interview


I’m thrilled to be Justina Chen Headley’s last stop on her blog tour for North of Beautiful today. Make sure to go and check out her other stops at Mitali’s Fire Escape, Shelf Elf, Archimedes Forgets, and Biblio File

One of the most interesting parts of North of Beautiful, to me, was the maps, of all sorts (the cartography, the geocaching, the collages that were maps of sorts), all through the book. How and why did you come up with this aspect of the story?

It’s ironic that I settled on maps because I truly am the most directionally challenged person I know.  Although I’m geographically dyslexic, I love antique maps-they’re beautiful works of art, part fact, part fantasy.  Maps seemed like the perfect metaphor for Terra, a girl who is boxed in 

by her father, her definition of beauty, her small town.  And at the same time, maps were her key to freedom.  In their very gridlines, the ones that bound her in, was the promise of adventure…if she dared to break the boundaries. 

 North of Beautiful is about finding what’s truly beautiful, not necessarily what we’re told is beautiful. What are five things that you find most beautiful? 

Five Most Beautiful Things a la Justina!  Here goes…

a.  My children:  every minute with them is an exquisite moment of beauty. I would never trade a minute of our lives together for anything.

b.  My mom:  I dedicated North of Beautiful to my mother because she is so authentically beautiful. I’d add as a codicil, my dad and my in-laws who are pure love.

c.  My friends:  there are no more beautiful women and men than my peeps who have circled around me during a recent crisis. Loyalty. Strength. Friendship.  Those are the expressions of True Beauty.

d.  Unbridled laughter.  Definitely, beautiful.  

e.  Hummingbirds.  I could watch them forever.

Travel (one of my favorite things!) is also important in this novel. What’s the best trip you’ve ever been on? What do you think makes travel an important experience, in general?

I hope that my best trip will be one I take in the future!  I would love to go to Bhutan.  Mustang.  Bali.  I want to take my kids to Greece and France.  And Italy.  I want to hike the Arches.  Write in the Hudson Valley.  I want to go on a safari.  I want to sit still and simply be in Angkor Wat.  In the meantime, I will read about all these place.  Reading about a place, of course, is the next best thing to traveling to a place.

Traveling is a crash course on life:  logistics (how do I get from here to there?), survival (are you going to starve or try the fish eyes?), resilience (can I can trek for another kilometer?), resourcefulness (okaaaay…so the train was canceled. Now what?), tolerance (got it…so when they tell me I’m fat, it’s actually a compliment!). 

Terra’s port-wine stain makes her stand out in a way that isn’t exactly easy for her. Almost all of us feel like we’re being judged for our flaws, obvious or not, at some point or another, especially, it seems, teen girls. What advice do you have for girls who don’t fit our society’s standards of beauty (which is most of us) and have trouble feeling beautiful sometimes because of it?

Strive to be phenomenal, not merely beautiful.  You’ll be stronger for it.  And in the end, when you’ve hit your potential as a person and as a woman, you’ll be much, much more beautiful than you ever imagined possible. 

Thanks, Justina! 

Want to win your very own signed copy of North of Beautiful? Be the first commenter to correctly answer the following question: What is the world’s leading online book community that Justina co-founded?

Also check out my review of the book and Justina’s blog. I’ll be posting a link to said online book community, too, but not right now–don’t want to give away the answer! 

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I’m thrilled to be a stop on Sarah Mlynowski’s blog tour for her latest release, Parties & Potions! Her book Bras & Broomsticks was actually the first book I reviewed on this blog, so this is particularly awesome. 

 You write books for both teens and adults. Why do you write both kinds of books? What’s the difference in your writing process, if any? What is the difference in publishing adult and teen books? 

I always knew I wanted to write YA. But after graduating from college, I assumed I’d have to wait until I was older to be a novelist, so I got a job in publishing-at Harlequin. While I was there, I kind of fell into writing for adults-I heard through the grapevine that they were going to start a new line of books called Red Dress Ink, a chick lit line. Since at the time I was living a very chick lit life (I was twenty-three, had just moved to the big city and had just been dumped) I thought I’d give it a try. It took me eight months to write my first book, and I sold it quickly after. As soon as I decided to write full-time I started working on a YA proposal.  These days I mostly write for teens. I do have a fun idea for a new adult book though, so maybe I’ll try writing it one day soon…

There isn’t much difference in my writing process. I still outline, do a first draft, do a second…Teen books are a bit shorter. The only real difference for me is that I feel that teens are more impressionable than adults and I try to be more careful about things like drinking and sex. Also, when my teen characters are 14, I tend to write them as if they’re 12, because I know readers like to read up. When I write for adults, a 25-year-old is a 25-year-old.  

As for publishing differences, as far as I can tell teen books stay on the shelf longer than adult books do-a definite plus. On the other hand, adult readers have less gatekeepers. In the teen world, it’s not just about appealing to your audience, your books also have to interest librarians, parents and teachers.  

You wrote How To Be Bad with E. Lockhart and Lauren Myracle. How was collaborating with two other authors different from writing by yourself?  

It was much, much more fun. If only I could write all my books with Emily and Lauren! Collaborating made the writing process far less lonely. We got to share all the highs and all the lows. You’d think it would have taken less time to write but it actually took longer than writing something on my own.  You know, three cooks in a kitchen… 

Your Magic in Manhattan series is about witches. If you could have any sort of supernatural being for a friend (witch, ghost, vampire, werewolf–anything!), what would it be and why? Which would you want to be yourself? 

A witch for both, of course. Ever since I saw The Wizard of Oz I’ve been obsessed with witches. You could have anything you want and you wouldn’t have to: be dead, drink blood, or turn into a furry animal. Witch all the way.  I even like pointy hats.  

Which of your teen characters is most like you in high school? 

Rachel. I was a lot like her in high school. I really wanted a boyfriend. I really wanted to be popular. I really wanted my mom and dad not to be divorced. I bossed my little sister around. Sometimes I can be a tiny, tiny bit self-absorbed. Yup, we’re a lot alike. Except for the, um, whole witch part. 

What are five books you think everyone should read?

Oh fun! OK, my five favorite books of all time are:

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

White Noise by Don Delilo

On Writing by Stephen King (mostly for writers)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume 

What job would you like to have if you couldn’t be a writer? What other jobs have you had in the past? 

I’ve been a camp counselor, a bus girl, a salesgirl (I’ve sold perfume, I’ve sold candy, I’ve sold clothes and I’ve sold books), a telemarketer, and I was in the marketing department at Harlequin. I loved marketing books, so I’d probably go back to that. I’d be happy to be a movie star, of course, but sine I can’t memorize lines, I think that’s out. My other dream job is running my own bookstore, and that seems a bit more possible. Maybe one day. 

In How To Be Bad, the three characters go on a road trip together. What’s your best road trip memory? If you could take a road trip with anyone (alive or dead), who would it be and where would you go? 

My then boyfriend and I backpacked and drove up New Zealand when we were twenty-five. The then boyfriend proposed on the trip (he’s now my husband), so I might be remembering it with rosey glasses, but it was pretty awesome.  If I could take a roadtrip with anyone, I would go back in time and drive across the US with my best friends in high school. That’s something I never did and I think we would have had a lot of fun.  

On that road trip, what music would you listen to? Do you listen to music when you write, or prefer silence, or some other noise? 

Eighties hits of course! I don’t listen to music when I write-I listen to Law & Order. I play the reruns all day. Something about the Da! Da! frees up the creative side of my brain. Weird, eh? 

What are you writing right now? What would be your “dream book” to write and publish–maybe something crazy and/or totally unlike what you’ve already written?  

Right now I’m working on a new book called Gimme a Call.  It’s about a high school freshman who finds a magical cell phone and can call herself in the future as a senior. My dream book is a YA thriller. I love thrillers but I’m too afraid to write one. I’m not sure I can do scary.  

Boo! 

Did that work?  

See I told you, I’m just not scary. 

What question do you wish I’d asked? What’s the answer? 

Q: What’s the first chapter book you ever read?

A: Ramona and Her Father. I remember being incredibly impressed with myself when I got to page one hundred. I thought they should have printed drawings of balloons in the margin to congratulate the reader on the accomplishment-page one hundred! Wahoo!  

Thanks so much Jocelyn!!!!

Thank you, Sarah!

Check out my review of How To Be Bad, which Sarah co-wrote with Lauren Myracle and E. Lockhart, and Sarah’s website.  Don’t miss the other stops on the tour, either:

1/15: The Well Read Child

1/16: Shopping Diary

1/20: Page Flipper

1/21: E. Lockhart

1/22: Bildungsroman

1/23: YA Books Central

1/26: Ally’s Blog

1/27: Cynsations

1/28-2/6: Random Buzzers

 

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BBAW Day Two is about blogger interviews. I’m not a part of the official interview swap, and I’m also a day late, but I thought I’d join in anyway, and Jordyn, of Page Numbered and Girl Jordyn, kindly agreed to be interviewed. Jordyn keeps two fantastic blogs (a book blog and a personal blog), wrote an awesome essay in Red, and is just a great writer, great friend, and all around fantastic person.This interview is the first interview I’ve done in real time (over IM instead of a list of questions in an email), and I’m pretty excited about it–Jordyn, with her awesome word skills, gave some amazing answers. Enjoy!

What attracts you to books and to writing?

I have this idea that we’re all trapped inside our own realities and rarely, if ever, get to truly see the lives of others, which is sad really because it’s a very limiting way to live. Through books and through writing we get to relate to other people and see more than just our own reality.

Very well said. Why did you decide to start blogging?

Originally I starting blogging because blogs were set up after the Red book was published, but after I began and realized I might have an audience, no matter how small, I wanted to keep going. Blogging is a way to work out my feelings and my life while at the same time letting other people step into my reality and see things from my perspective. If that makes any sense.

It definitely does. You have a real way with words, written for your own benefit or for an audience. How do you feel about putting your thoughts out there online? How does it affect your writing if you know that what you say is going to be freely available for anyone with an internet connection to read?

To be honest, having strangers read my words isn’t that scary – it’s my family and friends that worry me. I know my mom reads my blog, but after the essay I wrote about her being published and available at all kinds of bookstores, I figure it’s pretty silly to worry about offending or upsetting her. And as for everyone else, I just figure if they don’t want to read it they won’t and that nothing worth reading is completely inoffensive anyway.

When I know people are going to (or at least have the ability to) see my writing, I like to think it comes out better than what I write for myself. I’m very self-conscious when it comes to my writing (believe it or not) and if people were to read personal notes i write to myself (um, yes, I write notes to myself…) I would definitely be freaked out. But my blog is meant to be read so I have the mindset when I sit down to write that, though it’s very personal, it’s not private.

Writing is obviously a big part of your life. What are your dreams for your writing career?

I want to write young adult novels. I want to be a success at it – maybe not Stephanie Meyer success (though of course I’d love have the sort of fans and success she has), but to have a fan base, to be able to walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelves, to make money at it. Those are my goals with it all.

Most great writers are also great readers, and you’re no exception! There are lots of great books out there, but perfect books are nearly impossible to find. What would make a book perfect for you?

I’ve always been a more character-driven reader (and writer) than plot-driven. The perfect book would have to have really strong and realistic characters. I’m also attracted to, not purple prose, but words that flow together in a pretty way. I love authors like Sarah Dessen who can say things so seamlessly and effortlessly and beautifully. I’m not sure of the specifics of my “perfect book” because I’m sure there wouldn’t be just one, but it would have those characteristics.

What do you think books, blogging, and writing bring to your life?

Um, sanity? Without being able to write (I gave up writing and reading for a few weeks awhile back), I go crazy keeping all my emotions inside; all the over-analyzing tendencies I have lend themselves well to writing. And as for reading, in addition to learning things, it broadens my reality and helps me realize how alike a lot of the thoughts and feelings people have are. It might sound crazy, but reading fiction (really good fiction with strong characters) helps me understand myself better.

That doesn’t sound crazy at all. And now, I’d like to ask about a few of your favorites. First on the list: favorite books/authors that you’d reccomend to anyone. All of us book lovers have a few of those!

My absolute favorite novel ever is Gone With the Wind (fell in love with it in eighth grade), but it is a mammoth of a book I wouldn’t ever ask another being to read. That being said, I WOULD recommend the following authors: John Green who is hilarious and deep all at once, and Sarah Dessen who writes so pretty I can’t even describe it. I also love E. Lockhart and Sharon Creech, who writes middle grade. But that’s enough name dropping. Books you should read include: Freakonomics, Blink, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Flipped, and the Uglies Trilogy. Apologies for not knowing the authors of all those books.

A great list! I’ll have to check out the ones I haven’t read. Next up: Favorite way to beat writer’s block.

Here’s the thing….THERE IS NO WAY. It’s an evil menace out to get my soul. All I can do is whine about it and fall into a deep-but-brief funk over it, or get up the courage to go through my novel and figure out what part is ruining the whole thing so I can fix it.

I guess there isn’t a magic trick or quick fix to writer’s block, no matter how much we wish for one, is there? And, now, what’s your favorite part of the writing process?

I just love the feeling of knowing what I’ve written isn’t bad. I like being able to read my own writing, either finished or in progress, and not cringe. That’s usually a sign I’m doing something right. And for the record, that RARELY happens.

And now, we’re done. I wish you all many awesome moments where you love your own writing (they’re few and far between for me, too!).

Today, I am interviewing Amelia Atwater-Rhodes as part of her blog tour! See the full schedule below the interview. This also marks my return to hopefully more regular posting after quite some time of not regular posting. Anyway, the interview:

Other authors have said that, as much as they wished for it at the time, they’re glad now that their early writing was not published for the world to see. Do you ever regret your success at an early age, or would you recommend that young people try to publish their writing?

I too would have been horrified if my first work had been published, too. In the Forests of the Night was actually the seventh or eighth manuscript I finished. I needed the earlier works to build on the world and stretch my writing muscles, to figure out how to string together two sentences much less an entire story, and to get feedback from my peers on what worked and what didn’t.

As for what I recommend to young people, if publishing is their dream, I will always encourage them to work for it. Part of that work is knowing when one has to step back and decide if this manuscript is actually the one that will make it, and the willingness to put something aside if necessary to refine one’s abilities first.

Do you have a favorite one of your books? Why or why not?

My books tend to be my favorite when I’m writing them, my least-favorite when I’m editing them, and then gain a nostalgic fondness after they’re published. My favorite at the moment is probably Persistence of Memory, but that may also be because it’s in the exciting pre-publication phase.

What is the book that you would most like to publish? It can be one you’ve written, or one you haven’t yet written.

The easy answer to this question (and the honest one) would be that I choose which book to send to Random House based on which I would most like to publish, so you can judge by that.

Beyond that… I have a high fantasy trilogy that has been my pet project for the last couple years that I would love to share at some point, but which is nowhere near ready yet.

Do you ever plan to or have you ever written in other genres, or for other age groups?

I play around with other genres frequently, but I find publishing young adult particularly rewarding because that’s an age group where I feel I can really make a difference.

What is your writing process like?

Sporadic, chaotic, and random-abstract. Sometimes I start at the middle of a story. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m writing about until half-way through. Sometimes I write in five-minute intervals during classes, and sometimes I write for forty-eight hours straight with brief naps or a lot of caffeine to get me through a bout of inspiration. Sometimes I even outline, though I rarely follow it.

Your books are connected parts of the same world, rather than stand-alone novels. How is it that this happened–did you set out to write individual stories from the same world, or to have completely different pieces of writing?

I think of my books as snapshots of a world. In the real world, there’s no such thing as a self-contained story; people’s lives overlap and interact with each other in countless ways. I like working in the same world from different times and points of view, because it enables me to explore further with each story.

I started out with no particular plan, but by the time I was writing In the Forests of the Night, there was enough to the world that the stories were inspiring each other to an extent. Risika was actually a minor character in a previous work whose tale I decided I needed to know. Demon in My View was to a large extent inspired by a desire to have another story with Aubrey, and Shattered Mirror brought in more of the hunters introduced in Demon.

I hope believe they can each be read on their own, though, particularly my newest, Persistence of Memory.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m playing in Castrili, which is my other (unpublished) world, while waiting for the proof pages of Persistence of Memory and my editor’s comments on Night’s Plutonian Shore (tentative title), the next book in line for publication after Persistence.

What are your writing influences?

Real life and music probably have the greatest influence on my writing. Other books or movies may occasionally spark ideas, but real life has the best meat for story-telling. Many of my college classes, especially those dealing with psychology or philosophy (I was almost a philosophy major), have also been strongly influential.

Is there any question that you’ve always hoped to be asked, or thought people should ask?

I enjoy having long conversations with people about my works, my world or my characters. I have a lot of conversations about my writing process or philosophy or advice to writers, but I rarely get to sit down and actually discuss the part of my writing that interests me the most. I really enjoy when I get IMs or get to talk in real life with readers who aren’t too shy to “bug me” about every last detail of my world.

Thanks so much!

Make sure to visit the other stops on Amelia’s blog tour:

Bildungsroman http://slayground.livejournal.com/ July 22nd
Cheryl Rainfield http://cherylrainfield.com/blog/ July 24th
BookLoons http://bookloons.com/ July 25th
Mrs Magoo Reads http://mrsmagooreads.blogspot.com/ July 28th
Teen Book Review http://teenbookreview.wordpress.com/ July 30th
Saundra Mitchell http://www.saundramitchell.com/ July 31st
Bookwyrm Chrysalis http://yafantasy.com/ August 4th
The Reading Zone http://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/ August 5th
Through a Glass, Darkly http://rmfo-blogs.com/karibeth/ August 7th

Elizabeth Scott is the author of Bloom, Perfect You, and Stealing Heaven, all of which are really fantastic books. I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview her, and here are her wonderful answers for your enjoyment! Stay tuned–soon we’ll also have a guest blog by Elizabeth and a giveaway. For now, though, here’s the interview:

I’ve been told it’s like choosing a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books? If not, what do you particularly love about each one?

I don’t have a favorite, but here’s what I like about each one:

I like Bloom because it’s my first novel, and I didn’t think I could really write one until I wrote Bloom.

I like Perfect You because it was really hard to write–sounds strange, I know, but I really learned a lot about myself and writing when I wrote it.
I like Stealing Heaven because it was so much fun to write–the research alone was a joy.

What do you and your main characters have in common?

I don’t know that we have all that much in common actually, except for one thing–Lauren, Kate, and Dani all have to make a choice about what they want and who they really want to be, and having to do that is universal, I think.

How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?

I actually never wanted to be a writer–I fell into it by accident when I was 27, and decided to try writing a short story at work one day when I was bored out of my mind. Before that, I actually *loathed* writing fiction and actually went out of my way to avoid taking classes where I’d have to do it. It wasn’t until I wrote for fun–and realized that hey, it was fun!–that I fell for writing.

Getting published was basically due to a lot–A LOT–to luck on my part, and to the encouragement of my friends and husband. In late 2004, after a few years of some friends trying to talk me into sending things out, I did, and had a few short stories published. Then, on a whim,  in April 2005, I saw that an agent whose blog I read was discussing query letters, and thought, “Hey, if I email her, I’ll get a rejection super fast, can say, “Look, I tried!” to everyone and that will be that.”

The agent ended up signing me–which came as a total–and very pleasant!–surprise. After that, I met an editor from Harper at an SCBWI conference, where she looked at the first ten pages of STEALING HEAVEN, and eventually made an offer for it and another book (LOVE YOU HATE YOU MISS YOU, which will be out next year)

Dani, in Stealing Heaven, has been raised by her mother as a thief. This is definitely not a typical lifestyle! What inspired you to write this story, and how did you go about it–what research was involved?

I got the idea for STEALING HEAVEN after reading about a group of thieves–and started thinking about what it would be like to have that be your life. From there, I knew I wanted Dani and her mother to steal something unusual–something valuable that people don’t usually think about–and thought about how people all always asking for really expensive silver place settings when they get married. And then I looked into antique silver, and let me tell you–there’s a lot of money in it! So I decided to go with that, and then I did a lot of reading about silver, thieves, alarm systems, locks, and law enforcement–basically, for a while, all I read was books that had to do with either stealing things–or finding people who do!

In Perfect You, Kate’s father quits his regular job to follow his rather bizarre dream of selling infomercial vitamins. Would you or have you ever left something dependable behind to follow a crazy dream?

At first I was going to say no, but I think I actually have! In April 2005, before I signed with my first agent–before I’d even queried that agent–I left my job to try my hand at full-time writing for a little while.

Dani and her mother move and travel constantly. Do you enjoy travel, or do you prefer the comforts of home? If you are a more nomadic sort of person, what’s your favorite place that you’ve been, and favorite place you’d like to go?

I don’t mind travel, but in all honesty, when given a choice, I’ll always pick the comforts of home. (I mean, that’s where all my books are!)

Who are your writing influences?

All of my writing friends–they’ve been with me since I had no idea what an em dash was, and they’ve taught me so much about writing!

What are you writing right now?

I’m looking at a couple of ideas and seeing if any of them grab me.

What jobs have you had besides writing? If you couldn’t be a writer, what would your dream job be?

I’ve had a lot of jobs! Let’s see–I’ve sold hardware, I spent a summer working in a warehouse, I’ve sold pantyhose (yes, really!), I was an editor, and I even once spent three days at a now-failed dot.com as a “software specialist” which meant that I burned cds ALL DAY LONG.  That what the worst job ever.

What is a book that you wish you had written? Why?

I’ve never actually wished that. When I read something amazing, I’m just grateful the author wrote it, and that I’m able to read it.

What are five things not related to books or writing that you couldn’t live without?

You know, there’s really one one thing–one person–that I truly couldn’t live without, and that my husband. Everything else—yeah, I’d miss tv and fritos and the internet if they had to go, but I’d be okay. Very whiny (VERY), but okay.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

Ketchup or Catsup?

Ketchup.

Thanks so much, Elizabeth!

Maryrose Wood is the fantastic author of Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall In Love, My Life: The Musical, Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, and How I Found the Perfect Dress, all of which are absolutely fantastic books that you all must read as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview her, and, wow, are her answers awesome! Some of my favorites, ever. So go on, what are you waiting for? Read it!

What’s your favorite Broadway musical? Why?

I admit to preferring the brainy dark ones over the Cats and Les Mizzes of the world, so you won’t be surprised to hear that Sweeney Todd is my all-time favorite. It’s just the nearest thing to flawless – perfectly structured plot, gorgeous music, brilliant lyrics, unforgettable characters. Tragedy and comedy, mystery and horror! It’s got everything.

And Merrily We Roll Along is the sentimental favorite, because I was in it! When I was eighteen I was in the chorus of the original Broadway cast of this show, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

Emily and Philip in My Life: The Musical are hugely dedicated fans of the musical Aurora, and of Broadway in general. Have you ever been such a dedicated fan? Of what?

Umm, okay. I think I have never said this in an interview before, but let it be known now and forevermore – I was a MAJOR Star Trek geek as a kid. MAJOR. Like, not quite to the point where I walked around in a Star Fleet uniform, but I watched the show religiously and knew every line of every episode.

I was an ardent Beatles fan, too, and later, Sondheim musicals. I still love Star Trek, Beatles songs and Sondheim musicals, by the way, so my taste hasn’t changed much! Now I love them like everyone else loves them. But I remember very well what it was like to have fandom slip from a reasonable to somewhat unreasonable level, when the object of your obsession becomes the magic portal to all meaning in life, and that’s where Emily and Philip are in the book.

You have a background in theatre yourself. Do you think that telling stories on a stage helped or prepared you for telling stories in the form of novels? How?

Oh, yes yes yes. This is such a good question. Of course, writing plays makes you very practiced at writing dialogue, which comes in handy in novels as well.

But the main thing, as noted in your question, is the insight you get into how to tell a story. When you write for the stage or for a movie, telling the story is your number one job — not crafting fancy language or elaborate descriptions or any extraneous stuff like that.

You have to focus on plot and structure because plays and movies are watched in real time. The audience is trapped in their seats, looking at their watches. It’s not like a novel where you can put it down and come back to it later, or even skip ahead if you get to a boring bit.

So, if you stray too far or too long from the main plot, or if you fail to keep developing tension and making the story move forward at a good pace, the audience gets bored and soon, furious. There is nothing so excruciating as sitting trapped in the audience at a terrible play, and there’s an hour left to go and you know you can never get that hour of your life back again. It’s agony.

The other incredible lesson you learn as a playwright is that the audience does not lie. If you think something is funny, and the audience does not laugh, it is not funny. You are wrong, and you must change what you wrote and make it funny. If you think what you wrote makes sense, and the audience is sitting there scratching its collective head because they can’t figure out what’s going on or why, you are wrong, and must fix things.

It’s the most extraordinary discipline. I really do try to keep myself honest as a novelist, in terms of making funny bits funny and the story clipping along in a coherent and engaging way, and I feel totally schooled by my many years writing (and performing) for live audiences.

Also, I always read my books aloud as part of the editing process, just to make sure the language sounds good to the ear. It’s an old habit from playwriting but one I don’t intend to break. Even when we read silently to ourselves, we “hear” the language in our heads. I think consciously crafting the cadence of language is an essential part of writing well.

In Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, Morgan goes on a bike tour in Ireland. That’s quite an interesting vacation for her! What was your most interesting or memorable trip?

Many years ago, when I was still acting professionally, I did an international tour of a musical called Once Upon a Mattress. We toured five cities in India and two in Sri Lanka. It was an amazing experience. I got to see the Taj Majal, ride elephants, and sing showtunes!

One fun bit of trivia about that tour – I had a small part in the chorus of the show and understudied the lead, which was played by the marvelous Jodi Benson. Not long after we got back to the States Jodi was cast as the voice of Ariel in the Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid. How cool is that? I was so glad when my daughter (now a teen!) went through her Mermaid phase as a little girl and watched the movie a zillion times; having Jodi’s voice singing in my house all day was like having a friend over.

How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?

See, my mom would say since I was in second grade, because it was then that I wrote the first piece that earned me some notoriety as a writer. It was a short story about a Christmas tree, and ended sadly, with the dried-out tree out on the curb waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck, reflecting on its brief but glorious career. It was all very existential! Not bad for a seven year old.

But the success of the piece backfired, because I’d simply written a story that had occurred to me, and all of a sudden teachers were asking me questions about where I might have copied it from and so forth. I think an IQ test was administered. Anyway, all the attention made me feel like I’d done something wrong. So, though I kept writing bits and pieces of things and always wrote very well for school, I didn’t entertain the notion of writing as a career until I was almost thirty.

Before then, of course, I was totally involved in theatre! I was an actor from my late teens until mid-twenties, and then I directed and did comedy improv and all kinds of performance-related things. Finally I sucked it up and admitted I just wanted to write. But I spent another decade writing plays and screenplays, many of which, coincidentally, featured teens or kids in prominent roles.

My good buddy E. Lockhart helpfully pointed this out to me, and introduced me to the world of YA fiction, and the rest, as they say, is history. I pitched the idea for Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love to an agent, who pitched it to Delacorte, and all of a sudden I had a book deal. That novel, my first, came out in 2006, and I’ve been writing full time ever since. In fact, I’m just starting what will be my sixth book! No wonder I’m tired.

Will there be more books about Morgan, from Why I Let My Hair Grow Out and How I Found The Perfect Dress? What about your other books–any planned sequels?

A timely question! I’ve just committed to writing a third and (I’m pretty sure) final book about Morgan, and I’m so excited. I love her and her world, and of course I adore Colin, her irresistible Irish hottie. I get e-mails from girls wanting to know if Colin is real. I wish, girls! I wish he were real and my age and lived next door!

I have a working title for the book but I’m not sure it’s the right one, so I won’t say it yet. But in this book, basically the whole future of the faery realm gets dumped in Morgan’s lap. And Colin finally finds out about Morgan’s half-goddess nature. Ooh, I can’t wait to write it!

No sequel plans yet for Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love or My Life: The Musical, but I never say never. I certainly get requests from readers. One girl already asked me if I would write a sequel to My Life: The Musical in which Emily and Philip really get together. I was like, hmmm, I think you might read the last few chapters a bit more carefully…

What book do you wish you had written?

I’ll pick three. Jane Eyre, because it’s a timeless classic. Harry Potter, because I would be rich. Feed, because it’s so cool and good.

Who are some of your favorite books or authors?

So many! I’ll just pick a couple of things I’ve read and loved recently. In the classic tome category, Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare. In the adult book category, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. In the YA author category, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is superb. Am gnawing on the edge of my desk for the sequel to Octavian Nothing too, by M.T. Anderson. Somebody send me an ARC, please!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

My advice shifts depending on what you mean by aspiring. For people who long to write but find themselves not knowing how to begin, or who begin things and never finish — remember that writing is nothing like reading. When you read a book, it is the end result of many, many drafts, and the earliest drafts are often closer to notes and stream of consciousness than actual paragraphs and chapters.

Writing accrues, like a painting or sculpture. First you whack the piece of rock into the right size and shape, then you kind of rough out the basic proportions of what you’re trying to represent, and then you go back a million times and work each little bit into shape. When it’s done you step back to judge the whole effect, and then you zoom into fix, step back to judge, zoom in, step back, repeat as needed.

I think the people who get stuck imagine that books come out whole, sentence by sentence from start to finish, the same way you read them. Then they get flummoxed and quit when it doesn’t happen that way.

For people who do finish and are struggling to figure out how to get an agent and get published, please follow all the good advice that’s out there. Join SCBWI. Joint a crit group. Make sure your work is ready. Learn to write a query letter. Find the agents that rep work like your book. It’s not rocket science.

Honestly, I don’t believe that brilliant books get ignored for very long. If you’re getting rejections and hearing a lot of the same feedback from a lot of smart people, be honest about whether you’re still writing the three or six books or fifteen books you might need to write to kick your work up to the next level, where you ARE ready to get published.

“But Maryrose! Your first book got sold on proposal! Why can’t that happen to me?” I can hear you screaming through the computer screen. Listen, before my “first book,” I’d written maybe seven full-length plays, two full-length screenplays, two full-length musicals, one-acts and short films and ten-minute plays and so many miscellaneous pieces of various kinds I can’t even remember them all…and we are talking many drafts of each of these. So yes, Kittens was my first book. It was also really something like my fifteenth book, in terms of writing mileage. Are you willing to write fifteen books before selling one? No? Hmmmm…

I think some people fall into the trap of saying, “well, my book is at least as good as a lot of the crap out there, why can’t I get published too?” The right question is: Is your book as good as the best book you’ve ever read? No? Then push yourself harder. Read excellent books and pay attention to why they’re so good. Then hold yourself to that high standard.

What are you writing now?


I just love my current project: it’s called A Beautiful Nothing, and will be my next book for Delacorte. It’s a retelling of the plot of “Much Ado About Nothing,” set in the Bronx’s Little Italy.

I’m having so much fun with this book! “Much Ado” is one of my favorite plays, and Italian is one of my favorite cuisines. It’s like Shakespeare with mozzarella. And baseball too! The Bronx without the Yankees is just not the Bronx, ya know? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Now, ask yourself a question (and answer it).

“Maryrose, you look incredible! How on earth did you lose ten pounds since yesterday? And get taller too? And noticeably younger?”

“No big deal, really! I just tapped my heels together three times! Wanna brownie? Want twelve? With ice cream? That’s all we eat around here now!”

Thanks so much!

Tara Altebrando is the author of the fantastic YA titles What Happens Here and The Pursuit of Happiness, as well as adult novels under the name of Tara McCarthy. If you’ve not read her books, I really, really suggest you do so, and, if you can’t get to the bookstore at the moment, or, you’re already a fan, you can content yourself for the moment with reading her great interview question answers (and, soon, a guest blog).

There’s a lot of traveling in What Happens Here. Have you traveled a lot? What’s one of your most memorable trips, and why?

I would say that I’ve traveled a fair amount. Not compared to some people I know but I’ve been to a bunch of European countries a bunch of times and to Central America and then places like Canada and Mexico and a ton of U.S. states.

I’d have to put a week in Hawaii on the most memorable list. It’s seriously like going to another planet, the landscape is just so unreal. My husband and I splurged on a convertible rental and a helicopter ride and a sunset cruise and even massages on the beach…it was incredible. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as relaxed (as an adult, anyway). It’s a truly transporting place.

Where did you get your inspiration for writing What Happens Here?

If I answer this question too honestly, I give away a big part of the plot of the book. Suffice it to say that the summer before high school, my family took a trip to Europe (my first). When we came back, something bad had happened; actually it had happened before we left but no one told me until after the fact. I modified that experience-a lot-and gave it to the character of Chloe.

You have written two teen novels. You also write for adults under the name Tara McCarthy. What is the same and different about writing for different audiences?

My first response was going to be “the age of the main characters” but in my most recent McCarthy book, “Wouldn’t Miss It for the World,” one of the main characters is a sixteen-year-old who is on a trip to Belize for her rock star brother’s destination wedding. And in “Love Will Tear Us Apart” two of the main characters are seventeen-year-old Siamese twin pop stars. So hmmmn. What IS the difference? I do think the McCarthy books deal with slightly more “adult” concerns. What’s the same about them all is that they’re all stories I wanted to tell and tried very hard to tell well. I learn a lot with each book and bring all of it into the next project regardless of which audience it’s going to be marketed to.

What jobs have you had besides writing? If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?

Well, I used to dress up as a farm girl at a colonial village like Betsy in The Pursuit of Happiness. I also used to work at the Museum of Television and Radio, cataloging TV shows (meaning I had to watch them, then write summaries). But most of the jobs I’ve had have been related to writing in some way. I used to be a music critic for a pop culture magazine in Ireland; I’ve written flap copy for a number of publishing houses; I used to write press materials for a small record label. The astonishing thing is that I’ve lived my entire adult life without ever having a full time job!

If I weren’t a writer, I think I’d like to be an event planner.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what book would you have to have with you?

Right now I would have to say Don Delillo’s “Underworld.” Because I really really want to read it and haven’t had the time. My daughter has taken to crawling over to the book and pulling it off the shelf as if to taunt me. Surely on a deserted island, I could finally get to it.

Setting is a strong part of What Happens Here. Why did you choose to use the two settings of Europe and Las Vegas for the background of the story? Did you get to do any fun travelling research while writing the book?

I knew I wanted to send a teenager to Europe with her family. When I took that first trip with my family, it was a hugely eye-opening event for me and I feel especially grateful to my mother for being so determined to take us there. Even though I don’t think it would become obvious for a bunch of years, I think it significantly altered my view of the world and my place in it. So I wanted to explore all of that through a character.

Somewhere along the way I started to wonder what it would be like if you lived in Las Vegas and saw these casinos modeled after cities like New York and Paris but had never been to the actual places. I started playing around with the settings as sort of mirrors of each other and found that I liked the way it worked.
I took a research trip to Vegas at one point but was newly pregnant and not feeling so hot. So it wasn’t that fun. And right before I wrote the book I’d taken a big trip to Italy with my husband. So a lot of the Venice stuff in the book was very fresh in my mind. I also spent a lot of time looking at pictures of my post-eighth grade trip with my family, and a school trip to Europe I took when I was a senior in high school. Those were some bad hair days but it was neat to try to relive those early trips.

Chloe’s older sister, Zoe, dreams of joining the Cirque de Soleil. This is a rather offbeat ambition, and I was wondering where that idea came from? Are you a performer?

The last time I was in Las Vegas, I went to see Ka. I was already working on What Happens Here and struggling a little bit with the character of Zoe. She was just sort of…there. After seeing Ka, I knew that if I’d seen it as a teenager living in Vegas I would have wanted to be in it so I decided to turn Zoe into an aspiring circus performer.

I’m not a performer now, no. As a girl, I was really into dance and took lessons for years, and then I played the clarinet in concert bands for years, and was also the captain of a color guard in a competitive marching band in high school. So I’ve definitely got some showmanship in my blood. It just has no outlet in my adult life.

What are you writing now?

I am writing a new YA that is TOP SECRET. Mostly because it’s a bit different from my first two and I want to see it through to the end before I show it to anybody. I hope to be telling you and everyone about it in the not too distant future.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

“Don’t you think it’s a little obnoxious to be all ‘top secret’ about your next book?”

Um, yes. Probably.

Thanks so much, Tara!

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer is the author of Reaching for Sun, which I read for the Cybils middle grade fiction panel last year, and other books which I very much want to read. She is a talented writer, a wonderful poet, and a great storyteller, so we’re very lucky to have her here today for an interview. Without further ado:

Reaching For Sun is novel in verse. What do you particularly like and what is particularly challenging about writing in that form?

Oh, I LOVE poetry. It is my most natural voice, my first voice. I have dozens of journals that go back to fourth grade and much of it was written in this form. Not every story should be told in this way though- it should feel justified, I think, by something in the character. Free verse is challenging because you must say so much with so few words. A few select images must stand up for so many left unsaid.

What inspired you to write about a main character with a disability?

I was inspired by the students I taught who had disabilities and who faced middle school (a nightmare without a disability, if you ask me) with such grace.

Josie is physically different from the other kids because of her cerebral palsy, but there are lots of kids who are alienated from their peers for one reason or another. Do you have any advice for them?

Hold On (like that wonderful U2 song) It gets BETTER, I promise.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read and read widely. Eat books like buttered popcorn. Then, write for yourself first. Write the stories you yourself want to read, wish you could find but don’t set publication as your goal. Set pleasing yourself as your goal.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes. Always.

What are you writing now?

A poetry collection but it’s still hatching so I don’t want to crush the egg.

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

OHHHH, I love this question! Katherine Patterson, Linda Sue Park, Phillip Pullman, Sandra Cisneros, Valerie Worth, Kristine O’Connell George, Kate DiCamillo, Libba Bray, Sarah Dessen, Helen Frost, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Nelson, Tobin Anderson, John Green, Ralph Fletcher, etc. etc.

Reaching For Sun won the middle grade Schneider Family Book Award, and is on the shortlist for the 2007 Middle Grade Fiction category for the Cybils. Congratulations! Is your reading influenced by book awards, and is there one you particularly like?

THANKS! I’m thrilled that SUN won the Schneider and I’m honored to have that sticker on my book! Yes, my reading is influenced by awards- the Newbery and ALA winners and I love the Cybils, Teacher’s Choice picks and the NBA for teens, especially.

I really appreciate being on your blog, Jocelyn. Thanks for having me!

Thank you so much for doing this, Tracie!

Today, I have a real treat for you all. An interview with the incredibly funny, fantastic, and talented author Maureen Johnson (not the real estate agent Maureen Johnson). Maureen is the author of such wonderful books as Suite Scarlett, Girl At Sea, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Bermudez Triangle, and others. She also keeps a hilarious blog. In short, she’s awesome, and she had great answers to my interview questions, so here they are!

Some of your books have travel in them (such as 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Girl at Sea), and you go to England quite a bit. What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been? What is your most memorable trip or moment traveling?

I think one of the best trips I ever took, and probably the one that most fueled 13 Little Blue Envelopes, was the summer I lived in London with the person who is now my agent (known as Daphne Unfeasible on my blog). That entire summer was an event. The memories come in flashes: hiding under a bridge to escape a cast member of Riverdance, taking a 5 AM boat to France after a night spent throwing Pringles into the Thames, breaking in to our own apartment through the window over the trash cans because we couldn’t get the door open . . .

You often write in the company of many other fantastic YA authors, like Scott Westerfeld and Libba Bray (and you’re sometimes lucky enough to get sneak peeks at the books fans would give an arm and a leg–I say that figuratively, I hope–to read early!). Do you think that having this circle of writer friends has influenced your own writing?

The YA community is unbelievably supportive. And it really is a community–the friendships are real and strong. You get a little crazy and wall-eyed when you’re in the middle of writing a book. It’s a fantastic experience, but you go through it alone. So it’s been a huge help to have people to turn to at three in the morning, when your brain has gone all wobbly and you have covered yourself in cryptic post-it notes and you would seriously considering EATING your manuscript rather than letting anyone see it.

It’s also just an exciting time to be in YA. There are a lot of exceptional writers around. I feel very, very lucky. And getting the books early? Yeah. That IS excellent. I won’t deny it.

Also, Scott asked me if I wanted to go on a zeppelin ride with him and Justine in Germany. I mean, how often do you get offers like that?

What’s your writing process like?

I start with a rough sketch of what I want to do, which usually gets tossed once the book is sort of on its feet and toddling around a little. After that, I start tracking the plot by means of a series of notes or cards, which I used to put on a wall or floor. I use Scrivener now, which has a built-in bulletin-board feature with little notecards. This is perfect for me! I can bring my little wall of notes with me wherever I go!

When I start writing, I don’t go in order–I write sections from all over the story, which I sew together bit by bit. I move things freely throughout the whole drafting process. Because of all of this, it’s completely impossible to read one of my drafts until its done, just because it’s in so many pieces.

Suite Scarlett is going to be the first of your books to have a sequel! Why did you decide to write a second book about Scarlett and not any of your other characters?

Scarlett showed up in my head with several books worth of story. It’s never quite happened that way before. This may be because she didn’t show up alone. She arrived with three siblings–Spencer, Lola, and Marlene–all three of whom have a lot going on. (Spencer alone could fill a book.) There’s also Mrs. Amberson, and the hotel itself. I just had a lot of story, right from the start.

Also, Suite Scarlett (and the Subsequent Scarletts) are based, not exactly on real experience, but on a kinda/sorta version of my real experience. I like the scrappy New York of actors trying to get a break, broke writers, insane survival jobs, the mix of rich and poor. It’s also a magical New York, where you can see things just before they go supernova. Anything can happen. That’s where the awesome is.

If one of your books (you pick) were to be made into a movie, who would you have in mind to play your characters?

I really have no idea. I think the characters are so set in my head that I have a hard time snapping them loose and dropping them on to an actor or actress–it’s not a mental exercise I do. HOWEVER, if a movie is ever in the works, I will certainly bend my mind to the problem.

If you were stuck on a deserted island and could bring one book, what would it be?

How to Get Off a Deserted Island for Dummies.

You have many now-amusing stories about your time in Catholic school (although some of them may have been less amusing at the time). Would you share one with us that you haven’t told on your (often outrageously hilarious) blog before?

To get into my high school, you had to take a test, and if you did well enough on the test, they called you in for an interview. I got called in for one, and I showed up at the front step of the school for the first time on a bitterly cold and dark January night. I was thirteen years old. I had never spoken to a nun before. I wasn’t Catholic. I was generally a little freaked out by the whole process, but was going through with it anyway.

So there I was, on the front step of the school. The school is half convent, half classroom building. The convent part is housed in an old mansion. This was the special front door, the one you never use again until you graduate. When you are an actual student, you use this industrial door in the bunker-like annex, where the classrooms are. But I didn’t know that then. I went in through the fancy door, which opened on to a marble hallway, lit by candles. The throughway doors were all open, so I got a clear view straight in to the chapel, which was ornate, frescoed, and full of statues of tortured saints. I turned to speak to the nun who was checking us in, and I noticed that above her there was a massive oil painting. The painting was of a group of nuns standing in a line . . . in front of a mass grave . . . being mowed down by Nazis with machine guns. Really.

I felt myself starting to wobble. I gave my information, got my folder, was assigned by student escort, and walked a few steps deeper into the gloom. Then I turned again to look in through an open door, to a completely unlit room. In the shadows, I saw nuns in various habits lingering in the dark, as if ready to spring. This room, I would discover soon after, was the “stuffed nun room”–a small museum about the order, full of mannequins in various states of repair. But that night, it was just pure, unadulterated terror. Pretty much the last thing you expect to see as you bumble through life is a dark room full of nun mannequins in action poses. It was all I could not to scream.

I went to my interview white as a sheet, with a “please don’t kill me” look on my face. I am pretty sure that the docile state I was in helped quite a lot to secure my admission. That was the start of high school for me.

You live in New York City–a dream of small-town teenagers everywhere (like myself)–and your latest novel, Suite Scarlett, is set there. What’s your favorite place in New York or your favorite part of living there?

I’ve always liked cities. When we would drive to see my grandmother, who lived in a not-very-nice section of Philadelphia, I would stare out the car window in absolute wonder, looking at the graffiti and the sneakers hanging from the telephone wires . . . and I would say to my parents, “I want to live here! In the city! It’s pretty!” And my parents, who intentionally left the city because of these kinds of things, said, “Of course, small, dim child of ours. Whatever you say.” Then they took me to New York for my seventh birthday, and I was done. Done. I knew where I wanted to live.

I don’t have a favorite part of New York. I love the city as a whole. I never get tired of living here. And I decided it was about time I wrote a book that featured it.

You have a well-known love of zombies. What’s your favorite book or movie with zombies in it?

Without question, Shaun of the Dead. Shaun teaches us both to fear and love our shambling, undead friends.

I hear you have a book coming out that is a collaboration with John Green and Lauren Myracle. What can you tell us about it? How was it to work with two other great authors?

I do! That’s Let It Snow, which will be coming out in (I think) September. The book is a collection of three novellas, each one taking place in the same town, over the same sequence of days. My story opens the book on the 24th, John takes over early on the 25th, and Lauren ties it all up on the 26th. The stories are all about separate groups of people trying to make it through one monster winter storm, but we worked together to cross the stories. So you’ll see all of our characters walking around through the whole book, in the town we worked together to make.

We had a lot of fun creating the problems in this story–the crashes, the swarms of rabid cheerleaders, the miniature animals. A tiny detail in one story may be the thing that sets off a disaster in another. The reader will know what’s going all over town.

John I know well, and I got to know Lauren while working on the book. Having done this book, I can now see why multi-author books are so much fun. I laughed a lot writing this book with them.

How is the second Scarlett book going?

Very well so far! There are some big surprises in store. It’s a little pointless to even hint at these, since the first book is just coming out right now. So I have to sit on all this information. I even have gossip on book three . . . but that’s REALLY useless right now.

Thanks so much, Maureen!

Daphne Grab is the author of Alive and Well in Prague New York, a wonderful debut that will be released  this June.  We are lucky enough to have her here for an interview, and I hope you all enjoy it!

Matisse is a city girl originally who moves to the country. You grew up in upstate New York and eventually moved to the city. How did your opposite experience influence your writing about Matisse’s move? 
I’m in love with New York City but a part of me will always be a country girl (despite my fear of spiders) and I thought it would be fun to write something that explored those two sides of my personality. I do prefer city living but it was pretty easy to draw on my small town love, even though I’ve lived in cities most of my adult life.

Do you and Matisse have a lot in common? In what way? 

Matisse is so the opposite of how I was in high school.  She is confident, outspoken and could care less what anyone thinks of her.  I was always second guessing myself and getting worked up worrying about what other people thought of me.  I’ve gotten a little more assertive as I’ve gotten older and I do worry less what people think of me.  Or so I thought before I wrote a book and had to worry about reviews!
What are you writing right now? Would you ever consider writing a sequel to Alive and Well in Prague, New York? 

I am working on two things now: a middle grade coming of age story that is almost done, and a teen book that is barely started.  The teen book will be about a girl who has the opposite experience of Matisse- she and her family will leave their small town for a summer in the big city.  Like Matisse she has a past she wants to forget and at first hates her new home.
I’d love to visit Matisse again but I kind of like where I’ve left her so I’m not planning a sequel right now.  But I never say never!     

Why did you choose to write about a character whose father is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease? 
My dad had ALS which is similar to Parkinson’s: both are neurological and strip the person of their ability to care for themselves.  I wanted to write about how difficult neurological illnesses are for entire families but not write the story of my own experience, so I chose something similar but different.

Matisse’s mother is a painter, her father a sculptor, and her first friend in Prague, Violet, is a poet. Lots of artsy people! If you could be talented in some other artistic medium (dance, photography, whatever) besides writing novels, what would you choose? 

Good question!  I cannot even draw a good stick figure and I’d love to be able to really make images come alive on paper.

Who are your favorite visual artists? 

Van Gogh is my favorite though I also like the Hudson River painters- I grew up in the Hudson Valley so their work resonates for me.

Why did you choose to write for a young adult audience? Would you want to write for either children or adults? 

For whatever reason the stories I think of are teen and middle grade. Possibly because that tween/teen part of me is still very much alive, but also maybe because in those years books meant the most to me.  All my favorite authors are the ones I read from ages 10-15 and those are the stories I could tell you from memory because I read them so many times.  I should also add that 90% of the books I read now are still YA!

What came to you first when writing Alive and Well in Prague, New York: character, plot, or something else? 

Another good question!  I’d have to say the basic idea of writing about a girl whose dad is ill came first.  I wanted to write about what it’s like to see a parent lose the ability to control their own body because it’s such a profound and life changing thing for everyone involved. But of course the thing about that experience is that it’s grounded in all the other parts of life: friends, social stuff, guys, school. So the story just grew from there.

You’ve done quite a bit of travelling. What is your favorite place in the world that you’ve been to, and favorite that you have yet to see in person? 

China was amazing but I’m going to have to say Colombia was my favorite place to be.  I think it was all the salsa dancing!

Favorite places yet to see: there are a lot!  Top two are Morocco and Egypt.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Finish what you write.  When I first started writing creatively I got good at writing scenes and chapters, but learning to carry a whole story from beginning to end, with each character having an arc, was a whole different ball game.  And it took a lot of practice, with some really bad manuscripts and a lot of revision along the way!

What’s your writing process like?

I write from an outline.  Most authors I know don’t, but for me thinking out the story ahead of time makes it easier to sit down and write each day.  I’m not sitting down to write a book, I’m just sitting down to write the next scene on my outline.  I also like knowing ahead of time where I am going with the story.

Who are some of your biggest writing influences? 

There are a ton but I’d have to say the number one is Beverly Cleary.  I love that she writes a very specific story about a person so three dimensional you feel you know them, and then through that very individual story touches on profound universal themes, like learning to be true to yourself.  I see myself reflected in her books and I feel reaffirmed in my own life when I read her.

What are your five favorite things besides books and writing? (This can be anything–places, activities, people, whatever.) 

1. my family (including my cats)

2. visiting new places and old friends

3. the beach at Cape Cod

4. movies

5. high quality chocolate chip cookies (dairy free since I’m allergic)

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it). 

Q- How totally psyched are you to be interviewed by the awesome Jocelyn?

A-So very psyched!

Thanks Jocelyn!!

Thanks, Daphne!

Deb Caletti is the author of five wonderful YA novels, most recently The Fortunes of Indigo Skye. She’s a very talented author, and if you haven’t read her books yet, what are you waiting for?! I was lucky enough to get to interview Deb, and I hope you enjoy it:

I’ve heard it’s like choosing a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books? If so, why?
It is like choosing a favorite child. But my favorite books are actually the ones that remind me most of my own life with my kids. “Honey, Baby, Sweetheart” has a lot of us in it, as does “The Fortunes of Indigo Skye.”

What is the most interesting way in which the inspiration for one of your novels has come to you?

A couple of cups of French Roast are usually my best source of inspiration. But I think the most interesting way one of my novels came about was on a field trip with my son’s orchestra to watch the Seattle Symphony rehearse. I sat in the plush, red seat and watched the white, billowing sleeves of the symphony conductor, and those sleeves became responsible for WILD ROSES. The intensity of their movement made me think about the passion involved in creativity, and the role – good and bad – that passion plays in our lives.

Would you want to unexpectedly acquire two and a half million dollars the way Indigo did? If you did suddenly have that money, what would you do with it?
Could I possibly say no to that? Of course I would want to acquire two and a half million dollars! I don’t know exactly what I would do with it, but I hope I would “have money” in a way that was caring and responsible to others around me.

How did The Fortunes of Indigo Skye change from first draft to final book?

There are always nips and tucks in the editing process, but generally the book remains basically whole. I think the biggest thing I changed was extending the time that Indigo became dissatisfied with Trevor. He leapt on the money a little too eagerly at first.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline, or wing it? Fill things in randomly, or write linearly?

I stand at the literary ledge and let go. In my very early days of writing I used to outline. But then I discovered that if I succumbed to circumstance and the outpourings of my own weird subconscious, some sort of magic happened. It’s the same process of discovery I feel when I read a book – an unfolding.

You are very talented at creating great characters and showing the relationships between them. Do real people inspire any of your characters? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers trying to brush up their characterization skills?

Sure, real people inspire your characters, but we don’t usually like to admit that. We’d rather stay somewhat safe behind the “any resemblance to actual people is unintentional” blurb that comes on the copyright page. That said, someone I know well can inspire a character, but so can someone I just sit behind for an hour at one of my son’s soccer games. It’s all about observation and a curiosity about why people behave the way they do. Human behavior is something I’m desperate to understand, for my work, but also for my life. I study behavior, take it in, and try to convey it as honestly as possible. That’s my most basic but truest “advice.”

Are you like any (or all) of your main characters? In what ways?
I’m probably like all of my characters in some way, even the bad ones. Mostly, though, my characters and I both tend to be flawed but good intentioned, trying to do the best we can in our world. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Why do you write for teens? Would you ever want to write for children or adults?

I don’t think of my teen readers as TEEN READERS. I think of them as people. I try to address issues we all, adults and teens, face in much the same way – love, identity, fear, what we hunger for and where we find a sense of home. I have a great deal of adult readers, too, I think, because of this blurry line, and I think my teen readers can feel the respect that this lack of differentiation gives. I don’t feel the “You, teen Me, adult” thing, and I this seems to strengthen my relationship with all my readers. We’re all just people doing life.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished my next book, “The Secret Life of Prince Charming.” It’s about a girl who unites with her sister and the step-sister she’s never met to return objects that her father has taken – from all the women he’s ever loved.

Who are your writing influences?

Probably everyone I’ve ever read, from the writers of Little Bear and Curious George, to C.S. Lewis and Carolyn Keene, right on up to Flannery O’Connor and Hemingway. Every book influences.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

Q. What do you want for lunch, Deb?
A. Cheeseburger, onion rings, diet Coke.

As you may know, I think Rachel Cohn is pretty brilliant, and I count Gingerbread as one of my all-time favorite books (and love her other books, too, that’s just my personal favorite). So I was more than a little excited to have the chance to interview her, and you should be equally thrilled to get to read this!

You wrote three unpublished novels before Gingerbread. What were those about? Why do you think they weren’t published? Would you ever re-visit those stories?

The first two novels I wrote were adult fiction. The third eventually was
published — The Steps. (It was bought after Gingerbread.)

As for those first two novels, I am, finally, twelve years (!) after the fact of finishing it, going back and re-writing that first one as a YA. But I loved this book so much, and tried so many times to re-write it, always unsuccessfully, that I finally had to acknowledge that it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t re-write it, but my voice had changed SO MUCH since that first book, that it was no longer even possible to go back to that original book. But the premise of that first book is just irresistible to me as a writer, so what I am doing now, after taking almost a year and a half away from writing at all, is going back to that original premise, and writing a whole new book. New characters, new voice, new situations, but old premise. I’m loving how it’s going so far and really excited about it — the new-old thing has kind of re-energized me!

Do you see any of yourself in any or all of your main characters? In what way?

I’m going to borrow from David Levithan’s response to this question and say that all of them are based on me, and none of them. For me, I don’t consciously model characters on myself (the books would be pretty boring if I did), but certainly pieces of me creep into my characters, whether I try for that or not. Typically, characters end up sounding like me — e.g., the way the Cyd Charisse character talks is sometimes how I sound.

The character Miles in You Know Where to Find Me is probably the first character I’ve ever written that most closely resembles how I think; she’s more articulate than me, but her thought process mirrors my own.

But while voices can tend to mimic my own, the characters themselves are their own people — their own lives, their own hearts, their own situations.

You live in New York City, and some of your stories also take place there. What do you love most about New York?

Truthfully, I most love that I can order anything to be delivered to my apartment any time of the day or night.

Beyond that, I love the energy of NYC. It’s a place that, for better or worse, is so much ALIVE. As a writer, I find that very stimulating. But it helps that I have a nice quiet apartment to retreat to, as well.

Why do you write for a young adult (and slightly younger with The Steps and Two Steps Forward) audience?

Because adults are boring and weird.

You have written books by yourself, and two with David Levithan. What was different about the experience of writing with a partner as opposed to by yourself–the best part, and the most difficult part?

The best and most difficult parts are the same for me — placing your characters in another person’s hands and letting that person determine what happens next with those characters’ hearts and minds. Sometimes that is incredibly exhilarating and inspiring, to see where the other person will go, and other times it’s completely frustrating, if you don’t agree with where the characters have landed. This is why I think the most important component of collaboration is trust — you have to really feel that for the other person in order for the work to succeed. Chemistry between the collaborators is awful helpful, too — in our case it was a complete surprise, but a nice one, for sure!

You love music, as can be seen in your books in various ways. What are some of your favorite songs right now? What songs have a special significance to you?

This is a great question but a hard one, because there are SO MANY songs residing in my heart and soul right now, but the flows change by minute, by hour, by day. Some days I need Dusty Springfield all day long to cope, and other days I shuffle randomly between pop, latin, honky tonk, and disco (always disco).

If you want to know what’s spinning most for me lately, here’s a recap of what I bought recently when I was in Los Angeles and made a trip to Amoeba Records: the Amy Winehouse debut album (I finally gave up on resisting this, although I still hate that Rehab song, but love all the others), an old Arthur Alexander compilation (loves me some Southern soul), the “Halos and Horns” Dolly Parton album because i love her “Stairway to Heaven” cover, the new Erykah Badu, the new Raveonettes and Cat Power albums, and this recently reissued album by Boscoe (70s soul) that I keep hearing on my favorite radio station, KALX-Berkeley (that I listen to on the Internet all the time, including right now).

What songs does Cyd Charisse, of Gingerbread, Shrimp, and Cupcake fame, love?

Um, disco. KC & the Sunshine Band, Abba, Thelma Houston, Saturday Night Fever. Mixed with The Clash and The Jam, of course, some Irish punk-type stuff like Flogging Molly, and any rotation of screamo metal and punk, probably. I don’t think she’d like to be pinned down on musical genres.

Basically, if she can dance or hyper-jump to the beat, I think she’d like the song.

I do have a playlist I made for her when I wrote Cupcake. Should I post it on iTunes?

Definitely!

What are Miles’s (from You Know Where To Find Me) favorite songs?

I think Miles is not a music-obsessed teen at all, the way characters like CC or Norah or Wonder (from Pop Princess) are. I think she feels very closed off from popular culture, and avoids music as a consequence. She just wants to lose herself inside books. (But if you want to see some of the songs I listened to while writing You Know Where to Find Me, I posted a playlist for the book as an iMix on the iTunes Music Store — you can find any of my playlists there by going to the iMix section then doing a search on my name.)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which you wrote with David Levithan, is being made into a movie! If you had some influence over the process and could choose one of your other books to be made into a movie, which would you choose and why?

I couldn’t choose — sorry! The movie-making process is so random and bizarre, I’d be grateful (and stunned) if anything else actually got made and not just optioned. There are a few more options in progress, but we’ll see…still a long way to go for any of my other books to actually make it to the screen. But here’s hoping!

If Gingerbread (and/or its sequels) were to be made into a movie, who would your dream cast include?

I have no idea! Every time I answer this question, my casting choices rapidly become too old for the parts.

Though funnily enough, when I first saw the girl who plays Norah in the Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist movie, my first thought was, She looks like Cyd Charisse!

But when I picture CC, I most see her as looking like the Faith character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Who would your dream cast for You Know Where To Find Me have in it?

I have no idea whatsoever!

I have heard it’s like trying to choose a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books?

Well, like your children, I love them all, but for different reasons. I couldn’t choose. Maybe one day readers will run a poll and decide for me?

To readers who are Rachel Cohn fans: If you have a favorite, leave it in the comments!

What is your writing process like? In what environment do you do your best writing?

My writing process changes with each book so I couldn’t proclaim to actually understand my own process. (Unfortunately.) The one thing I do know about it is the environment in which I write best — a quiet and solitary place like a library, free of cell phone, TV and other distractions, my iPod or KALX in my earphones.

Who are some of your writing influences?

I love any books by David Levithan, Patricia McCormick, Jaclyn Moriarty and Markus Zusack. It’s hard to pin down when there are so many writers, especially YA writers, I admire.

What are you writing right now?

That unpublished first novel, redux.

What would your dream job be if you couldn’t write?

Pastry chef or cupcake baker. Bringer of sugar joy to people everywhere.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it!).

Rachel: What’s for dinner tonight?
Rachel: Well, going to see Paranoid Park at the Angelika this afternoon, which is a few blocks from yummy Spring Street Natural Foods restaurant in Soho, how about there?
Rachel: Good plan. But popcorn at the movie first, right?
Rachel: Duh.

Thank you so much, Rachel!

Mayra Lazara Dole is the author of Down to the Bone, an amazing debut novel set in Cuban Miami, about Laura, a girl who gets kicked out of her house and expelled from school when it’s discovered that she is a tortillera–a girl who likes girls. Down to the Bone is a funny, bold, and poignant novel that I very highly recommend. Without further ado, the author herself!

How much did your own life, background, and experiences influence the writing of Down to the Bone? What do you and Laura have in common?

Laura shares my heart, soul, interests, and humor. I gave Soli my wacked-out personality and loyalty to friends. She’s a hairstylist–as I used to be–who adores life, fun, and laughter. I never hooked up with guys as a teen like Soli, but similar to Laura, I had an Argentinean boyfriend and a true best friend from first to ninth grade. Down to the Bone is entirely fictional, except for one incident influenced by a true story that starts sad and ends fun:

At fourteen, my first love and I were thrown out of a Miami Catholic high school due to a love letter she sent me about our first time making love. The robust, German-American math teacher, Ms. Titisville-Terror–or something of that nature–snatched the letter from my hand and gave it to Mother Superior Slime (can’t recall real name). Ms. Terror, unbeknownst to her, had a bad rep among the girls for being a tortillera/disgusting dyke–she honestly looked like a truck driver who’d whirl obscenities at anyone crossing her path. They read the letter to my mom who’d been dragged from one of her factory jobs to attend the infamous finger-pointing experience (finding out her little girl was a total homo)–Mami was so shocked she punished me harshly: I could never again see or speak to my beloved. The loss of my first love was grave–at the time, she was the love of my life. My best friend’s mom never let her to speak to me again. I was allowed to finish the last two months at school, where I was ostracized and treated like a leper on Ice, but my lover/girlfriend was kicked to the curb. My neighbors–they’d been family to me–forbade me to enter their homes. I felt hopeless, lonely, unwanted and even thought about suicide until, unexpectedly, straight-looking gay guys started befriending me. My heroes!–yes, I’m a bonerfied fag hag! My family had no clue they were homos. My close friend Willy and I acted like a straight couple. We went to gay clubs on weekends and won every dance contest. We became club kids in Miami’s gay scene. Laura found a family and I found a group of FUNtastic LGBTQ friends that saved my life!

Before writing your young adult novel, you wrote picture books. What is the same and different about the two types of writing, and how did your experience in writing picture books affect the writing of Down To The Bone?

I’m passionate about using Cuban colloquialisms, dialect, slang and barrio-street-beat for all my writing. I used an authentic Cuban-American voice for both. I loved bringing a microcosm known to few outsiders, privy only to Cubans who live and breathe el Miami Cubaneo, to readers of all ages. Writing picture books isn’t as simple as it looks. Your condensed story must have a hook at the beginning, strong middle, and explosive end. Writing picture books that were critically acclaimed (Birthday in the Barrio is currently being turned into a short children’s film) helped me get my foot into this cut-throat publishing industry.

Why did you choose to write for young adults?

It chose me! Laura, Soli, Tazer and Viva kept waking me up at 4 am. “Oye, chica, get up! I’m dying to get out of here and have a blast!”

What are you writing now?

Two YA novels, one adult novel, three middle-grade novels, Afro-Cuban poetry, and I’m polishing up/revising my Latina tranny YA/Adult novel set in Miami with an all Latina/o LGBTQ and straight cast–comedy/drama. I’ll also be writing a monthly column in English, with different topics for the LGBTQ magazine.

The setting of Cuban Miami is very present in Down to the Bone; it’s not a book that could be set anywhere without readers seeing the difference. What do you love most about Miami?

I love Miami’s thundershowers, crazy-ass electrical storms, spectacular cloud formations, and that she’s gorgeously green year ’round. In Miami you can kayak, swim, bike, mini-bike, go clubbing every night. There are museums of all kinds and art, music, film, and street festivals such as the infamous Miami Book Festival. If you adore books, you can visit Books and Books where authors do book signings most nights. What Miami doesn’t have are sidewalks! Regardless, most walk around in shorts and Tank tops due to asphyxiating humidity, visit friends for picnics at parks with live bands and bay views, etc. On weekends, you’ll find teens roller blading, skateboarding and playing outdoor sports. When I lived in Boston nine years, I missed Miami every living, breathing moment. Living here is like living in a Latin American country. You reside alongside Cubanos, Colombianos, Venezuelans, Nicaraguan, Argentinos, Chilenos, Costa Ricans, etc.–there’s even a Little Haiti close to Little Havana! There are two million Cubans in Miami and most speak “Cuban,” a vibrant dialect. I LOVE my Cuban heritage, Cuban culture, and speaking Cuban. I can imagine living in Spain, Italy, or Puerto Rico, but Miami and Cuba will always be the homes of my heart.

What is your writing process like?

I go to sleep thinking hard about whatever story I’m writing and awaken before six with ideas and dialogue. I unhook my phone, sit to write, eat breakfast and lunch while writing, and don’t stop till around 4 pm. I write to live, so inspiration and discipline are a must.

Where do you do your best writing?

In front of windows, facing coconut palms, pregnant mango and avocado trees and blooming red bushes.

Could you share the story of your path to publication?

When I was naïve about the publishing world, I submitted dozens of stories in Spanglish I believed publishers would love but ended up with a pillowcase of rejection letters. As a test, I rewrote one of my Spanglish picture books in correct English, peppered with Cuban Colloquialisms, and submitted it to twenty-five publishers interested in multicultural, bilingual work. Children’s Book Press’ Puerto Rican exec editor emailed me immediately, informing me she was crazy about, and interested in, one of my stories! Lo and behold, I worked hard at revising but The Crusty Committee said, “Sorry. It’s too universal.” (I’d managed to “mainstream” and “Americanize” the story for fear of more rejection and it didn’t fly.) Instantly, I knew the exact formula needed: “organic without Spanglish.” Out of pure inspiration, I wrote two bilingual, Miami Cuban picture books that poured out of my heart in one day, about Chavi’s adventures–a tumbadora-playing Cubanita rebel–in Little Havana’s Calle Ocho Festival and in Miami Beach. Feeling insecure, I asked a Cuban librarian acquaintance to help me translate the English to Spanish. After her translation, she made it clear to me, “You have no authority in writing children’s books.” Hurt and dejected, I read her sterile, cold, boring textbook Spanish translation, and tore it to pieces. I became fired-up, worked excruciatingly hard, and sent in my authentic Cuban dialect translation version, using my colorful dialect and colloquialisms. My editor went nuts over it and my “Cuban,” not Spanish, translation got published! In the meantime, I worked diligently on rewriting Down to the Bone--then titled Act Natural!–from Spanglish to English in an authentic Cuban-American voice. After Birthday in the Barrio was released to critical praise, I became empowered and submitted Down to the Bone to a Miami African-American agent. She called to let me know she was mad about my “strong and unique voice” and “compelling story.” After so much rejection, I’d never heard more beautiful words! A week thereafter, I was emailing with my beloved exec editor at Harper Collins who loved everything about my novel and asked for an exclusive. I revised Down to the Bone with her critique and the rest is herstory.

What is your favorite part of Down to the Bone (a passage, a scene, a character, anything)?

I can’t decide which chapter I loved writing most: The Kiss, Act Natural, Tongue Tango, Keepin’ it Down Low, Stinkin’ Liar or Untangling. I was passionate about creating the main characters and every scene they appeared on. I even relished the only two characters that spoke “street” and broken English who rarely made it into most chapters, such as:

Diego: Yah, dawgs. I’m ill. Sick. The most ridiculous pimpin’ gangsta ever.

Viva: Ay, Laurita! Garlics keeps evil espirits and vampiros away.

Tazer, the handsome, scriptwriter B-O-I was amazing to craft. Mami’s engaging and powerful personality hit home. Laura’s love for Marlena and passion for Gisela blew me away. Soli, the “Dominatrix,” kept me laughing. Chispi, Laura’s puppy who wore a “size three bikini” was loads of fun to create.

I’m in love with all my characters and miss them!

What was the most difficult part of Down to the Bone to write (again, a scene, a character, whatever you like)?

I wrote Down to the Bone while dying after being chemically injured by pesticides and living sealed in a “bubble,” but that’s another story. I was ecstatic to be able to move my fingers and use my brain even though the rest of my body barely worked due to a damaged immune system. The entire process was inspiring, exciting, great fun and kept me alive.

Now that you are a published novelist, what is your favorite part of the experience? Something you could do without? The most unexpected part?

I love creating characters that leap off the pages, grab me, and pull me into their lives. Making up dialogue is thrilling! I could do without computer crashes during an intense scene–my editor must be the best in the history of publishing and so is her assistant, making my experience the sweetest an author could dream of, thus I have no complaints. The most unexpected part is that straight teens and LGBTQ adults also love my novel.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

My Question-What do you think of the questions asked by your interviewer?

I LOVED them. I think she’s a brilliant, talented, open-minded, unique teen. She should be in the Guinness Book of World’s Records for reading 150 pages an hour, trying to read a book a day, writing extraordinarily concise and interesting reviews, and coming up with interviews for authors. Thanks Jocelyn!

Thanks so much, Mayra!

Liz Gallagher is the brilliant new author of The Opposite of Invisible. Liz is also a member of the Class of 2k8, and the second one to be interviewed here (I have also interviewed 2k8 member Lisa Schroeder)! Liz’s debut novel is really amazing, and we are quite lucky to have her here today for an interview!

Where did the inspiration to write The Opposite of Invisible come from?

I used to walk from a bus stop in Fremont, the Seattle neighborhood where the novel is set and where I now live, to my job at a before-school program. One fall day, while passing the big junk shop (it’s called Deluxe Junk), I realized that Fremont would be a great place to set a book. I knew right away that I wanted to set the book around Halloween, because it’s my favorite time of year. From there, I came up with the original first line: “It all started with this dress.” That line just haunted me and was a great springboard, but I don’t think it ended up anywhere in the actual book!

How has the novel changed since the first draft?

It’s changed so much! I originally wrote it as a short story. One of the biggest changes is that Simon used to be a one-dimensional jock character, and he was way too mean to Alice. Now, I think he’s more like a real guy who just happens to be popular, which is how I always wanted him to be. Other main elements didn’t change that much — the tight friendship between Alice and Jewel has always been there.

Why did you choose to write for young adults? Would you like to write for other audiences?

I just think young adult literature is where it’s at. My favorite writer is MT Anderson. I was already working in a kids’ bookshop (All for Kids here in Seattle) and loving young adult books, but it was while reading his book FEED that I really fell inextricably in love with the genre. I might like to try some adult romantic fiction, or a fun series that’s a little younger than OPPOSITE, but for now I’m stickin’ to YA.

In the book, Alice talks to her poster of Picasso’s Dove Girl. How did you choose the piece of artwork that would be Alice’s confidante? What are some of your other favorite paintings?

Good question! I have that actual poster, from the Picasso museum in Barcelona. I just love the image. It was a natural choice. I didn’t want her to have a journal, but I knew she needed an outlet for her feelings, and that idea just appeared on the page. I love lots of Picasso (I even have a Picasso tattoo!), and I am intrigued by Duchamp (like Vanessa); I also love Matisse and van Gogh. STARRY NIGHT is one of my favorite paintings.

What was your road to becoming a published author like? How is the experience of actually being a published author different from what you expected?

My road seems pretty smooth, looking back! When I knew I wanted to get serious about writing, I applied to the Vermont College MFA program in writing for children and young adults. It was in the program that I wrote most of OPPOSITE. Right before graduation, I signed on with my agent, Rosemary Stimola. She sold the book soon after graduation, and here I am, two and a half years later. The experience is fun every step of the way. I think it’s different than what I expected in that I still feel shocked that my book is out there in the world. I just can’t get used to it!

The setting of The Opposite of Invisible, Seattle, is very much a presence in the novel. What’s your favorite place in Seattle?

Oooh, that’s hard. I have a few, and they’re all in the book — Pike Place Market (I’m so excited that it’s becoming good-fruit season!), the view from the top of Queen Anne Hill. But I’ll have to say my favorite is the Troll. I’m lucky enough to live on the same block as the Troll, too. (Psst: the road was closed a few days ago because, apparently, Jennifer Aniston is filming a movie here. So look for the Troll in an upcoming flick!)

Is Alice like you in any way?

She’s like me in the way she thinks — her thought process, the way she makes decisions. But she’s more well-adjusted to life than I think I was at age fifteen. And she speaks her mind, which is still hard for me to do sometimes.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on a companion to OPPOSITE, actually. It’s all about Vanessa.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Like I said, FEED by MT Anderson changed my life! I also love books by Lara Zeises, Alison McGhee, and Ron Koertge.

Now, ask yourself a question (and give the answer)!

Do you know any other writers, Liz?

Why, yes, I do! Some from my days at Vermont College, and 27 debut writers from The Class of 2k8 (classof2k8.com), of which I am proud to be a member.

Thanks so much, Liz!

Kate Schafer of kt literary is a literary agent whose clients include Maureen Johnson, Alyson Noel and more. She is also known as Daphne Unfeasible, and she has a great blog. Today, she’s here answering some questions about her job, why writers need agents, her favorite books, and more!

Could you describe a typical day as an agent?

I work from a home office, so my typical day varies from other agents’ who go into an office. That being said, mine starts with checking my email pretty much as soon as I wake up. After seeing if there’s any glaring emergencies, I grab some breakfast, return to the computer, and catch up on my news feeds, which include publishing news, writer blogs, and other sites that may spark an idea. After that, I put together a post for my Ask Daphne! blog, and continue dealing with emails. After that, I may have to prepare a submission or review a contract — both take up a lot of time, so it’s not something I do every day. If it’s a very good day, I get an offer for one of my clients, and get to negotiate with the publisher, consider beginning an auction, or present the offer to the author. I try to keep up to date on my queries as well — although I’d prefer to read 30 at a time then let one every few minutes take me away from other work. After lunch and The Daily Show from night before, if I’m not fielding calls from Hollywood or catching up with editors, I try to dive into the partials I’ve requested, looking for the next great new client. Reading can continue well into the evening, as does checking email. It’s probably not healthy, but email is the last thing I check before bed, too. When you’re talking to people all over the world, an email can come in at any time of the day, and if I can easily respond quickly, I like to do so.

What do you love about your job?

Everything? Can I say “everything”? I love finding new authors, and putting them in touch with editors who love their manuscripts as much as I do. I love being my own boss, and responsible for my own success. I love my clients — reading their blogs, talking them down around deadlines, giving them great news, getting advice about music.

What could you live without?

Failure. Rejections are tough even if I didn’t write the book. I’m still championing it, and I hate the rejection as much as authors do. Also, seeing a book you love and have worked with the author and the editor on for years not do as well as you all hoped is tough too. Everyone wants your book to do well, and when it doesn’t, you have to plan for the next success — because it WILL come. I have to believe in that, or I couldn’t do my job.

How did you get started in this career?

I always knew I wanted to work in publishing, and my first job in the industry was a perfect introduction — working in the rights department of Houghton Mifflin, assisting the people responsible for both adult and children’s, foreign and domestic rights. Besides teaching me about rights (and putting me in close proximity with Curious George), I was working with or contacting people in every other department of the company — editorial, publicity, production, sales, etc. It was a great way to learn about the business as a whole, rather than from one small specific viewpoint. After a while at HMCo., and a brief foray into the rights department of another company, I found my way to the powerhouse literary agency Janklow & Nesbit, which ended up being a ten-year masterclass in agenting.

Do you have any advice for aspiring agents?

Read EVERYTHING you come across. Keep up with the industry trades — subscribe to Publishers Lunch to follow what’s being sold and who’s doing what, and Daily Publishers Weekly for more industry news. Take any job that gets you into the industry, and that you can find a way to make interesting for yourself. Find a niche, and become an expert in something — or at least an educated reference on some specific topic. Keep reading. Make friends and contacts. Have fun.

What makes a book really stand out to you?

I think it’s voice. Lots of times, I’ll be really intrigued by a plot, but be disappointed when it comes to reading the chapters, because the narrative voice didn’t live up to the originality of the plot. Of course, voice alone doesn’t work – it still needs a plot. I think Andrew Karre of Flux said something similar, and I bet a lot of other editors and agents would agree. Sometimes it’s a concept, but I need the voice to work for me as well.

Why do writers need agents?

So they can write, and not worry about contracts, and submissions, and negotiations, and subsidiary rights approvals, and marketing plans, etc. A good agent enables a writer to concentrate on their next novel, while the agent handles the business side of their relationship with their publisher. In this day and age, most editors won’t even look at an unagented author’s material, so we’re needed to get that first read as well. Editors trust that material coming to them from an agent has already been vetted, and if an agent has built up a good relationship with an editor, and has a history of sending strong manuscripts, there’s an extra layer of trust as well that an unsolicited submission isn’t going to have.

What advice do you have for writers looking for an agent?

Do your research, mostly. Use whatever resources are available to you to learn what you can about any agent you’re considering submitting to — the internet, books, other authors. But don’t every trust any one source. I’ve put up a selection of Writers Resources on my site, which my readers have added to. And once you’re ready to submit to an agent, if they’ve provided any guidelines for submitting, FOLLOW THEM! Provide the information they ask for, use spell check, and send the best query letter you can. After that — practice patience, and work on your next novel.

What are some of your favorite books (not by your clients)?

Oh man, there are SO MANY. I love pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman, tear through books by Nora Roberts, usually with tears in my eyes by the time I’m done, love Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES series, have an almost complete collection of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, can’t keep up with Meg Cabot but try my best, adore Kate Seredy’s classics, and have almost a dozen copies of different editions of THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

What books coming out in the near future by your clients are you excited about?

I’m really excited by Maureen Johnson‘s upcoming SUITE SCARLETT, which Scholastic is publishing in May. Maureen’s gotten some fantastic praise from her fellow YA writers, and we think this book is going to be a real blockbuster. Alyson Noel is at work on a paranormal romance that’s very exciting — called EVERMORE, it should be published by St. Martin’s in Winter 2009. She’s also got CRUEL SUMMER coming out this summer (how appropriate!) that is told entirely in emails, text messages, diary entries, and blog posts. And I have a debut novelist, Josie Bloss, whose first teen novel BAND GEEK LOVE will be published by Flux in July.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anything you wish I’d asked?

Nope! I think you just about covered it all! Oh wait, there is one thing. If any of your readers have specific questions about publishing, searching for an agent, or anything about the industry, I’m happy to answer their emails on my blog, Ask Daphne! Send emails to daphne.unfeasible@gmail.com.

Thanks so much!

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