1. Did you always want to be a writer?
Ha! No. Nope. Not at all. I have long felt guilty that being a writer was not part of my aspirations growing up. In fact, I feel a little silly at times admitting that I didn’t like any kind of creative writing assignments, but I have always loved stories. I have adored reading since I first sat down with a book and I loved telling stories on stage in plays and through music. When I was younger, what I wanted most was to become a professional musical theater actress, which I did do for a time.
2. What sparked the idea to write The Testing trilogy?
Not only did I perform professionally after college, I also taught singing and acting. (And still occasionally do) Many of the students I work with want to go on and major in music and theater and as their teacher I help guide them through the college admittance process…which can be VERY stressful. I had one student freak out during the process and I told her that the process was the most stressful that I’d ever seen it, but that it always turned out okay. She worried that if the process was this bad now, it would be worse when it was time for her brother to go to school and I told her it couldn’t possibly get worse.
Once she walked out the door I started wondering –what would be worse? How could I make it worse to get into college? I started thinking about all the essays and applications and tests required for college admittance and then thought about all the high stakes tests our society requires of kids just to get to high school and I realized I wanted to talk about those tests. That’s when I decided to write The Testing.
3. What is your writing process like— do you plot everything out ahead of time? Do you hand-write or use a laptop? Where do you like to write? Are you very disciplined or more sporadic?
Plotting sounds WONDERFUL. Like, I adore the idea of outlining because it is terrifying to sit down in front of a blank page and have no idea what comes next. However, I can’t do it. I get the opening idea, I know where the first chapter or two is sort of going and then I sit down and write. I write every day when I am drafting and I type on my computer…which is a way better idea than longhand. Trust me. My handwriting can get a little wonky when I’m not being careful. As for where I write – well, I have an office that I rarely use. I prefer the couch or when it is warm out I like to write on my deck. But I mostly can write anywhere. I’ve written in parks, in coffee shops, on planes, in hotels and poolside when my son is taking swim lessons. When I have something to write, I find a way!
4. If your characters could come to life, who would you like to hang out with –and why?
Oh-goodness. Well, that’s an interesting question and I’m going to have to answer it with a character people don’t know–yet. I would very much like to hang out with Carys from DIVIDING EDEN. She’s a little prickly, but smart and loyal and very laser-focused on her purpose in life and I find her fascinating. I think she’d make for a very interesting friend.
5. What are you reading right now? What are you going to read next?
I just finished reading CARAVAL, by Stephanie Garber. It’s a unique and fantastical story about two sisters and a thing called CARAVAL that sweeps them into it’s magic and might be threatening their very lives. It comes out soon and I totally recommend it. Next…I have a stack books that I need to pick from, but I think I’m probably going to grab SCYTHE by Neil Schusterman from the pile next.
6. What’s your favorite YA book of all time? Why do you love it?
Oh goodness, this is a difficult question. I will always love THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. I remember reading it as I was leaving High School (right after it came out) and as soon as I finished the final page going back to the beginning and reading it again. It’s a story I’ve gone back to a dozen times since, so it certainly ranks as one of my all-time favorites. I would also say that the Harry Potter books are favorites, perhaps because my son has now read the first two and I love that he is being swept into the magic of Harry’s story!
7. If you were stranded at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere with one of your characters, who would that character be – and why?
Nate, from NEED. He’s smart. Something tells me he’d be able to get us where we need to go without much trouble. And if not…The guy has a good sense of humor, so he’d make it an interesting adventure.
8. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Wait…there’s a time I’m not writing? Kidding, although I’ve had lots of deadlines lately so it does feel like I’ve had less time for other things. I love cooking! Like, sign me up for Chopped on Food Network and let me play. I read when I can and I have been binge watching a few old shows that I love on Netflix. I’m also a big fan of great movies (and cartoon movies, which I have a fantastic excuse to see since my son loves them, too) and I adore hanging out with my son. Oh – and if you ever want to race in MarioCart for Wii…I’m your girl!
1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t discover my love for writing until I was thirty. I’m a late bloomer! Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I’ve been writing for six years now.
2. How did the idea for The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland come to you? Any direct experience with that kind of summer camp (ie the kind for kids with ‘issues’)?
I went to a few summer camps, all much more pedestrian than Camp Padua, but I loved the idea of using a camp as a setting. Along with that, I wanted to write a fresh story with a different perspective. At the time, I was reading a non-fiction, short story book written by a psychoanalyst with individual stories about patients he treated. All I kept thinking was—no one is normal. Normal doesn’t exist. It’s a façade. And what if all these patients went to a summer camp together in their teen years? What would that look like? I threw the idea around with a few friends and the next thing I knew, I was writing a new book.
3. Do you have a place you always write? Do you write in public spaces (libraries, coffee shops, etc)?
I write in a few different places. Sometimes, I head to a coffee shop if I need to get out of my house and see people. I also have this comfy chair in my bedroom that’s perfect for writing. Any place where I can think and observe.
4. If you could invite one of your characters to dinner, who would it be? What would conversation be like at the table?
I’d invite Bek from The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland. He’s a compulsive liar and a truly comical human being. It would go something like this:
Bek: So this is an Italian restaurant.
Me: Actually, it’s French.
Bek: I love meatballs and pasta. Do you think they have pizza on the menu?
Me: I said it’s French.
Bek: Did you know I speak fluent Italian?
Me: You do?
Me: Show me.
Bek: Who are you and why are you sitting at my table in this lovely Chinese restaurant? Do you think they have fried rice on the menu?
5. What’s your process when you write? Do you plan everything out ahead, or just go with the flow?
I used to go with the flow, but that changed quickly. I like an outline. I may not always follow it, but it gives me ideas and parameters. At the very least, I think it’s essential to know the climax of a story before you start writing, then you know where you need to go.
6. What’s your favorite YA book?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I read it in college in 2001 and fell in love. It’s been my favorite ever since.
7. What’s your single best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
I have a few writing tips that I love to share with people:
1) Secrets should remain secret until the story demands they be told.
2) Don’t overwrite. Tell 70% of the story. Let the reader meet you for the other 30%. That way they stay invested.
3) Characterization is the external representation of a person (a football player, a cheerleader, the lead singer in a punk band). Character is their true internal self. The best characters have opposing characterizations to their true selves (the sinner masquerading as the saint).
8. If you were stranded on a desert island with just one of your characters, who would it be, and why?
Kim Choi from Aspen—If there was one character to get me off the desert island, it would be her. She’s smart and hilariously sarcastic, and a fiercely loyal friend. I know she’d never leave me behind when the plane came to save us
- If you could invite just one of your characters from any of your books to dinner, who would that be—and why?
Celeste, for sure! I find her fascinating. And I totally think of her as a real person, out there living an unusual, unique, wonderful life. She’s one of my characters who basically speaks to me without my help.
- What is your writing process like? Do you have a plan and stick to it, or do you figure the story out as you go along?
Oh, I am NOT a seat-of-my-pants girl! I outline very, very thoroughly for a few reasons. I don’t want to get two-thirds of the way through writing a book and suddenly realize that I’ve boxed myself in or otherwise made a monstrous mistake that will take huge reworking to fix. The other big reason is that I want to start chapter one knowing the full story arc and the full character progressions that will take place. I think that knowledge seeps in to my early words often without my realizing it.
- Where is your favorite place to write?
I sit in bed with my laptop. It’s not glamorous, but it’s where I do all of my writing!
- Do you listen to music when you write?
Absolutely. I love finding songs that totally suit the mood of whatever scene I’m writing, and I’ll often end up listening to one or two on repeat until I get through that section.
- What’s your favorite YA novel?
Ack! How to choose? But right now, I’ll go with The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane. It releases on December 1st, and it’s utterly brilliant. Charming, funny, smart, moving, and a total page turner. I cannot recommend this read enough! Rebekah is a gifted writer and has a very distinct style that always sucks me into her work. Her book Aspen is another favorite of mine.
- What books do you have on your ‘to-read’ list right now?
I’ve got an ARC of Elliot Wake’s Bad Boy that I’ve been dying to get to. Silly life keeps getting in the way of good reading time! Also, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.
- Can you give us a little snippet about 180 SECONDS?
I’m so excited about this release! Is it April yet? It’s a college-age romance between a girl who’s grown up in foster care and a guy who is a social media star. They are total opposites in how they approach (or hide) from life, but despite their differences, they are undeniably drawn to each other. It’s a very me book in that the story carries a mix of humor, pain, romance, and rich characters.
- You’re a NY Times bestselling author. Are you still self-published? How does that work for you, and do you think it’s a real pathway for new authors?
I self-published my last three books, but my upcoming 180 Seconds will be published through one of Amazon’s publishing houses, Skyscape. There are so many wonderful things about self-publishing, but it is certainly exhausting, and I wanted to switch back to working with a publisher for their support. Self-publishing is still a very viable way for new authors to get work out there, however anyone getting in to this business should be aware that the market is absolutely flooded right now, so it can be tricky to break through.
- Who’s your favorite judge on “The Voice”?
I’ve become a huge fan of Miley’s actually! I wasn’t expecting to, ha ha, but I think she gives her singers really solid advice while helping them stay true to who they want to be as artists.
- You’re stranded on a desert island. Which of your characters is with you? Why?
Matt, Chris, and Sam. I don’t think I need to say why…