Author Tami Charles answers three questions she has always wanted to be asked in this special CBC Website Feature!
Would you consider Like Vanessa a “pageant story?”
Nope, not at all! Like Vanessa is about a thirteen-year-old girl who faithfully watches the Miss America pageant every year, hoping a woman who looks like her will finally win. She witnesses that historic moment in 1983 when Vanessa Williams is crowned. At the heart of the story is a young girl who steps into a world seeking a heroine whom she can identify with.
The concept of a pageant can literally be replaced with any activity a teenager would be interested in: basketball, knitting, building sky scrapers, and I can go on and on. The fact is that young people need to see themselves reflected in the interests that speak to them. In the case of Like Vanessa, it just so happens to be that the interest is a pageant.
Beyond the crown and the glamour, the true goal here is representation. . .having a seat at the table. And that’s exactly what Vanessa Williams’ victory did for girls like me.
Music is a recurring theme in Like Vanessa. Did you listen to certain styles of music as you wrote the novel?
My novel takes place in 1983 and 1984. The main character, Vanessa Martin, is a singer and music lover, so of course I had to include my favorite jams! Rap music was really taking off the ground by this period, so The Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, and Run D.M.C are mentioned in the story. I spent my early years in the Grafton Housing Projects and I remember sunny days, fire hydrants, and salsa music blasting from corner to corner. So, I definitely had to include Héctor Lavoe and Celia Cruz. Gospel music was a huge part of my upbringing, with my favorite songs being, “Going Up a Yonder” and “Amazing Grace.” And lastly, I studied classical piano and opera as a young girl. Vivaldi and Puccini were destined to show up in this story.
The bio listed on the Like Vanessa jacket states, “If you don’t like empanadas, you can’t be Tami’s friend.” Are substitutions allowed?
Absolutely! Also: I say that jokingly and with love! I’m a big fan of handheld street food. So bring on the empanadas, samosas, and Jamaican patties! We can bond over the delicious flavors and swap recipes. A blooming friendship, indeed!
About Tami Charles
Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. Her picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, debuts with Candlewick Press in fall, 2019. She also has two more books forthcoming with Candlewick and Charlesbridge. Tami is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.