Michele Kwasniewski is the author of the new young adult novel Rising Star, the first in her The Rise and Fall of Dani Truehart series. She has worked in the film and television production industry, and she lives in San Clemente, California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Rising Star, and for your character Dani?
A: I wanted to write about my experience in entertainment, but without being specific about any person or event, which is why I switched the setting from movies and television to music.
Everyone imagines what it’s like to be rich and famous and the various ways it can improve your life, but I don’t think people think about the downside of all that attention and money.
I started thinking about the negative aspects of fame and what that might look like – in big and small ways. How do you get famous, what do you have to give up - say a normal childhood or privacy - and is what you get worth what you give up? How does it affect all the people in your life?
I came up with Dani because I really wanted to create a character at the very beginning of their fame and follow their progression both personally and professionally.
The teen years are the most exciting and frightening time of life, I think. You are stepping out on your own for the first time in many ways and discovering who you are and how you feel.
I wanted to explore how throwing someone who doesn’t have a fully developed sense of self into a lifestyle of fame and fortune see how that affects their development?
Adding a thirsty mother like Jodi, who throws her daughter into this lifestyle with no regard to the possible consequences for her young daughter notched up the tension and was a storyline too compelling to pass up.
Q: What do you think the novel says about the benefits and drawbacks of fame?
A: I think the book and the whole series is a cautionary tale… very buyer beware. I think fame can be a wonderful opportunity as long as you are grounded.
So many amazing opportunities can spring from fame – the good you can do for yourself, loved ones, the world at large, but the drawbacks can be catastrophic if you don’t keep a firm grip on who you are and your sense of right and wrong.
Fame comes so much easier today than when I was a kid thanks to social media. I see a big change in how society operates because many people today live out their lives on social media and they expose their lives to complete strangers who can be very critical.
I don’t think we were ever meant to have access to everyone’s deepest and darkest thoughts and it can be devastating when strangers post harsh criticisms or judgments online for all the world to see.
It’s very easy to get swept up in trying to grab the spotlight and doing whatever you can to keep that attention on yourself. We’ve all seen how the media can raise someone up to dizzying heights of popularity in just a few short weeks.
And you can usually count on an equally public, dramatic fall at some point in time, because the media loves a hero and also a downfall. There’s not much money to be made on selling stories about ordinary people.
Q: You work in the entertainment industry, but did you need to do any additional research to write the book?
A: While all aspects of entertainment have similarities, the music industry is definitely its own animal. I researched contracts, recording studios set-ups, how different stars got their start and watched a ton of documentaries on singers and bands. I love music and I sing in a choir for fun, so I really enjoyed all the research.
I also haunted websites for the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Ariana Grande to get a feel for their fans and how they market to them.
Q: Which authors do you especially admire?
A: Like most writers, I’m an avid reader and you can always find a book in my purse or car just in case I find a few spare minutes in my day.
Leo Tolstoy is one of my favorite authors. I know many people might shy away from his work because, let’s face it, his length of his books can be daunting.
But the way he wrote emotion and heartbreak…words fail me in trying to describe his amazing ability to capture an experience so overwhelming as love. And he writes war or politics with an equal passion. Anna Karenina was the first book that made me cry. To me his writing is beautiful and haunting.
I also love Ruth Ware, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edgar Allen Poe, and Kazuo Ishiguro…such different styles. Each amazing in their own way.
Q: What are you working on now? What's next for Dani?
A: I just finished the second book in the series, Burning Bright, which was a blast to write.
Dani becomes an overnight sensation and as her fame and fortune grow, so does her ego. While on tour, Dani starts to live a rock and roll lifestyle and she gets a crash course at becoming an adult in the spotlight.
Currently, I’m taking a little break before I start book three, Falling Star.
I’m finishing a children’s book I’m writing for my son. It’s called Officer Small’s Big Break, which tells the story of Robbie Smalls, a hapless rookie police officer who solves his department’s biggest case with the help of a street-smart mouse detective, Francisco “Frankie” Tails.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Rising Star isn’t just a cautionary tale about being famous. I think there’s a very positive message about chasing your dreams.
Dreams are hard to achieve and they usually require great sacrifice and risk and there’s a chance you might fail. But I think if you are passionate about something, then none of that matters. Putting in the work and taking a chance on yourself is always worth the risk of failure.
Being trapped at home during the pandemic, I think it’s easy to put off dreaming because we don’t know when we will be able to resume our lives in a normal way. But I hope that reading this book will inspire readers to dare to dream again. Even in these crazy times, we all need something to aspire to.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb