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!

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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!

Meg Cabot is the famous, talented, and best-selling author of a ton of books, including the Princess Diaries series, the 1-800-Where-R-U series, the Mediator series, All-American Girl, and more. She is very busy and writes more books each year than most people manage in a lifetime, so we are very lucky to have her here today for an interview! Thanks so much for doing this, Meg.

You write so many books compared to most authors, who can take years to write one book, but yours are still so great! Do you think there’s any sort of “secret” to writing quickly? What’s your writing process like?

Thanks so much! I guess if there’s a “secret” to writing quickly it’s that I have a great husband who does all the cooking (he’s a chef) and also does all the financial stuff involved in my work. Thank God, because if there’s anything I suck at more than making dinner, it’s number crunching! Also we don’t have kids so it’s not like I have a lot of responsibility outside my writerly duties.

Oh, and my mom made me take typing in 10th grade. I hated it then, but now I write 80 wpm.

My writing process is to dream up a story idea, mull it for up to year, then write it in a huge burst–usually a month of just writing, no going out! So I’m basically a hermit. But I order nice clothes online so at least I’m a well-dressed hermit.

Mia, from the Princess Diaries series, is the character you’ve written the most about, and more than any of the other characters, she and her voice remind me of you, the way you present yourself on your blog, for example. Do you see much of yourself in Mia?

That’s funny! Mia’s internal voice is the probably the most like mine, but I wasn’t really at all like her in high school. I was probably the most like Suze from the Mediator series, in that I was an outcast with a few good friends…though I did have a lot of boyfriends. I was quite a bit racier than most of my characters. But it was the 80s.

You write both series books and stand-alones. What’s the difference in how you write them, and how you decide if a character needs one book for her story or more?

I honestly don’t know. Story ideas pop into my head either as a stand alone or a whole series. Princess Diaries popped into my head as a full 16 book series. Airhead, 3 books. But Teen Idol? One book. Done. It’s sad, really, that I don’t have more control over it.

What was your path to publication like, and how is being a published (and rather famous) author different from how you imagined it would be?

I must have sent out 10 query letters a week for 3 years, and just got rejections. Then one day after the 3rd time I’d queried this one agency, an agent there took me on. She’s still my agent today.

I wrote for a long time while also working my day job before I was making enough money to quit and write full time. I always thought I’d get a huge advance right away like authors I’d read about, but it didn’t work that way for me! My advances were all very tiny (including for the Princess Diaries, Mediator, and 1800 books). Basically just a quarter of what I was making working as an administrative assistant at NYU.

This was NOT at all the way I envisioned it! Where was my fancy limo with a built-in hot tub? Thank God for Disney, which gave me enough money to put in the bank to live on for a while (but I don’t get DVD money or theatrical gross or anything from the films). But the Princess Diaries movies got people to buy the books, even though quite a few of them were really mad that the books weren’t anything like the movies. Oops.

Being published now doesn’t feel all that different from being published then except that now I get more than $4,000 per book, and I get rejected less often (although I still get rejected, just in a nicer way). It still feels great. Plus I got to quit my day job and I get to write full time, which is a dream come true! (Still no limo with a built-in hot tub though.)

What are the best and worst parts of writing for a living?

Obviously the best part is being able to write all the time. Making stuff up is my absolute favorite thing to do (don’t tell anyone, but I’d do it for free).

The worst part is doing satellite radio tours at 6 in the morning, when you get on these radio drive shows where the DJ has totally never heard of you or your books, and he’s yelling in your ear, “Hey, you’re with Mike and the Dog Catcher on WBXZ and you are in the DOGHOUSE. Now, BARK LIKE A DOG!” and you’re like, “Um…okay,” and you just start barking because…well, why not?

What jobs have you had besides being a writer? If you couldn’t be writer, what job would you choose to have?

My primary job besides writing was working as the assistant manager of a 700 bed freshmen dorm at NYU for 10 years. Other jobs I’ve had include au pair (on the Upper East Side, just like in Nanny Diaries!), assistant to a private investigator, Rax Roast Beef salad bar attendant, freelance illustrator, and receptionist at a Wall Street investment firm.

Is there a way to get paid to watch TV? Because I would like to have that job. If not, I would like to work at Urban Outfitters. Everyone there always seems to be having a lot of fun.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Hyper-chondria by Bryan Frazer

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbon

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13-3/4 by Sue Townsend

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Walloo

Ask yourself a question (and answer it)!

Oh, wow. How many pages have you written today, Meg? Zero? Get to work!

Thanks so much, Meg!

Thanks for having me, Jocelyn!

I adored Paula Yoo‘s debut novel, Good Enough. It was fresh and honest and funny and well-written, and, well, just plain awesome! Today, we are lucky enough to have Paula here for an interview, and she has some awesome things to say about the book, her non-writing-and-music-related dream job, writer’s block, and more.

How much of Good Enough is autobiographical? What do you and Patti have in common?

Wait a minute, you mean Good Enough is fiction?! What? OMG! Oh no! :) Haha! Just kidding. Yes, I admit quite a bit of my first novel is based on my own life. Like Patti, I play the violin and I was Concertmaster of my All-State Orchestra and I did perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with my youth orchestra. I even had a bad perm that burned my ear! But Patti’s way more sarcastic than me. She’s also much smarter than me (I was horrible at math, so I made Patti a straight-A AP Calculus student!) and she plays the violin WAY better than me! Although a lot of the book was inspired by my life, it IS fictional because I took what happened in my life and wondered, “What if…?” and that’s where the fiction kicked in. It was interesting, however, when I attended my 20th high school reunion this past Thanksgiving and met some of the real-life people who inspired many of the characters, including the real-life version of “Ben Wheeler.” Fortunately, they all liked the book… phew!

What was your favorite scene in the book to write? Which one was most difficult?

I’d say my favorite scenes were with Patti’s youth group, especially when she snuck out of church to go to a rock concert with Ben. I grew quite fond of Patti and her little circle of uptight square friends, and I loved how they all lived vicariously through her rebellion! As for the most difficult, I would say the ending was very, very hard to write. The original ending had Patti joining the track team to impress Ben – it was a funny ending but it lacked depth… it felt like a very superficial “sitcom” ending. My editor suggested that instead of making Ben the main focus of the story, I concentrate on Patti’s relationship to her parents and learning to stand up for herself. That led to a much more poignant and “deeper” ending. I would also say the scene where Patti witnesses her father being the victim of prejudice especially difficult to write because of my own family’s personal experiences.

Besides Patti, who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?

I had a crush on Ben Wheeler! I also loved how Samuel Kwon, the most uptight of Patti’s friends, learned to loosen up the most in the end. The most difficult characters were Stephanie and Eric – I didn’t want them to come off as cardboard stereotypes, which is why their character arcs ended the way they did (Stephanie trying to apologize to Patti and Eric being suspended from the graduation ceremony)… I tried to show that despite their flaws, they were human beings who simply made mistakes based on their environment and family influences. It was difficult, however, to keep them from becoming stereotyped Evil Villains, so I would say it was most challenging to make them as three-dimensional as possible.

Who are your biggest writing influences?

That is a tough question! How much room do you have in your blog? haha. Seriously, I have many favorite writers, because I was an English major in college. I loved the American “realism” movement, and I’m a huge fan of poets like Wallace Stevens. I had a thing for Japanese authors like Shusako Endo (loooved his novel “The Samurai”) and Junichiro Tanizaki (loooved his novel “The Makioka Sisters”) Currently, I love the author Tom Perrotta – he masterfully balances humor and poignancy, which is something I strive to do in my writing as well. And I’m reading “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris, and it’s HILARIOUS. I’m also a Stephen King/horror fan… as for YA authors, my favoritest all-time books are “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” “When She Was Good,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “Tuck Everlasting” and everything by Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls. Hmmm. Like I said, this answer could go on and on and on…

What do you do to beat writer’s block?

I no longer believe in writer’s block. I think there is “left brain” writing and “right brain” writing. For example, there are days when you can’t stop me from writing. I’ll write 10,000 words in one day if I’m that inspired! On the days when I’m not in the “mood” to write, I usually use those days to do other forms of writing – research, revising/editing what I’ve written, or reading new novels or re-reading the classics. I strongly believe in reading as much as possible because reading helps you become a better writer. Sometimes I’ll play my violin or play some video games or watch a lot of guilty pleasure TV, especially Food TV, and let my brain wander. I also believe in taking breaks – sometimes your subconscious has to solve some writing problem, so it’s best to do anything NOT related to writing…. then the next day, bam! Writing problem solved. On some days when I’m not ready to write, I will brainstorm new ideas or work on outlines for other ideas I’ve been developing.

If you couldn’t write or play music, what job would you have? What other jobs have you done in the past?

I used to be a journalist and an English teacher and a music teacher, and I’m still a freelance musician between writing jobs, so all my jobs have involved either music or writing. If I had to do a dream job that had nothing to do with writing or music… it would be to host my own cooking show on Food TV. I am ADDICTED to cooking shows. I’m such the foodie! I even have a title – “Are YOO Hungry?” hahaha. I would love to have a Rachael Ray type show where I toured the country, eating at great restaurants and talking about the food!

You write for television, you have written picture books, and Good Enough is a young adult novel. What is the same with all types of writing? What is unique to writing a YA novel? How has your other experience in writing affected Good Enough?

Writing for television, writing picture books, and writing novels are three totally different experiences. They’re like apples and oranges! With TV, you are working with a limited number of pages – most drama TV show scripts are no more than 60 pages and obey a strict four-act plus a teaser structure. So with TV, you’re constantly finding shortcuts to have each scene reveal as much new information as possible plus move the story forward. It’s all about the dialogue, and any stage directions must reveal character or push the plot along. Less is more in TV writing. With non-fiction picture books, less is even more! You’re supposed to tell the life story of someone famous in about 1,500 words, tops. Every word has to shine, it’s almost like you’re writing poetry because every single word has to count, given how little text you’re allowed in a picture book. Novels, however, can be as long or short as you want – the freedom and the “looser” quality can overwhelm most writers, which is why everyone can start a novel, but not everyone can FINISH a novel. I found that my TV and picture book writing experience helped me structure my novels and to make sure the plot clipped along at a quick and interesting pace. But as a novelist, I learned to slow down and really reveal the inner workings of my character through inner monologue and point of view perspectives.

You are a musician as well as a writer. Who are some of your favorite musical artists?

Every musician listed in Good Enough! My iTunes has everything from the Sex Pistols to Shostakovich, from Radiohead to Ravel, from Bill Frisell to Journey, and of course, Duran Duran. I grew up on ’80s new wave and old school punk and college radio gloomy alternative music, so I’m very happy to see that the ’80s are back in fashion! But being a classically trained musician, I also love all types of jazz, blues, old school rock ‘n roll (Zeppelin!), Broadway, the list goes on and on. I just like music that’s got a good beat, a cool melody, and an interesting structure. It could be polka or Prokofiev or Paula Abdul, I don’t care, if it’s got a great melody, I’m happy!

How long have you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be writer from Day One. When I read Charlotte’s Web in the first grade, I knew instantly that I wanted to become a writer. I began writing short stories as soon as I finished reading Charlotte’s Web. I wrote my first “novel” – a 50-page hand-written manuscript – in the 2nd grade and actually submitted it to Harper & Row Books because they published “Little House on the Prairie,” which was my favorite book series at the time. I have never not wanted to be a writer – I have never wanted to be anything else but a writer since the first grade. I feel very lucky and honored to have achieved that dream, and I don’t take it for granted!

What are you writing now?

As a working TV drama writer, I have to work on a new “spec script” for the upcoming staffing season in the spring – this is when the networks decide what shows will air in the fall season. They read sample scripts from TV writers and if they like your script, they hire you for a show! So I need to write a new sample script for staffing season. I’m also researching and writing my next YA novel, and I’m doing revisions on my next picture book. And I’m always brainstorming future ideas – I have a little notebook that I carry around with me all the time to jot down new ideas. It’s a great way to kill time while waiting in line at the bank!

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

PAULA’S QUESTION: Why is https://teenbookreview.wordpress.com/ so cool?

PAULA’S ANSWER: Because they promote reading for young people and offer balanced, fair and very insightful reviews of the latest YA novels and they encourage young people to read, read, read! I am honored to be included in their website!
Thank you so much for the kind words, Paula, and for doing this interview!