up to?

Lisa: The Longstockings are all doing splendidly! 2008 is shaping up to be a big year for us, with six of our books coming out. It’s a little tricky to balance workshops now that one of us (Coe) is off being awesome in Switzerland on a writing stipend, and another one of us (Caroline) is off in Washington, D.C., starting drinks nights and generally being fabulous . . . But I’ve decided that it’s just like in the Baby-Sitter’s Club when Stacey had to move back to New York — our group has just expanded (although, seriously, I miss those guys!).

7-Imp: Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day! What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day memory?

Lisa: I think my best Valentine’s Day ever was during my sophomore year at UCLA, when a bunch of my gal pals and I (all of us single at the time) got together for an Anti-Valentine’s Day Pizookie Fest at a local pub. A “pizookie,” for those not in the know, is a giant chocolate chip cookie baked in a pizza pan, usually served with a generous helping of ice cream. It is, quite honestly, the best food in the entire world. That was not hyperbole. That was a fact. Mmmmmm, pizookie…. Okay, now I want one again.

* * *

7-Imp: Okay, so we’ve already presented to you that wacky Pivot Questionnaire (last year). We found a different, rather famous questionnaire from Marcel Proust, ’cause, hey, we must close with some weirdo questionnaire, huh? It’s way too long, but here are some of the best questions (adapted a bit, and we think they come from two different Proust questionnaires, but blah blah let’s just get to it!).

What’s your main character trait?

Lisa: Um, goofiness? I’ll go with goofiness.

7-Imp: The good trait you seek in a man?

Lisa: Humor.

7-Imp: And in a woman?

Lisa: Patience.

7-Imp: Your biggest flaw?

Lisa: Indecisiveness.

7-Imp: Your most treasured possession?

Lisa: Since I just yesterday got my laptop back from the Apple store, after a scary run-in where I thought it might be broken beyond all repair just three weeks before my revision on my novel was due to my editor . . . I think I have to go with laptop.

7-Imp: Your ideal of happiness?

Lisa: Lots of chocolate. And pie. Or chocolate pie. And a really good book I’ve never read before.

7-Imp: What would your worst sorrow be?

Lisa: Oh, gosh, that’s hard. I think I’d be at my utmost sorrowful if I was cut off from my loved ones, and forced into hermitude. (Wait, that’s not a word, is it?? . . . Nope, I just looked it up. The word I meant was “hermitage.” So at least my thoughts of sorrow are proving to be educational.)

7-Imp: What faults do you most easily forgive?

Lisa: Bad table manners. (Sometimes one wants to put one’s elbows on the table!)

7-Imp: Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Lisa: Atticus Finch is pretty hard to beat, I think.

Thanks for stopping by again, Lisa!

Note: Here are two other interviews Lisa’s done this week if you’re hankerin’ for more:

* * * * * * *

The Bernetta book give-away:

HarperCollins, the publisher of The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, is hosting a book giveaway. If you are one of the first three people who email HarperCollins (at “Jill *dot* Santopolo *at* harpercollins *dot* com”), telling them you read about the book here at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and give them your name and your address, you will get a free autographed copy of the book. WOOT!

Lisa is also doing a giveaway at her own blog “with a super fun prize,” she says (“Get Something Good for Being Bad”!).

5 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #66:
Lisa Graff drops by (again!); we weigh in on her new novel; and book give-away! RAH!”

  1. Bravo on another fun interview!
    I love the tidbit about Lisa’s brother being the film geek. So cool.

  2. Thanks for having me again, Jules and Eisha (and for being my Valentines — MWAH!)

  3. […]   […]

  4. […] Lisa Graff (interviewed February 14): “You’d think being published would entitle you to a personal assistant and your own […]

  5. I fully agree with all the positive feedback on the blog, although there is little negative.

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