Welcome to my blog about books and the classroom.
A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with Eileen Cook

Thanks so much for agreeing to interview, Eileen. I can’t wait to host you at For the Love of YA! Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood is one of the few books I’ve sat down and devoured within hours. Usually I have to chase kids, teach school, grade papers, etc. But this time, the kids were in bed and I just stayed up all night. I couldn’t put it down. And I have to say, I enjoyed every second of the revenge. Maybe I’m a mean girl, who knows?!
Here are my questions. Knock yourself out!
1.)I usually can’t picture every detail of a character’s face, but I saw Lauren Wood. How did you develop such voice for the teenage social cliques?
I suppose one answer is that I never fully grew up. I work hard to respect my readers, I don’t talk down to them or assume that they need me to teach them something. YA readers have a very well defined BS detector. If something doesn’t ring true to them then they’ll stop reading. I think there is an assumption that writing for teens is somehow easier than writing for adults, but I don’t believe that is true.
2.) The character of Brenda evoked so much emotion out of me. I wanted to help her. So when Claire/Helen took her on as a personal project, I was excited…until Claire started to act exactly like Lauren. Was it difficult to write the parts where Claire publicly dissed Brenda?
Out of all the characters in the book I am the most like Brenda, as a result when she suffered I felt for her. One of the harder things to do as a writer is to really torture your characters. Readers want to read about conflict and trouble. If your characters spin from having one okay day to another it isn’t very interesting to read. As a result, you have to be willing to make the characters you love miserable.
3.) Where did this story actually pop into your head and how did you develop it?
I was an English major in college and I still have bookshelves full of the classics. Now that I don’t have to read them for a paper or exam, I enjoy them way more. I had recently re-read The Count of Monte Cristo and I thought how much fun it would be to re-set the story in a modern high school- that was the beginning of Getting Revenge of Lauren Wood. The second inspiration for the book is that almost everyone I know knew a “mean girl” in school and dreamed of getting revenge. This book was my opportunity to imagine what that might have actually been like.
4.) I can’t wait to read your other YA books—What Would Emma Do? and The Education of Hailey Kendrick—and I’d say that, based on the teen-appeal in Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, teens all over the world feel the same. Could you tell us how many countries now have translations of your books? And how your readership has responded to your novels?
My first book, Unpredictable (an adult romantic comedy) has been published in German, Taiwan, France and Russian. My YA’s so far are in France and Greece.
I feel quite lucky as so far with each book my readership seems to grow. The feedback I’ve gotten from readers has been wonderful. There is nothing better as a writer than hearing from someone who enjoyed your book. One of my favorite emails came from a reader who found my books to be a great distraction while her mom has been going through cancer treatment. The idea that I could make someone laugh and forget their problems, even for a few hours, made me feel great.
5.) What did you do before you decided you wanted to be a writer? Why YA?
I always wanted to be a writer, but I worked as a counselor for people who’ve had catastrophic accidents or illnesses. I love writing YA! I think some of the most exciting, interesting books coming out are in the YA genre. There is an intensity in YA that makes it really fun to write.
6.) Which novels were important to you as a teenager? Why?
This question is so hard because I know I’ll forget so many wonderful books. Growing up we went to the library every week. I read everything from mysteries to romance to horror novels. I loved Judy Blume. One of the first times I can remember wanting to be a writer was after reading a Stephen King novel. I was around 9 or 10 years old and I wanted to check out his book, Salem’s Lot. My mom warned me that it would be a scary book. I figured how scary could it be? I knew it was fiction, I understood the concept of things being made up versus real. Then I read the book and ended up sleeping with the light on for weeks. Even though I knew it was imaginary, it made me feel real emotions. I love when books have that power- you find yourself cheering for a character or wanting to slap some sense into someone. I wanted to be able to write books that would have that kind of power.
7.) What has been your greatest success in writing YA?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I used to go to the library and run my hand along the shelves and slide my hand between the books where mine would go. When I saw my book in print for the first time it was a huge highlight. However, my greatest success comes when I hear from teen readers who enjoy the books.
9.) What does a day in your life look like?
My day is spent between walking the dogs, drinking gallons of tea, reading, and writing. (And occasionally spending entirely too much time looking at random things on the internet.) The days vary in terms of how much time is spent on what particular activity.
10.) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there (like me!)?
Read! I’m a firm believer that books are the best teacher. The second piece of advice I would give is to never give up. There will be plenty of people who will tell you that it can’t be done, don’t bother listening to them. Instead focus on your dream.
This creative little bonus round is in dedication to the Spring that has been taking its time approaching. So, it’s the first really hot day outside, what/where do you:
A pair of capri pants and this old beat up grey sweater I found at a vintage shop years ago.
Grab the dogs and head to the beach. I love the sound and smell of the ocean. They love rolling around on dead things.
Listen to?
A new iTunes playlist that my husband makes for me. He makes sure that my musical taste doesn’t stay frozen in the 1980’s.
There is a cupcake place near my house- my all time favorite is the red velvet with cream cheese icing. Mmmmm
What are you reading? I love knowing what books other people are enjoying so I can add it to my to-be-read list.

Interview with Jennifer Bradbury

Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview, Jennifer. I’ve been so excited to offer this review to readers, and I just wish I would have read it sooner, so I could have ordered lots of copies when I had a grant. But not to worry, I’ve got my eye out for more grants to bring awesome YA reads like SHIFT into my classroom! For all my readers out there, trust me: you want this one on your shelves.
Alright, Jennifer-from-Kentucky, here are some questions:
1.) To write extensively and believably about any sport or hobby, usually authors have some experience in that field. Since SHIFT is a story revolving around cross-country biking, what experience do you have with biking? How did that shape your story?
My own bike touring adventures certainly informed what happens in SHIFT. When I started thinking about writing the story, it was sort of an effort to combine some of the anecdotes from trips that I’d taken with my husband (cross country from SC to LA, in AK, and little trips around WA), and the trips he’d done before he met me with his best friend. So the biking stuff all comes from those experiences. Plus, I go to spin class once a week, and still haul my two little kids around in the trailer attached to my bike.
2.) When you were writing SHIFT, did you come to any proverbial flat tires? If so, how did you push through?
I love the way you phrase this question, but not really. At least not many I can remember. From the beginning, I felt like I had something that was really working with the book, and it really pulled me along at a steady pace. The closest I think I came to a flat tire would probably be near the very end of the publication process when I was going through those last passes and copyedits. At that point I’d read and reread and revised the manuscript so many times that just getting through the text was hard, because my brain kept playing tricks on me regarding what was there and what had been at some point in the manuscript.
3.) How did you find the inspiration to create Chris and Win? What methods did you use to characterize them so flawlessly?
I’m so glad they are convincing characters for you. I was actually really hesitant to write about guys, as before I’d only written from a female perspective. But I borrowed a little from the dynamic of my husband and his best friend at that age, and then played around with the personalities. And I just tried to make them sound like guys I’d observed in my classes as an English teacher, or guys I hung around with at camp when I used to work at Rockmont in NC. But at the core, I think the emotions and challenges the guys face are pretty universal. After that it was a matter of making the ways they communicated with each other feel authentic.
4.) While I was not confused in the least as a reader, I can’t imagine how you didn’t get confused as the writer. What kind of pre-writing did it take to “shift” back and forth between the present and episodic memories without losing track of time?
I plan stuff out really carefully, and the book blocked out that way from the beginning. At one point I did pull out the post it notes and have a big flowchart on the wall. Now I’m into using Scrivener, which would have been really handy when I was working on SHIFT. But honestly, it was really fun to sort of puzzle the book together.
5.) Because I’m always so excited to read great books from Kentucky authors, can you discuss how living in Kentucky affected you as a writer?
Can I just say how flattered I am to be considered a KY author? I’ve read enough Bobbie Ann Mason and Jesse Stuart and Wendell Berry to feel really, really honored. And KY is certainly a huge part of who I am. And spending time studying English at WKU, where I really felt like I gained confidence as a reader and a writer was a big part of that. And I think there’s just a bit of that love for story and storytelling that is so strong in that part of the country. And even though Chris and Win are from WV, there’s a lot of overlap in my mind regarding that quality. They’re also just very normal kids, and those are the ones I was around growing up—nothing like the crazy, stylish, superadult kinds of kids on TV. Speaking of KY, I’m really excited to tell you I’m working on a couple of books set in KY, one a historical and one contemporary–but it will be a long time before they’re ready.
6.) I’m a writer, too (though I’m unpublished as of yet), and in my current ms, the mc is a golfer. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll disinterest my reader with my golf language. What advice to you have me, and other writers who need to incorporate lots of jargon?
I always kind of like to read that jargon, particulary because it makes me feel like I’m getting a bit of a truer glimpse of a lifestyle that may not reflect my own. I think for me the key is not using it for its own sake, that is, not throwing it in to try and gain credibility with the reader. It should be natural, it should be part of how the character thinks or speaks. I don’t think it even matters that much if the reader can get from the context what you’re talking about so long as it feels right. My editor is always saying to write for your smartest reader, the one who’ll get everything. If readers don’t know what a derailleur is, chances are it won’t make them put the book aside, but if I spend a ton of time having one of the characters explain what it is, then that might.
7.) What are the last five books you’ve read? Why those?
Right now I’m nearly through with Bill Bryson’s At Home. I don’t read much non-fiction, but he’s a writer I really enjoy and the book is pretty fascinating. Before that, I read M.T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places (because they had it on display at the library and I hadn’t read that one yet!). Let’s see, the one before was The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise. Honestly, it had a cute cover and was about the Tower of London, so that’s all I really needed at the moment. I also recently read the final book in Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I gave a lot of his books away as Christmas presents this year. And also recently I read Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, which I liked even better than Chains.
8.) On your website (<http://www.jennifer-bradbury.com/bio.html>), I see that you were in English teacher in your “former” life. This makes me happy! I love hearing of teachers-turned-writers and their journeys. Could you tell us a little about your transition from a teacher to a full-time writer? (I bet you miss the kids; I know I would!)
I do miss the kids, but my own (5 and 2 years old) keep me really busy. I taught for ten years before leaving to spend more time with my kids and try to write a little more regularly (which means when they take naps). But I only stumbled into writing YA fiction (and really, writing at all) because of my time teaching. I read so much YA over a couple of years when I first started in an effort to have books I could recommend to my students, that something in me made me want to join in the fun. And I even read chapters aloud to my ninth graders in writing workshops, and got great feedback.
9.) Can you tell us about your next YA novel and when we can buy it?
WRAPPED is a historical adventure set in 1815 London. My husband calls it Pride and Prejudice meets Indiana Jones meets Alias. It releases on May 24, 2011.
10.) Would you share some reader responses to SHIFT with us?
My favorites are usually the ones where readers are writing to tell me they want to learn more about bicycle touring. Those always make me smile.

All of these bonus round questions take place on a lonely highway in North Dakota in June. You’re on your bike and you can take…
One person with you? My husband.
One luxury item? My espresso machine? Or maybe just a Starbuck’s card.
One book? Whichever one I’m working on. Can I cheat and say my MacBook?
One food? Dark Chocolate.
One picture? One with my kids in it.

Alright, Jennifer. Thanks so much for participating. I can’t wait to get SHIFT into the hands of my students not only because it’s great, but also so we can beam with pride at another successful Kentucky author!

Interview with Cheryl Rainfield

Hi, Cheryl! I’m so glad to be hosting you at For the Love of Ya. I was compelled to read SCARS from the moment I saw that lovely, provocative, fraught-with-pain cover. All it took was the cover and the first chapter to hook me. I loved it, and I’m loving having you here. Speaking of, here we go!

1.) I was so impressed with your ability to make me feel Kendra’s need to cut. And this is the only book I’ve read that explores those emotions. I wish I would have read it years ago, when a student I had opened up to me about doing the same. It just helped me empathize rather than sympathize. I was both surprised and not surprised at the end of the narrative to find your personal experience with cutting. Surprised by your transparency. And not surprised because it felt so real and pressing in the narrative. Why was it so important for you to include this afterward in your book?

It was important for me to let people know I used self-harm to cope with the sexual abuse, because I wanted others who’ve also used self-harm to know they’re not alone, to have an actual person and face. There’s so much shame in our society about self-harm, and most people who use or have used self-harm have rarely *knowingly* met someone else who also has. I also wanted people to know that I wrote Scars from an insider perspective; I’ve read some books on self harm that felt distanced and unreal to me, or from a social worker point of view. I also hoped that my being open about my experiences with self-harm and sexual and ritual abuse would increase people’s compassion for others who’ve used self-harm, and perhaps increase the credibility of Kendra’s experience (so close to my own) as well, by knowing that there’s truth woven into the fiction. And, too, my abusers so frequently and strongly demanded that I not talk, that I still find myself needing to break the silence–for others, and for myself.

2.) I can only imagine how readers have identified with Kendra. What response have you gotten from readers?

Many readers say that they have never felt understood before, or not alone, until they read Scars. Quite a number have said that Scars made them go into therapy, stop using self-harm, or made them want to stop. The responses have been incredible–heartwarming, moving, and sometimes as raw as Scars is. I’ve welcomed them all.

3.) I’m a writer, and in the past I’ve been critiqued for having too many “issues” in the plot. However, you have done this flawlessly! (I’m jealous, btw). I’m wondering if you ever received similar caution from writing groups, agents, editors, etc. and how did you overcome it, if so?

Ha! I knew I was putting a lot of issues into Scars–self-harm, sexual abuse, and being lesbian. And sometimes I did get that feedback from writing critique groups. But I stuck to my gut, to what made sense to me, and to what I needed to write about, and I just worked harder at trying to put in enough breathing room and lightness to carry the reader through.

4.) When did you start working on this manuscript and how long did it take you to finish it?

It depends on what you mean by “finished.” I write my first drafts quickly, usually in 1-2 months. But then I edit and re-edit my work. I edited and rewrote Scars more than 40 times, and kept submitting it, over a ten-year period, before it was accepted for publication.

5.) What was your biggest challenge in writing Scars?

My biggest challenge in writing Scars was to put in enough lightness and places for the reader to breathe. I didn’t know happiness, not for most of my life–only abuse and the effects–pain, depression, despair, etc. And I lived, for years, on adrenaline and fear. So it was hard for me to write in “happy” for many drafts. But I needed to, to help the reader stay with the story. Writing a happy ending, though, was easy for me; I’ve had so much pain in my life, that I need those happy endings. But lightness mixed in with the pain throughout the story–that was much, much harder.

6.) What are writing next and when can we expect to see it?

I’ve just finished a paranormal fantasy, tentatively titled Teen Para, about a teen girl who can read minds in a society where she can be enslaved or even killed for that talent. She’s on the run for her life and her freedom. The manuscript I’m working on now, tentatively titled Stained, is about a teen with a port wine stain who has strong body image issues, and who is kidnapped. She must face and outwit her abuser, and in the process, learns to accept herself more. I usually put in fragments of the abuse and pain I know into my novels, as well as healing and hope.
I’m not sure when either will be published, but I will post information on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter when I know.

I also have a hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) fantasy for teens–Skinwalkers: Walking Both Sides–coming out this year from HIP Books. Walking Both Sides is about Claire, a teen girl who has both human and Skinwalker blood in her. Though she can’t change into deer form, the way her mother and grandmother could, she is reviled by many villagers for her heritage. Claire wants to bring peace to both sides. But can she?

If you’d like to see the cover, you can check it out on my blog:

7.) When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew I needed to write and to create art from a very young age. Both were ways of safely expressing myself, of talking about the things I was not allowed to talk about, of reaching others–and myself. And books helped me survive my childhood. I think I’ve always been drawn to writing. I needed to write, and to be heard. I still do.

8.) Just curious, how many rejections did it take to finally get published? (I’m up to around 25…)

Many hundreds. I didn’t keep count.

9.) What kinds of books did you read growing up?

I read as much as I could get my hands on. I loved fiction the most–both realistic fiction, such as Judy Blume’s Blubber, and fantasy/magic such as Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall, and Alexander Key’s The Forgotten Door. I also read and loved Dick Frances when I was a tween/teen, and books on abuse that I could relate to, including Torey L Hayden’s books.

10.) What is your favorite quote and why?

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
-Audre Lorde

That is one of my favorite quotes. I think it’s so important to speak our truths, to reach out to others. I have often been afraid in my life–but speaking out helps to make a positive difference, both for myself and for others.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

This quote also speaks to me so strongly. I think women and girls, and survivors of abuse, especially, are taught not to value or love ourselves, but to give and give to others, to love and value others more. But we need our own love and compassion; without it, we hurt not only ourselves but others as well. It’s something I’m still learning; I had so much training to hate myself. It’s an important thing to hold on to–loving ourselves.

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.”

This is one of the quotes that makes me feel so good. Like comfort for each of us. I love it.

Bonus round:
Favorite dessert? Most things chocolate. Chocolate ice cream, rich moist brownies, chocolate cake. Lemon meringe pie. Only I now have to have mos things sugar free.

Six words of advice to your 16-year-old self: Believe in, love, and take care of yourself.

Ultimate vacation spot: Somewhere where all the people and animals I love are, where we can read, laugh, relax, play word games, be silly and joyful and, and have meals made for us. And preferably not somewhere cold. (smiling)

Again, Cheryl, I’m sooo glad you participated here at For the Love of YA. Thanks for your time! But most importantly, thanks for writing YA.

Thank you so much, Risha, for a thoughtful, in depth interview. I enjoyed it!

Interview with Tom Leveen

Thanks so much for allowing me the interview, Tom. Reviewing books I like is one of the highlights of my self-proclaimed reviewing career, (volunteer career, but whatever). And I must say, I really loved and appreciated PARTY. And I’m looking forward to your answers, so here we go!
1.) As far as I can tell, you are pretty big—and by “big” I mean knee-deep—in visual and performing arts. Could you tell me how you transitioned from theatre to writing literature?
I began writing in second grade and never really stopped. I began acting in eighth grade, directing in tenth, and again — just never really stopped. So the two have very much been a part of my life from the start.
But I see what you mean by the question. The thing about theatre and writing fiction is that both are about storytelling. They essentially follow the same rules. I do believe working for so long in theatre is what helped me with writing dialogue, but as a result, I don’t think very highly of my description skills.
On stage, you might have to be quiet while someone else has a monologue, but you still have to be “in the moment,” as they say. Writing fiction in some ways is simply the process of recording both the spoken monologue or dialogue, as well as what you (the character) are thinking or feeling. It’s a printed-word picture of the rhythm and flow of the stage, including the unspoken.
2.) Voice is one of the foundations of YA literature, and I must say, PARTY is full of some of the best voices (eleven unique voices!) I’ve ever read. So, similar to my first question, how has thespian society and instruction influenced your seemingly-flawless understanding of voice? 
After directing 35 plays and acting in as many in the last 22 years or so, I think I got used to so many “characters” being around…both on and off stage. Theatre is so collaborative, you meet and work intimately with so many personalities, it’s great exposure to different ideas, cultures, thoughts, etc. And that’s just the actors. Add to that the variety of characters these actors are working on through a rehearsal process, tweaking this, changing that . . . you have to keep up. One of the beauties of theatre is it’s never the same show twice, whereas a book or film will always be that book or that film.
There are plenty of plays, too, where the actor plays more than one role. I was in a show in high school where I played five or six characters. We had to be able to switch roles on a dime, create brand new physicalizations, expressions, voice qualities — the works. This was also true in speech competition, doing interpretation of literature; you have to come up with different voices, postures, etc., and transition from one to the next quickly. I’m certain that training and experience comes into play with my fiction.
3.) What kind of story-boarding, giant-post-it-notesing, or otherwise-confusing-linear-brainstorming did it take to plot a storyline through eleven points of view?
Oh, man. It was a trip. For PARTY, I used Excel sheets, listing the chapters; which characters were in that chapter; and what time during the night the chapter took place. That way I could keep track of, say, where Beckett was during Anthony’s chapter, or where Ryan disappeared to in Daniel’s chapter. It wasn’t easy, and it took several revisions to get the timeline right.
4.) At any point, did you, or your agents/editors, worry that YA readers wouldn’t be able to follow because of the changing characters?
My agent and editor never voiced anything like that to me. I didn’t worry much about it, because really, most teen readers are used to information coming and changing a lot faster than any book could hope to do. These are readers who don’t know what life is without the Internet, without text messaging. They’re used to things changing rapidly, and adjusting quickly to those changes. Maybe twenty years ago, PARTY couldn’t have worked? I don’t know. But it was never a big concern that I’m aware of.
5.) What has been your biggest success with PARTY?
Yikes. Depends on how you define success. The fact that Random House picked it up at all is a success. That we sold at auction was another. That PARTY was the lead title for Spring 2010 was yet another. We’re in our fourth printing, so that’s a success. When I wrote the book, none of that was on my mind, all of it has been a surprise to me.
But really, for me, the biggest success is that by virtue of being a full-time YA author now, I get to meet students. In classrooms, libraries, bookstores — I love meeting teens. They are, in my opinion, made up of nothing but potential, and they have so much positive energy. They also get shafted a lot by grown ups who should damn well know better, and I love being able to meet these students and tell them they can do anything, and to not let anyone tell them otherwise. Teens are awesome, and not enough adults tell them so.
6.) Since readers’ responses would have to be one of those successes, can you tell us about some of the responses you’ve gotten for this book?
I love getting positive responses on my Facebook page, Twitter, and on blogs, or comments left on the YouTube book trailer page. A few people have written me notes saying they’ve already read the book twice, and passed it on to friends (or their mom!). Several have asked when my next book was coming out, which I think is about the highest compliment a writer can get. A couple of bloggers have compared PARTY to John Hughes movies, and as a product of the 80s myself, that’s a huge compliment, whether they meant it to be or not!
7.) I am a big-promoter of books that force kids to evaluate their biases in effort to prevent stereotyping and political ignorance. So, when I met Azize, and then when I found the source of Anthony’s inner turmoil, I was like—and I quote J–“Wow. This guy is good.” How important was it to you to promote the message of tolerance and acceptance? And how difficult was it to remain balanced in your perspective?
Thanks! That means a lot to me, no kidding.
I don’t think I was trying to promote “tolerance,” per se. For me, tolerance is something you have with a sick baby. You just have to put up with it and wait it out. For PARTY, I hope what people take from it is that tolerance isn’t enough (although it’s a great start). I have to step in your shoes, I have to know “from whence you came,” before I can go casting my judgment on you. It was very important to me to stress this “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” idea. I don’t think it’s enough for us to say to our enemies, “I’ll put up with you — I’ll tolerate you — because it’s the nice thing to do.” No, I need to know who you are, why you are the way you are, look for similarities before looking for differences.
As for how difficult it was . . . I don’t recall it being too hard.. Azize’s story — and that of his father — is, sadly, based on a real event in my home state, the first racially motivated fatality directly attributed to the 9/11 attacks. About a week after 9/11, a Sikh in our town, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was murdered because he was wearing a turban, which is part of their culture and belief system. So because he was wearing a turban, it got him killed out of paranoia, fear, and rage. I wanted to show what it might be like to be senselessly hated for how you look. And then while I was writing PARTY, one of my best friends was serving the first of two tours in Iraq, and we all worried about his safety. How would we respond if he’d been injured like Antho’s brother? If the violence hit so close to home, would we want revenge, too? There weren’t and aren’t any easy answers, and I was interested in digging into those conflicting emotions.
So in writing the Azize and Anthony arc, it was a matter of staying focused on the character’s state of mind at the time. Now that I think about it, though, I never worked on their chapters in the same day. I did need some distance between writings to get into their heads. I didn’t want to take sides.
8.) Speaking of perspective, your characters are so real. What kind of work did it take to characterize this many for one work? And when did you start thinking of these kids?
PARTY is, largely, a total and utter accident. Many of these characters existed before PARTY, and in fact, the setting (and thus the title) was little more than the thread I chose to link them all together. PARTY was borne from several incomplete short stories. I had the idea to try to link them all together just as a test, a writing exercise, to see if it could be done.
Apart from that, there are definitely elements of all my friends and loved ones in these characters. There’s no cut-and-paste about it; you can’t definitively point to a character and say, “That is Person X!” Similar, maybe, but not lifted right out of real life. And, of course, there’s a part of me in all of them, too.
In theatre — and now in any writing class I teach — there’s a technique called Emotional Memory. Let’s say you’re playing Hamlet; you can’t very well say, “Well, I’ve never killed my uncle who married my mom after killing my dad, so I can’t play this role.” Instead you ask, “When have I felt an emotion similar to what this character might be feeling?” I’ve never been an African-American football player, or a Middle Eastern pizza guy, or a girl who’s lost her mother. But I have felt intense and senseless rage as a teenager; I have felt isolated and alone; I have wondered if anyone knew who I really was. So you take these memories of an emotion, and bestow them on the characters.
Often I would sort of “act out” scenes that aren’t in the book, or listen to certain songs linked to the characters in my mind. I had to really assume Morrigan’s brattiness or Max’s nervousness to get in the mood to write them; I had to hear their voices out loud to remind me of their cadences, their patterns.
9.) As a writer, can you tell me what your day looks like?
It’s pretty awesome! I generally do a little new writing or revision in the morning or early afternoon, before 2 p.m. or so, when my mind absolutely shuts down. I’m useless from about 2 or 3 pm till about 5. I try to get chores and errands done in the morning. I’ll try to set up stock signings or school visits, and update all my various Internet sites, or rehearse my book talk. I go to school a couple days a week. I tend to do revisions and research during the day, and fresh writing at night. I’m a total night owl. I hang out with my wife after she gets home from work; we’ll have dinner together while watching some TV show on DVD or talking about our days. If we’re not going out to dinner or to hanging out with friends together, then usually by about 8 or 9 p.m., I’m back at my computer working on a new story. Even then, by 10 or 11, I’m back to work writing.
10.) Out of all the literary characters you’ve undoubtedly encountered, which is most like you? Why?
Whew. This is tough. I know an English teacher who will laugh at this, but I’m going to say Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby. We’re alike in that he, too, is more of an observer. Almost to a fault. He doesn’t speak up when he knows damn well he should. I wish I spoke up more often than I do. Perhaps blushingly, also Tibby from Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. We’re a lot alike.
Okay, this is the bonus round:
Favorite Shakespearean character?
Currently, Juliet. She is an exquisite creation. Strong, decisive, romantic, and practical all at once. She’s one of Shakespeare’s best creations, I think. I also like Macbeth’s devotion to his wife; I think the Macbeths are among Shakespeare’s greatest romantic characters, really.
Best memory ever?
So many to choose from! Apart from my wedding, which was totally kick ass, I would say opening night of the first play my first theatre company ever did. It was a one-man show I wrote and directed, one of my best friends played the role, and another was my technical director. We performed it on a homemade stage in my dad’s backyard to about 60 people each night, for two nights. And the first night, we got a standing ovation. That probably changed the course of my life. We’d assumed it was a one-shot deal, just something fun to try. Instead it was the basis of a theatre company lasting thirteen seasons.
One teenage regret?
Heh. None whatsoever. No, okay . . . dropping out of the speech team my senior year. That, and how I generally treated people who were not my best friends. I very much had an Us and Them mentality, and I regret that attitude.
Worst domestic chore?
Picking. Up. Dog. Crap.
#1 pet peeve:
People not using their turn signal to switch lanes or turn! ARGH! It’s right THERE, you can hardly avoid it as you turn the wheel! Come ON! How hard is it?!
Thanks, Tom. I’ve loved hosting you at For the Love of YA. I can’t wait to read whatever you crank out next. Do keep us updated!

Interview with Lisa Schroeder

When I started this blog, almost a year ago, you were quick to leave comments of encouragement on my very first book review. And now, I’m so excited to host you on For the Love of YA as another fantastic author I can share with the blogging world!

I’ll be honest: I’ve fell in love with Chasing Brooklyn around page 9. And I know if I did, teens will, too. So, if I ever get another book club going, I’ll be sure to keep you on my lists of authors to stalk. 🙂 For now, thanks for another great read. And thanks for answering these questions:

1.) Although you write in verse, are there ever times that you dump out thoughts in prose, in brainstorming or anything? I’m just curious as to the process–if it’s all verse–because, frankly, I have no clue how you champs–you, Ellen H, Sonya S.—do it.
I have a journal where I write things out – things I’m trying to work out in my head about characters, plot, etc. But when I sit down at the computer to write, I write straight through, always in verse, trying to be as poetic as possible, but always remembering that story is what comes first.
2.) When did you get to know Brooklyn and Nico, and how did you unravel their stories?
I wrote CHASING BROOKLYN as a gift of the fans of my first novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME. I knew it would be another book about love and loss, healing and hope. But it had to be different, because while readers may say – please write more books just like THAT, they really don’t want the same thing. So I decided to tell a story that showed two people’s grief and how that grief brought them together. At the time, I knew someone training for a sprint triathlon, so I decided to make Nico a runner, and figured maybe through the running, he could try and help Brooklyn.
It took a few passes of the story to figure out who they really were as people – Nico as a competitive person and Brooklyn as a more artistic soul who had the ability to see the beauty around her. And then, how those qualities came out in their friendship and beyond.
3.) Can you share some responses you’ve had from readers? I imagine that this book has real potential to help kids who’ve lost so much to know that life is worth living.
I have the best readers in the world, I think. I have had many people tell me that my books have helped them after the loss of a loved one. One young girl wrote me a heart-wrenching letter about losing her dad, a doctor in Iraq, to a roadside bomb. Among other things, she said, “I think you’re right. He would want me to live my life and to be happy.” One young man told me, after reading I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME, “your book made me feel a little less alone in the world.” His partner was killed in a violent crime at the tender age of 19. Others have said that after reading my books, they appreciate their friends and loved ones more. It is hard losing someone you love, I know! Sadness is normal, because we miss them. But I hope my books show that ultimately, the best way to honor the loved one who has gone before us is to live the very best life we can.4.) I know why I love YA, but I’m always curious to know why authors choose this path. So, Lisa, in six words, can you tell me why YA? 

Best of times, worst of times

5.) What has been your biggest challenge as an author?
I struggle with the feeling that people don’t take me seriously. I feel like, with every book, I’m trying to prove myself as an author. Some people in the industry don’t like verse while others are quick to criticize authors who write in that format. I suppose it shouldn’t matter, I definitely have a readership. But, it’s hard some days, to feel like some people look down on the types of books I’m writing.
6.) Did you go through many rejections before you finally got representation? If so, were there ever times you felt like quitting?
I wrote four novels and acquired hundreds of rejections before I finally wrote a book that got me an agent. Yes, I felt like quitting many times. It is a very, very hard business. I still have days where I’m like, what am I DOING? But other days, when the words are flowing and I hear nice things from readers and a teacher e-mails me asking if I can do a Skype visit with students or a hundred other things, I remember why it is I do this work. It really does make my heart sing most of the time.
7.) If it wasn’t writing, what other career would you choose? Why?
I have often thought of going back to school to be a librarian. A YA librarian, of course! I would love to be around books and talk books with teens every day and come up with fun events. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll do it.
8.) Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re currently writing and when we can buy it?
Well, I’m currently working on a YA novel that isn’t in verse, and I have no idea if it’s any good or not. 🙂 I guess my agent will tell me when I get brave enough to send it to her. I’m still revising it.
I have a new verse novel coming out in June called THE DAY BEFORE. It’s about 16-year-old Amber who goes to the beach to spend one perfect day before her world is turned upside down, and meets and feels a strong connection to a boy, Cade, who she slowly discovers is looking for his own escape, but for a very different reason.
9.) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Play, experiment, have fun. Figure out who you are as an author and then, work on your craft. Take classes, go to conferences, read books. Don’t worry about getting published. Worry about learning to write the best books you can. If you do that, the rest will be easy!
10.) What are the last five books you’ve read? Why those five?
All for different reasons, really. I loved A NORTHERN LIGHT, so of course had to read REVOLUTION and I loved it. I’d read ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS in ARC form and loved it so much I bought the hardcover and felt like rereading it. I usually have an audio book going in the car, and I had heard Jenny Han nails the teen voice in her books, so IT’S NOT SUMMER WITHOUT YOU was my listening choice for a few weeks, and everyone was right about the voice! GIRL, STOLEN is written by April Henry, a friend of mine, and I’d had her book sitting here for months and finally got around to reading it. And since I write middle-grade novels too, I’d heard wonderful things about CRUNCH, and so I wanted to read that and see what I thought. And it was as good as everyone said.
All the questions in this bonus round take place on a deserted island. You can take:
One companion? Johnny Reznik from the Goo Goo Dolls, with his guitar
One book? the bible
One bottomless food item? Spaghetti
One bottomless drink? Tea
One random thing? A journal w/ a pen attached
Thanks again, Lisa, for your support in my early blogging days and for your willingness, now, to be hosted @For the Love of YA. As I said on Twitter, you can officially add another faithful fan to your list. I’m hooked. 🙂