Based on author Shelley Coriell’s middle daughter, Rebel Blue is artistic, free-spirited, and almost too honest. Coriell talks with Zola about writing strong women in literature, her personal bucket list, and her second novel: Goodbye, Rebel Blue.
Zola: Rebel actively chooses to push people away and Chloe (from your first novel Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe) was cut off from her group of friends. What draws you to writing about teens who feel ostracized and alone?
Shelley Coriell: Fitting in and finding your place in the world is a universal, primal theme that speaks to all ages. Most people need others. When we are alone or disconnected, we are in a state of conflict. Good story is all about great conflict. Simple, but painfully true.
Zola: In October’s issue of Elle magazine, Natalie Portman talked about feminism in Hollywood:
I want [female characters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad—human basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.
Do you think literature has the same issues as Hollywood when it comes to feminist characters and themes? How does what she’s saying relate to your own class on writing empowered heroines?
SC: Picture me hugging Natalie Portman.
My workshop, Girl Power: Creating Strong Heroines On and Off the Page, recognizes the strengths, flaws, and uniqueness in every young woman. Then we take it to the next level. We celebrate the total individual, including weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Power and empowerment do not come from perfection or kick-ass wins but discovering and honoring the self.
Literature in general does a better job than commercially-driven Hollywood in the portrayal of feminist characters and themes. In literature we see greater depth and scope in storytelling, not to mention risk-taking.
Zola: You’re fascinated with cemeteries and like to visit them to think about the stories behind the headstones. Like Kennedy, do you have passionate views on the afterlife? As Kennedy asked Rebel, what color is your heaven?
SC: I believe in life after death and a higher being, but there are times when that faith gets shaken and tumbled and slammed by a Class Five hurricane. Like the year I wrote Goodbye, Rebel Blue.
Reb’s story was born in the aftermath of three deaths that profoundly changed my life and the lives of people I love. My father died in a horrific accident, a fire. One month later, the twenty-six-year-old director of my daughters’ dance company died of lung failure while waiting for a transplant. And three months after that a sixteen-year-old girl at my daughters’ very small, close-knit school died unexpectedly of Valley Fever.
In the aftermath of these deaths, so close and intensely personal, I struggled. And unlike Kennedy, I questioned. Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there life after death? Are our lives controlled by chance or choice? Does a good and loving God really exist?
And when I got back on my feet and cleared away the debris left by the hurricane, I was back on that solid place of faith and certainty that there is indeed a journey for me beyond this life. And that journey will take me to my heaven, a place the color of joy and peace.
Zola: For your first book you gave Chloe a ‘persona poem’ and a playlist. Did Rebel receive similar treatment?
SC: Yes, Rebel has her own persona poem and playlist. She also has her own board on Pinterest. Such writerly tools help me immerse myself in the story world and better understand my characters’ back stories, fears, and desires. I also wrote persona poems for Nate and Kennedy Green because they both had such a huge influence on Rebel’s story journey.
Zola: Growing up you had a dog named Blue. Did your love of him influence Rebel’s last name at all or was that mere coincidence?
SC: I always knew my follow-up book to Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe would be titled Goodbye and a person’s name. Since the two books are in the same story world and feature a few of the same characters, I wanted that title link. I’m not exactly sure when and why Rebel Blue popped into my head—could be coincidence, could be fate—but I knew immediately that the name, cadence, and alliteration were perfect.
As for old Blue, he actually shows up in one of my romantic thrillers and threatens to steal every scene he appears in. Writing about Blue was like meeting up with an old and beloved friend.
Zola: In an interview with Wovenmyst you said with your last novel you wanted “a heroine who has a sunny disposition and is loved by everyone” and Chloe was born. Rebel is almost the complete opposite. Where did she come from?
SC: Down the hall, second door on the right. That would be my middle daughter’s bedroom. Rebel is loosely based on my fiercely independent, artistic daughter who plans on traveling the world on a vintage Vespa. And for the record, Chloe is based on my youngest daughter. When people tell me no one can be that sunny and kind, I’m like, “Um…head down the hall, third door on the right.”
Rebel and Chloe are similar in that they are atypical YA heroines. They’re strong, relatively confident, self-aware, but desperately trying to find their way.
Zola: Part of Rebel’s journey includes completing a bucket list. What’s on yours?
SC: A few I already checked off: Go to Venice with the love of my life. Dance in the rain. Make my wedding dress.
A few still rattling in the bucket: Go on a cross-country road trip with my sister and mom in search of the best tasting pies. Read an ancient text in its original language. Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef with my husband.
SC: Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Arizona. The best indie bookstore ever!
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This article originally appeared on Zola Books.