I am lucky enough that the lovely Simone Elkeles, author of Perfect Chemistry, took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me about her novel to celebrate it's UK release. Thanks so much, Simone!
Can you tell us what Perfect Chemistry is about, and how you came up with the idea for this story?
Perfect Chemistry is about Latino bad boy Alex Fuentes, a gang member, who makes a bet with his friends that he can lure his chemistry partner, the beautiful rich white girl Brittany Ellis, into his life. He thinks it will be a piece of cake, until he starts realizing that the girl who he once accused of being a rich bitch is actually a complex girl whose life is anything but perfect. The problem is that in order for these two teens to be together, they have to risk everything…even their lives.
In the sequel that just came out, Rules of Attraction, Alex’s brother Carlos is sent to Colorado to live with his big brother. Carlos lives his life on the edge and breaks rules whenever possible. When this bad boy is forced to live with good girl Kiara Westford’s family, he has finally met his match!
I base Perfect Chemistry off of Highland Park High School, which is near my house. It’s a high school that mirrors Fairfield. I wanted to explore what might happen when a boy and girl from different sides of town and a different socioeconomic status fall hard for each other. It’s a modern West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet (with a better ending).
Perfect Chemistry is a love story in its simplest terms, but it actually goes a whole lot deeper. It’s not your average lovely, fluffy YA romance. Why did you decide to go down this deeper path?
I don’t know, exactly. I write what comes to me, and this story came to me and I had to write it. While I have a great appreciation for lovely, fluffy YA romance, Perfect Chemistry came out to be a gritty, edgy, and sexy story. It’s also a funny story. I have readers tell me they laugh, cry, and sigh in happiness while reading it. While writing a character like Alex, and speaking to Mexican-American teens, I realized their lives are very complex. I couldn’t ignore the struggles that some Mexican-American teens face, so writing this deep story that deals with accepting who you are and the people who are of a different socioeconomic status and race came naturally when writing the book.
I love how Alex’s life in the gang feels so real, how it’s scary and dangerous. What research did you have to do for this novel, for both the gang aspect, and in any other aspects of the novel? Was there anything you found that surprised you?
I heard that suburban gangs were on the rise, and wanted to explore how a gang member in the suburbs would deal with being interested in someone from “the other side of the tracks.” I interviewed suburban gang members as well as police officers who work in the tough neighborhoods in Chicago. When I have book discussions at juvenile detention centers, the boys always share tidbits of information with me that I’ve used in my books. Other stuff I just make up on my own. Since I don’t know Spanish I had to rely on other people to help me with it. That was really tough for me. What surprised me is that some Latino boys who live in tough neighborhoods have to sprint home for fear of getting beaten up by rival gang members. They have to stick together in numbers for protection, which is so sad. This isn’t everywhere and I hope it’s not common, but it did disturb me. I don’t want any teen to feel threatened because of their race.
One of my favourite elements of the book is how both Brittany and Alex make assumptions about each other at first that they discover are completely wrong, and that they’re both trying to be someone other than themselves. Did you write this book with the intention of sending out a message or getting a point across?
I think we all create a persona of who we want people to think we are. Sometimes we act like the stereotype because that’s what’s expected of us or who we think we should be. In Perfect Chemistry I wanted to give you two stereotypical characters, and break down those stereotypes throughout the novel to show you the complex, real Alex Fuentes and Brittany Ellis. I get a lot of email from teens who say they look at people differently after reading Perfect Chemistry, and don’t judge people as much as they used to.
Tell us about how you write; do you write in a particular place? Any particular time of day you write? Are you a plotter or a pantster? Do you have any music playing? Do you have any must-haves with you while writing?
I have to work where it’s quiet. I don’t listen to music while writing but certain songs remind me of the books I write or scenes from my books. I do not plot or outline so I’m surprised and excited to write the next scene because I never know what’s going to happen. I write wherever I feel inspired. I rent an office so I can get away and not deal with the phones or laundry or dogs, etc. I write when my kids are in school and when they’re sleeping when I’m not on deadline. When I’m on deadline, I write when my eyes are open. :)
Perfect Chemistry was released in the UK on 1st April 2010, where as Rules of Attraction, the sequel to Perfect Chemistry, was released in the US on 13th April 2010. Can you tell us a little about what readers can expect from Rules of Attraction?
In Rules of Attraction, Alex’s brother Carlos is sent to Colorado to live with his big brother. Carlos lives his life on the edge and breaks rules whenever possible. When he gets in trouble at school and is forced to live with good girl Kiara Westford’s family, Carlos has finally met his match in Kiara, a nature-loving geek who challenges Carlos’s bad boy ways.
It’s time to choose; who do you prefer, Alex or Carlos?
I can’t choose. I know you’ve seen the Rules of Attraction book trailer – could you choose between those two gorgeous boys? I mean seriously, I want to bottle them both up and carry them around in my pocket all day. (Or stick cardboard cut-outs of them in every room of my house, although it’s not just their looks that make them amazing. They’ve got the most awesome, fun personalities.) In Perfect Chemistry, Alex has a heart of gold and is so dedicated to his family and the ones he loves. I love him. On the other hand is Carlos, who loves to live his life on the edge and loves adventures and challenges. I’m sorry, I can’t pick. I’ll take them both.
The trailer for Rules of Attraction is just incredible! I was excited for the book beforehand, but that trailer just completely wowed me! Can you tell us how such hot young stars were recruited for the trailer?
For Rules of Attraction I wanted to take my book trailer to the next level. I wanted my book trailer to look exactly like a real movie trailer – with actors acting out snippets of scenes from my book. I called Pete Jones, a friend and writer/director whose screenplay Hall Pass is currently being filmed with Owen Wilson and Bill Murray and being directed by the Farrelly Brothers. I told Pete I wanted him to direct a “movie trailer/book trailer” and he said he’d do it. Pete hooked me up with producers Pat Peach and Ron Rothstein with Spotlight Films in California, who did an amazing job of auditioning actors, scouting locations, helping me write the script, editing the trailer…they did it all and more! Each audition was emailed to me, so I was a part of the audition process even though I live in Chicago.
After hiring actor Giancarlo Vidrio to play the lead high school bad boy Carlos Fuentes (I knew my fans would LOVE him – when he winked at the camera at one point in the audition and I needed a fan to cool myself off after watching him I knew I’d found my “Carlos”) and Catesby Bernstein to play the lead heroine Kiara Westford, I still needed to find “my Alex.” It was a cameo role –Alex is the sexy and hot hero in Perfect Chemistry and Carlos’s brother. I knew I couldn’t settle for anyone less than “perfect.” My fans are obsessed with my Latino hero Alejandro “Alex” Fuentes. I needed to give my readers an Alex Fuentes that fed the fantasy of who Alex is in the book.
As I was watching the auditions and the filming date grew closer, I told Pat Peach that nobody who’d auditioned filled the bill to play Alex. He said if I could have any actor in the world to play Alex, who would it be? That was easy – Alexander F. Rodriguez from Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold music video. Talk about perfection! Both Pete and Pat told me it was a long shot. I got Alexander’s email address and emailed him. To make a long story short, I told him I couldn’t imagine anyone else making my character Alex come alive for the book trailer.
To my complete and utter shock (yes, my jaw actually dropped) Alexander emailed me back and said it sounded like fun and he was on board for the cameo role. I flew out to California for the filming, and I felt like a teenager again seeing the heroes I created come to life. To see my characters exactly how I imagined them was surreal and wonderful and crazy and...and I got so emotional when it was over and Pete Jones called “that’s a wrap!” I started crying. Of course when Pete looked over at me and saw tears running down my cheeks, he laughed and said, “Stop it, Simone. There is no crying in Hollywood.” I couldn’t help it...it’s no accident I write romance novels! You can watch it here…or download it for free from my website at simoneelkeles.net
Anything else you would like to add / talk about?
I do have some great news! I’m writing the third novel in the Perfect Chemistry trilogy. The third novel in the Perfect Chemistry series will be about Luis Fuentes, the youngest Fuentes brother. He’s such a good guy who doesn’t live with the angst that his big brothers have always lived with. Luis is smart, funny, and has big dreams. When he falls for the wrong girl, Luis enters a dark world he’s never known to try and save her from herself. Just when he thinks he’s got life all figured out, Luis learns some disturbing news about his family that destroys his positive outlook on life. Will that Fuentes bad boy streak come out with a vengeance and lure Luis to live on the edge like his new girlfriend and his own father?
Thank you Simone for such a brilliant interview! Be sure to visit Simone's website. If you haven't read it already, check out my review of Perfect Chemistry.
Buy the books:
Amazon UK: Buy Perfect Chemistry / Buy Rules of Attraction
Amazon US: Buy Perfect Chemistry / Buy Rules of Attraction