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WORD: Interview with ‘Hick’ author Andrea Portes

Andrea Portes"The bartender looks me up and down. He has salt-and-pepper hair and piercing green eyes. I can’t bring myself to look at him." Those aren't exactly the comments of your typical thirteen-year-old, but Andrea Portes (photo by Niels Alpert) has a debut novel 'Hick'  that’s anything but routine. As Unbridled Books launched this gritty and engaging road novel on May 1, WORD’N’BASS.com Editor BPM Smith chatted with Portes about the lowlights of her first book tour, writing semi-autobiographical material, and why her mom wears sunglasses indoors.

WORD’N’BASS.com: First let me start by congratulating you, Andrea. Today is your launch date isn’t it?

Portes: Yes, today is the actual date.

WORD’N’BASS.com: I’m always interested to hear the experiences of debut authors -- it’s all so new and you’re taking on new responsibilities. How’s this been for you so far?

Portes: I’m a bohemian writer type but now I’m jet-setting all over the place so it’s kind of weird.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Yes, I was just looking at the road show schedule that Unbridled sent: 35 cities is a lot.

Portes: Actually, we toned it down since then, ‘cause it was just too crazy. Now I’m doing LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, New York…

WORD’N’BASS.com: Now you’re hitting the big markets.

Portes: Yes, big markets. But also, I just did a Midwestern jaunt with my mom.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Any highlights?

Portes: There was definitely some low lights. I don’t want to get in trouble so I won’t give all the details. Some of it was fun. It was a very bonding experience with my mom. But it was good, I got to talk with folks and get an idea of what its like getting a launch party. Getting in front of a bunch of people is absolutely terrifying. It was nice to do it in the Midwest so now I can do it without having such a terrifying fear. If I didn’t, I probably couldn’t get through it without drinking a whole bottle of vodka.

WORD’N’BASS.com: You got toughened up.

Portes: Yeah, people have been very generous; so far, so good.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Let’s move on to your novel Hick itself. Your protagonist is Luli, a pretty slick and bold thirteen-year-old. She hits the road and encounters a lot of freaky characters. This isn’t so typical for someone her age and I’m wondering what made you choose this storyline.

Portes: I guess the character of Luli started talking to me. Out of nowhere she would tell me what to say. I wouldn’t start a chapter thinking ‘this is where she goes to meet two meth-head stripper girls.’ It (the story) would reveal itself as it was going along. It’s very character-driven as opposed to doing this, this, then that. I was 50 pages into it before realizing I needed to have an actual plot.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Well, let’s talk about the plot then. Luli’s life takes on some chilling directions. In fact, you’re taking on some things that are taboo like teen sex; now that’s a taboo, especially in America. What do you have to say to readers who maybe don’t appreciate the frankly sexual take in Hick?

Portes: I would say it’s kind of different to talk about because in the book itself there are things that are semi-autobiographical. But if people don’t think teens aren’t getting in trouble they’re mistaken. Especially if they don’t have parents around helping them, then there’s gonna be all kinds of trouble.

WORD’N’BASS.com: How much is this story taken from your own life experience?

Portes: I don’t know if there’s a percentage I can give you. A lot of the book is inspired by my life and inspired by characters talking to me. Where I lived in the Midwest and the farm is from my life.

WORD’N’BASS.com: How about Luli herself? Is she pretty much how you were at her age?

Portes: She’s a little bit different. My parents were not like her parents in the novel. On the road, I’d say "this is my mom" and everyone gave Mom dirty looks. She’d go to my readings anonymous. She was going totally undercover, wearing sunglasses in the back of the room. And I’m up there terrified. But I got less terrified as I went along. Before, if anyone talked to me about the book I’d say, "Oh, uh, I dunno."

WORD’N’BASS.com: And how about you, were you reading in shades and drinking vodka?

Portes: (laughter) No, I was okay.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Let’s go back to Luli. What do you think her adventures say about the American experience and this transition from a sort of old school attitude about teens as naïve and innocent to something much darker and worldly in Hick?

Portes: I think you’re crashed up against all sort of big ideas and big images. Luli has romantic style ideas like Elvis and the Marlboro man. You know, the cowboy and the notion that she needed her own leading man. Then you have your own sexual curiosity where you don’t know what you’re doing. If you collide those things together and have no guidance being on your own, you’re in trouble.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Hey, I just looked at your bio: you were a script reader at Paramount Pictures. I don’t know if you’ve read prior interviews at our site but you’re actually one of several authors I’ve interviewed who came from the film industry. So I’ve gotta ask you: how did you like the film industry versus the book industry, where you’re basically brand new here?

Portes: Folks are very different in the two industries. The nice thing at Paramount, I kind of knew how to submit my manuscript without looking strange. Some scripts that came in were very professional, others not. I got one with a spaceship on the cover with the message: ‘Aliens Enter Here.’ Having worked there five years, I learned how to approach literary agents and publishers. The publishing industry is very different from film. Publishing is more tweed and the movie industry is more black and shiny.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Good visual, I can totally see that difference. So did reading all those scripts help your writing at all and if so, how?

Portes: They helped in knowing I like to make things go quickly. Also, you wonder what is going to keep people reading because in a script you’ve gotta keep things moving and if the scene isn’t going anywhere, you've got to take it out no matter how good it is. If there’s a question mark, that keeps people going.

WORD’N’BASS.com: What’s an odd script you read?

Portes: I once got a script about a girl whose boyfriend died and then came back as her dog, one that she adopts.

WORD’N’BASS.com: That’s not a storyline I recognize. I take it Paramount didn’t go with it?

Portes: Surprisingly, they didn’t make it. There was one they made, Igby Goes Down. It came out and it was a good film, best script I read while there. It was very 'Harold and Maude,' a black comedy.

WORD’N’BASS.com: I’m not surprised you like black comedies. You know, two other film industry people who also debuted novels are Seth Greenland and Wesley Strick, and they did some of my favorite novels of the last couple years. For me you just joined that list, Andrea.

Portes: Really? Wow, thanks.

WORD’N’BASS.com: How has other media received you so far?

Portes: So far, so good. The LA Times just did a review that was very, very positive. All the interviews and things online have been good but... If something was horrible I’d put it away and throw it in the trash; but it’s all good. With the LA Times, I was happy with that. Also, the feedback from the readers has been amazing.

WORD’N’BASS.com: Good to hear. Another area where you’re actually an interesting fit for WORD’N’BASS is you cover the LA night life for some websites. Do you hit the raves at all?

Portes: You know, I sorta don’t. But I do cover bars and restaurants and stuff. I used to go to raves but I stopped.

WORD’N’BASS.com: What’s your favorite music? Do you like Drum & Bass, House or something else?

Portes: It switches. I like stuff like Ladytron. She was just on my Myspace but I just switched to a band called Porter. I like that feel. I had ‘Destroy Everything’ on my page for six months. Check out my site. I’m fickle (when it comes to music), though. My ex-boyfriend was really into Drum & Bass so I do like that.

WORD’N’BASS.com: My last question is what’s next on the literary front for you? Do we get more gritty novels or is this a one-and-out?

Portes: I think the next one is about college -- when I left Nebraska and headed to Bryn Mawr on a full ride scholarship and was thrown in with a bunch of Blue Bloods. You know, old New York aristocratic types. It’s set in the summer after college with a bunch of Blue blood types. It’s another semi-autobiographical novel. Next after that is a story of my life in LA. I’ve already got a title for it: ‘Menagerie of Nutjobs.’


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