Tenth graders Eliana and Dmitri could not be more different. He’s an outgoing, self-confident drummer in a punk band called Unexpected Turbulence. Eliana is introspective and thoughtful, and a movie buff who is living with depression.
Dmitri quite literally falls for Eliana when he sees her in gym class and slams into a classmate. The pair then navigate the ins and outs of first love. Exciting, scary, unexpected, and so much more difficult than they ever imagined. They say opposites attract, but they soon realize that there is so much they just don’t understand about each other. It begs the question: How long can first love possibly last when you’re so different?
Title: Girl on the Ferris Wheel
Authors: Julie Halpern & Len Vlahos
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Author Interview with Len Vlahos
How did the inspiration for writing this book come about?
The truth is Julie and I had never met. Julie’s editor, who I knew from an earlier epoch in my life, thought we would be a good fit as writing partners, and she put us together. And man oh man, was she right. Julie and I had similar backgrounds, similar tastes in music and film, and just found a groove working together. I won’t say it was effortless, because no book is ever effortless, but it certainly was a pleasure.
Did you have a writing schedule?
We took turns writing chapters. When I was done with a chapter, I would send it to Julie with notes. She would respond with notes of her own, and sometimes I’d make edits. Then she’d send her chapter and we’d do the same process in reverse.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m the captain of an ice hockey team called Blucifer’s Devils (Blucifer is the strange blue horse with glowing red eyes that greets visitors to Denver International Airport). I didn’t start skating until three years ago, when my then seven-year old son started skating. I’m the worst skater in the lowest level league, but I love it. You can read more about it in my favorite poston my website. And, of course, I play guitar and piano. Music has been my salvation during COVID.
What is your emotional connection to the characters like?
Dmitri is the first Greek character I’ve written. And while I’m a second generation Greek-American, my extended family includes many first generation Greek-Americans who resemble, with many liberties taken, Dmitri’s family. The character of Yia Yia is inspired by my maternal grandmother. I loved Yia Yia to pieces…I hope that comes through in the story.
What do you most want your readers to learn or get out of your book?
I love the way Julie portrays Elian’s depression. It’s a real, palpable thing, and it’s a disease. If I want readers to take anything away from Girl on the Ferris Wheel, it’s that mental illness, and depression in particular, is real, and that it’s not something a loved one can just fix. This was the hard lesson for Dmitri to learn. But he’s better for it. And hopefully Eliana is, too.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
In tenth grade, I had two assignments. Write a one act play, and write an essay about something that interests you. Bear in mind, I was in tenth grade in 1980, which was a very different time.
For the one act play, I wrote a scene with two Christmas trees on the side of the road talking to one another as they were dying. It was meant to be a dark comedy.
For the essay, I write “Sesame Street 2020.” In it, Bert and Ernie are an old gay couple living together, Oscar the Grouch is a methadone addict, and the Count is teaching kids to count by putting bullets in a gun. “Vone bullet, two bullets, three bullets…”
Rather than send me for counseling, a real possibility in 1980, my teacher, Ms. Bernhardt, encouraged me. That moment, when she gave me that encouragement, I believe that is when I became a writer. I owr\e her a debt of gratitude.
Do you have any writing advice for prospective writers?
1. Write every day. Writing is like going to the gym. If you do it frequently, you develop a certain kind of muscle memory. Even if it’s only for half an hour, write every day.
2. Read every day. You cannot be a writer if you’re not also a reader. It would be like wanting to play hockey without ever watching the game. And read outside your comfort zone. Let’s say you like to write fantasy. By all means, read fantasy. But you should also read history, and contemporary fiction, and memoir. The more broadly you read, the more interesting your writing will become.
3. There are a lot of great books on writing. I’ll recommend two
* On Writing by Stephen King. Part autobiography, part manifesto on what it means to be a good writer, this book is full of wonderful advice. And you don’t have to be a fan of King’s fiction to enjoy it.
* Save the Cat for Novels by Jessica Brody. Some people think of this book as trying to get the writer to subscribe to a formula or template. Nuh uh. Just like Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” from Hero with a Thousand Faces, Save the Cat identifies the core attributes of a story, but in a more practical accessible way.
About the Authors
Julie Halpern is the award-winning author of seven young adult novels, one novel for adults, and one picture book for young readers. In her imaginary spare time she enjoys traveling, making cosplay for her kids, and eating baked goods. Julie lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Matthew Cordell, and their two children.
Len Vlahos dropped out of NYU film school in the mid ’80s to play guitar and write songs for Woofing Cookies, a punk-pop four piece that toured up and down the East Coast, and had two singles and one full-length LP on Midnight Records. After the band broke up, he followed his other passion, books. He is the author of The Scar Boys, a William C. Morris Award finalist and a #1 Indie Next pick, and Scar Girl, the book’s sequel. Len lives in Denver with his wife and two young sons, where he owns the Tattered Cover Book Store.