A Conversation with Mitzi Miller and Denene Millner
How long have you known each other?
MM: Denene and I have known each other for a little over five years. We met when I joined the Honey
staff as an intern.
DM: Mitzi and I met while working together at Honey
-- what seems like eons ago! She was an intern; I was the features editor who edited her first-person column, where she regularly found herself doing all kinds of crazy things, like rallying to "free" the rapper, Slick Rick, or joining a black motorcycle crew. I liked her from the moment I met her -- loved her energy and humor. When she walked in a room, the temperature automatically changed; I often tell her that she needs a spotlight and a soundtrack when she walks -- that's how electrifying she is! It's a blessing to be her friend.
How do you actually do the writing? Who writes what, and how do you communicate about it?
MM: It's kind of like The Transformers:
we come together to create a very, very detailed outline of the entire book. And then we separate to write our individual chapters. As we finish writing, we exchange chapters and edit each other.
DM: Thank the Lord for e-mail -- that's all I have to say about that! I live in Hotlanta, and Mitzi lives in New York, so we have to be really clear and detailed about what we're going to write and then stick to it. After four books together, Mitzi and I have it down cold. We think a lot alike, we listen to each other, and we both love a good story that moves, so that helps a lot.
What inspired you to write the Hotlanta series?
MM: Reading the Gossip Girl books and watching The Hills
. There was such a need for the African-American version of the story to be told.
DM: There were several inspirations: My daughters, who are avid readers thirsty for characters that look like them; and my niece, who is a Georgia Peach to the core and surrounded by funny, adventurous, cool friends who fit the mold of the Duke sisters. My hope is that Hotlanta gives African-American teenagers the stories they crave, so that they don't feel compelled to read books they're not ready for.
What was the biggest challenge in co-writing Hotlanta?
MM: Normally, I would assume the character that is outrageous and over the top. I had to focus really hard to find the extra-conservative, color-within-the-lines part of my personality that most resembles Sydney.
DM: Boy -- that had to be assuming the character of Lauren. She's high-wattage, saucy -- a wild child. The complete opposite of me. So getting into her head and climbing into her shoes was quite interesting and challenging -- but fun!
How is writing for teens different from other writing?
MM: The attention span of most teenagers is so short, we had to jump right into the story with a big bang and constantly raise the stakes to keep their interest. On the contrary, when writing for adults, there's the slow build that creates anticipation.
DM: I think the fast pace of the story is probably the most glaring difference. Teens want it quick; they don't need all the flowery details and background that you get in adult fiction. They're also so fast -- just when you think you've caught on to what they're into, and you commit it to a page in the manuscript, two other things have come along and replaced it, and you may not even realize it.
How were you able to channel the voices of the teen characters in Hotlanta, namely the Duke twins?
MM: I watched several Saturday afternoon marathons of MTV's My Super Sweet 16
and tapped into my inner perfectionist.
DM: I'm surrounded by teenagers; I lived with my then-16-year-old daughter for a year, and my 15-year-old stepson lives here, too. He's a football player, super smart, and an all-around good guy who is quite helpful with letting me know whether something rings true or not. Of course, MTV is a staple, as is the ABC show Friday Night Lights,
which has incredible writing and a great southern teenage voice with which I could identify. All too often, you find that the teenage voice in books/TV/movies are exclusive to big cities, and the voices of teens in small towns, particularly in the South, go unheard. So paying attention to the teens around me, and a few of the shows helped a lot.
How is Hotlanta different from other teen series out there?
MM: Hotlanta focuses on the elite of the southern African-American community. So you're dealing not just with the rich, or even rich African Americans, you're dealing with rich African-American southerners. And they are definitely a class with a culture of its own.
DM: It's set in the South, and it features African-American characters who are well-to-do and smart and socially savvy and southern, so it automatically sets itself apart from a lot of the books out there, which often don't have black characters, and, when they do, are set in gritty urban settings.
Which of the Duke twins are you more like, Sydney or Lauren?
MM: I'm definitely more like Lauren -- impulsive, over-the-top, loyal almost to a fault, and with a really good heart.
DM: Boy, Sydney is me to a tee. I was -- and still am -- that girl: over-achieving, deeply concerned for others, a perfectionist.
How hot is Hotlanta really?
MM: Money, murder, and hot boys -- Hotlanta is blazin'!
DM: Can't you feel the heat? Sizzling!