Budding local author Kelly Parra creates characters with a challenge ahead of them.
“I like to write about girls who are strong at heart,” she says. “They have their faults, but they have a journey to overcome.”
In her new novel, Invisible Touch– which, like her first work, has been picked up by MTV Books– there’s more to teenage life than angst and isolation. Parra has thrown psychic visions, spirits, mental illness, parties and first love into the mix.
Her protagonist, Kara Martinez, moves through the novel armed only with a blog called “Secret Fates” and a few life rules like: “There are no such things as coincidences.”
The novel opens as Kara starts blogging to reveal secrets she has carried with her for too long. She states right away that the blog “was not written by Kara Martinez, a girl who did her best to appear normal, but the hidden girl was far from normal and who no one else got to see.” Kara signs her blog “Sign Seer,” a reference to her secret ability to see the future… kind of.
Kara doesn’t receive crystal-clear images of the future; she sees signs that give elusive clues about what is to come. For each sign she receives, Kara must puzzle through its meaning and try to intervene– before it is too late. In addition to the signs floating all around her, Kara has to cope with her father’s death, a feeling that she has lost her culture with the passing of her dad, and an overbearing mother who thinks she is mentally unstable. When she sees a vision of a gun on a football player’s chest at school, the action takes off. What does the sign mean? Is Kara supposed to stop a murder?
While investigating her vision, Kara meets her knight in shining armor at a local restaurant. When a violent fight errupts, Kara blacks out and when she awakens, Anthony is there asking, “Esta usted buena?” From there, the two begin an archetypical relationship: she on one side of the tracks, he the other. Anthony’s side of the tracks looks a lot like East Salinas.
In fact, the entire fictional town of Valdez bears a striking resemblance to Salinas. At one point, the narrator tells us, “Even with the crime, Valdez’s population was steadily increasing, thanks in part to the large California Rodeo every summer, and neighboring Montecito– a popular tourist town– which had been written about in some literary classics.”
This familiar setting is no accident. As Parra says, “A lot of writers write what they know. I grew up in Salinas, so I know what is going on here.” At the same time, writing fiction allows Parra to change details to fit her story line. “I can change whatever I want in the story,” she says, “but still have a strong basis for a town.”
In Valdez, Kara continues to decipher the mysteries of her visions, meeting obstacle after obstacle along the way; in a surprise ending, we see Kara overcome the difficulties standing in her way while learning about herself and her family.
Parra is drawn to the type of story where a central protagonist overcomes all odds: “I like the underdog stories where you don’t think they are going to make it, but they do in the end.”
Becoming a writer has been a journey all its own for Parra, who graduated from North Salinas High with an ambition to be a graphic artist. It wasn’t until the birth of her first child that her interest in literature was rekindled. Around the age of 24, she began writing short stories. She later dabbled in romance, but found herself drawn to young adult fiction. Through the help of a writing group in Watsonville, Parra refined her craft and eventually published her first novel, Graffiti Girl.
Like Invisible Touch, Graffiti Girl featured a young female protagonist drawn into a somewhat taboo underworld. In Invisible Touch, the main character is drawn into the occult; in the first novel, she is drawn into the graffiti subculture.
“I guess there is a little rebel streak in me,” Parra says. “I like things that are a little different.” Graffiti appealed to Parra, who felt that the subculture was largely demonized. “I really believe that graffiti is an art form,” she says. “There is vandalism out there and I don’t advocate that, but if you take it the level where people are expressing themselves, there are amazing artists out there.”
Parra’s mission is ultimately to put books in the hands of teenagers who might not otherwise find materials that interest them. “I remember in high school, there really wasn’t much out there that I related to,” she says.
Many of today’s teens will synchronize with story lines driven by blogs, text messages and adolescent angst. The familiar scenes of a Salinas-esque town, meanwhile, will create added relevance for local youth.
Invisible Touch was released Oct. 14. Kelly Parra will sign books 1-3pm Saturday, Oct. 18, at B. Dalton Books, 400 Northridge Center, Salinas. www.KellyParra.com.