Author Interview with Liz Coley! FULL

I'm so excited to get to ask Liz Coley some questions, as I recently read, loved and wrote a review of her novel Pretty Girl Thirteen. As I had so many questions I wanted to ask Liz, there will also be a second part of this interview posted soon and am so excited!

Hello Liz, Welcome to A Day Dreamers World and thank you for allowing me to interview you. 

Pretty Girl Thirteen was your new book out earlier this year; for people who don't know could you give us a quick synopsis?
13-year old Angie vanishes without a trace on a Girl Scout camp out and finds herself walking home three years later with no idea where she has been, what has happened to her, or why she is so scarred. In fact, she doesn’t even know she has been missing. In her memory, it’s as if the trip were just yesterday and she’s still thirteen inside. There are secrets you can’t even tell yourself. 

How long did it take you to put pen to paper? 
After a summer of research, the first draft was written in about eight weeks, mostly in the month of November 2009 for National Novel Writing Month. Revisions with my agent took another eight months. As you can see from the calendar, it takes a really long time to bring a book to publication.

Why did you decide to write Pretty Girl Thirteen? 
I had long wanted to write a protagonist with Dissociative Identity Disorder, but I was waiting for the right story to come to me. Then, after reading some scientific articles about the seat of memory in our brains and different articles about new techniques being developed for controlling the firing of nerve cells in the brain, I had a fleeting thought about voluntary memory control. Finally, when the abbreviated title PG-13 appeared to me, almost like a vision, the whole idea clicked in my head and I knew what the core of the story was going to be—the individual stories of a girl’s alters threatened with extinction. It evolved from there.

Are there any ways that you can personally relate to Angie, or the other main characters? 
Fortunately, I’ve never experienced terrible trauma like hers, but I imagine that I would try to be very practical and unemotional about it and focus on survival. I’m more like Girl Scout than any of the others. 

How did you find writing Pretty Girl Thirteen? Did you find yourself sobbing as you wrote? 
For most of the scenes that are frightening, I think I was a bit dissociated myself as I wrote them. I protected my own heart. But the scenes that did make me well-up (and still do after eighty million readings) were the tender ones with Abraim, Little Wife’s letter, the luncheon, and the scene in the grass. No spoilers here! Since I wrote in such a concentrated burst, I was in a really tense, weird mood all that month. The strangest thing was waking up disoriented one night and feeling for just a moment that I was Angie.

Pretty Girl Thirteen deals with so many serious, and mature subjects. How were you able to get the right balance between being honest but it being suitable for Young Adults?
I’m extremely honest with my own teenagers, not prudish or sensitive, even blunt. So that part comes naturally. But I also think that it’s important to write in a subtle way about the mature content so that if readers are too young or innocent, it will go right over their heads, but leave enough implied between the lines that the experienced reader will understand what’s left off the page. My editor and agent were also very helpful in telling me where I could/should rein it back. There was one disturbing image we did edit out completely so it wouldn’t scar impressionable minds. It made me squeamish, too.

The way you slowly gave away details about Angie's life locked away definitely kept me gripped. How did you piece all of this together to come up with what actually happened to Angie? And do you know exactly what happened now? 
I envisioned the story as layers and layers of secrets unfolding at all the major impact points of a three-act story structure. The first one, that Angie has DID is, of course, given away in all the cover copy and reviews. I had all the other secrets planned out before I started writing (which is unusual for me), but I still needed to work on how to get from each to each. The last secret revealed is really obvious to some readers and hits others over the head with surprise. There are still some secrets at the end of the book, even from me! I have my theories about what Angel refused to say, and I tried to set everything up to support that theory. I figure the story stands up if you can reread it, knowing the answers, and still find it tense and compelling. 

In this book, Angie has to deal with a mental illness called Dissociative Identity Disorder - how did you come up with the different personalities of the 'alters'? Did you base any of their personalities on your friends? 
I daydreamed about the alters on a seven-hour car ride about eight months before I ever started writing. I knew the kinds of roles they needed to play in shielding her from trauma, in her ability to survive and finally escape.  They actually walked out of my imagination and introduced themselves to me, names and personalities, very clearly. I never had to “plan” them out. When I started writing all that time later, they were still just as vivid, as if they were real people I knew. None of them are based on real people, though I do know someone who recovered from Dissociative Identity Disorder.

I found the way that Angie's dad reacted to this so realistic. How were you able to get inside this character's mindset and make him feel guilty in many ways? 
I knew the parents would react differently. Angie inherited her mom’s practicality about getting on with getting better in many ways, although Mom is in more of a hurry to wipe away the unpleasantness. I  knew a father would be really weirded out by what he knew must have happened. He would either be furious and violent or depressed and helpless. I chose a self-absorbed father who suffers most from a feeling of failure. Some readers are really angry at his reaction, but It did feel realistic and totally human to me.  I know people who I think would have reacted that way.

What do you want your readers to take away from the experience of reading Pretty Girl Thirteen? 
After reading reviews and seeing what different people have taken away from the book, I have a theory that everyone who picks up this book reads a different story. The story I read is about memory and identity--that all the events that have gone into making you, both good and bad ones, are precious in their own way. Angie’s truncated diary, the organized toy boxes in the garage, and Mom’s scrapbooks are all ways of honoring past experience. When I sign at bookstores or book festivals, I like to inscribe people’s title pages with the phrase “Cherish your memories.” That’s one of the things Angie learns to do in order to heal.

Are you working on anything new at the moment? 
I’ve got a completed novel that is going out on submission and a proposal under consideration—nothing definite yet.

UPDATE: 15/07/13

There will be no part two, as they were only quick-fire questions and I've lost them as per usual! Sorry!
Thank you so much again to Liz Coley for doing this interview with me. If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Pretty Girl Thirteen, go and do it right now!


  1. Great interview! I am so glad you had this opportunity :D Loved reading it

    1. Thank you! Part 2 is going to be posted soon! :D

  2. awesome interview! everything i hear about this book is good but it's also creeping me out! haha x

    1. thank you! it's amazing, but freaky and daring. I think it'd difficult to read, but one you can't put down. it's amazing if you do give it a go!

  3. Oooh, another book to add to my to read shelf! I agree with blogger above; it does sound really creepy.
    At first I thought it was Amy from the Big Bang in the picture....
    I also nominated you for the Liebster award.
    Marian ^_^ x

    1. It is creepy, but it's amazing. I can promise you that! I hope you enjoy it!
      I haven't seen the Big Bang Theory but I'll have a look on Google Images.
      Thank you, Marian!


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Sophie Louise