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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with Firoozeh Dumas

Firoozeh

Funny in Farsi is one of the funniest memoirs I’ve ever read. And reading is kind of my thing. From start to finish, I couldn’t put it down. My students enjoyed it, too. Literature circles with such a voicey read of nonfiction buoyed them through the unknown words, culture, and era. I’m so excited to offer this interview with such a talented memoirist! And I cannot wait to read her newest book Laughing Without an Accent, sitting in my queue as we speak. Enjoy!

 

1.) Thanks for joining me.  I am anxious to hear your voice pop even in interview questions. It was your voice, so clear and hilarious, that had me laughing out loud every other page. Is real-person Firoozeh Dumas always this funny or do you assume the jovial voice for tone’s sake?

My writing voice is my only voice. I’m the same person in my books as I am at the grocery store.  I wish I could say, “In real life, I am a sultry woman of mystery,” but alas, that’s not true although I’m working on it.

 

2.) I can imagine chapters from your book being read at family gatherings and passed around to never-ending laughter. Has your family enjoyed their stories being immortalized?

Some of my family members have enjoyed it,  others are annoyed that I did not write about them. Do you how hard it is to please Iranian relatives?!?

 

3.) Likewise, have you ever gotten any resistance from family members or others mentioned in your memoir?

I have one relative who constantly reminds me that she never wants to be in my books again. But she’s the only one. Others constantly corner me at family events and tell me stories, followed by, “You should put that in your next book.”

 

4.) What is the process for writing about other people? Do you have to change names, get permission, write a disclaimer? How exactly does that work?

My first two books were non-fiction, so this was a big issue for me. I tried to be fair. I did not use by books as a vehicle to get even for past wrongs. I wanted to tell my story and sometimes that requires writing unflattering stories about others. Again, I tried very hard to only say what I had to say, and not get carried away. Except for a few exceptions, I let people read what I had written about them and gave them a chance to comment. Everyone that I wrote about was a relative so I was not worried about being sued, otherwise I would have written a disclaimer. It seems like this has become a bigger issue lately which is one reason why I am relieved to have switched to fiction for my current book.

 

5.) What made you decide to collect your funny pieces from childhood via narrative?

I never consciously made that decision. I started to write without any plans or goals, and what came out is what came out.

 

6.) The part about the Shah’s visit to America wasn’t very funny; it was terrifying. What is most important for students to take away from this piece of your story?

I hope that by reading my books, students realize that there is a difference between the people of a country and its leaders. People’s hatred for a leader of a country should not automatically extend to its people.

 

7.) Sometimes it’s difficult to help students differentiate between the genres of writing. Would you explain that nuance in regard to whether your own book is fiction or nonfiction?

My first two books are 100% true but I do tell students that memoirs are one person’s truth. My brother might write a totally different book about the same events. His perspective would be different but the facts would all be the same.

 

8.) Would you tell us a little about your newest book, Laughing Without an Accent?

Laughing Without An Accent is another series of vignettes. I am currently working on a middle grade novel which has been great fun, but very challenging.

 

9.) And finally, what is your favorite aspect about being a writer?

There is so much I love about writing…I love telling stories. I love using just the right words to paint pictures. I love connecting with readers and seeing how my experience resonates with theirs. There is something very honest about reading and writing and I feel honored to be a part of that community.

 

Quick round!

Favorite drink? Depends on the time of day! Coffee, red wine, tea

Guilty pleasure? Watching Whose Line is it Anyway for hours.

Something on your bucket list? My life has exceeded any expectation I ever had. I have no bucket list. I’m just grateful!

Best vacation? The first time I left Iran, we went to London for a few days. I was seven years old and the sheer wonder of that trip is still unmatched.

Last book you read? The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole.

Paper, electronic, or audio book? Paper FOREVER.

Languages you speak? Persian, French, English and enough Spanish to embarrass myself.

 

Thank you for interviewing with me, Firoozeh! Thanks for sharing your memories.

Interview with Tom Leveen

See my interview from 2011with Tom here. And check out the article which spawned his title manicpixiedreamgirl.

Interview with April Henry

I know my readers are ready to hear from April, so I won’t make you wait any longer. 🙂 Please be sure to get a copy of The Night She Disappeared as well as her newest book (in June) The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die. And if you happen to be in San Antonio for this year’s International Reading Association conference, you should track April down and get your book signed. She really is the coolest! (I mean, check out her answer to #6.)
1.)Where were you when you go the idea to write The Night She Disappeared? Can you walk us through that “Ah hah!” moment for an author?
Thirty years ago, a teenager went out to deliver pizzas in a town about 45 minutes away from where I live.
Just like in The Night She Disappeared, her car was found with the keys in the ignition, her purse on the seat, and the pizza boxes on the ground. And just like in my book, it came out that the caller had asked if a different girl was working that night on delivery. I always wondered what it felt like that to be that other girl, knowing that the person had called for you. Would you feel marked? Guilty?

When I was in high school, I worked for two years at Pietro’s Pizza as a cashier. So I was able to take some of my own memories – playing Frisbee in the back parking lot with the pizza skins, the joy of working a very busy rush – and put those into the book.
2.) When you first set out to write this book, did you know which characters would emerge? How do you plot a novel with so many voices?
I knew I wanted the two girl’s voices – the girl who is really taken and the girl who was supposed to be. And I wanted to bring in a guy’s voice. Those are the three main point-of-view characters, but there are others, like the people who find the missing girl’s car, or the diver who looks for her body in the river. Whenever I write a scene, I like to tell it from the point of view of the person who knows the least (or is finding out the most) or the person who has the most to lose.

3.) In a lot of thrillers, there seems to be some redeeming quality—however buried in the antagonist; yet, in this story I didn’t find it. Was it a conscious choice to create “John Robertson” as a flat, though believable and terrifying, villain?
“John Robertson” is a sociopath. As such, he was born without the ability to care about other human beings. To him, a human being has about as much value as the wrapper his hamburger comes in. Not all – or even most – sociopaths are killers. Many are people who have left a trail of broken promises and broken people behind them. I have a relative who is a sociopath, although it took a long time for that to become clear. As I was trying to figure out what that person was, I did a lot of reading about sociopathy. As a person who cares about others, it’s hard to believe that some people don’t – and probably can’t.

4.) One of the most heartbreaking, interesting and personally important issues in The Night She Disappeared is this issue of drug usage, its long-term effects, and society’s perspective toward those who have become lost in their addictions. We see this in Drew, whose involvement is learned but slight; Drew’s mother, who use has escalated to complete addiction; and again in the sad character of young-adult Cody Renfrew, who wanted to stop but couldn’t and who, because of it, made a perfect suspect for the community. What message did you want to send to your readers about drugs?
I graduated from high school in 1977. I don’t know if it was the era, or growing up in a town that did not have a lot of money, but when I go to high school reunions, I would estimate that at least a third of the guys have been through some kind of rehab, some multiple times, and probably half should have gone. So many people who had had so much potential, kids who were popular and funny and smart, and their lives got derailed or lost altogether.

5.) How much research did it take for you to create the epistolary documents that appear between chapters? Did you plan for them initially or did they come about later?
I always wanted to make the book like a collage. I kept a running list of ideas, some of which I didn’t use, like diary entries. I love the way the graphic designer, April Ward, brought them to life in the book.

6.) This book is heavy in a content-sense—kidnapping, drugs, suicide—yet it’s such a real, accessible, and respectful read. Have you encountered much opposition to this novel? Any instances of it having been banned?
Not yet, knock on wood. I do make a conscious choice to keep the language basically clean, and the sexual situations don’t progress all the way. (Actually, part of the reason I make that choice is because of you. I’m writing books that are mostly meant to be entertainment, and I would hate to have a teacher or librarian have their job at risk because of something I wrote.)
7.) How long did it take you, from inception to completion, to write this novel? What was your biggest challenge during that time?
Nine months, I think, like a pregnancy. I worried that no one would like it as much as Girl, Stolen. And I’m sure I was juggling another deadline on an adult book at the same time, because I always am.

8.) For every YA author I know, the real perks to writing don’t come from the awards and accolades—though those are nice, too—but from the responses they get from their readers. What has been your most rewarding reader response so far? (This is my favorite question to ask!)
I get a lot of notes from kids who don’t like to read. They are often like this one: “I have read girl stolen and the night she disappeared and I have to say they were so good! I couldent put the book down! I read both these books in three days which is a pretty big achievement for me because it usually takes me a month but ur books are just to thrilling and intresting to put down!!

9.) Last question: When/What is your next book coming out?
June 11. The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.

Quick round:
Favorite animal:
Cat (spouse is sadly now allergic)
Favorite hobby (other than writing): Kung fu
Favorite quote: Robert Bloch: “Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
Favorite painting: Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Favorite band: The Heavy

Interview with Sarah Dessen

It’s so awesome to be revamping my blog with none other than Sarah Dessen! Sarah, thank you so much for agreeing to a quick interview about your latest book What Happened to Goodbye. And congratulations on your eleventh book The Moon and More, which is schedule to come out this June! (Readers, save the date.)
I just have a few questions for you. If you’re ready, here they are.
1.) What’s your first step in writing a new book? I would imagine after as many as you’ve written, that you have some kind of ritual.
Usually when I finish the draft of a book, I’m sure I’ll never write another one. I’m just that tired and sick of myself. But then after I take a month or so off, watch a lot of Bravo and read, another idea starts percolating. It usually begins with the narrator’s name, then some idea that intrigues me about her life or situation. I try to ignore it as long as I can, because I know when I start writing, I’ll be right back into it, every single day. But eventually, I just have to. It’s a compulsion!
2.) If you could bring any two of your main characters together for a story, which two would it be? Why?
I’d love to write about Remy from THIS LULLABY again. I just had so much fun with her, because she’s so different from me. As far as who I’d put with her, I’d love to see how she’d interact with Auden from ALONG FOR THE RIDE. They’re both very smart about a lot of things, but clueless when it comes to others. It would never be dull, that’s for sure.
3.) Since my name is weird—Risha—I’m always interested in other odd names. What made you choose Mclean for GOODBYE?
Mclean is the last name of some of my family, and I also knew a guy named Mclean when I was in high school. I just have always liked it and thought it was cool sounding, especially for a girl. When I was younger I always wished I had a more exotic name—although I really like Sarah now. Then, though, I wanted to be a Veronica or a Stephania, something fancy. I guess I live vicariously through the girls in my books.
4.) The whole world loves your writing, but as an author, there have to be a few reader contacts that have stuck in your mind. Can you tell us the best response you’ve gotten for GOODBYE? What made it stand out to you?
I can’t think of one specifically for WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE, but on the whole the responses that mean the most are when girls tell me, “Your books got me through high school.” That is the biggest praise I can imagine, because reading saved me when I was that age. I just felt so alone sometimes, like no one understood, and often it was only in a book that I found comfort. Imagining that my books could serve as solace for someone in the same place just makes me so, so happy.
5.) I think a possible theme of GOODBYE is that going through adversity will strengthen who you are, if you’ll let it. When you you sat down to write this story, did you have themes in mind, or did they just come out organically as your characters took shape?
I just loved the idea of someone who had become accustomed to shedding their identity like a skin and starting over, never having to deal with any long-term relationships, who suddenly had to do just that. I went to school with the same people from kindergarten to senior year of high school: I always wished I could suddenly change and be someone else. So I liked exploring both sides of that, what might be great about it and what would happen when it wasn’t possible anymore and you had to just be yourself, for better or for worse.
Quick round of favorites:

Winter sport? Ice skating! I stink at it, but love to watch it on TV.
Candy bar? I am a sucker for dark chocolate with almonds.
Wine? Chardonnay in summer, Cab in winter.
Quote? “Everything will look better in the morning.” —My mom
Brand of jeans? Citizens of Humanity or Sevens. Love them both!

Interview with Sonya Sones

I’ve had this interview for a while, but with the perils of pregnancy, I’ve just been too sick to post. But I’m back, and I’m thrilled to be getting the ball rolling with one of my favorites: Sonya Sones! Her books What My Mother Doesn’t Know and What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know are books that I routinely offer in literature circles, and I know first-hand what they mean to kids. That’s why I’m super-thrilled to feature this interview on my blog. So thanks, Sonya, for giving me some of your time (time in which you should have been writing, right?).

Here we go:

When and why did you begin writing books for teens?
I wrote my first book for teens in 1999. I had tried to write books for younger children (when my children were younger) but didn’t get good enough to be published until my children were teens. And that was when I discovered that I was really much more comfortable writing in the voice of a teen.

How often have you faced censorship and how have you dealt with it?

I have faced censorship a LOT. In fact, my book WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW was on the American Library Association’s list of the Top Ten Most Banned Books in 2004, 2005, and 2010! It was also on the ALA’s list of the Top 100 Most Banned Books of the Decade! I love it when my book gets on those lists, because that means that I often get asked to speak about why books shouldn’t be banned.

When I hear that my book is being challenged, I contact the school or library where the challenge is being made, and I offer to defend my book with a written statement. Of course, it never helps, because the people who ban books are not very smart, and it’s darned near impossible to change their minds. But at least I get to publicly make a case for why books shouldn’t be banned, and hopefully my words reach some children and teenagers, who are still young enough to be open to hearing them.

In six words, would you tell us why you write YA?

I have never really grown up.

What’s been your biggest struggle as a writer?

Getting distracted by the internet! In fact, there is even a poem about that in my brand new novel in verse, THE HUNCHBACK OF NEIMAN MARCUS. It’s my first novel in verse for grownups. But there is a 17-year-old girl in the story, so I’m hoping that teens and their mothers will both like it. You can read about it here: http://www.sonyasones.com/books/hunchback/a_syn_book.html.

And here is that poem I just mentioned about being distracted by the internet. Holly is a writer, way behind on her deadline for a book:

New Year’s Resolution

I, Holly Miller, hereby swear


that I will never again


allow myself to be lured away


from my writing






by clicking


on those hideous headlines


that litter my computer screen


like landmines waiting to be stepped on.






So I am not going to click


on the article about the nasty insults


that Anderson Cooper slung at a celebrity mom


that prompted her to lash out.






Though I’m dying to know


which celebrity mom it was


and exactly what she and Anderson


said to each other.






And I am not


going to click on the article


about the location


of America’s greatest bathroom






(which


apparently was found


when “Pros Flushed Far and Wide


to Find the Best Spot to Tinkle”).






And even though


I do remember Ann-Margret


and I’m yearning to see


how she looks at sixty-seven,






I am not


going to click on the link.


I am not!


I am NOT!










Wow…






She looks good…

This was such a fun, and long-awaited, interview. Thanks so much, Sonya, for agreeing to interview at For the Love of YA, for being a champion of YA literature, and for giving us a piece from your newest book The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, which I am on my way to pick up this weekend. See you around the writing world!