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! 


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.  


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



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 July 22nd
Cheryl Rainfield July 24th
BookLoons July 25th
Mrs Magoo Reads July 28th
Teen Book Review July 30th
Saundra Mitchell July 31st
Bookwyrm Chrysalis August 4th
The Reading Zone August 5th
Through a Glass, Darkly 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 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?


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!

Next Page »