I’ve decided to add something new to my blog: author interviews!! Thanks so much to Robin Brande for agreeing to be my first interview. Don’t forget to buy her debut novel, EVOLUTION, ME, AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE, when it comes out August 28th. Here’s my review, and here’s a link to the book’s website, where you can win cool prizes, including an autographed copy of the book, some teen books from Random House, and even an American Express gift card!

And now, on to my first-ever author interview!

In your book, Kayla is a character who is outspoken and stands up for everything she believes in, and encourages everyone else to do the same. Are you anything like Kayla today? Were you in high school?

I wish I were like Kayla! She was the most fun character to write, because she is so completely not like me. She’s smarter, wittier, bolder–every time I wrote a scene with her, she made me laugh out loud. She and Ms. Shepherd are the kind of people I wish I could be sometimes. I really enjoyed writing them both.

How long did it take you to write EVOLUTION? How did your first draft differ from the final book?

I started out writing a very different book than what I ended up with. The original was going to be so much darker, and involved completely different characters. But while I was working on it, my sweet old Labrador died, and I just didn’t feel like working on a depressing book anymore. So instead I put it aside and did nothing but watch Lord of the Rings–all three movies, with appendices–for about two weeks straight. By then it was time to go on vacation, where we found a family with a litter of black Lab puppies. And it was that experience of picking out our new puppy that suddenly gave me the whole idea of the book I really wanted to write–including the character of Casey, who is based on the son of the family selling the puppies (his name is Casey, too). So the EVOLUTION you see now is the direct result of my old dog dying. Isn’t that weird?

What had you written before EVOLUTION?

EVOLUTION is my sixth novel. Before that I spent a long, long time working on one novel, trying to make it perfect. When you revise one novel hundreds of times (okay, an exaggeration–but sometimes it felt like that), you end up taking all the heat out of it–I just couldn’t make it work. But then I went to a writers’ seminar where the teachers talked about how fast writing is good writing, and that it’s much better to quickly get your whole story on paper, then go back and make it shine. These were authors who wrote multiple books a year, and I hadn’t even considered that that was possible. I came home from the seminar and wrote a novel in 5 weeks. And then another novel in 6 weeks. And within about two and a half years, I’d written five novels and gotten an agent. So once I broke through that cycle of endlessly torturing one novel, things happened pretty quickly.

What sort of environment do you write best in?

I have an office in my house, with windows that look out onto our garden. But the best thing about my office is that right in the next room is a couch where my black Lab sleeps all day. When it’s time for the evening walk he comes in and nudges my arm until I stop working and go play with him. I can’t imagine a happier work environment.

What inspired you to write this book?

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, and was taught never to question anything in the Bible. I was also taught a lot of prejudices that took me a long time to get over. As I’ve gotten older and had more experiences in the world, I’ve come to realize that I can keep my faith and also make room for new information, such as scientific discoveries that might not mirror exactly what was said in Genesis. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with some of the people I was taught we were supposed to condemn. I wrote EVOLUTION because it’s the kind of book I would have liked to have read when I was in high school, wrestling with a lot of the issues Mena is facing. That’s really why I write any of my books–because I’m curious how the characters will handle situations I’m interested in.

What are your favorite books/authors?

Okay, here’s my love list: At the very top are J.K. Rowling and Charles Dickens. I think they are the best at the game–both in terms of pure, exciting stories, and also as masterful craftsmen. Other authors I love to read are Meg Cabot, Stephenie Meyer, Philip Pullman, and my friend Barry Lyga. And my two favorite books so far this year–besides Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was simply the best book EVER–are Austenland by Shannon Hale and Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller. Both are simply wonderful in completely different ways. And I can’t wait to read Stephenie Meyer’s latest, Eclipse, which comes out next week!

What’s your favorite part of this whole experience in writing a book and getting it published been, so far (this might change after it comes out August 28th, I’m sure!)?

The absolute best part of it is getting to meet so many new people–from all the wildly smart and creative people I’ve gotten to work with at Random House, to all the fun and opinionated readers I’ve had the privilege of hanging out and chatting with. I went on a pre-publication tour in March, where I visited five cities in five days (very little sleep, let me tell you). In each of those cities I met with a teen book group or high school class, and they’d all read advance copies of the book, so we just had a blast sitting around and talking about all of the issues raised by the book. I had no idea when I wrote the book that it would end up introducing me to so many great new people!

How did you react when you found out EVOLUTION was going to be published?

I was so, so, SO excited and happy and crazed. I must have eaten five pounds of chocolate a day waiting to hear from my agent what was happening. It turned out three different publishers wanted the book, so in the end I got to choose which one to go with. And I’m definitely happy with my choice! (Although the other two publishers are wonderful, too, so it wasn’t such an easy decision.)

What are you writing now? If it’s not a sequel to EVOLUTION, is there going to be one?

I’ve got two more books in the works–both are YA, and one is a romantic comedy, the other more of a drama involving reincarnation. I’m not sure which one is going to be my second book–and I have to decide soon! I’ve also written a screenplay for EVOLUTION, so maybe some day . . .

Anything you wish I’d asked you? :-)

No, Jocelyn, like I said, those were really great questions! I hope you will do many more author interviews. Interviewing is hard, but you really do get it!

Thanks for featuring me. It’s an honor.

Thank you, Robin!