Author Interview: Julie Cross Part 2

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McKayla Maroney on Hart of Dixie

In case you missed it: Part One

Part Two:

How did you find a way to explain the technical aspects so easily so that non-gym fans could follow along and avid gym fans could appreciate the more technical point of view? (Like explaining the laid out Jaeger or sticking vault)?
I developed the “explaining to the non-gymnastics people” skill from my experience talking to parents of gymnasts. They were paying for/watching their kid perform but didn’t know why they couldn’t move up a level or why they received a certain score or simply to help the parent understand the kid’s excitement with mastering something that might look like nothing. Often with gymnastics, it will take a long time for a kid to have interesting skills they can show-off outside of the gym. Both my daughters are level 3 gymnasts this year (old level 4) and sure they can do a round-off back handspring if provided a leotard and a 40’ spring tumbling strip, but otherwise what can they show grandma in the back yard? Their back pike roll with straight arms? Handstand bridge kick over? It takes talent and practice to do those skills but often they don’t look like much to the average outsider.

So yes, I wanted the technical lingo in the story to make it authentic, but not so much that I alienated non-gymnastics people. Which is why the big skills Karen learns in the book are things that can reach a commercial audience, like a big release move on bars. Everybody knows that release move means you have to let go and then catch the bar again. It has that commercial WOW factor. A big reason why men’s high bar is such a popular event, compared to pommel horse, for example. And with vault, Karen goes from 2.0 twists to 2.5 twists and that is also simple enough for anyone to wrap their head around. Also, getting the emotions behind the skills can help people understand the sport’s complexity. Maybe a reader doesn’t understand the importance of hitting vertical perfectly in uneven bar handstands but they understand that Coach Bentley is angry that Karen isn’t doing this as well as he’d like and that she’s growing more and more frustrated because she’s catching difficult release moves perfectly and he only wants to talk about those stupid handstands.

If the book was to be made into a movie, who do you imagine playing the characters?
Karen has always been a red-headed McKayla Maroney to me. In build and body type plus in power and abilities. Maybe she can act? That would be awesome. I bet she can. For Jordan, I think Connor Jessup from the TNT sci-fi series, Falling Skies would be perfect for Jordan. He played a round faced kid brother kidnapped by the aliens the first season and then he had to get all buff for season two and he totally did. He could hit the gym again and get into that former gymnast shape. He’s the perfect mix of good-looking, yet still boyish and sweet, like Jordan.

You mentioned John Green and J.K. Rowling as two writers that you would love to have dinner with. Could you tell us more about how you reacted to their books and their life as a writer?
Well, Harry Potter is my all-time favorite series and I truly love J.K. Rowling’s author story. She seems like such an amazing lady. John Green’s novel, The Fault in our Stars is one of the most beautifully written YA novels ever. He’s brilliantly created this amazing online following, not only for his novels but for his youtube videos. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting John and he’s exactly the same funny and humble, relatable guy that he is in his videos. That’s really how I am as well. I don’t do the whole media persona. I’m just me. That’s what you’ll get whether emailing or chatting with me face-to-face. Though I’m not nearly as smart or clever as John Green.

Gymnastics Questions:
Who were your favorite gymnasts growing up?
Okay, so here is where I get all carried away…I don’t really have one favorite gymnast or even a couple from my childhood, but I have favorite routines or favorite performances and those are always attached to a specific experience. I think I went into watching every big competition simply hoping to see something amazing, whether it be from team USA or not.

Here’s a list (with links of some of my childhood favorite gymnastics performances, ones I can remember on the spot, always.

In no specific order…
1) Kim Zmeskal’s Yurchenko full vault. I just loved the “flare” this vault had. That slight arch (yes, yes, I know that technique! Not exactly the best), the arms flying out the sides. Hardly ever do you get to see a gymnasts complete a twist early enough to have the stretch before landing nowadays.

2) Lilia Podkopayeva’s floor routine from the 1996 Olympics.  And it isn’t just the tired “artistry is dead” argument, EVERYTHING about this routine is amazing—the rhythm in her front tumbling, the lightness like she’s floating over the floor, barely grazing it with her fingers and toes. Speaking of her toes—that toe point! Beautiful. And then she does pirouettes with turn out (thank you Russian ballet training!). Even something as simple as her handstand pirouettes move in time with the music and have that beauty, those legs glued together…and just when you think she can’t tumble backwards she goes and proves you wrong.

3) Svetlana Boginskaya’s double layout dismount in 1996. This was the first time I saw the “straight body” double layout (remember my perfect technique obsession), prior to that it was always the slightly arched layout position. Not that we haven’t seen the arched double layout in recent years, but this came at a time when I had just began coaching and learning terms that hadn’t been used in my gymnastics days like hollow position. In this routine, even though it’s 1996 and this wasn’t required, she has a beautiful hollow position through most of the bar routine and hits nearly every handstand. Though Bela is credited as her coach at the time in this video, I believe this routine was the work of well-known uneven bar technician, Arthur Akopian, but I could be mistaken…

4) Courtney McCool is a gymnast that I could have watched all day and all night on any event. Here’s an uneven bar routine from the 2004 U.S. Championships. Everything she did was gorgeous and again, I’m a sucker for excellent uneven bar technique. But do look up her floor and beam, it’s just as good. Seriously. And my main character, Karen, has a lot of Courtney McCool in her. She’s got some amazing gymnastics but she’s not the one everyone predicted to win, she’s not flashy and probably not as confident yet as the front runners, but just wait…

5) Kim Gwang Suk from 1992. I remember this routine for a number of reasons, first because I was 12 at the time and remember thinking, “she’s fourteen? Uh-uh.” And two because of that step on the landing and what it represented at the time. Talk about Make It Or Break It…

Who are your favorite gymnasts currently?
I love McKayla Maroney! Why? Because she finally provided photographic proof of the benefits of keeping your arms by your ears when vaulting. Coaching, I even went as far as to say “cover your ears with your arms.” You really do get a better block.

Also, Lexie Preissman because I always love rooting for the Cincinnati Gymnastics girls. Mary Lee made a positive impression on me way back in 1996 watching her interact with Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps, she had such a great attitude. I’ve always watched for her gymnasts ever since then and have attended her training session at Congress events. I’ve also had the opportunity to spend several days at that gym observing when we were getting our TOPs program started. I love Mary Lee’s hands-off approach and the way the Cincinnati Gym girls don’t get spotted on skills for beam. They simply take it to the line and then a high beam with mats stacked under, then pulling them out one at a time. Mary Lee also has followed the strength and physical conditioning model of TOPs long before TOPs actually began. I remember a video of Amanda and Jaycie before the 1996 Olympics doing jump rope on beam and pulling out the therabands. I truly believe she teaches her girls to become independent, confident women. At a training session once, Mary Lee mentioned how her elites all know their own bar and spring board settings and their teammates’ that way if she ever became ill, which she said happened at a competition overseas when she got food poisoning, having another coach step in for her won’t be a problem for her girls. I think sometimes coachs’ egos can prevent them from teaching their gymnastics to survive on their own.

On the Junior scene, Norah Flatley impressed me most from the recent 2013 championships. She’s got the whole package. Can’t wait to see how she develops over the next few years. And of course, Amelia Hundley.

What did you think of the 2012 Olympics?
2012, on the women’s side for team USA the composition was the perfect balance of great form/technique and a couple confident tricksters or consistent solid performers. After the trials, I felt like so many talented gymnasts were left off the team, but once the games started, the composition made perfect sense to me. I enjoyed watching the Russians, Romanians, and Chinese but thought there was a general lack of standout individuals from other countries, like I remember from my younger years of Olympic viewings.

Do you plan on continuing the series? Any spoilers/teasers?
Oh yes! Beyond book one, the story will be released in shorter installments (about 100 pages each). Part 2 and 3 are already out and I’m working on part 4 right now. The sequels have not only more gymnastics, but also with different characters narrating. In book 2 and 3 you get both Karen and Jordan’s point of view and in book 4, I have a new secret character who is also narrating. This expands the story quite a bit and allows for more relationships to form and an inside look at some of the secondary characters in the series.

Thank you, Julie, for the interview! Can't wait to read more!

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