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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are your favorite visual artists? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

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

What’s your writing process like?

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

Who are some of your biggest writing influences? 

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

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

1. my family (including my cats)

2. visiting new places and old friends

3. the beach at Cape Cod

4. movies

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

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it). 

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

A-So very psyched!

Thanks Jocelyn!!

Thanks, Daphne!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on right now?

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

Who are your writing influences?

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

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because adults are boring and weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea whatsoever!

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your writing influences?

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

What are you writing right now?

That unpublished first novel, redux.

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much, Rachel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you choose to write for young adults?

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

What are you writing now?

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

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

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

What is your writing process like?

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

Where do you do your best writing?

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

Could you share the story of your path to publication?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

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

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

Thanks so much, Mayra!

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!

Stephanie Kuehnert is the rather brilliant author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, a book I absolutely adored! From the comments on my review, it looks like quite a few of you are excited for this book as well, which comes out in July, and, trust me, you should be excited! It really is just such an amazing and wonderful novel. Seriously, just pre-order it now; you will be far from disappointed when you read it.

I’m really thrilled to have Stephanie here today for an interview! A really great interview, too; I loved reading her answers. So, without further ado, here it is.

Is any of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is based on your own experiences?

I didn’t really draw from my own experiences for the book, but I did draw from my love of music. In fact, the first paragraph of the book is lifted straight from a journal entry I wrote about flipping through my parents’ record collection. I just changed the reference to cold Chicago winters to cold Wisconsin winters.

What was your inspiration for writing this book? What came to you first–plot or characters or something else?

The characters came to me first. I discovered Louisa’s story and then Emily’s and then I realized that if I connected the two I’d have a very powerful basis for a novel. The main inspirations for the book were my love of punk rock and also of the Midwest. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin for a little while and my roommate and I used to go for drives in the countryside late at night. We’d pick a random County Highway and follow it. We’d drive down Main Streets in towns like my fictional Carlisle and imagine what the town and the people were like. IWBYJR is kind of an extended version of those imaginings.

What do you have in common with Emily and/or Louisa?

I certainly share the passion for music, particularly punk rock, with both of them. I also share Emily’s desire to prove herself at her chosen art. I escaped into my writing during my teenage years like she escapes into her music. I’d love to be the literary equivalent of a rock star. Like Louisa, I’ve had my fair share of demons and spent period of my life running from them, though I was never as haunted as she is and I never ran as far or for as long as she does.

Obviously, a big part of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is music. Are you a musician? Have you ever tried to be, if not?

Oh, I’ve tried. And failed. I took guitar lessons on three different occasions. I talked about having a band called The Morning After all throughout high school with a few of my friends. One friend actually wrote a song for the band and taught me the song, but that was as far as it went. I have a Fender Jagstang, which shows what a huge Nirvana nerd I am because it’s the guitar Kurt Cobain designed and I bought it solely because of that. I go through phases where I try to play it. I teach myself some punk songs, try to write my own songs, but I get frustrated because I can’t sing and play at the same time. It’s probably because I don’t practice enough, but I don’t practice enough because I want to spend my free time writing. Since high school, I’ve been choosing writing over music. Maybe one day when I can write full time, music can become a more serious hobby.

If you could be suddenly amazingly talented at one musical instrument or singing, what would you choose and why?

I’m gonna cheat and say I’d be a singer/guitarist like Emily. After all, I created Emily because she’s the girl I always wanted to be. (Well, minus the missing mom. I like my relationship with my mom as it is.) But the combination of words and guitar is just so powerful, I would love to wield that power.
What are some songs that have a special significance to you?

Music is so significant to me that I don’t just have songs, I have entire albums. Nirvana’s Bleach album reminds me of the period in junior high when I embraced my creative, weird girl self and stopped caring about fitting in with the popular crowd. …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid reminds me of my best friend and our adventures junior year of high school. Live Through This by Hole will always be the album I turn to for strength. Though there are some individual songs that are extremely meaningful to me for reasons that are hard to explain-they are just my songs-like “Young Crazed Peeling” by the Distillers, “On A Plain” by Nirvana, and “Another Shot of Whiskey” by the Gits. Of course now “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” by Sleater-Kinney will forever remind me of my first book!

What are some songs that you’re into right now?

I’m utterly obsessed with this album Saturnalia by the Gutter Twins right now. They are just soooo amazing, I blogged about them twice last week. I’m also really into the song “Thrash Unreal” by Against Me!, the girl they sing about in that song is totally one of the sad girl characters I would write about. I’d love to write a short story to accompany that song.

What would be some of Emily’s favorite songs?

I’ve always thought of “Don’t Take Me For Granted” by Social Distortion as Emily’s theme song. She would absolutely adore “The Hunger” by the Distillers and wish she’d written it. It combines an almost bluesy sound with raw, angry punk and brutally honest lyrics; that’s exactly Emily’s type of song. But she’d also get a kick out of “40 Boys in 40 Nights” by the Donnas-that’s totally her sense of humor-and she’d love the Sleater-Kinney song her book is named for, too.

Who are your writing influences?

I have so many… I love John Steinbeck. I can’t tell you how much I learned about using place to shape character from GRAPES OF WRATH. I definitely used that in IWBYJR. Irvine Welsh has been a huge influence. He showed the world that you don’t have to be all hoity-toity to write literature. You can write about raw, real situations and write the way real people speak. His books just gave me so much permission. John McNally’s work taught me how to weave humor into dramatic situation. Joe Meno…I was lucky enough to take a few classes from him at Columbia and could probably write an entire essay on how much he taught me, but most important, he taught me discipline. He’s so focused, he teaches full-time, plus writes a couple books and a couple plays a year. It’s amazing. And then of course, I also took a lot from his book HAIRSTYLES OF THE DAMNED and the very honest, touching, but humorous way he handles a coming of age story. My other writing influences include the songwriters that I consider to be great lyricists like Johnny Cash, Courtney Love, and Robert Smith.

What are some of your favorite YA books or authors?

My favorite (and someone who was certainly an influence, but I saved her for this question) is Francesca Lia Block. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the WEETZIE BAT books. WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr touched me in that same Francesca Lia Block place. And as I mentioned, I love really real, raw stories, so some other faves are ALMOST HOME by Jessica Blank and then both SUCH A PRETTY GIRL and LEFTOVERS by Laura Wiess.

How has IWBYJR changed since the first draft?

It’s been through eight drafts, so it has evolved quite a bit. It was originally conceived of as a “novel in stories” so the chapters were a lot less linear and they could stand on their own like short stories. Since that point, a lot has been added and a lot has been cut. It was originally written for adults, so there were other points of view I explored including Emily’s dad Michael’s and Louisa’s best friend Molly’s that fleshed out the wider world of the story, gave you more of their history with Louisa and more of a sense of Carlisle. When MTV Books picked it up as YA, my editor asked that I streamline it and only use Emily and Louisa’s points of view. As a result, I wrote two more chapters that heightened Emily’s band’s career and I cut those Michael and Molly sections. But they had some great scenes and I plan to put them in an outtakes section on my website after the book comes out.

What is your writing process like?

I’m best as a binge writer, writing in four to fourteen hour blocks. When I was a student with two part-time jobs, I was able to arrange my schedule to suit this. Now I work a 9 to 5 and I’m still adjusting. When I’m discovering a story, I write the scenes that are taking my attention first until I figure out the whole story, then I outline and put it together linearly. I think I like revising best though. I do a ton of revising!

What are you writing right now?

My agent is shopping my second book. MTV Books gets the first look and I hope they’ll like it because I love working with them. You can see what it is about here. Right now a few ideas are taking my attention, so I’m just playing around till I figure out which is the strongest. But I think Book 3 is going to be a YA about a boy helping to avenge terrible things that have happened to his twin sister and her best friend. It will play with the Persephone myth in a modern, realistic way.

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

I wanted to be a writer since I started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books at the beginning of grade school. I mentally composed my autobiography and started keeping a diary then. I got more serious about it in high school when I started doing ‘zines along with writing short stories and poetry. But it wasn’t until my early twenties when I went to get my bachelor’s and master’s in fiction writing that I really made writing my main focus in life. I met my agent through an event at my college. It was one of those dream scenarios where she saw one chapter of IWBYJR and knew she had to have it. I worked my butt off to finish it over the next six months, did some revisions for her, and then she started shopping it. It took a year for the book to sell. She tried adult publishers first and we got a lot of polite rejections. Then, she decided to try the YA houses and MTV Books picked it up right away!

Emily criss-crosses the country searching for answers about her mother. Other people (real and fictional) have driven thousands of miles in search of many other things, some physical and some not. It’s a recurring theme in lots of fiction. If you had time to go on a road trip, what would you look for and where would you start?

The road trip I’m dying to take is Route 66 all the way to California. It starts here in Chicago so that works out nicely. And I guess I’d be searching for what I’m searching for every day: a great story. Maybe it’s my whole GRAPES OF WRATH obsession, but I think I could find inspiration for a great, real American story on that road, either in the historic things I’d find along the way or maybe among the locals in a bar in New Mexico or something. Either way, I’m convinced I could collect a lot of stories along Route 66.

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

I don’t know how I can top that last one, which was such a great question. So I think I’ll take this as an opportunity publicly clear something up that I know is going to vex me…

How is your last name pronounced?

Well, it’s not Coon-heart or Kway-nert or Coo-nert like I often get. “Kuehn” is prounouced Keen in German, so I’m Stephanie Key-nert.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to say thank you for having me and for your commitment to getting the word out about books. I have huge respect and admiration for book review bloggers like you. Also I should probably let everyone know that I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is available for pre-order on Amazon and invite everyone to visit me on my blog and my website and myspace because I love meeting people who are interested in books, road trips, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Thank you so much, Stephanie!

Garret Freymann-Weyr is the author of My Heartbeat, Stay With Me, When I Was Older, and The Kings Are Already Here. All of these books are nothing short of brilliant! If you haven’t read them, you’re seriously missing out. She’s one of my all-time favorite authors. Really, she’s just amazing! And today, I’m very pleased to have an interview with her for you all to enjoy, and enjoy it you will! Her answers to my questions are fantastic (much like Garret herself).

You’ve written about a lot of very diverse characters, and you seem to know all of them so well. Are you like any of your characters?

No. But I do build characters by starting with a trait (for example, determination, curiosity, or fear) which I know well (either from having it or observing it in others) and exploring it. Phebe (the dancer in KINGS) and I are alike in that we both have a lot of determination, but I was a terrible dancer.

I’m a good reader though, and so I did a lot of research. I took ballet class again to remember what it felt like (it hurts), and I read everything I could get my hands on.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

My father is a writer, and I often fell asleep to the sound of his typewriter. I loved his study, which was in our dining room which was, in turn, full of bookshelves. I used to sit at my father’s desk, looking at his stacks of Foreign Affairs and the novels with their old, crumbling bindings and I felt as if I were in the center of ferocious activity.

My guess is that I always wanted to a writer, but it took me a while to figure it out.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read. Really, I can not begin to describe all the times I’ve met people who tell me that they would love to write, if only they could find the time (as if writing were a hobby, although given the quality of much of what is published, I sometimes think it is!), but if I talk to them at length it quickly becomes clear they do not read. That’s like wanting to run a marathon, but not wanting to run. Reading is the only way to learn how to write. It can’t be taught, exactly. It has to be absorbed.

I’ve heard that some authors think this is like being asked to choose a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books?

I have two. I love The Kings Are Already Here because it was, after the first draft, a real joy to write. Also, it taught me a lot about both writing and publishing. I love Stay With Me because in spite of its being really, really hard to write (not quite a joy), I managed to find a way to do it.

Which of your books would you most like to see made into a movie, and who do you see playing your characters?

Here is the thing: I’m very old fashioned, and I believe in books precisely because they do what movies, for the most part, do not – books invite you to think. So, other than the potential for making some money, I don’t have a burning desire to see any of my books made into movies. It’s kind of the way I feel about going to Egypt one day. Yeah, sure, I would be thrilled to go, but I’m not learning Arabic or saving money for tickets. Does that make sense?

What can readers look forward to next from you, and what are you working on now (if that’s different)?

I have no idea what I’m working on now – which is often the case when I start something. Next spring, my new novel, After the Moment, will be published by Houghton. It’s about a young man, Leigh Hunter, and how his first experience with true love shapes the man he becomes. I think that we tend to think of young love as purely romantic – but every love places demands on us, and sometimes we can’t meet them. I was interested in a story that depicted what the consequences of that would be.

How different are the final versions of your novels from the first drafts?

My first draft goes through dramatic changes before I finish it, and then I do about 3 or 4 more before I send it to my first round of readers (my husband and father). Then I do another draft, and send it to my agent, who sends it to my editor. For whom I do another draft (this one is usually the most fun). One more draft after copy editing. Which means, I suppose, that the answer is: very different.

I’ve fallen in love with pretty much all of your characters, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Do you ever plan on doing sequels to any of your previous books?

That is very kind of you to say. I do not have any plans for sequels. I tend to think that, fantasy series and Little House books aside, a sequel usually signifies a failure of imagination. Although, A.S. Byatt wrote four books about the same set of characters and she is a literary genius, so what do I know?

Why do you write for young adults?

I have no idea. I used to say that I loved the voice – the way a teenage voice goes from 12 to 35 in the space of a minute – but I’m not as confident in that reason any longer. When I come up with some kind of answer that strikes me as truthful and at least close to articulate, I will let you know.

Your books contain some controversial subject matter (such as Leila’s relationship with a much older man). To your knowledge, have they ever been challenged or banned, and if so, what’s your reaction to that?

I should start by saying that I do not think Leila and Eamon’s relationship was controversial. Lots of young women find themselves entangled with older men. It happens. And in Leila’s case, it turned out to be a really good thing.

But, yes, one of my books has been both banned and challenged. My Heartbeat, which has two bisexual boys in it, is often on lists of books that libraries and or schools ban. My reaction tends to run in the direction of pity. I do not believe that people who ban books understand what they fear. People who ban books about gay people are usually upset about a culture that embraces choice. Or a culture that allows for secular thinking. But they think they are against homosexuality without thinking through what it is about gayness that upsets them. And that makes me sad for them.

Is there any question you wish I’d asked you or anything else you’d like to say?

Nothing except for how much I admire your energy for and support of books. Thanks for asking me to answer these.

Thank you so much, Garret!

I’m very pleased to announce an interview with Pat Murphy! Pat is the author of 2007 Middle Grade Cybils finalist The Wild Girls and other wonderful books for adults such as The City, Not Long After. She’s a very talented writer, and we’re very lucky to have her here today!

What was your inspiration for writing The Wild Girls? The Wild Girls is your first novel for young people; you had previously published several books for adults. Why did you decide to write for a new audience? Are you anything like Joan or Sarah, or were you at their age?

I wanted to write a book that would have made a difference to me, when I was the age of the girls in the book. As I’m sure you can tell, elements of this book are autobiographical. Like Joan and Fox, I felt that I did not belong in the well-manicured world of the suburbs. Like Joan and Fox, I struggled with family issues. The orchard where Fox and her dad live was near the house where I grew up.

Though I didn’t meet anyone like Verla Volante (the girl’s writing instructor) or Gus (Fox’s father) when I was a girl, I now know that the world is filled with such people. This book came from the joy of imagining what meeting Verla and Gus would have been like when I was Joan’s age.

I was a lot like Joan, growing up. A good student, but an outsider. But as is always the case, all my characters reflect pieces of my own personality. Writing lets me explore all those aspects of my personality – from the wildness of Fox and Verla Volante to the anger
and control of Joan’s father.

For me, every novel is an excuse to learn amazing new things. To write Wild Girls, I learned how to walk on stilts at The Crucible, a school of industrial arts in Oakland, California. Walking on stilts really is an act of belief. It isn’t hard-as long as you believe you can do it. I think there are many things in the world that share this characteristic.

What are you writing now?

I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from fiction writing. After working at San Francisco’s Exploratorium (a museum of science, art, and human perception) for more than 20 years, I changed jobs. After learning to walk on stilts at The Crucible, I went on to become the organization’s marketing director-and along the way I learned to weld and to work with molten glass. Then I started working as a writer and editor at Klutz, a fabulous children’s book publisher. Each book Klutz publishes comes with the stuff you need to do all the activities in the book. The very first Klutz book was Juggling for the Complete Klutz. I learned to juggle from that book in the 70s, and it seems too perfect to be writing books for Klutz now! My first book for Klutz was a re-working of the Klutz book of board games. Fifteen great board games squeezed into a book, with everything you need to play them. I’m just finishing Card Trickery, a book that will teach people to throw, fan, flourish, spot cheaters, and do magic with cards. It’s great fun.

But I’m just getting started on a new novel. Too soon to talk about it, I’m afraid.

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

I have three favorites.
The Wild Girls
The City, Not Long After
Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Enjoy the process – of learning, of writing, of exploring yourself and the world with words. People often seem to talk about how difficult it is to write – the agony of writers’ block, the long nights of introspection, all that stuff. But if I didn’t like writing, I wouldn’t do it. Writing lets me figure out who I am, how I think the world works. Writing helps me sort out the answers to questions that intrigue, disturb, and puzzle me. The questions and the answers are not simple (which is why it takes a novel to explore them), and I don’t know any way to explore them other than writing.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

I have many favorite books. (As Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”) Since The Wild Girls is a children’s book, I’ll give you the names of some of the authors that influenced me when I was growing up.

Edward Eager
E. Nesbit
Lewis Carroll (I read The Annotated Alice dozens of times)

And I remember certain books:
City Under the Back Steps by Evelyn Sibley Lampman
The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink
The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

There are so many more. I read fairy tales avidly and books about animals. I also read science fiction, JRR Tolkien, and every Tarzan novel I could put my hands on.

How long have you know you wanted to be a writer? Could you tell me a little about your road to publication?

I was a reader but not a writer until I was in college. Up to that point, I had always thought of writing as a calling, not something a person could choose, but something that chose you. Lois Natanson, one of my professors in college, told me I was a good writer, and I realized that it might be possible to be a writer. So I started writing stories and sending them to science fiction markets. I figured I’d send out my work until I had 100 rejection slips –and then I’d stop. But I sold a story on my 6th rejection slip, and there was no turning back. It was a long time before I sold another story, but I was committed.

My bachelor’s degree is not in writing, but in biology. I have always maintained two parallel careers: as a science writer and as a fiction writer. Balancing the two means I write less fiction, but allows me to be very free in what I write. And that’s a blessing.

What is your writing process like–where do you write, do you outline, how many drafts, etc.?

It varies enormously. On novels, I outline before I start. Then, halfway through, I throw out that outline and write a new one. Sometimes I have to toss the second outline as well. but I always have an outline.

I can write anywhere. Right now, I’m writing on the train to work. (I live in San Francisco and work in Palo Alto.) I’ve always liked writing on trains.

There are always a few drafts. Lots of writing on the cutting room floor. That’s just part of the process.

What has your long experience in being a published author been like–the best part, the worst part, and the most surprising part?

The best parts: the writing; hearing from readers and discovering that my stories make a difference to people

The worst part: having books go out of print, an increasing problem in these days of diminishing back lists (Don’t get me started on the business of writing! If you want to know about that, read the Author’s Guild’s study of mid-list books.)

The most surprising part: realizing that every novel has a process – and that process includes a part in the middle where I say to myself, “Who ever said you could write a novel. And this novel – what a stupid idea it is!” Usually around then, I have to rewrite the outline. And then I have to push through the self-doubt (what I call the Slough of Despond) and emerge from the other side.

I didn’t realize that this was a pattern until I mentioned to my husband, “I’ve never felt this bad about a book.” “Oh, sure you did,” he said. “You do every time. Isn’t it about time to rewrite the outline?”

A year or so back, I took an oil painting class and the instructor talked about “the painting curve,” which includes a point at which your painting looks like mud and you just have to keep on going. Interesting parallel to the writing process.

Is there any question you wish I’d asked you, or anything else you’d like to say?

I just found out that The Wild Girls has won the Christopher Award (www.christophers.org), which is given each year to books “which affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” I’m honored and thrilled. I’d also like to mention my connection to the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award (www.tiptree.org). In 1991, Karen Joy Fowler and I founded this award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.

Why reward writers who explore gender roles? In Writing A Woman’s Life, Carolyn Heilbrun wrote: “…it is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard. We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experience electronically, or come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories have formed us all….”

To change our society, we must imagine new stories – and that’s what the Tiptree Award promotes. The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her impulsive choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between “women’s writing” and “men’s writing.” The award is funded by a grassroots effort of auctions and bake sales. After all, if you can’t change the world with chocolate chip cookies, how can you change the world?

Other than that, I’d just like to say: “Thanks for the interview!”

Thank you, Pat!

Mary E. Pearson is the author of several fantastic books, including her latest, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a truly amazing novel whose subject I can’t clearly tell you because it gives away too much! Anyway, without further ado, the interview! Thanks, Mary, for doing this.

What inspired you to write The Adoration of Jenna Fox?

The first seeds of the story were planted when my teenage daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Of course at first I was terrified, but very soon I realized how lucky we were that we lived where we did and when we did because there was a good treatment. Just fifty years earlier she would have died of this disease and now, thanks to good doctors and good treatments she would survive. It made me wonder just how far medicine would advance in another fifty years. And then as she went treated and I saw far sicker children in the hospital and the agony their parents were going through, I wondered again, how far would a parent go to save their child? How much would they be willing to put them through? As a parent, how far would I go?
Of course, these were only ‘wonderings’ of mine at the time during all the long hours and months waiting in hospital rooms while my own child went through treatment. I didn’t know these would be questions that would one day be the impetus for a story. Six years later when I was about three quarters done with this book, another seed was planted. My second daughter became seriously ill. This second diagnosis was almost my undoing, but I believe that it deepened the story, my understanding of the characters, and also deepened my resolve that you never know what you might do in an impossible situation.

If The Adoration of Jenna Fox were to be made into a movie, and you were the casting director, who would you pick to play your main characters?

It is going to be made into a movie! We’ve had interest for months and it recently sold to 20th Century Fox. An awesome producer, Julia Pistor, and director, Brad Silberling, are making it. I met with them and they had so many wonderful ideas about how to turn the book into a movie, that I knew immediately that they would make an awesome one. I can’t wait to see who they cast. I told them who a few of my “dream” choices would be, but I know they will choose the best possible actors because this is what they do.

Why do you write for young adults? What do you really enjoy or find challenging about writing for this particular audience?

For me, this age is such a fascinating, exciting, and pivotal time. I really don’t think of the teen years as a stage, as many people do, but the beginning of this long stage we call adulthood that is always in a state of change. You don’t finish the teen years and suddenly become this static adult. You continue to evolve. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, or even five years ago. But what I like about the teen years is that as we establish out identities apart from our parents, deciding what we believe, from politics, to religion, to relationships and how they should be approached, we are feeling our way, making good and bad decisions for the very first time. I think this heightens the drama, but more importantly for me, as a writer I can have patience with such characters, as opposed to adults who are repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Have you ever, do you plan to, or would you like to write for a different audience in the future?

Sure! If the right character or situation spoke to me, I probably would have no choice.

What are you writing now?

I am working on another YA, this one about chance and coincidence and a girl who has had more than her fair share of it in her life. I am very near the end. It should be out in Spring of 09.

I know it’s probably like being asked to choose a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books?
Always the newest one out because it is so fresh in my mind.

Can you share a little about your road to publication?

I began writing while on breaks from my teaching job and eventually started writing full time around ten years ago. I joined the SCBWI, bought the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Digest and began submitting my first finished manuscript. That one never sold-it was a long rambling historical–but I did get some good feedback from editors saying they liked it but they wished it moved along a little faster. That was an understatement. I had no clue about pacing at that time, so when I started my second manuscript I was committed to make every word count. That was a great learning experience for me, and that manuscript, David v. God, did indeed sell. Once I understood pacing I tried to slow down and flesh my stories out a little more. Every book is a new challenge. I try to learn something from each one I write, so that I am always growing as a writer.

What is one of your favorite lines or passages from The Adoration of Jenna Fox?

Since it is near the end of the story and might be a spoiler I won’t quote it, but toward the bottom of page 260 there is a paragraph about winter in Boston that tugs at my heart every time I read it. It includes an age old saying that I know will be relevant a hundred years from now because some thing never do change. I cried when I wrote that passage and I don’t often cry as I write.

What three things are always on your desk?

1. Paper. Piles of paper. And lots of scraps where I have jotted down a thought on whatever piece of writeable material is available, like napkins, dry cleaning tickets, or store receipts while I am out and about. By the time I am finished with a book I have a drawer full of them.
2. Chapstick.
3. Coffee rings.

Thanks for doing this!

I was incredibly lucky enough to interview the wonderfully talented David Levithan! David is an amazing writer whose books include How They Met, a short story collection, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a collaboration with the equally fantastic Rachel Cohn, Wide Awake, a fascinating political novel, and various other wonderful things! He is also an editor at Scholastic, and his PUSH imprint has published such fantastic books as Siobhan Vivian’s A Little Friendly Advice. Thanks to David for giving such great answers, and thanks to you all for reading. Without further ado, the interview!

You’ve written two wonderful books with Rachel Cohn, and I see from your website that you’re working on another collaboration with two other authors. How is that experience different from writing your solo books?

Every collaboration is different — and usually each one has its own rules. But there’s nothing better. I love it because of the energy that bounces between me and the other author or authors. Also, I love not haviing to figure out the story by myself — it’s a very different thing to sit down and write when you’re only responsible for one chapter at a time, rather than a whole novel. I’m still going to write solo, too, but I’m going to try to do many collaborations in the next few years.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which you co-wrote with Rachel Cohn, is being turned into a movie! How is that going? How much are you kept up-to-date on what’s going on? Have you had any input into it?

It’s fantastic. Rachel and I are like godparents to the whole endeavor. We genuinely love everyone involved — so we were happy to put it all in their hands and watch what happened.

Are you and Rachel planning to write any more books together?

All I’ll say is “you never know.”

One of my consistent thoughts while reading HOW THEY MET was, “This should be a novel!” So many of the stories–Starbucks Boy and Princes, to name a couple–really just made me want more. Do you think you’ll ever expand any of them?

Right now, they all exist as stories in my mind. But there are definitely a couple — Starbucks Boy and Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat, in particular — that I might revist someday.

Besides being a writer, you are also an editor at Scholastic. You’ve edited lots of anthologies as well as novels. So, you see two sides of publishing–that of a writer, of course, and that of an editor. How has each one affected how you do the other job?

It’s hard to say. I’m just more plugged in to both sides of the equation, so to speak. I certainly understand what my writers are going through when I’m editing them — and I also understand what my editor is going through when she edits me. I hope that makes me a better writer and editor… but you’d have to ask them.

Could you share a little about your road to publication?

Really, I just wrote stories for my friends, and one of them, Boy Meets Boy, happened to turn into a novel, and that novel happened to be passed to an amazing editor. I didn’t really have to do anything other than write the thing. It’s not a very representative publishing story.

Where and how do you write best? How many drafts do you go through?

I mostly write at home, and just…well…sit down and write. I rarely outline, although I usually have a sense in my head of where things are going to go eventually. Partially because I have a good internal editor, I don’t usually have to do many full drafts — I just to a lot of editing along the way.

Why do you write for young adults?

Because the ideas that come to me are for YA books. And it’s very, very rewarding to see what happens when these books go out into the world.

Politics factor heavily into your novel WIDE AWAKE. Are you active in politics? How do you feel about the upcoming elections?

I’m an active follower of politics and causes, but my activism is largely literary in nature. And I think the upcoming elections will be a watershed…assuming the good guys win.

You are obviously very in touch with the experiences of being a teenager today, seeing as you write such fantastic books about it. What do you think has changed about being a teen since your own teen years?

The emotions have largely stayed the same, but the technology and means of communication have changed. But that’s true for all of us, not just teens.

Your website says you are “evangelical” about music. What are some of your favorite bands or singers?

This is always a hard one to answer. Off the top of my head, favorites include Death Cab for Cutie, Aimee Mann, Beth Orton, Regina Spektor, Crowded House, Editors, Tegan and Sara, Dar Williams, Damien Rice — oh, honestly, I could go on and on. I’ll leave it there.

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

Well, the whole experience of Boy Meets Boy — seeing what one book can do — has been incredible. But I do genuinely love ’em all. Even that bastard Marly’s Ghost.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Only the usual advice. Which is to write and write and read and write.

What are some of your current projects (as a writer or as an editor) that you’re especially excited about?

As an editor, I have a few teen books coming out this spring that I’m excited about, including Siobhan Vivian’s A LITTLE FRIENDLY ADVICE (about a group of friends that has a falling out after one of the friend’s long-lost father shows up on her 16th birthday) and Brian Malloy’s TWELVE LONG MONTHS (about a straight girl who follows her crush to New York City… only to find out he’s not really into girls.) As for myself, I’m obviously excited about HOW THEY MET — and then in May, one of my collaborations, LIKELY STORY, is hitting stores. It’s a completely fun book, written with two of my friends under the name David Van Etten, and it’s the start of a series about a girl who runs her own soap opera. Complications (funny ones) ensue.

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

I’d just like everyone to read Eireann Corrigan’s ORDINARY GHOSTS. Because not enough people have yet.

Thank you so much, David!

Siobhan Vivian is the author of the fabulous A Little Friendly Advice, an impressive debut about a sixteen-year-old girl named Ruby, her friends, her family, her possible love interest, and, well, life. It’s one that I highly recommend you all read as soon as possible! Anyway, without further ado, the interview. Thanks, Siobhan, for doing this!

Can you tell me a little about your road to publication?

It was a pretty straight shot that began and ended with my acceptance into the New School Univeristy MFA program in Writing for Children. I felt that hard-core training in this very specific genre was the best way for me to approach completing a YA novel. I wrote my butt off for two years whenever I could find a spare moment from my day job as an editor.

During my last semester at school, I started working on A Little Friendly Advice. David Levithan was my thesis advisor, and he helped me massage a very rough idea into a full-fledged novel. He was vital in helping me tell Ruby’s story in the best, most engaging way. I adored working with him!

After graduation, David said that he was interested in publishing ALFA. I got an agent and sold the book, unfinished, to Scholastic a few weeks later.

What authors are some of your biggest writing influences?

Rachel Cohn is a master of voice, Blake Nelson writes the most crisp, clean prose, David Levithan makes me fall in love with words, and Cecil Castellucci oozes creativity and inspiration.

One of the book’s characters, Beth, celebrates her birthday every year with a big Halloween party. What was your best Halloween ever?

I’m going to say sophomore year of college, when my two friends and I went as the PowerPuff Girls. Our costumes were dead on! Everyone knew who we were and wanted to take pictures with us. It was so awesome.

Are you a lot like Ruby, or one of the other characters?

Of all the characters, I think I’m the most like Ruby. We’re both thoughtful and optimistic (to a fault), a little bit weird, not too girly-girly, and we both love our Polaroid cameras.

Do you have a favorite character in the novel?

Hmm. Good question. I’ll say that Katherine was the most fun character to write. Whenever she showed up in a chapter, she brought so much tension with her. And I loved thinking up sharp, snappy things for her to say.

And Charlie was awesome too. I wished he was real, so he could be my boyfriend.

Do you outline before writing?

Yes! I am a firm believer in outlining. I like to know where I’m going before I get there. But I try not to put in too much detail when I’m writing an outline, so I can still let happy accidents and discoveries happen along the way.

How did A Little Friendly Advice change from first draft to final published book?

At the very, very beginning, ALFA was about four girls who came from divorced families. That circumstance was what united them as friends, and they all took care of each other. Ruby’s dad came back the same way he does in ALFA, but in the old version, he wanted to patch things up with her Mom. Ruby worried about how that would affect her friendships, so she actively tried to keep her parents from getting back together.

I still really like elements from that original concept, but it’s a lot stronger now.

A Little Friendly Advice is written for teenagers. Why did you choose to write for this audience, and do you or would you like to write for other audiences?

I have absolutely no interest in writing books for any other audience but YA. I’m a little like Peter Pan, in that I have very much resisted the idea that I had to grow up. I feel way more comfortable in a room full of teenagers than I do with adults. And the story ideas and characters floating around in my brain are always of that genre. I think it’s just how I’m programmed.

A Little Friendly Advice is realistic fiction. Do you or would you like to write other genres?

I’d like to try and write YA magical realism. I took a class on magical realism in college and loved every single book we read.

Ruby begins to take an interest in photography in this book, when her mother gives her an old Polaroid camera. Are you a photographer?
Not officially, but I love snapping photographs. I own a few cameras, including my beloved Polaroid, and took a few photography classes back in high school, when you actually had to load the film by hand in a dark room.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on my second young adult novel for Scholastic. It’ll be out in Spring 2009 and it’s called SAME DIFFERENCE. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s about a girl named Emily who struggles with having two different identities—depending on whether she’s at home with the popular, suburban friends she grew up with, or hanging out in a city with a super cool, wild new girl she befriends in a summer art class.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

I am really, really into graphic novels. My favorite of all time is BLANKETS by Craig Thompson. I tell every single person I know to read it and be ready to fall in love.
Is there a question you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?
I wish you had asked me how awesome you are on a scale from one to ten.
I’d have said an eleven.

Aw, thank you so much!

I’ve got an exciting treat for you all today: Melissa Marr, author of the fabulous books Wicked Lovely and the forthcoming Ink Exchange (review coming soon)! Melissa was nice enough to answer a few questions for me, and she’s got some great answers. For those of you that haven’t read Wicked Lovely, do so–you still have time before the release of Ink Exchange (which is a companion book, not a sequel, but your reading experience will be richer if you read Wicked Lovely). Also, just so you know, I’ve got some more great author interviews for you all in the coming weeks, so stay tuned! Anyway, thanks so much, Melissa, for doing this!

Can you tell me a little about your third novel and when it will be released (if you know yet)?

Right now, I’m calling it “Enthralled,” but I don’t know if that title will make it past the gatekeepers. We’ll see. While Ink Exchange is a companion novel to Wicked Lovely, the third text is more of a sequel to WL. It features Ash & Seth & Sorcha (head of the High Court) as narrative pov characters. Keenan, Donia, Niall, Irial & others are all in it. I’m not what else I can say just now because I do try not to get all spoiler-y. It’s a lot like WL, imo: more romance, less darkness. I believe the hardcover will be out Summer 09 in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, & New Zealand.

Could you share a bit about how you write–do you outline your books (or at least know where you’re going with them), where do you write, how many drafts do you usually do, etc.?

I’ll try. I typically write in my office. I sometimes write longhand when I’m on travels or outside somewhere. I always have music when I’m writing at the desk or on planes, but never do when I’m outside.

I don’t know how many drafts I do. I revise as I go, but then revise afterwards too. And, of course, with two primary editors to give me revision letters, I do a few editioral-directed revisions. Hmm. I revise as much as I possible. I enjoy revision a great deal.

The visual in my head for my process is like marking a map for a roadtrip. I have a few general landmarks/plot events highlighted. The stuff between them comes as I write. I write the events as I know them, and then I re-order & fill in the stuff from the middle out, or the end back, or the beginning forward depending on my mood that day. I’m not linear. . . which means I also write bits of other novels as I write this one. My agent calls it “organic”–which is probably nicer than calling it “disorderly & random.” The benefit of the way I work is that I have several projects in process regularly, which amuses me. The downside is that some of them aren’t going to be due to anyone for years, so I really should be working on the ones due now.

Was there any particular inspiration you can cite for Wicked Lovely and/or Ink Exchange, and, if so, what?

I don’t know that there’s a single inspiration for anything I write. In retrospect, we can often assign significance to an event/moment/cause. At the time though, do we think of it that way? I don’t. I can say now that WL started as a short story (which started with a name/word “Aislinn” which means “dream or vision). The story was rejected in both younger & adult markets. It lingered, so 8 months after I had set it aside, I started turning it into a novel.

Ink . . . That one’s harder to articulate. I know a number of people who’ve been addicts. One of the few people I’ve ever been in love with was an addict. And then there’s the tattoo element . . . I’m a devoted tattoo fan. And then there’s the logic thing–at the end of WL, it seems only logical to deal with the Dark Court. Stuff mixes, & suddenly there’s a novel.

How has being a published author different from what you had anticipated (if it is different)?

It’s so completely different that I’m often overwhelmed. I wrote the first book hoping for a quiet little deal to offset my teaching salary. Before that I’d written only one novel, some short stories, & poetry. I had no expectations of the things that’ve happened. I’m not sure I would’ve done it if I did know what it would be like. I’ve had two tours in 10 months, three book festivals, assorted industry events, book signings, and all sorts of things I had no clue of how to handle. My agent and the folks at Harper US & UK (& at several of my foreign houses) have guided me through the confusion, but I still feel rather babe-in-the-woods sometimes. I’m happy, but it’s been a steep learning curve with not enough sleep.

Do you plan to or would you like to write novels in other genres besides YA urban fantasy? If so, what?

I’m under contract for a manga series (set in the same world), an adult UF anthology, and a new YA contract (for books 4, 5, & 6). The contract for those next 3 books is very open-ended. I could do 3 more novels in this world, or another world, or not-fantasy . . . I like that. Somewhere along the way I’m hoping to write not-fantasy too. It’s really about whichever story feels right at the time though. I write what my muse allows, no more, no less.

Why do you write for young adults? What do you think is different about writing for teens than for other audiences?

I don’t know that I set out to be a “YA author.” For over a decade, I taught university –first as a grad student and then as my FT job. I did guest lectures in high school. I have a teen daughter–with whom I read piles of books. It makes a certain amount of sense that when I started to write it would be influenced by the people I spent the most time with–my students & my kids.

How is it different? I guess I don’t think it is. I try to tell a good story with real characters. The big difference is that the teens I know will tell me if I suck, so I’m trying to make sure I don’t disrespect them by trying to sound all Let Me Teach You My Truths. I know my own values filter in–I am an egalitarian, think volition is critical, think body art is fun, et etc–but I don’t want to write anything that’s didactic or tedious. I try to be responsible– in WL I mention the importance of STD testing & precautions–but I’d do that in adult books too. My goal is just to tell a good story in a real way. Some of those stories are YA; some aren’t.

What are some of your favorite YA books or authors?

Off the top of my head I’d say Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak is brilliant), Clare Dunkle, Annette Curtis Klause, A.M. Jenkins, Holly Black’s YA books, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan’s Nick & Norah (one of the best YA books I’ve read), . . . of course, I’m sure I’m forgetting far more than I’m remembering.

Oooh, and recently I fell madly in love with a two unreleased YA books– Graceling by Kristin Cashore (out in Oct) and The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (out in August). One of the fun perks of this job is getting to read books early. Even though I read these pre-release, I’ll be buying them on release.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a published author?

I’d love to sound all authorly, but my fav part is the same as with any job–it’s fun. I’m horribly lacking in discipline in that I only do jobs that are fun. Of course, I believe most anything can be fun for a while–I’ve been a bartender, cocktail waitress, secretarial assistant, archeology dig general worker, lit teacher, daycare worker . . . It’s all fun for a while. The least appealing part? I’ll let you know when I get to it :)

You talk sometimes about your tattoos on your blog, and tattoos play a big part in your upcoming novel Ink Exchange. How many tattoos do you have, and which ones have the most meaning to you?

Technically I only have 3, but two are largish. I don’t know that any are “more” meaningful; it’s like picking the “best” book or the fav character or most loved child. They are all valued for different reasons. My muse is tattooed on my spine, dancing on an earthen mound with bones & flowers poking thru the soil. An ivy vine with lilies entwined throughout it wraps my torso & is going to start growing down my right arm sooner or later. Both of the those are in progress still. Ms Muse still needs a background, & my vines aren’t quite done growing. The third one is at the top of my spine. It’s a faith symbol. All of my art is carefully planned, and none of it is out where it’s casually visible (unless I’m at the beach or have my hair up in a knot).

Is there any question you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to share?

No other questions, but I always like the chance to just say thanks to the people who have shared their reading hours with my characters. It’s surreal sometimes to realize that the world & people in my head are out there in people’s hands. Thank you for that.

Thanks for doing this!

It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.