Or, National Novel Writing Month. In case you haven’t heard of it, the month in question is November, and, every November, a whole bunch of writers all try to write a 50,000 word novel in the space of a month. Pretty impressive goal, no?

Well, I’ve never done it, and I’m seriously considering it this year, just because I’ve been in a major writing slump and maybe this is what I need to get me to actually, you know, write.

However, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea this November because I have a lot of stuff to do in the way of college applications. I’m having enough trouble keeping up with my life as it is!

Any of you participating this year? Have you in the past? How was the experience? Did you meet your goal?

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!

This post was sparked by an interesting article about teenagers and the internet by Amy Goldwasser, for Salon, which you can read here.

We’ve all been told that  screens are rotting our brains. You’ve read about why I don’t think movies and television are at all brain-rotting, even the supposedly trashy TV shows. The same goes for the internet, but even more so!

Many kids and teens have limits on how long they can use the internet, or at least, their parents (like mine) think they spend too much time on the computer. They think we’re killing off brain cells, but the truth is so far from that!

And, yeah, okay, it’s possible to use the internet in brain-killing ways. You could play stupid games or watch crudely humorous Youtube videos for hours. But many of us don’t do that at all!

We read. We write. We communicate. We think. We learn. All in front of a computer screen.

Hard to believe for some of the adults in our lives, isn’t it? That some of us use proper English and research topics interesting to us (YA books, for one!) and write about things we’re passionate about (whether it be books or politics or music or just our lives) and communicate with our friends through text–surely this is better for literacy than talking on the phone being the primary means of communication!–and connect with people all over the world (a blessing for people who can’t fit in where they are physically).

My parents wrote far less than I did when they were teenagers. They didn’t have this canvas for free expression that I do,: the Internet. The internet enriches lives and minds; it doesn’t ruin them, anymore than older technologies do! I’m sure there were people who thought the printing press was an evil modern invention back in 1453 when the Gutenberg bible was first printed.  Nobody thinks books are brain-rotting anymore, and computers will come to be accepted, too.

I particularly like what Amy says about the internet freeing us from having to memorize trivial facts and freeing up our brains for deeper issues, and I think it’s right on. I did know the date of the Gutenberg bible without looking it up, but I don’t know, say, the dates Napoleon was in office. But, with a few keystrokes, I could have that information. What do I know? The effects Napoleon’s time in power had on Western Europe and the Americas. I know how that connects up until today. I know that nationalism as we know it today originated with the French revolution. I know that I believe nationalism will be the end of us. I understand history, even if I don’t know the dates that my parents were forced to memorize, because I have a teacher who understands that true understanding is far more important than trivial facts I could find out in seconds! I understand, I make connections, I have opinions.

Shouldn’t that apply to life in general, not just history? Shouldn’t the big ideas be more important than the trivia, especially when the trivia is so easily accessible?  Aren’t many in older generations just as resistant to this change as they are other changes–in music, in clothing, in whatever they choose to gripe about. The internet opens up an entire world that used to be inaccessible. It means I can practice my Spanish without leaving my desk chair–much cheaper than going to Spain–and connect with people who share my love of reading, and like the same books I do. The internet, if only we use it in the right way, enriches our lives, just like so many other things said to be rotting our brains.

We control ourselves and our lives. We say who we are, and if we say we are intelligent individuals and use technology to our advantage, then that advantage is huge.

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!

I absolutely adored Bass Ackwards and Belly Up, to which this book is a sequel. And a very worthy sequel! Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft have done it again, and created a wonderfully inspiring novel sure to captivate readers.

In Bass Ackwards and Belly Up, Harper, Sophie, Becca, and Kate, four best friends from Boulder, Colorado, decided to spend the year after they graduated from high school following their dreams. Becca went to college but was given the extra mission of falling in love. Sophie decided to move to LA and pursue a career as an actress. Harper wanted to write the next Great American Novel (but the reality is less glamorous than it sounded then; she lives in her parents basement and works at a coffee shop and lusts after her former English teacher). Kate went to travel the world.

Now they’re in the second half of the year of dreams. When the book starts, Becca is in love with her boyfriend, Stuart, and doing well on the ski team at Middlebury. Sophie is not doing as well in her acting career as she would have hoped–she’s far from being a movie star yet. Kate has gone to Ethiopia, where her adopted little sister, Habiba, is from, to dig wells for poor villages. Harper is slowly but surely actually writing a novel and trying to mend her relationships with the people she cares about.

For all of them, jumping on the dream train wasn’t as easy as they hoped. But maybe, just maybe, with the support of each other, the four of them can make their dreams come true.

All four girls are, again, wonderfully realistic, unique (as real humans are) characters–and people you’d really like to know in real life! Their year of dreams is so inspiring; Harper, Becca, Kate, and Sophie do what many people have dreamed of, but few actually have the guts to do. They leave society’s prescribed path to follow their hearts. Footfree and Fancyloose is a poignant, funny, honest, and touching novel about friendship, dreams, growing up, and so much more. It’s about life.

Readers won’t be able to get enough of this book, due to be released in April. Despite its size, Footfree and Fancyloose reads quickly; it’s such a pageturner! I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next to these characters. It is truly a wonderfully well-written novel. My only real gripe would have to be the cover. While this is clearly a book about four best friends, the cover of the ARC features three girls. Has the designer even read the book?? With any luck, that’ll change before the book is released.

Princess Mia is the ninth in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series. I have to admit, I haven’t read them all. I’ve read all Meg’s other YA books, but after the first couple of Princess Diaries books (which I did enjoy), the titles and covers were too similar and I couldn’t keep track of them and remember which ones I’d read, so I kind of just gave up. I still don’t know which ones I’ve read. Maybe I have read them all. I don’t think I’ve read the one where Mia runs for class president, though. Hmm. I’m really not entirely sure. I know the basic timeline of events, though, and am familiar with the characters, and that’s all that’s really necessary to reading this book (although it would have helped to have read the eighth before–they are so connected that I went ahead and read it anyway after finishing this one!).

In Princess Mia, Mia is struggling with the loss of her boyfriend, Michael. (He didn’t die; she broke up with him over something kind of stupid and then he moved to Japan to make a robotic surgery thingy to save people). She might have been able to function through that, except that then she immediately lost her best friend, Lilly, because Lilly thought she kissed her recent ex-boyfriend, J.P. (which, Mia did, kind of, but only accidentally, and they’re just friends). Now, she doesn’t have either of the Moscovitzes, her boyfriend or her best friend, and that’s just too much for a girl to handle! Add that to the fact that she’s expected to give a speech to two thousand of the world’s most elite businesswomen, and, yeah, she’s a little stressed. What’s a princess to do?

I really enjoyed this book. I literally laughed out loud at some parts; Mia’s distinctive voice just makes everything so hilarious, even if she didn’t get into so many mishaps. It’s certainly not all light-hearted fun, though; Mia’s dealing with some serious sadness in this book. Meg Cabot shows herself in this book to be very good at creating great characters, and she really does, after nine books (plus those weird little half-books or whatever they’re called that come in between some of the main books) about them, know this cast of characters very well (and so does the reader).

I think I may very well go back and read the rest of the series in order; it really is that good. This book is highly recommended! It has restored my faith in Meg Cabot (a couple of her recent books were a little disappointing to me, but maybe just not my kind of books; they weren’t necessarily bad).

I’m very pleased to be a stop on Sara Zarr’s blog tour for the release of her latest book, Sweethearts. She is also the author of the 2007 National Book Award Finalist Story of a Girl. Both books are amazing, and, if you haven’t read them, go and do so! Now! Anyway, without further ado, here is my interview with Sara.

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

I’ve known I wanted it to be my career since I was about 25 (12 years ago!), and I enjoyed writing and stories long before that. My path to publication, like so many, was pretty rough. Every year from about 1996 to 2004 I thought, “This is it. This is my year.” In 2005, it finally was. Those who want to write for publication have to have a lot of patience. You’ve got to wait for your skill, your voice, your stories, the right agent, the right editor, the right market to all converage on the time/space continuum. It takes a lot of faith to believe that will happen.

How has the experience of being a published author been different from what you expected?

I’m surprised and disappointed that I’m still as insecure as I always was! Sometimes, maybe even more insecure. Writing hasn’t gotten any easier. There no sense of arrival. I’m surprised and delighted by the enthusiasm of fans. Their emails mean so much, and always seem to come at just the right time. The support and general wonderfulness of peers in the YA world and the people at my publisher (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) have been great, too.

What was your inspiration for writing Sweethearts?

While casting about for ideas for a next book, my old childhood sweetheart got back in touch and we had this cool, surprising bond. I let my imagination wander and started asking those “what if” questions that are always the beginning of a good story.

Are you like Jenna (or were you at her age)? How?

A little, yeah. I never trusted my place in my social circle and always felt surprised whenever it would dawn on me that my friends actually cared about me. Like Jenna, I turned to food when stressed or lonely or bored. I had this boyfriend once that I thought was too good for me and I imagined other people asking themselves, “Why is he with her?” Little things like that went into Jenna’s personality.

In Sweethearts, you tell two stories about Jenna and Cameron–one from their shared past, and then the story of their present. Was it difficult to tell both stories simultaneously, without giving up either one?

It was a bit of a technical challenge. Dealing with flashbacks or stuff from the past is always a trick. You don’t want a giant info-dump at the beginning, but you also don’t want to annoy the reader by withholding too much for too long. I’m still not convinced I hit the perfect balance but I tried to space the flashbacks out in a way that made sense. The story from the past was important for understanding the story of the present so I didn’t want to give it short shrift. That was something my editor and I worked on quite a bit.

Why do you write for a young adult audience? Do you, would you like to, or do you plan to write for other audiences?

Really, I don’t think about the audience much while I’m writing. Selfishly, I try to write a story that I would love to read, and those seem to mostly involve teenagers. I’ve always been a fan of YA and think the YA category is one of the richest and most interesting in publishing right now. I do hope to have a long career in which I get a chance to try a lot of different things. Lately in my dabbling time I’m trying to figure out how to make short stories work. Everything I start feels like the beginning of a novel.

What jobs have you done in the past? If you weren’t a writer, what would you most like to do?

I have had major job ADD since I first entered the workforce at 16. It’s a good thing I’m a writer, because my “day job” resume looks awful—I rarely lasted anywhere more than 18 months because of boredom or impatience with a work situation. I’ve been a file clerk, a cook, an office manager, a church secretary, an account rep with a printing firm, an indexer, a corporate trainer, a data entry cog, a receptionist…anything to pay the bills while I pursued writing. I honestly don’t know what I’d do with myself if I weren’t a writer. The things I’m seriously interested in would require a lot more education and I don’t know if I could do (and pay for) college again. I wouldn’t mind making a movie some day!

What are you writing now (if you are okay with sharing that)?

My main job is writing my third YA novel for Little, Brown. Some of the ingredients are: a pastor’s daughter, a small town, a crime, an older man, a parent in rehab, an excruciatingly hot summer.

You do a wonderful job writing realistic characters and capturing the relationships between them. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers struggling to do the same thing?

Thanks! I think the key is to work from the inside out. For instance, if you’re writing about a mother-daughter relationship you might start out thinking, “I want this mother and this daughter to have communication issues” (or trust problems or anger or disappointment or whatever the thing is) and try to layer that on top of the story like so much spackle. That doesn’t work, though—for me, anyway. I have to know the characters a bit and get a sense of their story and then go in and really think about where those problems might come from and how they would manifest in small, subtle ways. Human interaction is so much about the tiny ways we miss each other or manage to connect, the little letdowns and minor triumphs. Being aware of those things in your own life definitely helps when you’re trying to get them into a story.

Now, the ask-yourself-a-question question! What’s a question I didn’t ask you that you’d like to be asked (and the answer)?

I love to cook, and when I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit I always enjoyed the last page where they’d interview some celebrity and say, “Name three things in your refrigerator right now.” And so: leftover turkey loaf, a bag of red potatoes, and some buttermilk I keep forgetting to use in my baked goods.

Thanks so much for doing this, Sara!

Thank you!

Robin Benway is the author of the fantastic Audrey, Wait!. I’m lucky enough to have gotten the chance to interview her, and here are her awesome answers! I hope you all enjoy it.

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

I had always wanted to be a writer, but I had been too afraid to actually attempt it. Finally, I hit a point where I just said, “You know what? I don’t care. I’m gonna do it.” I took a class at UCLA Extension (basically an adult ed program) in YA writing, and met Rachel Cohn. She read the first chapter of what was to become “Audrey”, loved it, and introduced me to my now-agent.

It took about 14 months between starting the book and selling it, only because I’m such a slow writer and it takes me a long time to figure out how the words fit on the page. The best way I can describe is that before I write, I put all the ideas and sentences together in my head, like a giant puzzle, and when I sit down to get the words on the page, I just describe the way the completed scene looks. Weird, I know! But it works for me.

Aside from Audrey, a great main character, there are lots of interesting, three-dimensional secondary characters in Audrey, Wait!. Who was your favorite character to write, who was the hardest, and which one do you most relate to?

I think Victoria was my favorite to write because she just does not care what anyone says or thinks about her. When you write a character like that, there’s no boundaries and she can do or say whatever she wants. Also, I based the best parts of Victoria on my best friend Adri, so it always made me think of Adri and smile whenever I wrote Victoria (a lot of Victoria and Jonah’s lines are stolen directly from my friend, just because she always makes me laugh.)

The hardest character was Sharon Eggleston by far. She’s a difficult brat, yes, but I also wanted to show how much sadness there was in her. Sometimes I see these girls that are so young and so mean at the same time, and I just think, “Wow, why are you so sad? What happened to you?” But on the other hand, Audrey’s character isn’t sympathetic to Sharon at all, so it was hard to write from Audrey’s perspective and still show the empathy I had for Sharon. I hope it worked!

I would say that aside from Audrey, I really related to James and understood where he was coming from. I think everyone feels like an awkward wallflower from time to time, and it’s difficult to admire someone from afar and be too scared to act on it, the way James does with Audrey.

Music is a big part of your novel! What are five songs that you’re really loving right now?

I LOVE these kinds of questions! I could talk about music all day!

1) “Sweet Black Angel,” Rolling Stones. I’ve been making a lot of mixes for friends lately, and this song is on all of them.

2) “Now That I Know,” Devendra Banhart. I was so intimidated by this music and by Devendra for a long time, but I recently bought “Cripple Crow” and I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s very warm music, comforting, beautiful stuff.

3) “I’m Only Sleeping,” The Beatles. Lately I’ve been in the habit of getting up early in the morning and taking long walks around my neighborhood while listening to “Revolver”. Every time I hear the lyric, “Keeping an eye on the world going by my window,” I always want to do a little dancing pirouette because it makes me feel so happy. (I don’t do the pirouette, of course, but I really want to.)

4) “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” Led Zeppelin. I know very, very little about The Zep, but I love this song. My friend Kathleen knows all the words, and she’s the one who first played it for me. A great song to play when you’re driving in Hollywood.

5) “The Mending of the Gown,” Sunset Rubdown. This is my current driving-on-the-freeway-when-there’s-no-traffic song. It’s just infectious, I can’t get enough of it.

What are five of your all-time favorite songs?

Only 5?

1) “Boots of Spanish Leather,” Bob Dylan. I was late to the Bob Dylan party, but this song got me there.

2) “Plainsong,” The Cure. The way the song explodes into sound right at the beginning is one of my favorite musical moments. Such an awesome way to start an album.

3) “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys. My #1 favorite song. I’m a sucker for harmonies and the way the chorus swirls around in the end is so perfect.

4) “You Turn Me On (I’m a Radio),” Joni Mitchell. “’Cause you don’t like weak women, you get bored so quick / And you don’t like strong women ‘cause they’re hip to your tricks…” How amazing is that lyric?! Joni’s the best.

5) “Untitled #1,” Sigur Ros. This song got me through a very difficult period in my life and I’ll always be grateful for it. If music can carry a person, then this song carried me.

Audrey is overwhelmed by her newfound celebrity status. Would you ever want to experience the level of fame that Audrey does?

GOOD LORD, NO. I think it’s so invasive and terrible and just no. No no no. To me, there’s nothing fun about having cameras in your face, having rumors spread about you, not being able to live your life without constant intrusion, etc. Scary stuff. “Audrey” definitely covers the humorous side of being so famous, but I think there’s an ugly side to it.

What inspired you to write Audrey, Wait!?

I was listening to music one morning and I heard a song that was so mean to the ex-girlfriend and all I could think was, “Wow, I bet that girl has an entirely different perspective on what went on in their relationship.” And right at that moment, the voice of Audrey popped into my head and was like, “Hi! Listen up!” And then Victoria and Jonah and James and Evan appeared and it snowballed from there. It took me completely by surprise and I’m so glad it did.

What are you writing now?

Eek! I’m working on a second YA novel that will hopefully be done in the next few months. I can’t say too much about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but I will say that it has 4 main characters, two boys and two girls, and I’m completely in love with all of them.

If your novel were to be made into a movie, who would like to see cast in the leading roles?

I have no idea! Honestly, whoever those people would be, I don’t think they’re actors or actresses yet. I think they’re just normal kids hanging out that have yet to be “discovered”. When I think about “Audrey, Wait!” as a movie, I’m more concerned about how the concert scenes would look! That always bugs me in movies, how fake concerts look and how un-fun they seem.

Audrey, Wait! is a young adult novel. Why did you decide to write for this particular audience? Do you or would you like to write for other audiences?

I chose YA because the voices came so easily to me and I loved translating a teenager’s opinion into words. Most of the teenagers I know are just the coolest, funniest, most interesting people, and I wanted to put those kids on the page. As for writing for other audiences, sure! Mostly I just love to write and if people want to read it, then that’s fantastic. That’s all I could hope for as an author. Who those people are, I don’t care. I just want whoever reads my stuff to enjoy it.

Audrey, Wait! is realistic fiction (well, kind of–not many people ever get famous because their ex-boyfriend writes at chart-topping song about their breakup!). Would you like to or do you write any other genres?

Unfortunately, I think I would be terrible at writing other genres! Right now, realistic fiction (good phrase, by the way) is my favorite and it’s what I enjoy doing, so I’ll stick with that for right now. If it changes, then yay! If not, that’s fine, too.

What are the best, the worst, and the most unexpected parts of being a soon-to-be published author?

Well, the best is just the satisfaction I get from loving what I do. The fact that I can get up every morning, go for a walk, get coffee, and then sit down and create a whole world of imaginary people just blows me away.

The worst is probably the pressure I feel to always write a really great scene, an amazing paragraph, a perfect sentence, etc. Sometimes I’ll start to psych myself out and that’s when I know it’s time to step away from the computer and get some fresh air or socialize with actual people. The best writing moments are when the words start coming and I have no idea where they’re coming from, so I try to just be patient if a scene’s not happening the way I want it to happen.

Unexpected? The way these characters have minds of their own! So many times Audrey or Victoria would say something and I’d be like, “What?! Where did THAT come from? You just changed the whole plot!” It taught me how to be more relaxed with my writing and just let the story unfold, rather than be uptight about each little plot point.

And now that “Audrey” will soon be out and people are reading it, I’ve been surprised by the way that they—especially girls—have responded to my book. Writing is such a solitary act that to have people suddenly appreciate what I’ve done is incredible, and I didn’t think their responses would move me as much as they have.

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

These were fantastic questions, so nope! And thanks again for being so supportive of the book!

Thank you for doing this, Robin! And remember, everyone, to pick up a copy of Audrey, Wait! this April.