Posted April 24, 2008 -- When the star characters of a novel boast their own popular Myspace pages, there's no doubt who the audience is aimed at -- teens. In the case of the new novel "Hotlanta" (Point, $8.99), the first in a trilogy, the focus, for a change, is on African-American girls, who authors Denene Millner and Mitzi Miller bet will latch onto their books like the latest iPod.
The paperback novel follows Sydney and Lauren Duke (shown above), twin stepdaughters to a self-made millionaire. Their extravangant lifestyles in Atlanta seem perfect. But when their estranged father shows up, their lives are turned upside down. Soon they're connected to a murder, and what they thought was true becomes a haze of gossip and lies. And that's just in the first novel.
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Approached by Alloy Entertainment (creators of CW's "Gossip Girl) to develop spicy tales for a young Black audience, Millner and Miller jumped at the opportunity. BET.com caught up with the dynamic duo to find out how it all went down.
BET.com: Why was this trilogy important?
Denene: We thought it was important because we know Black teen girls read. There wasn't a lot of books that spoke to their experience. We wanted to give them something appropriate for that audience to read and spoke to them in a real way. Teens are left to read adult material that isn't appropriate because there isn't a lot out there. If that's all you have offered to you is Gossip Girl and Riding Dirty, then what options do you have. It is what it is. We're hoping with the success. People will recognzi the huge void that is there. That's why BET's "College Hill" is so successful, because isn't it fun when there are characters you can identify with?
BET.com: What kind of research did it entail?
Mitzi: Walking up my block in Washington Heights. Looking out my window at the bus stop when the kids get out. Watching TV. It wasn't hard. Teens are like little grown folks now. They have too much access. You have to be smart about it and talk about issues that really matter to them.
Denene: I have a 15 year old son. At the time when we started, my 16-year-old neice was living with us too. Between the two of them, and them allowing me to sit in on conference calls with their friends, that was helpful. We had some real life insight.
BET.com: What did you learn about today's youth?
Denene: When you live up close and personal with somebody and they're your child, you don't realize how grown they really are, and how their lives are different when they aren't in front of adults or a parent. It's interesing to see how doggone smart the two of them are. How much more they actually know than I thought they knew, seeing how they respond to questions in front of their fiends versus you. They're not as innocent as you think they are. It's eye-opening to get a glimpse into that world.
NEXT: Can their books compete with, say, Zane?
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BET.com: Can this book compete with the sensational, overtly sexy adult books that some teens are reading?
Denene: A 14 year old doesn't need to read the "Sex Chronicles" or Zane. But they read it because there's nothing out there. They need books that Black teens can love that's titalating, but at the same time your mother won't be mad you're reading it.
Mitzi: Appropriate doesn't mean not interesting. Denene and I were careful. It's really good, it's interesting and captivating. Everyone that's given us feedback told us it was a page turner. They couldn't put it down. We feel like it doesn't have to be the boring, run-of-the-mill story for it be appropriate. We've got drama, a murder, hustling, salacious music vidoes mentioned, the mean girl syndrome. We got it to be something that the parents are comfortable with. It comes down to seeing yourself represented. They're watching Flavor Flav because they see themselves. They pick up Zane because they're comfortable with those characters. It only resonates but so far.
BET.com: What kinds of lessons will readers learn? Is there a message for young girls?
Denene: What's most important is that they read about their lives, see their personality, and see that there's much more to Black teen's live. These girls are from a wealthy family, and folks might turn their nose up and not see it as their reality. But they come from families that mirror families we see in our lives: who want the best for them, who invest in them. Their personalities are very much like those of the parents of people that we're surrounded by. They have those sensibliities. We strive for the same goals that others strive for. We genuinely want to show us in a way that doesn't get porrtayed often enough.
Mitzi: There are really good stories that dont have to be explicit and next level. You can read soemthing that challenges your imagination. It's not x-rated, but it will still give you something to talk about with your freinds. I wanted to provide someting like that to African American teens. This is for Black girls. This is for you.
BET.com: How would you describe the writing process?
Denene: We come up with a really tight outline, and then we follow it. Well, at least Mitzi does. We play off of each other. We have personality that are different, but similar. We're silly. We just respect each other's ability and love for the written word. I admire her characters and her insight into how to carry the story to the next level. It's not a challenge.
Mitzi: Denene is that unruly child. (laughs) But team work makes the dream work.
BET.com: I love the Myspace pages for the characters.
Denene: Young people love You Tube, the Internet. They're very insulated. They have their own little languages. It's interesting to see how they live now. It's fun. It comes across as authentic.
BET.com: Can you divulge any details about book no. 2?
Together: It's so much better than book number one. It has a lot of drama. Donald comes back. Dara has the last laugh. Their Thanksgiving break party puts "My Super Sweet 16" to shame! Titled "If Only You Knew," it's available for pre-order on Amazon.com.
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