When I read the blurb about Rachele Alpine’s new book, OPERATION PUCKER UP, I knew I wanted to know more about the story, and the author who came up with the idea! Rachele was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Mafia. But first, the blurb that was so enchanting –
First kisses are always nerve-racking—but especially when they’re onstage! Can Grace find a real-life Prince Charming before she has to lock lips in front of a crowd?
Grace Shaw is thrilled to pieces when she wins the coveted lead role in her school play. That is, until she realizes she’ll have to kiss Prince Charming. And not only is Prince Charming—a.k.a James Lowe—the most popular boy in school, but Grace has never, ever been kissed.
To help, Grace’s two best friends create Operation Pucker Up—a plan for Grace to score a kiss before opening night so she doesn’t make total fool of herself in front of a live audience. If that weren’t enough to think about, Grace’s father, who left six months ago, suddenly walks back into her life. Haddie, her mom and sister have bonded as the “Terrific Three” – and while two of the “Three” welcome Dad back with open arms, Grace isn’t sure she can forgive and forget.
With Operation Pucker Up spinning out of control, and opening night fast approaching, will Grace manage to get her happily ever after—both on-stage and off?
Middle Grade Mafia: Your new MG book, Operation Pucker Up, sounds delightful. Where did you get the idea? I’m assuming you kissed a lot of boys when you were in school.
Rachele Alpine: Ha! I can’t say that this book was based off of life experiences, since I didn’t have my first kiss until about halfway through high school! But my main character does have a realization about first kisses and that maybe not everyone around her is an expert (or experienced) in them! The book is partly inspired by my time doing children’s theater growing up (the theater where I acted at is hosting my launch party) and a comment I heard a radio announcer make years ago about having her first kiss in a play. I thought about how embarrassing and awkward that would be, and the early spark of Operation Pucker Up began!
MGM: Can you tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author? Did you always want to write?
RA: I’ve got the cliché response that I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. My mom is definitely the one who planted the early love for books and writing into my life. She was a pre-school teacher and always brought new books home to read to me or took me to the library where the two of us would check out giant stacks of books. When I was young, I had a pretty severe speech impediment that made it hard for people to understand me (I went through eight years of speech therapy). My mom gave me a diary to write things down in, and I filled the pages within a week! She continued to feed my writing habit by getting me fun notebooks and journals to fill with stories. I wrote all through high school, but then had a really bad experience in my first Creative Writing class when I got to college. My professor wrote a really mean comment on the first story I submitted that shut me down to writing for seven years (I also walked out of the class, threw my story in the crash, cried a ton of tears, and dropped the class). It wasn’t until the last semester of graduate school that I took another Creative Writing workshop. It was such a different, amazing experience. I fell in love with writing all over again, and started to write more serious with the intent to want to publish.
MGM: Your first book, Canary, came out in 2013 and garnered great reviews. How was writing the second book different?
RA: Canary is a pretty serious book about some tough topics. It was emotionally draining for me to write, and when I was done with it, I really wanted to write something funny and light hearted. Thus, the jump to middle grade! I had such a blast writing Operation Pucker Up, and I loved revisiting those awkward and often cringe-worthy moments of middle school (and am relieved that I am past that stage in my life!). I always think of middle school as that point where you’re straddling the line between still being a kid and starting to grow up, which is a really great moment to write about.
MGM: I saw on your Facebook page that you finished the rough draft of your next novel, YOU THROW LIKE A GIRL in two months, and you have a baby! How do you do it?
RA: Yes! The days after the birth of my son were very very crazy. I had Nolan on 2/18 and on 2/ 26 I received an e-mail from my agent telling me we had sold YOU THROW LIKE A GIRL (on proposal…so it wasn’t written…gulp!) to my editor at Simon & Schuster. I was excited, but as a new mom, completely overwhelmed. Thankfully, I have an amazing husband (and a detailed outline of the book!), so he took my son for three hours every night and I wrote for one hour and slept for two. Then, once my son and I got more into a routine, I began to take him to Barnes & Noble where I’d write there while he napped (if you search the hashtag #writingwithnolan on Instagram, you can see all our writing dates!). Being a first time mom is a complete life change, and I think writing helped me remember who I was before I had Nolan. I looked forward to those times when everything kind of slowed down and I was able to lose myself in my writing. I finished the draft in two months and sent it to my critique partners with the following message, “Warning! This book was written under the influence of a newborn!” I don’t recommend writing a book like I did, but I guess I’m proof that it can be done (you’ll just live on coffee and no sleep!).
MGM: Speaking of Facebook, you’re also active on other types of social media. Have you found it helpful in connecting with readers, promotion, etc?
RA: I love connecting and hearing from my readers! I think that’s one of my favorite parts about writing for tweens. I especially love it when I get old school mail (with a stamp!) from someone. I respond to everyone, and it’s great to hear from readers because often writing feels like such a solitary job since much of it is done at home and alone (and in my pajamas!).
I’m also super excited about the Reading Club that I’m doing for Operation Pucker Up, because I’ll be able to connect with readers even more! The Reading Club is great for Girl Scout troops, libraries, middle school teachers or book clubs…they get to Skype or FaceTime with me for free and get a fun pack of OPU goodies!
MGM: Finally, a lot of pre-published authors read this blog. What is the best piece of advice you ever received about writing?
RA: I think it’s important to write the book that you would want to read and not worry about the critics, trends, or the inner editor in you. I once had an agent tell me that unless I was Judy Blume, I’d never be able to sell a middle grade book about kissing. But the events in Operation Pucker Up are what I would have loved to have read when I was that age, so instead of listening to what I couldn’t do, I went ahead, wrote the book, and my wonderful agent, Natalie, sold it!
OPERATION PUCKER UP is available today! Buy it HERE.
Rachele Alpine is a lover of gummy candy, bad reality TV, and coffee…so much coffee. She’s the author of the MG novels Operation Pucker Up (Simon & Schuster) and You Throw Like a Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2017), and the YA novel Canary (Medallion).
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