Welcome to the blog, Tami Charles! Charles’ debut middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, is out 3/13/18. This semi-autobiographical story is set in 1983, and 13-year-old Vanessa Martin’s life in Newark, NJ is not at all like the amazing, newly-crowned Miss America Vanessa Williams. The opportunity to be in the school beauty pageant pushes Vanessa to take risks, and she may learn to be as confident in her skin as her role model. “This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances. “—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
MIXED-UP FILES: So this is your debut middle grade novel. Congrats! What made you want to go back to this age and write a book for middle grade readers? What do you hope they will get out of reading Like Vanessa?
TAMI CHARLES: It is my debut and thanks so much! For me, it was a no-brainer to write a story that fictionalized my early teen pageant years. My hope is that readers will follow Vanessa’s journey of self-love and become empowered to find their own talents and strengths.
MUF: Your press materials say that your book is semi-autobiographical. How is Vanessa Martin different from you at that age?
TC: So much of this story is a reflection of my life and past experiences so this is a hard question for me. I think the biggest difference is that unlike Vanessa, I grew up with both my mother and father present in my life. Vanessa is raised by her grandfather and father, whom each have their own ways of showing their love for Vanessa.
MUF: Can you talk a little bit about Vanessa Williams? What made her so important to you when she won Miss America, and what do think it means for a young girl to have a role model like Vanessa Williams for them?
TC: Though I was very young at the time, I clearly remember when Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America in 1983. It was a big deal to see a woman of color finally win a pageant that historically shut us out since its inception. For a young girl at the time to witness such a moment, it’s a life altering experience! Every year many girls of color watched Miss America faithfully, hoping and praying to see someone like them win. Vanessa Williams’s win, was a win for ALL of us!
MUF: How did THE ACTUAL VANESSA WILLIAMS come to endorse your book? That is so exciting!
TC: This was such a dream come true for me! Thanks to the help of my writer friends, I was able to contact Vanessa’s agent, Brian Edwards, and tell him about my novel. I had tickets to see her perform at a local theater and Brian arranged for me to meet her backstage. I had the opportunity to have my picture taken and give her a copy of the novel, to which she said, “I can’t wait to read it!” A few months later, I received her glowing endorsement via email. I cried for a good ten minutes!
MUF: What are some of your favorite middle grade books?
TC: The One Crazy Summer trilogy, by Rita Williams-Garcia, is a favorite! I’m so honored that she has read and provided a blurb for Like Vanessa as well. I also really enjoyed The Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Right now, I’m reading The Way to Bea, by Kat Yeh, and I’m loving it!
MUF: If you were a tween today, who would be your celeb idol?
TC: I’d have to go with Stephen Curry, mostly because my son is obsessed with him. We’re reading his biography together and I think Steph is a great role model for tweens.
MUF: If there’s anything else you’d like to add, please feel free!
TC: Yes! I’d love to share my book trailer and an invitation to my book signing, being held Saturday, March 17th, from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Edison, NJ. My special guest will be Karyn Parsons, famous for her role as “Cousin Hilary” on the iconic TV show, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air!” If you’re local, come join us for conversation, treats, fun, and BOOKS!