Today we're excited to chat with Natalie Rodriguez author of
Read on for more about Natalie and her book, plus an giveaway.
Meet Natalie Rodriguez!
NATALIE RODRIGUEZ is an award-winning writer, director, and mental health and anti-violence/trauma advocate based in Los Angeles, CA. In 2014, she graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio-Television-Film. Her first experience in entertainment was an internship at the Conan O'Brien show and Peter Guber's Mandalay Pictures, where she worked at the offices of producers, Matthew Rhodes (“Cherry,” "Men in Black: International") and Academy Award-winner, Cathy Schulman ("Sharp Objects," "Crash").
Natalie was also a panelist at events, including Google, Hispanicize, and YouTube, where she has shared her story as a writer, filmmaker, and a female working in the entertainment industry. Some of her previous writing work can be found in publications such as the HuffPost Blog, Thrive Global, Anxiety Resource Center, Opposing Views, NowThis News, Zooey Deschanel's Hello Giggles, The Mighty, and more.
In 2017, she founded her production company, Extraordinary Pictures, focusing on both films, television, digital series, and social issue projects. The company has a list of projects in its roaster, including development on a TV sitcom, "The D," which placed in top-ten for best comedy screenplays at Stage 32. At the moment, Natalie’s second directorial feature film, Howard Original, is in post-production and set for a February 2021 release date on YouTube Premium. The film is based on the award-winning short film about a washed-up screenwriter named Howard, who encounters more than just selling a story, a studio rejection, and writer's block when his pet cat comes to life.
Natalie’s directorial feature film, The Extraordinary Ordinary, which she also wrote, produced, and was the executive producer on, is making its round through the festival circuit. The film deals with young adults, mental health awareness, and the aftermath of trauma. The film won ‘Best Film About Women’s Empowerment’ at the Glendale International Film Festival and scored nominations in Best Director, Best Female Director, and Best Picture. The film also had a sold-out world premiere screening at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival (LADFF), winning ‘Best Performance’ by the leading actress, Maddison Bullock. The film will premiere on video-on-demand on August 28th, 2020 through a distribution called Indie Rights. The film will later be available for an educational distribution this fall for high school and college students.
Her other screenplays and films have also been featured and placed in the final rounds at HollyShorts Film Festival, NALIP: Latino Lens Film Festival, ShortsTV, Stage 32: Comedy Screenplay, Beverly Hills Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival, Indie Night Film Festival, Hollywood Screenplay Contest, Table Read My Screenplay - Austin Film Festival, and others.
Natalie was most recently an ambassador for Jen Zeano Designs (JZD), a clothing company in association with USA Networks. While she continues to build her creative background, Natalie is always open to collaborating with other artists and advocates. Currently, she awaits the publication of her first young adult novel this June 2020, "Elephant," a story about four childhood best friends who uncover a family secret. The book was also a finalist at Clare Books' the Binge-Watching Cure II contest for 'Best Novel.’
For previous and upcoming projects, please be sure to visit extraordpictures.com
When was the last time you were shut down for experiencing a mental health struggle or feeling unheard by others, including those closest to you?
Summer of 2006. Four childhood best friends. A family secret.
After a strange encounter leaves him hospitalized, a timid teenage boy named Matt "Matty" Smith comes home to a continuous series of events met with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Under the guardianship of his grandma, Lucia, Matt lives with unspoken questions about his grandfather and parents. The elephant in the room. As Matt develops over the summer, the secrets only grow more profound and complex. Will the answers ever come? While searching for answers, Matt and his three childhood best friends encounter the meanings of love, forgiveness, and fate.
This story is for those who feel their voice is unheard and for children, teenagers, and the adult who never had the chance to heal from their pain.
If you would like to tell us your story, be sure to message us at @elephant_bookya on Instagram or tweet us at @Ebookya, using the hashtag #TheElephantInMyRoom
~ Author Chat ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
- Growing up, I always loved stories that told a journey of love and friendship. One of the books I had to read in elementary school was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” I was so impressed with the audiobook version too. C.S. Lewis’ world of fantasy and reality was something I was blown away by as a child. So, it made sense to include some of those fantastical elements into “Elephant.”
- As for the scarier/horror elements in “Elephant,” most of those came from my love for mystery novels. Joan Lowery Nixon’s work honestly changed my life. The one book that I reread a few times while writing “Elephant” was Nixon’s “The Séance.” I remember being in the sixth grade, running home to finish reading the book. Until this day, I carry this memory where I am lying down on the couch, practically screaming as I read the twist of “The Séance.”
- In ways, the lead character, Matty Smith, is also me as that awkward and confused teenager who just had a lot of worried thoughts, fears, and questions. Hint – addressing the elephant in the room.
- If I can be blunt, I grew up with an alcoholic father and a lot of his intermediate family were addicts. For years, I tried to avoid drinking or social events where there would be alcohol, especially when my father relapsed right before I went to college. A lot of my fears and worries also frustrated me to the maximum, but I also was learning to use my own voice. During this time, I was always coming back to the manuscript for “Elephant.” We definitely see a lot of that worrying of told through Matty when it comes to his relationship with his parental guardian, his grandmother, Lucia.
- Also, after years of carrying that burden of “if my parent is a drunk, and so are people on their side of the family, will I be next” was like wearing the scarlet letter. In reality, and seeking help myself with going to therapy to talk about these thoughts and fears, I learned the answer is NO. It is ALWAYS possible to break the toxic, and dysfunctional, family cycle.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
- Oh, this is difficult to choose! The characters in all of my projects are my babies! I love them each dearly and it is almost impossible to not feel so overprotective of them after spending so much time with them during the writing and editing process. Especially for “Elephant,” where it has literally been over a decade when I first penned down the words for the story. So, it feels a bit unfair to pick one over the other, especially with Matty and his loved ones.
- But the scenes that were a blast to work on where the ones that involved Matty and his friends, Jamie; Derek; and Lisa. A lot of the discussions and themes they go through, like first kiss; first love; or the birds and the bees talk was DEFINITELY a trip down memory lane.
- When I was fourteen years old, as Matty and his friends are, life was both awkward and painful. In the eighth grade, I also had this HUGE crush on a boy named Christian. So Matty is loosely based on Christian (more so the physical and attitude), who had shaggy-hair and an obsession with metal music. But over the years, my own story bled a bit more into the journey of Matty due to themes around dysfunctional families and family secrets.
- So, I have to go with the friendship element as being my favorite experience that Matty and his friends live in this story.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
- The title came first. I have mentioned over time that “Elephant” started off as a fifth grade school project. The school I attended made it mandatory for all students to write and handcraft a book for the end of the year project. Basically, if we did not follow this rule, then we would not move on and graduate to the next grade level.
- At the time, being an eleven-year-old, I absolutely HATED writing and reading because I, ironically, used to struggle with it. When I was in the first grade, my teacher assigned me to attend RSVP, otherwise known as ‘Reading Speech Vocabulary Program.’ So, every day before lunch, I left the class to attend the program. For twenty-minutes or so, I either read or wrote a short story and read aloud to the counselor.
- But for years, I was embarrassed by the experience, so it made sense why literature was a big NO for me. So, I was quite upset when I found out we had to participate in this project.
- Fortunately, I had a wonderful fifth grade teacher named Mrs. Burke, who provided the appropriate resources to the help the class with their stories. One of the pieces of paper she handed out was to guide us in coming up with a book title. The sheet of paper literally had random words on it like “skull,” “hollow,” and “skeleton.”
- Growing up, I was obsessed with horror movies and director, Wes Craven, was someone I looked up to (well, I still love his work). Around this time, I was also drawing and coloring a lot in my afterschool day-care called Fun Club. The popular drawings were my skeleton and Halloween-themed work. It only made sense that the original title of “Elephant” was: The Strange Wind of Skull Hollow.
- Then the story was developed from there with the concept of sharing a group of childhood friends’ journey between grade school and middle school. As I got older, Matty and his friends also ‘grew up’ with me. I later chose to keep their age at fourteen years old. A lot had to do with going through a transition in my own life, where I was discovering a lot of family secrets, reconnecting with certain people in my life, and terrified of going to high school and overall, growing up and becoming an adult. A lot of those fears, as we see with Matty and his friends in the book, came from the themes of repeating the cycle.
- Originally, Matty was named ‘Jimmy,’ after one of my favorite shows, at the time, “Jimmy Neutron.” Jamie and Lisa were two names that I always loved. Derek was actually named after a boy who I attended elementary to college with. The Real Derek was this big goofball, who always blurted out random words and topics during class, especially in high school.
YABC: Do you have a favorite writing snack?
- So, I try not to eat while writing due to spilling drinks or food on my keyboard in the past. But if I am up writing late, or on a deadline, then my to-go to is usually a PB&J sandwich, chips, or one of the Lenny & Larry’s protein cookies. I am also a sucker for sweets, but I am EXTREMLEY allergic to dairy. It has got worse over the years, where I cannot even have cheese without getting sick.
- So, Lenny & Larry’s protein cookies are perfect because they are both gluten and dairy free.
- Lately, I even find myself just getting up from a break with writing to drink a glass of almond or coconut milk. I had to stop myself from buying the chocolate milk, non-dairy version because I would finish the carton within two-days of buying it.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
- I am always learning when it comes to writing or filmmaking. Throughout the years, it has always been a goal of mine to finish something that I started. One of the biggest fears I have is NOT completing a project I began, even if it never sees daylight. I just simply enjoy the process of writing down those first words and seeing it until the end. To me, that is honestly the only way to grow as a writer, in particular, is sitting with your characters and having them tell you THEIR story.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
- Aaron Smith did a FANTASTIC job on the cover of the book. I LOVE IT. For a few weeks, we went back and forth on three different options. This one was the winner. To be honest, I wanted something mysterious, without giving away the storyline. In one of my emails I sent to Aaron (or maybe it was a text message), I sent him the book jacket of Ellen Hopkins’ “Crank.” A lot of the inspo came from Hopkins’ book jackets. For the team and I behind “Elephant,” we also thought the enlarged letters and white background was the perfect mystery.
YABC: What’s on your TBR pile?
- I just bought Suzanne Collins’ newest book to the “Hunger Games” called “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” Currently, I am finishing up “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple.
YABC: What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?
- I just finished reading “Perfect” by Ellen Hopkins and like all of her other books, I LOVED IT! Her earlier work, “Crank,” was one of the first books I read in middle school and ever since, I have been a fan. Her work is just marvelous and both beautiful and haunting at the same time. I definitely recommend her books to my family and friends.
- I even geeked out when she liked our book recommendation on our “Elephant” social page.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
- Like a lot of people, I am trying to self-care a bit more, something that I have been guilty of not doing, during this pandemic and recent deaths due to police brutality. I think self-care IS something that we should all be working on right now, before diving back into the day-to-day events in our lives.
- Later this summer, on August 28th, my first feature film that I wrote, directed, and produced, is coming out on video-on-demand through a distribution company called Indie Rights. The film is called “The Extraordinary Ordinary,” a story about three young adults and how they cope with their mental health when old wounds resurface when one of them starts having panic attacks. Recently, I also just signed with Infobase for an educational distribution, where the film will be available for screenings at high schools and colleges. The film has been a long journey but that is the reality of independent filmmaking.
- During this pandemic, and social distancing, I have been catching up on my films, TV shows, and books. I just started watching “The Following,” which aired a few years ago on Fox. I am a fan of cult stories.
- Right now, I have also been in post-production on my second directorial feature film, “Howard Original,” which is based on a short film that a friend and I filmed in 2017. The story is about a washed-up screenwriter named, HOWARD, who learns the meaning of life as he reflects on his failed relationships, while trying to finish his screenplay on a retreat. He also rescues a cat—my first time working with an animal on set. The cat’s name is Phantom Hall. It is my favorite film that I directed, and we are slated for a 2021 release date. In fact, our editor will be sending our next cut of the film at the end of this week.
- In a few more weeks, I have scheduled on my ‘writer’s/filmmaker’s board’ to start editing some TV pilot scripts I wrote, as well as the sequel to “Elephant.” The second book is called “Skeletons,” and I am about eighty-pages away from completing this current edit.
YABC: Are there any film adaptations, tv shows, audiobooks, or other adaptations in the works for this book?
- Let’s hope! I am also a writer and filmmaker too, so one of my biggest goals is to get a film adaptation of the book. The one film that really got me thinking about a film adaptation, during the earlier drafts of writing “Elephant,” was watching “Super 8” in theatres. I always pictured actor, Joel Courtney, who is the lead in “Super 8,” and co-lead in the “Kissing Booth” movies, as the main book’s character, Matty.
- Currently, there has been discussion around a movie version with some colleagues and peers. So – stay tuned! There would definitely be tears of joy if this happened.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
- Honestly, I think Matty’s story, in general, IS a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. Working on the edits of this book was both therapeutic and traumatizing to read over and over again. Definitely, as I got older—I was eleven years old when I first wrote “Elephant”—I could feel his pain and frustration, especially when it comes to his thoughts and questions on that elephant in the room topics.
- Over the years, Matty Smith both terrifies me but also, he makes me proud due to his arcs throughout the book. By far, he is one of my favorite characters and I hold him dear to my heart. I even named my soon-to-be eight year old cat named after him, Matty.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
- One of the characters that gave me the most trouble when writing, and especially during the editing process, was Lucia Smith. She is Matty’s grandmother. Although, she is one of my favorite characters, telling her story was a bit painful due to a lot of the mature and adult themes that she brings to “Elephant.” Lucia Smith is loosely based on a combination of certain relatives of mine, or people in general, who struggle to admit the realities of the world. Whether that is events going on in their life or in others’, Lucia represents a lot of the anxiety and fears of addressing the elephant in the room.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
- To be honest, the writing process changes for me, especially over the years. When I first started writing as a young girl, writing was the BEST because plugging in my headphones, blasting music was my break from reality. For the longest time, I sort of despised the edits but lately, I really do enjoy them. The editing process is exciting because for me, that is one step closer to the finished product.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
- My superpower is being the queen of worrying but in reality, I am always wanting there to be a solution to everything, whether that is for my own personal life or events going on in the world.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
- Crisis Text Support, JED Foundation, To Write Love on Her Arms, Love is Louder, The Mighty, National Suicide Hotline
By: Natalie Rodriguez
Release Date: June 12th, 2020
Five winners will receive a copy of Elephant (Natalie Rodriguez) ~ (US Only)
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*