SparkNotes Blog

YA Author Alecia Whitaker Talks to Us About Wildflower, Country Music and the Music Competition You Need to Enter!

BE HONEST, are you a sucker for the slide guitar; gone on guys who sing in cowboy hats; in love with the idea of decamping for Nashville where you will start a new life as Blue, or Jeany-Ray, or Cupcakes Madison? THEN WE HAVE THE BOOK FOR YOU.

Alecia Whitaker’s latest novel, Wildflower, follows Bird Barrett, a teenaged country music champ in her family’s traveling troupe. A talent scout catches wind of the songs she’s been writing and the family decides to retire the RV to Country Music Capital, Nashville, in pursuit of Bird’s career as a solo artist. There, she finds the spotlight makes things a bit trickier, not least where her crush is concerned… If you are OBSESSO with Nashville (WE KNOW YOU’VE SUNG ALONG WITH “A LIFE THAT’S GOOD” FIFTY TIMES AND HAVE A PONY PICKED OUT), then you are going to love this sweet novel and its sequel, The Road to You, out next spring. Alecia is giving us an EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEAK of Book 2’s gorg cover. (Above, doesn’t it give you the sideways prickles?)

AND, AND, AND! If you have singing skills, you have the chance to be discovered, Bird-style! Head over to Justine Magazine for the full details, but all you have to do is send a short video or audio recording of “Notice Me”—an original song from Wildflowerand you will be in the running for a guitar (seriously), a pair of Justin cowboy boots (again, awesome), a session with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Alissa Moreno, and an introduction to some legit music industry execs (mindblowing). The deadline has been extended until September 30! WHY MUST OUR VOICE SOUND LIKE A SHEEP BEING SHORN? WHYYY??!!

We interviewed Alecia, who has REAL FARM CREDIBILITY, just like JLaw, growing up on a small farm in Cynthiana, KY. She is the author of The Queen of Kentucky and the Wildflower series, and shares our furious passion for knee socks and TSwizz.

SparkLife: Is a life as a traveling musician your secret childhood wish?
Alecia Whitaker: Not exactly, but I do think it’d be cool to grow up in a musical family. Whenever we camped at RV sites growing up or stumbled upon arts fairs or festivals, I loved watching people young and old play music together. If you grow up around something, it just gets in your bones.

Were you inspired by any other YA novels about nontraditional families?
It’s funny because I guess the Barretts are nontraditional in the sense that they live on the road instead of a house, but they are quite traditional as a family unit. Family is very important to me. For example, my husband and I are about to buy a house and the ones we liked all have small bedrooms so that our family will be forced to spend time together in the common areas. I think the RV did that for Bird and her fam.

What will teenagers understand about Bird’s experience sort of emerging from her family as a solo act with a separate life?
Oh, it’s about identity and independence. That time of life is tough because you’re so ready to be on your own, making your own decisions and charting your own path. But you still need your folks for so many things that you take for granted at that age: roof over your head, food in your belly, car for some kids. These are young adults we’re talking about, people totally capable of amazing things but with very little real world experience. I think they’ll be pulling for Bird as her star takes off because they, too, are ready to fly.

Tell me about it. Whew!

How would you describe the lure and excitement of Nashville?
It’s a place where dreams come true. It’s the South, so the grit and hard work that go along with being successful in music totally make sense, but it’s almost magical when all of those sacrifices pay off.

Can you write songs? Do you write poetry? If so, where is the overlap?
I wrote a song when I was 16, but stopped there. I got into performance poetry in college, winning a few local slams and hitting up coffeehouses. When I was 21, I worked an internship in New York City by day, but spent my weekends and many Mondaynights performing slam poetry. The last time I performed at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe was in 2010 when I stopped by to support a friend and read a piece about the baby nobody realized I was carrying. That was a sweet farewell to that life.
Writing these books in the Wildflower series has really allowed me to weave words again. As I write, I record Bird’s songs on my iPhone as I hear them in my head, but when the publisher goes to put the lyrics and sheet music in the back of the book, they hire a professional. Hey, I’ve never been nominated for a Grammy, so no hurt feelings here!

How did you research the book?
I spent some time in Nashville, I use Google like nobody’s business, and I email Alissa Moreno (the previously mentioned Grammy-nominated songwriting professional). And I’m able to draw on a lot of my real life experience. I played two instruments growing up, I’ve done a lot of voice-over work in recording studios, I’ve performed in front of several hundred people loads of times, and I’ve been on nationally televised shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The world of fortune and fame that Bird has stumbled upon certainly isn’t mine, but I’ve gotten a glimpse–close enough to write these books with authenticity if not authority.
Oh, and I LOVE the show Nashville. 

Are you sad Taylor Swift left country and went mainstream?!!
I am sad about that. So funny you ask, because last year with a lot of her singles from the Red album, I often asked my friends, “Remember when Taylor Swift used to sing country music?” I mean if you listen to “Our Song” and compare it to “I Knew You Were Trouble,” you’d hardly know it was the same singer! But I think that girl’s busting at the seams with talent. I love almost all of her songs, whether country or pop, and she is on the same path that Bird’s label is pushing.
Also, I totally downloaded Taylor’s new single “Shake It Off.” I’m not sure she’s got a clue about what was actually going down in 1989, but my four- and two-year-old boys JAM OUT to that song with me in the car.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

This piece of advice is going to sound so simple but here it is: WRITE. I meet so many kids who want to be writers, and when I ask them what they’ve written, they’ll say, “Well, I started this…” or “I have this amazing idea.” You have to be disciplined enough to see the idea all the way through. In short: Write it.

Are you already goneso on Wildflower and all things country? ARE YOU GOING TO ENTER THE COMP AND BECOME THE NEXT CARRIE/MAISY/LENNON?