It’s been a while, I know, since I last posted. And guess what? TBF. Is. 15. Days. Away.
Yeah. 15 days.
So I’m freaking out. Because there is SO MUCH left to be done.
So readers, no chit-chat, let’s get to it. My interview with Torrey Maldonado!
Carly Reads: You were (still are?) a teacher. How has your career as a teacher influenced your writing (specifically “Secret Saturdays”)?
Torrey Maldonado: I'm a Hip Hop fan and I taught in the middle school where Jay-Z was a former student. We're all sponges. I can vouch for Jay; he absorbed the toughness of that school and neighborhood and poured that into his raps. Like Jay-Z's music, “Secret Saturdays” is an outpouring of my life and the lives of students and families I've worked with over the last thirteen years. People say, "This book is so real" and that's because I lived it. I had the same struggles with friends, family, trust, keeping secrets, and bullying that my characters have. The Housing Projects where I was born and raised became my book's setting. The three years that I taught Conflict Resolution in schools all over New York City dipped my foot in the water. Over the last ten years I've been with teens everyday, soaking up their worlds as a Social Studies (History) teacher. I squeezed that into “Secret Saturdays.” Readers tell me, "Your book is my life." My book is also curse-free and sex-free and that reflects my teaching-career. What sort of teacher would I be if my author-mouth needed to be cleaned out with Orbit?
CR: As a teacher, what are your thoughts about incorporating popular young adult fiction (like your book and your fellow TBF authors’ books) into a school curriculum? Do you think that these books have more to offer students than the “classics”? Less to offer? Are they even comparable in what they offer?
TM: I was just invited to speak at a college where Secret Saturdays is required-reading alongside a "classic" – S.E. Hinton's “The Outsiders.” So, it's like American Idol: people choose and love TBF authors as much as the "classics". TBF authors rock readers' worlds. During a school-trip a student who hates school approached me and said, “Mr. T, I know a rap from your book by heart.” I said, “Show me," not believing him. He looked into the air and said a Black Bald rhyme so perfectly that you’d think he was reading the rhyme off a cloud or streetlight. His teachers think he doesn’t enjoy school yet he memorizes parts of my book? I did a signing alongside Barry Lyga – a TBF alum. A high school girl was on his line CRYING. Why do TBF authors trigger these reactions? Is it because we wear AXE effect? No. Fans say we share something in common: today's youth are in our writing. Oprah Winfrey made this quote popular: "When you know better, you do better." If more schools knew about TBF authors, the better they'd hook teens to books.
CR: How did your childhood and adolescence and your upbringing influence “Secret Saturdays”? Are any of the characters in “Secret Saturdays” autobiographical?
TM: There were points my life where I could have taken different turns and that would have drove my life over a waterfall to a crash ending. In 1992, my elementary school principal (Patrick Daly) was shot in the chest and killed in my Housing Projects. Years later, I became the first person in my immediate family to go to college. As a Vassar College student, I ran into someone arrested for Daly’s murder in an upstate prison where I tutored. The inmate was a boy I hung out with as a kid. “Secret Saturdays” shows that choices lead to consequences, a lot influences the choices youth make, and youth can choose to follow their own path and be their best selves. I had to keep secrets (even from my best friends) and that became a theme in my book. Some people who know me say, "You're Sean." Some say, "You're Justin" or "Kyle". Who's right? Everyone is right because “Secret Saturdays” is my autobiography in different ways.
CR: What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?
TM: As a teen, I needed real thrills to distract my mind from the rough realities of my neighborhood and schools. In 1988 Life Magazine called where I grew up "the Crack Capital of the U.S.A." and one of New York’s "10 Worst Neighborhoods.” Violence, crime, drugs, and people trying to knock me off-track surrounded me. Reading could have helped take my mind off my problems yet being a reader in my neighborhood brought new problems. The crowd felt school equaled corny. Where I’m from, female readers get called "geeky" but boys get called the other "g word' and I don't mean g-g-G Unit since people feel school is a "girl's thing". So I read what guys in my neighborhood read to avoid being bullied. Comic books. In third grade I got hooked on them because they pumped me up the way sports, video games, shows, and movies did. By age fourteen, I had almost two hundred comics. So I didn't have a favorite book; I had a favorite type of book. After my teen years, my college professors weren't forced to assign boring books so they introduced me to chapter-books with TBF swagger. That's when I decided who I wanted to be as a chapter-book author and that's why “Secret Saturdays” is designed to deliver the same rush as video games, shows, movies, and comics. It's rewarding when teens tell me, "Your book should be a movie. I can picture it."
CR: What author are you most looking forward to meeting and/or seeing at the Sixth Annual TBF?
TM: I'm excited to meet a few authors and I also want to meet the teens because some will be our future published authors. Readers of “Secret Saturdays” bring me their notepads, notebooks, and even though I wear a baldie haircut, I've heard some story-ideas that made my hair stand up in good ways. I'm also looking forward to experiencing that at the Sixth Annual TBF.
Torrey, you won’t believe how many awesome teen readers you’ll meet at TBF. You’re going to love it! And we’re going to love meeting you. Thanks again so much for taking the time to answer these questions for me!