When Alloy Entertainment approached Mitzi Miller about writing a black teen series set in Atlanta, she knew who she wanted to have as a writing partner: Denene Millner. Not only had they previously penned two books for adults together, but Denene and her family had just relocated to Atlanta, putting her, as Miller says, “literally in the center of everything.” They signed a three-book deal with Scholastic's Point imprint, and the first book in the series is Hotlanta.
You two previously collaborated on The Angry Black Woman’s Guide to Life and The Vow. Was the writing process the same here?
Millner: We wrote those books with another co-author, Angela Burt-Murray, who is now the editor-in-chief of Essence. When we wrote our first book, The Angry Black Woman’s Guide to Life, we were all working together as editors at Honey. We’d get together on the weekends and do a lot of giggling and talking and eating, and not a whole lot of writing. Now, because I am in Georgia and Mitzi’s in New York, we do everything by email and by phone. We make sure we have a really, really tight outline, and we do our best—at least Mitzi does—to stick to it. There’s still a whole lot of giggling going on and a whole lot of gossiping. Occasionally we get a few things done.
The book focuses on opposite twins: overachiever Sydney and homecoming queen Lauren. Did you each write for a character?
Millner: We did. The interesting thing is, we both decided from the giddy-up that we would do characters that were not like our personalities. If you read the book, then met Mitzi and me in person, you would swear up and down that Mitzi wrote Lauren and Denene wrote Sydney. Denene is not a label-conscious person. Mitzi keeps the old girl up to date. But we thought it would be fun to step outside of our comfort zones and give ourselves the challenge of taking on the personality of someone who is the complete opposite.
Miller: It gets even better in book two. Now the murder is in full swing and you think that the primary villains have been exposed. The twins are terrified, and you think they will stay friends and work together. But everything completely flips out and falls apart again in the second book. And, of course, it ends with another amazing cliffhanger.
When we finished writing it, I was like, “Yeah, Denene, any idea how we’re going to write number three now? Any idea how we get out of this one? Because, you know, I’m scared.” And Denene’s like, “Yeah, you know, we’ll pray on it.”
What’s been the most exciting part of the process so far?
Miller: I love going out and talking to the girls who have gotten the book. They love it, like across the board, and not just African-American teens. They are so excited by a juicy Gossip-y Girl book, but with the murderous twist. I think that’s what sets our book apart. Hearing people coming up with the whodunits, that’s probably the best part for me.
Millner: I totally co-sign everything she said. It’s really fun to have people geeked about your book. Also, Mitzi and I grew up as avid readers, and there wasn’t a whole lot out there for us to read that looked like us, and spoke directly to our experience. There’s plenty more out there for African-American teens to read and see today, but it’s just not as prevalent as, say, the success of the Gossip Girl or The A-List or Clique books. It’s just exciting to know that now this material will be out there for teens who don’t traditionally have this kind of outlet.
Do you think Hotlanta will inspire more African-American characters and series?
Millner: We’re really, really hoping so. Obviously, there’s a need for it. If you can count on one fist how many black teen series are out there, and still have a few fingers left, then that should pretty much tell you that there’s a need. We’re grateful for Scholastic for seeing a vision and rolling with it for three books. We’re hoping that other publishers take the lead, especially when they see how popular this series is going to be. ’Cause we’re going to claim that, right, Mitz?
Miller: Don’t forget that adverb—“when they see the wildly popular Hotlanta series.”
Hotlanta by Denene Millner and Mitzi Miller. Scholastic/Point, $8.99 paper, 978-0-545-00308-7 ages 12-up