Interview with authors M.F. Lorson, Daphne James Huff, and Kayla Tirrell
By Cheryl Minns, Senior Columnist
Before smartphones and Netflix, there were instant messenger chats and Blockbuster video rental stores in the early 2000s. Such is the setting of Mountain Creek Drive, a young adult series by M.F. Lorson, Daphne James Huff, and Kayla Tirrell.
The series follows a group of teenagers who live in the fictional town of Marlowe Junction, Colorado, from 2002 to 2004. Most of the characters live in the same neighbourhood, Mountain Creek Drive, hence the series’ name.
“We were all teens in the early 2000s, so research was basically going through our old photo albums—actual printed photos—and listening to a lot of Backstreet Boys,” Huff said to the Other Press.
The first book in the series, Stage Kiss by M.F. Lorson, follows Erin Armstrong, a high school junior who seems to have it all. She has great friends—Jenn Cooper, Colleen Coronado, Libby Lewis—and a popular football player boyfriend, Nick Byrd. But then Nick dumps Erin for Libby, leaving Erin dateless for the upcoming Homecoming dance at Rosemark High. Determined to rise above the breakup and become Homecoming Queen just like her grandmother, mother, and older sister, she sets out to put a fresh spin on her story with the aid of the charming drama assistant, Peter Hunt.
“I loved writing Erin,” Lorson said to the Other Press. “It was a fun challenge to write from the perspective of a girl who has it all but doesn’t quite know what to do with it.”
She also enjoyed writing Peter, who she said turned out to be the easiest character to write.
“I had a zillion crushes on theatre boys in high school. I just mushed them all into one dreamy boy in Converse [sneakers]. I loved everything about him,” she said.
One of Erin’s friends particularly stood out as a character Lorson would like to spend more time writing about.
“Colleen in Stage Kiss was known for telling it like it is and having a very extensive dating history. I wonder who it would take to make her fall in love,” she said.
The second book, Leah’s Song by Daphne James Huff, focuses on high school junior Leah Cooper, the younger sister of Jenn Cooper. She and her friend, Lilly Jansen, meet Josh Baker, the attractive new guy in town. Both girls develop a crush on him, but they make a promise that neither one will date him in order to preserve their friendship. However, when Leah ends up in choir with Josh, suddenly they’re spending a lot of time together and Lilly isn’t happy about it.
Huff said she found some members of the Cooper family were easier to write than others, namely younger brother Luke.
“I love Luke. I know he’s the bad little brother, but he loves his sisters—Leah a little more than Jenn—and has a good heart,” she said. “Luke might need his own story at some point, once his sisters are both away at school and he can finally be his own person.”
However, Jenn had been more challenging to write since she had also appeared in Lorson’s book. “I had to stay true to that version of her, while giving her my own twist,” Huff said.
The author also created new Rosemark High students, including Leah’s choir friend, Amanda Gregory.
“I had so many great friends in high school, I just based Amanda on all my BFFs,” she said.
Book three of the series, Chasing Love, is written by Kayla Tirrell and follows high school senior Nicole Andrews, who wants to make a name for herself at school like her best friend Amy Ferrera does in Stage Kiss. However, Nicole gets more attention than she expected when she joins her school’s cross-country team and ends up in a love triangle with popular jock Neal Coleman and the team’s assistant coach, college freshman Chase Saunders. Chase also happens to be Nicole’s new co-worker at Blockbuster.
“I put a lot of myself in Nicole,” Tirrell said to the Other Press. “My first job was at the local Blockbuster, so it was perfect to make that Nicole’s job too. It brought back a lot of memories.”
While Nicole was an easy character for Tirrell to write, Chase was a bit more difficult.
“Love interests are always hard for me because I want to make them swoon-worthy without making them too perfect,” she said. “I did end up with a small crush on him, so I think it worked.”
The Mountain Creek Drive series began as a trilogy of interconnecting stories where minor characters in one book would appear as main characters in the next and vice versa.
“As the author of the first book, I kind of had free rein over things like school layout and character creation,” said Lorson.
“It took a lot of back and forth in the beginning, for everyone to call dibs on certain things. We had a few different joint documents set up so that we could keep track. The names were the hardest to make sure we didn’t repeat,” Huff said.
Tirrell, the author of the third book in the series, said she was constantly turning to her fellow writers to check details of their shared world. “I can’t tell you how many times I was asking the other two [authors] questions about their characters and the layout of the school, town, et cetera,” she said.
“It was a little crazy for me to see characters I created popping up in other books,” Lorson said. “The minor characters from Stage Kiss that play larger roles in the other books definitely underwent some character evolution once Daphne and Kayla got their hands on them.”
Once the trilogy gained a following, the authors released a short story collection called Carnival Wishes. Set as a prequel to Stage Kiss, the three stories take place at Marlowe Junction’s end-of-summer carnival.
The first story, “Amy,” features Amy Ferrera from Stage Kiss and Chasing Love before she becomes friends with Nicole. Amy tries to reinvent herself for the upcoming school year, but then she meets Gabe, a sweet guy at the carnival, who sees her for who she really is.
“When we decided to put out a collection of shorts featuring some of our secondary characters from Mountain Creek Drive, it was a no-brainer to write Amy’s story. Unfortunately, I fell even more in love with her and now I want to write a new book telling Amy’s story,” Tirrell said, teasing that a full-length book about Amy and Gabe might be coming in the future.
The second story, “Colleen,” is about Colleen Coronado, Erin’s friend from Stage Kiss, as she gets to know Amy’s older brother Manny at her coach father’s college football training camp. When Erin and Manny end up at the carnival together, romance seems to be in the air.
“It was challenging to make Colleen real in so few pages,” Lorson said. “I just felt like she and Manny could have been [together] a whole football season rather than a week of training camp.”
Finally, “Amanda,” the third story in the collection, follows Amanda Gregory from Leah’s Song. She wants to go to the carnival with her friends, but her job at Tower Records and family commitments get in the way. When she finds out that Jason Greizmann, a cute guy she knows from band class, is expecting to see her at the carnival, she does her best to find a way to make it to the festivities.
The Mountain Creek Drive series may soon see more stories added to the collection, continuing the adventures in Marlowe Junction—set years after the originals.
“We are working on another set of three books for next year, but set in 2018,” said Huff. “We’re excited to see how the town has changed.”
“I’m definitely excited about possible cameos,” Tirrell said.
Stage Kiss, Leah’s Song, Chasing Love, and Carnival Wishes are available in paperback and ebook format on Amazon.
For more information about the authors and their upcoming projects, check out their official websites at MFLorson.com, DaphneJamesHuff.com, and TirrellbleWrites.com.