Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Uninvited by Amanda Marrone

Marlene P.: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Amanda Marrone: I do remember it. I was working on a middle grade and all of a sudden I got the idea for Uninvited. I opened a new file, and my fingers flew on the keyboard. Most of the first chapter is exactly the same as it was when I first wrote it. I get an idea and bang out a first chapter in a couple of hours. Then I take a month or so to figure out what happens next! The same thing happened with my second book, Revealers, due out next year. I wrote the first chapter, and then dwelled on it a bit to figure out what happens next.

Marlene P.: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Amanda Marrone: Opening the file everyday. I have Inattentive ADD and I get easily sidetracked—the Internet has been very bad for my writing. Luckily deadlines are a huge motivator—give me one and I can sit and write.

Marlene P.: What are you working on now?

Amanda Marrone: I just sent Revealers to my editor a few days ago—the first chapter is in the back of Uninvited. It’s about five teen witches who hunt vamps, werewolves, and demons as sort of a public service—but they discover their coven in hiding a secret worse than any of the creatures they hunt. Next up I’m revising a middle grade for my agent, while working on a new paranormal YA and a picture book!

Marlene P.: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Amanda Marrone: I researched vampire facts—I was always a vampire lover, but I wanted to dig deeper. I found some fun things I didn’t know—you can kill a vampire by immersing it in water, or hire a Bulgarian sorcerer to do it for you!

Marlene P.: How did you become a writer?

Amanda Marrone: I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t actually start until I was 29 years old! I have a screwy pencil grip and writing was always painful, and tedious. Once I learned keyboarding I was set. I started out with picture books—I wrote and illustrated two, got some nice personal rejections, and the third picture book turned into a novel. I fell in love with writing longer stories, and I always said I’d never go back, so this new picture book idea that just popped up was a surprise.

Marlene P.: What is your favorite line, passage, or chapter from this book?

Amanda Marrone: Probably the end of the first chapter—it shows how conflicted Jordan is about Michael.

But the leaves are falling and soon Michael will sit on bare branches. Moonlight will finally find its way to his face and I’ll see what I know is true: that Michael is a monster. I’m just afraid that one of these nights I might let him in.

Marlene P.: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Amanda Marrone: I struggled with chapter two! I avoided writing it for six months! That seems to be the way I work, but I’ve decided it’s because I need to think about where I’m going with a story after the first chapter was written in such a frenzy. I’m hoping to be a little speedier with my new YA and tackle chapter two in a more timely fashion!
Marlene P.:What’s on your nightstand right now?

Amanda Marrone: Jo Knowles’ Lesson from a Dead Girl. It’s a haunting story about abuse—beautifully written.

Marlene P.: What are your hobbies?

Amanda Marrone: I love to draw, read, study insects—I have hissing cockroaches, and I love to hike.

Marlene P.: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Amanda Marrone: I’ve never wanted to quit, but I have gotten discouraged in the past. Finding an editor seemed like such a needle in the haystack scenario—I actually only sent my story out to two editors I’d heard speak at conferences. Luckily, I got an agent and she took over with the matchmaking.

Marlene P.: What’s your favorite Halloween candy?

Amanda Marrone: Hershey’s special dark miniatures.

Marlene P.: What scares you?

Amanda Marrone: The basement after I’ve been watching something spooky like Supernatural, and mean girls.

~~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Amanda, post them in the comments. She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

Jo Knowles received her M.A. in children's literature from Simmons College. She was the 2002 recipient of the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant for a Young Adult Novel, and the 2005 winner of the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son. Lessons From a Dead Girl is her first novel. Kirkus praises it saying, “Clearly and concisely written, Knowles's provoking exploration of children abusing children portrays the tense and finely crafted dynamics between the two girls. Lainey's character is extremely well-developed . . . . A razor-sharp examination of friendship, abuse and secrets.”

Please join us in welcoming her to the Café.

Mary: Tell us about Lessons from a Dead Girl. What was your inspiration for this story?
Lessons is a YA novel about an abusive friendship and one girl’s struggle to understand and forgive her friend, as well as herself. I got the idea from an article I read many years ago about kids abusing kids. I was working on a nonfiction piece about child abuse and the article just struck me in a really powerful way. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went home and started writing.

Mary: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?
I do remember! And I believe the words are the same: “Leah Greene is dead.” So much has changed since the writing of the first draft, but that opening scene, with Lainey waiting in her bedroom to hear the news she already knows, has survived.

Mary: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?
Well, the story itself was sparked by a news article, as I mentioned above. I then found several additional articles about kids abusing kids. But for the story, I did not do a lot of research. Lainey came right out of my heart. Her story was just there. Of course there were tons and tons of revisions and a lot of digging deeper, but she was always there with her story fully formed. Research confirmed the story but I don’t think it informed it very much.

Mary: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Not giving up. I’m not the most self-confident person in the world and a lot of times I just think, Well, this stinks. You really should stop now and try something else. I have to force myself to get through the first draft, and sometimes even the second. I am so grateful for those moments when I’m writing and I just fall into the zone and see the story playing out in front of me. At those moments, I don’t hear my doubts, I only hear what’s happening in the scene I’m writing. If only every writing day could be like that!

Mary: Amen to that! What one question do you wish an interviewer would ask you but never has?
Can I treat you to dinner?

Mary: Well, heck, that’s an easy one. Let’s go! I know a great little Mexican place . . .

Tell us something about you that no one knows.
I’m still terrified of the dark and I still believe stuffed animals come to life when you leave the room.

Mary: Kind of like Chuckie, huh? A writer’s imagination can be very dangerous at times.

How did you become a writer?
You know, I’m not sure, really. I always liked writing poems and silly stories about my family and our pets when I was little. And when I was a teenager I wrote some really bad poetry about boys I loved and feeling all alone. When I started reading amazing books like The Chocolate War when I was in high school, I started thinking about the power of words. And then I think I was most inspired by my sister’s writing. She’d call me from her dorm room when she was in college and read me some of the short stories and things she was working on in class and I was just blown away. I think all my early writing in college reflects my sister’s style, which is funny because we went to the same school and had some of the same instructors. They never criticized me for it though. :-)

Mary: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?
I think my favorite chapter is when Laine goes to the park with Web and Jess, and she watches the two young girls playing among the trees. While it’s a really painful scene, it’s an important tipping point. Laine doesn’t fully see it yet, but that moment sparks the beginning of being able to leave her own childhood friendship behind and embracing her new friends who are there beside her.

Mary: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?
I think the hardest scene to write was the final confrontation between Laine and Leah. I can’t imagine how many times I rewrote that scene. Then I had this great phone conversation with Holly Black about it. And she said something, asked a question really, that made me face the parallel between Leah and Sam and Leah and Laine that I’d been hinting at all along, but hadn’t quite been able to put into words, exactly. Or else I guess I was just avoiding them. But after talking to Holly, I knew they had to be spoken aloud and acknowledged by both girls. I couldn’t just hope the reader figured it out. That was taking the safe way out. Leah and Laine had to speak them out loud to make it count. I think that made all the difference. Thanks Holly!

Mary: What's on your nightstand right now?
Some random pony-tail holders, one earring, a red wooden box that holds special memories, three framed photos of my son, an ugly lamp that really needs to be replaced, and several books:
The New Policeman
This Is What I Did
A Drowned Maiden’s Hair
The Plain Janes
The Princess and the Hound

Mary: Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
I volunteer at a women’s prison where I run a writing workshop, and I’m also teaching Writing For Children at Simmons College this semester in their MFA program. I absolutely LOVE running writing workshops. Oh shoot. Does that count as writing? Since it doesn’t involve me actually writing, I hope it’s OK.

Mary: What are you hobbies?
Oh my gosh, I don’t think I have any! Yikes. This is very sad. I tried to learn how to quilt but failed miserably. Ditto for knitting. I like to go on hikes but my son prefers to, in his words, “Observe nature though a window.” Can reading be a hobby? My favorite thing to do is sit on the deck with my son on a warm day and read to him for hours. We also play a lot of board games which I’m no good at. His latest obsession is Yu Gi Oh which I cannot for the life of me figure out the rules for.

Mary: Have you ever wanted to quit writing?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve thought of giving up on certain projects though, that’s for sure. I’ve learned that sometimes it really is important to let go of something that isn’t calling to you anymore, rather than try to force it. If it was meant to be, it will start whispering to you again.

Mary: If you could be anything else besides a writer, what would it be?
My son and I dream of opening a chocolate-dipped store, in which we sell all the treats we love dipped in chocolate.

Mary: What were you like as a teen?
I think I was fairly quiet. Very insecure. I wasn’t that popular but I did have friends and probably did many things that I wouldn’t want my own son doing when he reaches the teen years. I think that a lot of the things I did as a teen were a result of my insecurity (kind of like the partying Laine does, even when she’s not that into it).

Mary: Which books influenced you most when you were growing up?
Jo: Definitely Robert Cormier’s books, and J.D. Salinger’s. There was this one year in high school when we read all of these amazing books in my English class. The first day of school our teacher flipped through this hugely thick grammar book (see how I used bad grammar there?) and read the headings of each chapter, then quickly defined anything important we needed to know. Then he dumped the book in the wastebasket, went to the closet, and handed us worn-out paperback copies of The Chocolate War. We spent the whole year reading books like Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, etc. I became a true reader that year.

Mary: What do you do to "unblock" writer's block?
I ask my two writing partners to kick me. Seriously. They can be pretty tough. Usually they tell me to write 200 words. That’s all. And they tell me I can do it. I can almost feel them tapping their fingers as they wait. But it always works. I don’t think I get blocked so much as simultaneously really lazy and insecure. I’m lucky to have friends who believe in me and know that sometimes all I need is to be told I’m capable.

Mary: Do you do other types of writing besides YA?
I’m a freelance writer and do lots of nonfiction writing. But as far as fiction goes, so far I’ve stuck with YA.

Mary: Can you tell us what you are working on now?
I’m revising a new YA novel while I wait for notes from my editor on my second book that will be coming out with Candlewick probably in Spring ‘09, called Jumping Off Swings. The newer novel is a bit different from my first two, with a little more humor (I hope). I haven’t shared it with my editor yet, but hope to be able to soon.

Thanks for all the great questions, Mary! It was nice chatting with you. :-)

Mary: Thank you, Jo!

~~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Jo, post them in the comments. She'd love to hear from you! And don't forget to visit her website.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Welcome Alex Flinn, author of the new young adult novel Beastly!

I am a beast.
A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.

Alex Flinn, author of such acclaimed YA novels as Breathing Underwater and Fade to Black pens a new twist on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, set this time in contemporary New York City. Kirkus Reviews says ""Teens will race to see if the beast gets his kiss, lifts the curse, and lives happily ever after." We are pleased to welcome Alex to the Cafe!

Tell us about your newest book, Beastly.

It's a modern, urban BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Kyle Kingsbury is a prince in his upper-crust New York prep school, handsome, athletic, and son of a network news anchor. He's also a jerk. He meets Kendra, a goth scholarship student at his school and plays a mean trick on her. She gets revenge by turning him into a beast. He has two years to find true love to transform him back. When MySpace doesn't work, he must try other means.

Fun fact: My mother wanted to name me Kendra.

What was your inspiration for this story?

Beauty and the Beast, of course. There were certain things that bothered me about it -- specifically that the Beast has no family. Where are the king and queen? Did they abandon him and move to the summer castle because of his beastliness? Also, it bothered me that in most versions of Beauty and the Beast (not the Disney version, I tell the kids at school visits -- the Disney people must have been bothered by it too), Beauty's father breaks into the Beast's garden to steal a flower. When the Beast catches him, he says he will kill him unless he lets the Beast have his daughter. While the father always goes, "No, no, I can't do that," a few days later, he's always there, giving his daughter over to a beast. This seems like highly irresponsible parenting to me! So I conceived of Beauty and the Beast as a story of two lost souls who found each other.

In general, I felt sorry for the Beast and wanted to tell his side of the story. I have always told stories in the "wrong viewpoint" and this was another. I really felt attuned with the character and couldn't stop thinking about him.

Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

No. The first words I wrote were, "I was not always as you see me, skulking in doorways and behind garbage dumpsters, searching for my one true love." The whole thing was very gothic, as I initially envisioned it. It became more modern in later execution, almost realistic except for the whole witchcraft thing.

What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Well, not the same type of research I had to do on my other, realistic, books. With those, I am often researching life and death issues such as school violence, AIDS, and domestic violence. This came more from my mind, but since it took place in New York City, I had to do a lot of research about that. I know all the subway routes, for example. Okay, "know" is probably a strong word. I'd probably still get lost. But I learned them for the book. Also, I went through the real estate ads and found a brownstone for Kyle to live in, his castle. So when people asked me about the layout of the house, I knew because it was a real house. I still have the floor plan and photos. Also, I had to research rose gardening because Kyle has a greenhouse with a ton of different kinds of roses.

Finally, I reread many versions of Beauty and the Beast because I didn't want my story to take too strongly from any one version. Many versions are similar with elements like red flowers, a magic glass, etc. That said, the main basis for my story is the le Prince de Beaumont version, which is the most familiar version to American audiences. It's the longest, most fully-realized version of the story, so it just seemed right to me.

I also researched other fairy tales.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Sitting down and doing it on days when I'm not that inspired.

Ain't it the truth. What one question do you wish an interviewer would ask you but never has?

Oh, I don't know. I can think of one question that everyone asks and I really hate answering because the answer never sounds satisfactory to me ("Why did you give up being a lawyer?") and you haven't asked it, so I think we're doing pretty well.

What are you working on now?

I just started a manuscript about a hit list and how it affects a middle school. We'll see how it goes. There seem to be a lot of hit lists in middle schools lately. I visited two schools last year that had hit list issues. They mostly turn out to be jokes, but of course, the school has to treat them seriously and it causes a lot of turmoil.

Tell us something about you that no one knows.

I'm really bad at sports, always have been. I think I'm actually afraid of getting hit by the ball because I am less bad at softball, where you have something to hit back with (but I can't field). When I was in law school, my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I joined a volleyball team through a club we were in. These two women, sisters, teased me mercilessly about what a bad volleyball player I was. I was really upset and quit the team. When I got home that night, it dawned on me that I was 23 years old, I had never enjoyed team sports, and I could go the rest of my life without playing a team sport again if I didn't want to. So I never have.

How did you become a writer?

I always thought I would be one, but I always did other things too. When I was in college, I started writing a YA manuscript, which I then lost and didn't think about. I was on vacation with my parents when I wrote it, so it may well be somewhere in Arizona. A good ten years later, when I had my first daughter, I thought, "I should try to write that book again." So that's what I did, and it eventually became a very different novel, which got published.

What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from Beastly?

The one I got Harper to excerpt on the back cover. Chapter 6, page 123. Kyle has become a beast and changed his name to Adrian. He has given up hope of ever finding true love and, instead, has devoted himself to books like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (my favorite in high school), The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Phantom of the Opera. And he says (in part):

"I lived in darkness now. I started sleeping during the day, walking the streets and riding the subways at night, when no one could really see me. I finished the hunchback book (everyone died), so I read The Phantom of the Opera. In the book -- unlike the dorky Andrew Lloyd Wibber musical version -- the Phantom wasn't some misunderstood romantic loser. He was a murderer who terrorized an opera house for years before kidnapping a young singer and trying to force her to be the love he was denied.

"I got it. I knew now what it was to be desperate. I knew what it was to skulk in darkness, looking for some little bit of hope, but finding nothing. I knew what it was to be so lonely you could kill from it.

"I wished I had an opera house. I wished I had a cathedral. I wished I could climb to the top of the Empire State Building like King Kong. Instead, I had only books, books and the anonymous streets of New York with their millions of stupid, clueless people . . . I scared me."

Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

This book flowed very easily to me. If anything, there were scenes (like the ending) which came to me out of order. I wrote them in the back of the notebook and went on to writing in order.

One challenge was the chat scenes -- which were fun to write but required a great deal of wangling. The book has some chat room sections where Kyle chats with other fairy tale characters who have transformed or, in one case, are thinking about transforming. All their stories are told within the book. It took me a while to choose which ones to include in that. I included the Frog Prince and the Little Mermaid as a matter of course, because they are the most familiar transformation stories. Then, I added the Bear Prince from Snow White and Rose Red, which was a story I liked as a kid, but which I thought would be less familiar to most readers. I had wanted to include Lampwick, Pinocchio's friend who was transformed into a donkey, because it really appealed to me to have characters from so many different places (the mermaid from Denmark, the bear from Germany, Lampwick from Italy, and my beast in NYC though the story is French), but it got unwieldy to have so many characters chatting, and also, Lampwick couldn't type very well, due to having hooves, on top of another character with webbed feet. I had also included a pair of selkies, but again, it got unwieldy.

What's on your nightstand right now?

I'm reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is an adult book, though the protagonist is a teenager so far in my reading. It's actually one of those books that sort of annoys me because no way would a real kid or teenager think like this character, but because it's an adult book, it's okay. But it is an interesting premise, about a boy who receives an out-of-print book from his father and is then stalked by a mysterious, disfigured man bent on destroying all copies of this author's work. The writing is very beautiful.

Next in line is Deadline by Chris Crutcher. I read the first chapter, and it looks good. But I have to finish the other first, because it's for my book discussion group.

Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

My kids

What are your hobbies?

Cooking, baking (I like decorating cakes too, and I designed a special Naruto-themed cake for my daughter's birthday recently and a flip flop cake for the other daughter), running, and biking. I need to do the second two to manage the first two.

Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

When I was about a year into getting my first book finished and published, I thought, "It wouldn't be so bad if I quit." Then, I thought, "Yeah, if you did that, what you'd have accomplished in the past year would be reading a lot of teen books." So I kept going.

If you could be anything else besides a writer, what would it be?

A Broadway musical theater star. As a teen, I used to fantasize about dying my hair red and being the next Angela Lansbury. Dance was my downfall, which is why I switched to opera, but I never had the same level of passion for it that I had for musical theater.

What were you like as a teen?

I was Jerry Renault, a maverick. I had a leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of GONE WITH THE WIND which I used to bring to school to read, and kids would tease me about it because it looked like a really big Bible. Did that stop me from bringing it to school? Nope. On one occasion, I used this white nail polish, which no one had ever heard of at that time. People made fun of that too, saying it looked like Liquid Paper . . . so I wore it for a week because I didn't want anyone to think they could tell me what nail polish to wear. Oh, and I sang opera and had an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater, but absolutely no knowledge of what normal people were listening to. Like Caitlin in my book, DIVA, I used to listed to AT40 to try and figure it out, but that didn't work.

One of my college professors, Dr. Wagner, used the word "maverick" to describe me. At the time, I was arguing with another professor because the computer had misgraded a test paper of mine. Dr. Wagner said if I'd been nicer, he could have gotten her to regrade my paper. I said, "But I want her to regrade everyone's paper because it wasn't only mine she got wrong." That's when he called me a maverick, and I guess he was right. Still sort of am, but I try to pick my battles more now. I try.

Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Alex, post them in the comments. She'd love to hear from you! And don't forget to visit her website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interview with K.L. Going, author of Saint Iggy

Please welcome K.L. Going, author of SAINT IGGY, to the YA Authors Cafe.

Marlene P.: Do you remember writing the first words of your books? Are they still the same?

K.L. Going: Oh yes! I remember writing the first words of each of my books, and they are practically the only parts of my novels that remain intact. Those first lines always set the tone for the book and establish the character in my mind.

Marlene P.: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Honestly, the hardest part is putting my work out there and hearing what people think. I’ve mostly heard great things, but it’s tough when people say stuff that’s mean spirited. I thought I’d get more used to it when I had more books out, but instead there’s just more to hear! My first novel, Fat Kid Rules the World, has been challenged in a couple school districts and that is difficult.

Marlene P.: What one question do you wish an interviewer would ask you but never has?

K.L. Going: How much ketchup would be too much? Answer: Is there such a thing as too much ketchup? I really don’t think so.

Marlene P.: What are you working on now?

K.L. Going: I have a lot of projects going on at once. I’m finishing up a how-to book for Writer’s Digest called Writing the YA Novel which is due out in spring of 2008. Plus, I’m also finishing up a new teen novel for Harcourt called King of the Screw Ups, which will also come out in 2008. I have a picture book under contract which is waiting for an illustrator, and I am contracted to write a short story for an anthology. *phew*

Marlene P.: What kind of research have you done for your stories?

K.L. Going: Fat Kid Rules the World was the most fun to research because I got to explore the world of punk rock. For Saint Iggy, most of my “research” came from my time living in a housing project in New Orleans when I did volunteer service. With my middle grade novel, The Liberation of Gabriel King I researched the 1970’s since it’s a historical novel, and for my upcoming novel, The Garden of Eve, I researched apple orchards.

How’s that for variety?

Marlene P.: Tell us something about you that no one knows.

K.L. Going: I’ve attended a very odd list of concerts. They range from Huey Lewis and the News, to Motley Crew, to John Mellencamp, to Pete Yorn.

I’ve also studied three different martial arts: Tae Kwon Do, Goju Ryu, and American Kempo.

Marlene P.: How did you become a writer?

K.L. Going: I started writing as a kid and never stopped. I became published when, years later, I finally worked up my courage to submit my work to publishers and one of my books got accepted!

Marlene P.: What is your favorite line, passage, or chapter from your book?

K.L. Going: I’m going to answer this question using my newest YA novel, Saint Iggy. My favorite passage from this novel is the scene where Iggy stands in the circle of color created by the church window. I loved writing this scene and still appreciate what it stands for.

Marlene P.: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

K.L. Going: Oh yes. I fantasize about it often, even though I know I would never go through with it. Writing is hard. Being published is even harder. Having a published book requires you to do a lot of things that are contrary to an introverted nature such as mine. Like giving speeches. The whole marketing piece of being an author is counter-intuitive for me.

Marlene P.: What are your hobbies?

K.L. Going: I work part-time at a local gym. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a hobby, but I do it for fun because it’s social and I like to work-out. I also love independent film. I like watching them, creating them, and supporting them in any way I can.

Marlene P.: What’s on your nightstand right now?

K.L. Going: I’m reading Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series. He’s such a great writer, and these books are pure fun and escapism!

***** I’d love to invite any of your readers to visit me on my forums as well: We have great discussions and I’m always looking for new participants!

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for K.L., send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

NOT LIKE YOU is the story of 15-year-old Kayla, who is trying to create a life for herself after years of taking care of her alcoholic mother. It’s about first love, alcoholism, mother-daughter bonds, and the search for independence.

Please welcome Deborah Davis, author of NOT LIKE YOU, to the YA Authors Cafe.

Marlene P: What was your inspiration for this story?

Deborah Davis: NOT LIKE YOU has many inspirations. I began with just an image of a girl finding her passed-out mother on the floor of their New Mexico trailer, and that image intrigued me: how would the girl resolve her conflicting feelings of love and fury? How does a girl in Kayla’s position get out from under the burden of having to mother her own mother? How would she find love for herself?

Marlene P: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Deborah Davis: My own life experiences provided much material for NOT LIKE YOU: I have lived in a trailer in New Mexico, I loved and trained dogs like Kayla, I’ve known many alcoholics and have had my own issues with drinking in the past, and, like Kayla, I had an older boyfriend when I was a teen. I did additional research, as well, on social service agencies and foster care, on alcoholism, on New Mexican plants, and on the cities of Dallas and Denver.

Marlene P: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Deborah Davis: Consistently trusting that I have something worthwhile to write, and getting myself to my desk to write it. Consequently, I tend to write a lot or not at all. Also, sometimes I hit a wall after the first 75 or 150 pages, after the first burst of enthusiasm for a story wanes and I have to dig in and figure out what the story is really about and where it’s going. I start to wonder, is this really worth telling? Is there even a story here?

Marlene P: What one question do you wish an interviewer would ask you but never has?

Deborah Davis: How do you get past those moments of self-doubt? My answer: I keep writing. I have to ignore the feelings of doubt and the inner critics and let my character take some sort of action. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense to the story or not: the act of writing the next scene erases much of my trepidation and gets me involved in the story again. I can then decide, does this scene work or not, and change it or keep going. The act of writing is itself a solution to the problem of not writing! I’ve also come to realize that getting stuck is a sign of how important the story is to me. I want it to go well. I’m scared that it won’t. I’m scared that I’ll fail. When I recognize how much I care about the story, it helps me be willing to continue.

Marlene P: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Deborah Davis: I changed the last quarter of the book several times. I can’t say why without revealing what happens at the end, but I will say that I tried to make Kayla’s life easier in ways that diminished the impact of the story. I agonized over this. I didn’t want Kayla to have to face such difficult circumstances and choices. But in the end, those difficult circumstances and the choices she makes around them are what make the story interesting and powerful, so I had to include them. It’s hard to do that to a character you’ve lived with and loved for years.

Marlene P: What's on your nightstand right now? Deborah Davis: A great book called Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the Nigerian-Biafran civil war in the 1960s. The latest New Yorker Magazine. The latest Horn Book Magazine. Bicyling Magazine. A really funny book titled Everybody into the Pool. There’s other stuff on my nightstand, but that’s private!

Marlene P: Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

Deborah Davis: Spending time in the wilderness: in mountains, on the ocean, anyplace that’s wild and lightly visited by people. Other passions: freedom of speech, travel to other countries, reading, my family, and dark chocolate.

Marlene P: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Deborah Davis: Yes, but the desire doesn’t last for more than a minute. I have moments of wanting to stop because writing is so challenging : I have to sit for long periods of time; I have to dredge up memories and emotions that can be painful to feel; I have to make myself very vulnerable—to my critique group, to my editor, to my publisher, to readers, and—gulp!—to reviewers. I take this story that I’ve sweated and lost sleep over and I put it out to the world. Sometimes it feels like I’m removing my heart and handing it over to strangers. What if they trash it? Or even worse: what if they simply don’t give a hoot about it? What if this thing I’ve slaved over has no ripple effect at all and simply fades into obscurity (otherwise known as “ignored by reviewers” and “going out of print”)?

Marlene P: What are you working on now?

Deborah Davis: A novel about a high school senior named Lina who wants to be a doctor but whose parents take her to India, interrupting her plans to graduate with honors. Her experiences in the impoverished small towns of South India present a challenge to her plans, her aspirations, and her beliefs about suffering and her ability to alleviate it. There’s a romance, too, that challenges her beliefs about love and sex.

Marlene P: Tell us something about you that no one knows.

Deborah Davis: That’s a tough question. I try not to have too many secrets: it’s no fun, and it takes a lot of energy to hold them in. I have some really close friends who know pretty much everything about me. Okay, here’s something: when I was 19 and going to college in Bogota, Colombia, I met a very sexy Colombian musician—a drummer—and had a really nice time kissing him, unbeknownst to my then-boyfriend, who was in Colombia at the time.

Marlene P: How did you become a writer?

Deborah Davis: I grew into being a writer. I’ve always been a storyteller: even as a little girl, I made up stories, using my stuffed animals as characters and giving each animal a different voice. Through 9th grade I wrote stories and poems, but in high school I had to write essays, which I struggled with, and I began to think I was not creative and had no talent for writing. It wasn’t until my last two years of college that I began to enjoy writing again—even as I still agonized over completing my college papers. After college, while working with teenagers in wilderness challenge and community service programs, I started having lots of ideas again for stories. I felt compelled to write—but I also felt very afraid both to write them down and to show them to anyone. I finally broke through my fear after taking a workshop at the Proprioceptive Writing Center (see, which consisted mostly of writing everything that came into my head and reading it aloud in a group setting, over and over again. Getting support for whatever I wrote, and hearing how brilliantly people write when they are not being judged and when they truly write without editing, was a huge help, and I began to write a lot, trusting the ideas and words that came to me. That was over 20 years ago, and really, I’m still becoming a writer. I’m still learning how to write better, still learning to trust the words and stories that come to me, still trying to improve how I write dialogue, reveal character, and tell a story with a whopping impact.

Marlene P: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Deborah Davis: The beginning...the middle...and the end? This is a tough question, sort of like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. I love when Kayla meets Shirley and Sherrie, because they’re so funny. I love the scenes where Kayla and Remy are exploring the Anasazi ruins, scenes that are romantic and tense, in a fascinating setting. And the scenes when Kayla and her mom interact: their relationship is unusual in YA literature, it’s the emotional heart of the story, and those are the scenes with the most depth.
~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Deborah, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


bloodymandy suggested we ask everyone about their favorite characters who have certain characteristics. We think this is a great discussion topic. Sometimes favorite or memorable characters are not the main characters or even ones from favorite books. We've created five categories. Let's hear who your favorites are. And how about trying to give us a male and female character in each category if you can?

1. Most Sassy, Attitude Overloaded Character

2. Most Unexpectedly Funny Character (As In You Snort Milk Out Your Nose)

3. Character You Would Most Like To Slap

4. Character You Would Most Like To Give A Hug To

5. Character You Will Never Forget

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


BLOOD BROTHERS is S.A. Harazin's debut novel. Delacorte says: "S. A. Harazin's gritty, powerful story takes the reader into the emergency room, the world of teenage parties and drug use, and the lives of two friends who are as close as brothers." Kirkus says: "This compelling story, told in diary entries that cover hours and days, never loses the pace as Clay races to discover what happened during Joey’s last day. The antidrug message is never didactic, and the story will grab readers from the first sentence." Young adult literature expert Teri Lesesne says, "S. A. Harazin has written a terrific novel of friendship, family, longing and belonging in BLOOD BROTHERS."

Please welcome S.A. Harazin to the YA Authors Cafe.

CATHY A: Who are the "blood brothers" of your title, and what happens to them in the story?

S.A. HARAZIN: The “blood brothers” are Clay and Joey. When they were seven, they spit into a bottle to become blood brothers. They dreamed of taking a cross county bike trip, and they spent the next ten years preparing. But one evening Clay went to Joey’s house and found him hallucinating and violent. Joey ended up in ICU at the hospital where Clay worked as an orderly.

CATHY A: Clay is poor and Joey is rich. How does this affect each of them in
their lives and expectations?

S.A. HARAZIN: Clay began to notice the differences when they were in high school. Joey had more friends, more money, a car, and was planning to go to Duke University and someday become a doctor—something Clay wanted desperately to do. Clay worked hard but he never seemed to get anywhere. Even Clay’s girlfriend preferred Joey. Joey saw Clay as his best friend, but he did not completely understand Clay’s life.

CATHY A: You have many strong supporting characters. Chief Baker and Mrs. Hunt are two of my favorites. Tell us about a few of your supporting
characters--literally, how do they *support* Clay in the story?

S.A.HARAZIN: Mrs. Hunt is a nursing supervisor, and she took a chance when she hired and trained Clay as an orderly. This was an opportunity for Clay, and he was good at his job, but he made mistakes. He realized how much he wanted to become a doctor. On the outside, Mrs. Hunt is stern and expects the best from Clay. Later in the story she does something to help Clay offstage that is both risky and surprising.

Chief Baker has grown children, so he tries to understand Clay. He begins to look at the facts, he listens, and he realizes there is more to the story than Clay knows. He sees Clay as vulnerable and worries that he will get into trouble.

CATHY A: What was your inspiration for Blood Brothers?

S.A. HARAZIN: It is loosely based on life experiences. It was a story that had been with me for many years. But the first grain of the story came to me at work when a patient was going through the process of brain death diagnosis. He was just a kid, and what happened next really affected me. That also was when I realized how much life was unfair, and how we can do everything to save somebody, but it isn’t enough.

CATHY A: Most of Clay's peers treat him badly in BB. How do you think they see him? Do you think their views will change as they all get older?

S.A. HARAZIN: Clay is mostly invisible to his peers. But while his peers are having normal teenage experiences (and partying), Clay is thrown into life and death situations. Joey knows that part of him—the others do not. I definitely feel that their views will change—and towards the end of the story, the views of Alicia and Wade (minor characters who wanted to blame Clay for everything) have changed.

CATHY A: You worked in a hospital yourself as a teen. Were you able to use that experience as research for this story?

S.A. HARAZIN: Yes. I could remember my emotional reactions the first time I would see anything bad happening. But there were many mundane times, too. I came to love the mundane. People who watch shows like ER see the excitement. With me, there were times when I was afraid I would not know what to do.

CATHY A: I am in awe of the smooth way you wove separate time periods
together--distant past, recent past, and present. It gave the book a
propulsive feeling, like I couldn't turn pages fast enough. How did you
choose that structure, and how did you get it to work?

S.A. HARAZIN: Thanks! My editor suggested the flashbacks and placing the time at the beginning of scenes. He deserves lots of credit for helping me make BLOOD BROTHERS what it is. I had to figure out where to place the flashbacks, and I worried that I would slow down the story. There was a lot of hard work involved, and I was glad that with the help of an editor, I was able to take the story to another level.

I also benefitted from the advice of critiquers.

CATHY A: You have strong male lead characters in your work that I've read, with devastating dry deadpan humor. How do you find these male voices, and do you have plans to write a female lead at some time?

S.A. HARAZIN: I have three kids. Their friends hang out at my house. I listen whenever I can. The kids have different, distinct voices that I know well.

I don’t know if I’ll be writing with a female lead. I feel more comfortable with a male POV.

CATHY A: You are a moderator on the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Chat Board. How has the internet changed things for writers in the past ten years or so? What is the value of community as a writer?

S.A. HARAZIN: A writer can find just about anything he needs to know on the internet. Verla Kay’s site offers support to writers. It is a good place to cyber- meet other writers. Sometimes we have editors or agents drop by and post advice or answer questions. This is helpful for people who can’t go to conferences.

The down side is that the internet can turn into a major distraction.

Thank you for sharing with us! Now for the blog readers to have a turn . . .

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Shirley, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Many thanks to guest interviewer, Catherine Atkins, author of When Jeff Comes Home, and Alt Ed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Interview with Judy Gregerson, Author of BAD GIRLS CLUB

What reviewers are saying

MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW-"Bad Girls Club is as riveting as Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It books, but is far better at exploring the psychological reasons why the abused remain so loyal to their abusers. This is definitely a novel all young adults should read!"

PROFESSORNANA-"Books like A CHILD CALLED IT have long been popular with teens. This book will appeal for many of the same reasons. It is the story, ultimately, of triumph over incredible odds."

Marlene P.:
Tell us about your newest book BAD GIRLS CLUB.

Judy Gregerson: BAD GIRLS CLUB is very special to me. It is so much a part of what happened to me as a teen and I wrote it to show what abandonment and abuse does to the soul and mind of a teenager. We read stories about abused kids in the paper all the time or we see it on the news, but we don't hear much about their inner conflicts and how they struggle with their own feelings and thoughts about what has happened to them. But I think that every teen knows someone who wrestles with these issues and I thought there was a place in teen literature for this story.

Marlene P.: What was your inspiration for this story?

Judy Gregerson: Several things, really, but probably the biggest one is that my mom left when I was thirteen and went into a mental hospital. She never returned and because of it, one of the biggest themes in my writing has been abandonment. No matter what I write, it just shows up.

I tried writing other stories for a long time, but this one kept calling to me. I didn't want to write it at first. It was too close to home. Too scary for me to tackle. But eventually I decided that I would have to take a stab at it. And as I got deeper into the story, I knew that I had to keep going.

Marlene P.: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Judy Gregerson: The hardest part for me is finding the real, naked truth of the story and bringing that to the forefront. It's easy to write off the top of your head, but when you go deeper, through layers of what you think is truth, eventually you find the real core of the story or the character. It's difficult because you have to keep digging until you find it and that is real work. The other hard part for me is a first draft. I hate first drafts. They're like ugly little anemic stories that are going to have to be fixed.

Marlene P.: What are you working on now?

Judy Gregerson: Right now I'm pretty busy with marketing this book, but I have a humorous YA I'm trying to find a home for and a silly midgrade that I'd like to polish. I've also gotten back into a novel I started in 2002 and couldn't finish. I woke up one night at about 2:30 a.m. and all the answers to the problems were very clear to me. So the next morning I got up and started writing. That's going well, but it's slow because I tend to veer off into marketing or chatting or something else. I'm easily distracted, probably too easily, and I really have to fight to stay on track.

Marlene P.: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Judy Gregerson: Ooooh. You're going to go make me fish it out? Ok, let me go find it.

My life, this island on which I stand, is built with sand, and with each step I take, my feet sink to my ankles. Some days I sink all the way up to my knees. Today I will pull my little sister behind me, sometimes carrying her on my back because she is too small to pull herself out of the quicksand that often traps us. And on our way across this island, I will tell her jokes, and I will hold her hand, and I will shield her from the woman who used to be my mother.

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Judy Gregerson, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

OPEN DISCUSSION - Why do you read?

In a call for topics, "little willow" asks:

"Why do you read? Do you look for books that are similar to YOUR life or vastly different?"

So, are you looking to relate or escape?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A. M. Jenkins's favorite deadly sins are Sloth and Gluttony. The others are also enjoyed in moderation. The award-winning author of Damage, Breaking Boxes, and Beating Heart: A Ghost Story, Jenkins lives in Benbrook, Texas, with three sons, two cats, and two dogs . . . and has never been possessed by a demon, so far as anyone can tell.

Her latest book is REPOSSESSED, and HarperCollins says, "In this devilishly funny look at the complexities of being a teen, Jenkins tells the story of an unforgettable--and irresistibly endearing--demon's sojourn on earth, where he learns more than he ever expected about humans and himself. "

And Jennifer Hubert of Reading Rants says, "A.M. Jenkins' inspired portrayal of a sympathetic demon and his longing to stay human, so that he might actually be NOTICED by the all-powerful (an apparently, all-too-busy) Creator, is funny, thought provoking, and surprisingly deep."

I will add a hearty amen to both of those descriptions. This latest book is humorous, deep, surprising, and a testament to the many layers of Jenkins writing talents.

Join me in welcoming her as our guest this week at the Cafe.

Mary P: This story has so many layers, including a surprising romance. The love story that unfolds in this is amazingly tender. It started out as a Lust Quest, and ended up--well I don't want to give it away--but Kiriel's quest was transformed into something much richer. One thing that is endearing is that he is often so clueless. Did you know the direction Kiriel was going or did you bumble along with him as he pursued Lane?
A.M. Jenkins: When I write a book, I generally know what will happen in the end, and then my process always takes me down blind alleys while I'm getting there. I have to back up, reassess, delete, and rewrite. With Kiriel and Lane, same old same old; I knew where they were ultimately heading, and there were the usual dead ends. But most of the bumbling I did with Lane wasn't due to Kiriel--it was due to Lane herself. Girl characters are not my strong point and I kept going off course with her and that made Kiriel's reactions inaccurate. That last scene between Kiriel and Lane took several different rewrites after the rest of the book was done; I knew what happened in that scene, but I couldn't get the emotional arc of it right, and by that point I had looked at the ms so many times I couldn't really "see" it anymore. My editor would read it and say, "Nope, this doesn't ring emotionally true." So I'd tackle it again, trying to nail it without pushing the characters around. I don't remember how many times I rewrote that scene, but it was a bunch. I'm very glad my editor kept handing it back to me instead of saying, "Eh, I guess this'll do."

Mary P: This book, while dealing with many deeper issues, is also packed with humor. There were so many places that I was snorting out loud as I read. Did you have as much fun writing it as readers have reading it? Was there a particular scene that still makes you laugh?

A.M. Jenkins: There were a *ton* of scenes I enjoyed writing in this book, but the only one that ever made me laugh was the bit where Kiriel cries. No kidding.

Mary P: The story touches on several deep theological questions, such as separation from the Creator, which I think you explore particularly well, raising questions but leaving it to the reader to supply the answers. It makes us think which is what I think any good story should do. Were these questions difficult for you to explore?

A.M. Jenkins: Nope. It's hard for me to believe that everybody doesn't think about this stuff all the time. My feeling has always been that religion, the supernatural and the afterlife are *the* most important issues any human has to face. We're alive on this earth for less than 100 years (most of us, anyway), and then there's the question of what happens to us for the rest of eternity. I'd say the answer to that question is crucial. And the answer--or lack of an answer--that each of us comes up with is what provides us with a moral system to live by. Even if you feel that you have the one true and correct answer to the question of eternity, how can you blithely go about your business without weighing your daily choices, attitudes, and actions in terms of that answer?I was just talking about this with a couple of friends, and one presented the theory that most people don't think about the above, that most people don't like to think at all, and especially not when they read books. It made me wonder about YA in general: do people prefer books that present answers and solutions rather than asking questions? I guess this blog is my forum for a few days, but I'd like to know other people's opinions: Is a good book one that makes you think? One that gives you a model to emulate? One that confirms your feelings about something? One that entertains you for a few hours?

Mary P: Do you hoard ketchup packets?

A.M. Jenkins: No, just the little tubs from Whataburger.

Mary P: What are you working on now?
A.M. Jenkins: I just sent a ms off to copyediting. The book is currently titled NIGHT ROAD, and will be out in spring 2008. This completes what has turned out to be an unintentional trilogy of three weird little books about the supernatural: BEATING HEART (2006), which is about a ghost; REPOSSESSED (2007), about demonic possession; and then NIGHT ROAD, a book about hemovores--blood-drinking humans who are not your typical vampires. These three books are weird not because they're about the supernatural, but because they sound like horror books when they aren't, not exactly. I don't know what they are. I just know I've enjoyed writing them.

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Amanda Jenkins, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

STUCK IN THE 70s by Debra Garfinkle

Marlene P.: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Debra G.: I actually do remember writing the first words for this book. The first line was really the genesis of the book, and I think it’s a catchy one: “There’s a beautiful naked girl sitting in my bathtub.”

With my first novel, STORKY, I wrote many drafts of the first few pages. With this one, the first few pages hardly changed from the first draft to the final book. Soon after I wrote the first page, it was read aloud at a writing conference and got a lot of laughs. That really encouraged me to keep going with the manuscript.

Marlene P.: What are you working on now?

Debra G.: I’m writing the third book in a series of humorous children’s books called THE SUPERNATURAL RUBBER CHICKEN. I’m having a wonderful time writing about wacky situations involving a cranky rubber chicken, bickering twins, their smelly teacher Mrs. Crabpit, and the twins’ neglectful mother, a children’s book author obsessed with winning a Newbery Award. The first RUBBER CHICKEN book will be out in June 2008.

Marlene P.: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Debra G.: I did a lot of research on news events, movies, music, fashion, etc. from the fall of 1978, when STUCK IN THE 70s is set. That was fun. I also researched Albert Einstein, since one of my main characters loves him. That was fascinating. And to get the time travel theories down right, I researched physics. That was excruciating.

Marlene P.: Tell us something about you that no one knows.

Debra G.: For many years, my best friend and I collected empty toilet paper rolls from around the world. We wanted to be in The Guinness Book of World Records. When our friends and family went on vacation, they knew to bring us back a roll. We would write down the date and place on the roll. We never did write to the Guinness people. At my friend’s wedding shower years later, her parents presented her with the many, many bags of toilet paper rolls they had stored in their garage.

Marlene P.: How did you become a writer?

Debra G.: I loved to write as a child and teenager, but took the practical route and majored in economics and became a lawyer.

After practicing law for nine years (part-time for the last four years) and having two children, I was falsely diagnosed with cancer. I reevaluated my life. I quit my job, decided to have a third child, and started writing a novel (STORKY). I began it the day after I left my job, and wrote most of it while I was pregnant. Under the “write what you know” principle, there’s a pregnancy in STORKY, as well as a heroic retired lawyer.

I liked practicing law, but I LOVE being a writer.

Marlene P.: What is your favorite line, passage, or chapter from this book?

Debra G.: There’s a funny scene when Tyler goes to the movie theater with Shay and two other girls. He really wants to hold Shay’s hand. A preview for Rocky II comes on, and he predicts it will bomb, that no one will want to see another Rocky movie. The girls go to the bathroom. When they come back, Tyler finally gets up his nerve and holds Shay’s hand. She squeezes it back. He’s thrilled! Then he realizes the girls switched seats and he’s not holding her hand after all. Well, I think it’s funnier when you read the whole scene than when I try to summarize it.

Marlene P.: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

My editor at Putnam didn’t like the ending. I had to throw away the last fifty pages. He sort of liked the next ending I wrote, but had me do a ton of revisions to it. Even though the ending gave me a lot of trouble, I think it came out good “in the end.”

Marlene P.: What are your hobbies?

Debra G.: I have three children, a puppy, and a husband who travels a lot. I’ve spent the last year simultaneously writing a trilogy for teens and a chapter book series for children. And I’m supposed to have hobbies? Are you nuts?

Well, when I have spare time, I do like to take walks, watch reality TV, play Hearts on the computer, and watch movies. And I always make time for reading.

Marlene P.: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Debra G.: Never! Okay, about every other day. It’s a wonderful way to make money, but it’s also a difficult way to make money. I’d be happy just to draft and revise my manuscripts. The stuff that drives me crazy is having to promote my books as a midlist author, the long waits for responses from editors, the laborious contract negotiations (thank Gawd for my agent, but I still bite my nails until I have both the check and the book in my hands) … I could whine for hours.

I doubt I’d ever really quit writing. I love creating a scene I’m proud of, a character I care about, a joke that makes me laugh, etc.

And just when I’m feeling really low, I always seem to get a wonderful email from a teen reader that makes everything worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Beauty Shop For Rent by Laura Bowers

Abbey Garner has it all planned out. Become a millionaire by the time she's thirty-five and avoid making the same mistakes the other women in her family made. School Library Journal says of debut author Laura Bowers' warm and funny novel "This deceptively simple book reveals Abbey as a wonderful character who will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. Her quiet, almost folksy lifestyle demonstrates the powerful impact of a loving family and good mentors."

We're delighted to welcome Laura to the Cafe to talk about Abbey, writing and why you should never give her nice jewelry.

Melissa W.: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?
Laura B.: My favorite chapter from BEAUTY SHOP FOR RENT has always been the final one, because the setting was inspired by my county's annual 4-H & FFA fair. A close second would be the first chapter that was set in the beauty shop. I love the sassy, fun, "let your hair down" conversations that happen when it's just the ladies around and how this chapter shows the close, unique relationship between fifteen-year-old Abbey, Granny Po and the other Gray Widows. But my favorite lines are from chapter twenty-four, when my characters are driving into Ocean City: "But now the town didn't cast the same spell. Instead of enchanting, it seemed noisy and cheap, almost tacky, like I was no longer childlike enough to see its beauty."
Melissa W.: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?
Laura B.: I do remember writing the first words. It was for the opening scene in chapter one, where Abbey is stuck in the middle of another one of the Gray Widows' many tiffs. Writing that scene was one of those rare, wonderful moments when the words tumble out so fast your fingers can't keep up. The main points and concept of this chapter have always remained the same, despite the many rewrites, but my original opening line was, "I'll be dead. Dead and done buried by the time this shop is ever rented." I've since changed it to the first of many "hypothetical questions of the week."
Melissa W.: Tell us something about you that no one knows.
Laura B.: Well, my husband is perfectly aware of this, but not too many people know that I cannot be trusted with fine jewelry. Seriously. We've been married for fourteen years and in that time I've already lost my diamond engagement ring, my original wedding band, my replacement wedding band, and a diamond tennis bracelet. But, my husband is a lovely man who doesn't get upset over material things, (my character Gena is based on him,) and I'm happy to report that it's been a while since I lost something. Why? Because I hardly wear jewelry now out of fear of losing it! ;)
Melissa W.: If you could be anything else besides a writer, what would it be?
Laura B.: I would be a photographer. And, after the kids go to college, my dream assignment would be to travel the country with Bob taking beautiful pictures of historic main streets, town festivals and county fairs that could be used for a super-thick coffee table book. Talk about a cool job! That or someone who's sent to different hotels and resorts to rate them. Being paid to travel? I'm in.
Melissa W.: That does sound ideal! Can I come along? What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Laura B.: At the beginning, I think the hardest part of writing for me was viewing it as a job rather than a hobby. Before, I would only allow myself time to write after the laundry was done, my to-do list was finished, the house picked up, etc. While I still have the occasional lapse, I view my writing as a full-time job now and I no longer feel guilty about editing during my boys' baseball practice if I have a tough deadline! ;)
Melissa W.: Good for you! Thanks so much for stopping by the Cafe. We wish you the best of luck with your wonderful new book and many more to come!
~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Laura, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

BAD TICKETS by Kathleen O'Dell

Join us this week as we welcome Kathleen O'Dell to the Cafe. Well-known for her warm and funny mid-grade novels, including Agnes Parker, Girl in Progress, for which she was named a Publisher's Weekly Flying Start, Kathleen enters the wild world of YA fiction with her newest novel, Bad Tickets, which has already garnered a starred review from Booklist and which School Library Journal calls a "humorous and engaging story with just a bit of spirituality."

The Cafe is delighted to host Kathleen this week and be a part of celebrating her wonderful new novel.

Melissa W.: Tell us about your new book.

Kathleen O.: BAD TICKETS features Mary Margaret Hallinan, a Catholic high school sophomore in Portland, Oregon during the summer of love. Rumblings of what’s going on in San Francisco are being felt all over the world, but she’s still living in a place where most girls believe that their entire destinies are tied to the men they marry. When Mary Margaret meets Jane Stephens, she loves her new friend’s rebel spirit, but upon closer examination finds that for all her so-called adventurousness, Jane is actually following a pretty old-fashioned script.

This is my first young adult book. As I was writing it, I kept on thinking about how many adult struggles are just modified adolescent struggles. One of life’s central conundrums concerns figuring out when being good is actually bad for you and being bad is good for you and being good is good for you and being bad is bad for you (and bad for everyone else). Before you hit your teens, the answer is: be good. Growing up requires examining received wisdom. Even if you conclude that ninety-nine percent of everything your parents taught you was good and true, at least you’ve made it your truth.

Melissa W.: What was your inspiration for this story?

Kathleen O.: I was a kid in 1967, but I remember that summer. On one of the first sunny Portland summer days, I put on my baggy, hand-me-down, red, one-piece bathing suit and went with some fourth grade friends to Blue Lake. The park was filled with glamorous baby-oiled girls in gold and silver bikinis and gorgeous, sulky boys with long bangs hung over their sunglasses. Every kid there had the radio tuned to KISN and Jim Morrison was daring everyone to “Light My Fire.” Sex hung heavy in the air. We picked our way through the crowd of these simmering, shimmering creatures, and when I finally got to the lake I plopped down and stared at my knobby knees in a state of shock. It hardly seemed like the place for a pigtailed girl in an inner tube anymore.

I wanted to capture the experience of these girls who came of age just before the first wave of modern feminism. Even though young people were breaking all kinds of taboos and experimenting with different ways of living in the 60’s, many men still wanted a cool “old lady”--someone nurturing and mellow who tended to her man and the organic baking.

Another source of inspiration is my memory of a recurring nightmare I had in my teens. I dreamed I was getting married in my high school gym, and that I was wearing a Jackie Kennedy suit and a leopard pill box hat--something that even someone my mom’s age was too hip to wear. The priest would be reading the vows as I kept on urging myself to run away! Now! Before it’s too late! I always woke up breathless and terrified before I realized that I was safe in my pink bedroom in my twin bed and perfectly single. The thought of lock stepping from the high school gym into a married life was scary to me in part because like Mary Margaret, I was the oldest in my family. I had already devoted a big chunk of my life to domestic stuff such as babysitting and dishwashing and cooking. The romance I was looking for involved the freedom to take care of only myself. Oh, and to have my own bedroom. That was a big thing to me.

Melissa W.: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Kathleen O.: Mary Margaret’s mother, with her omnipresent cigarette and laundry basket, really got to me. Every time I got into her head, I felt incredibly sad. I was a homemaker with little kids for years, and whenever I felt burnt to a crispy critter, I would set myself down and tell myself that staying home for now was my choice, that my two kids would eventually grow up, and that there was a different life waiting for me not too far down the road. That’s not true of Cynthia Hallinan. She feels she made a lifetime bargain when she married her high school sweetheart, and she’s determined to deal with pregnancy after pregnancy even though she’s depressed, unsupported and miserable.

Melissa W.: What's on your nightstand right now?

Kathleen O.: There are Starbucks receipts with scribbled revision notes all over them. At night, right before I fall asleep, I get these flashes on how to work out the kinks of my latest manuscript. I jump out of bed, dig blindly through my purse for scrap paper and start scrawling. You’d think I’d keep a notebook nearby, wouldn’t you, seeing that I’m a writer tending toward nightly inspiration? But no. I’m also superstitious and believe that if I’m too premeditated, the inspiration won’t show up. This morning’s note read: “Tessa-- SWITZRLND--Boarding school? Has to rtrn home @ the end ar havee aplace.” At least I think that’s what it said. I wrote it in the dark.

Melissa W.: Best of luck deciphering your notes! And thank you so much for stopping by the Cafe. We wish you much success with your new book! Congratulations!

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Kathleen, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

OPEN DISCUSSION - Who is reading Young Adult books?

"Exactly 'who' are YA readers? Is the age range broadening? "

This was a question posted by one of our visitors and it is a question we all hear periodically.

And so many other questions are tied into it: Is the defintion of YA changing? What makes a YA book a YA book? Content? Publisher designation? Something else?

Tell us your thoughts!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Open Discussion: Let's Talk About Sex

As an ongoing feature of the Cafe, we occasionally open the floor to general discussion of topics related to YA literature.

This week, one of our readers poses the following always-fascinating and often controversial topic:

"I want to know what YA authors and other readers think about a lot of the sexual content in YA books. I know a lot of people are totally fine with it but I also know I can't be the ONLY girl who doesn't feel entirely comfortable reading some of it. And it's not about censorship; it's about me being selective about what I read - and NOT reading the stuff I don't feel comfortable reading."

So what do you think? Please feel free to express your honest opinions in the comments, but keep in mind the fact that we do have younger readers and moderate your language accordingly. Thanx!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

SO NOT THE DRAMA by Paula Chase

Today, we welcome young adult author, Paula Chase, to the Cafe. Paula has written for Girls’ Life, Sweet 16, and Baltimore Magazine among others. Her Del Rio Bay Clique series helped launch Kensington Books YA line and joins the growing number of YA books targeted to multi-culti suburbanite teens. Chase calls her brand of teen literature, Hip Lit, a nod to the diversity spawned by the MTV-watching, 106th & Park-ing, pop culture hungry hip hop generation.

The Cafe is pleased to have her as our guest as she celebrates the debut of her first YA novel.

Mary P: Tell us about So Not the Drama! What was your inspiration for this story?

Paula: It's about a high school freshman's quest for popularity and how that quest is abruptly ended when a sociology project's assignment to eliminate prejudice backfires, causing a rift between she and her best friend.

At its core, So Not The Drama is a friendship story. But surrounding it is a light, fun look at the highs and lows that go along with making the transition from middle to high school and how that period can be such an awakening for some teens. The story’s very much in the vein of Two-A-Days and The Hills or any t(w)een show that proves, when you're under the age of 20 life is drama. The two are so interconnected, you can't tell the difference at that age. And I love it. Dramalicious!

Several things inspired this book:
1) my own experiences as a 'burb teen
2) knowing my daughter would likely go through a similar ‘black in the 'burbs’ experience
3) my absolute adoration for how simple and complex being a teenager can be

Mary P: Tell us about "the" call. How did you find out you sold a book and how did you react?

What sticks out most in my mind about the call was it was actually a series of calls. My agent and I were on the phone back and forth the entire day as she passed me key parts of the deal and kept me in the loop on the verbal negotiations.

It felt very much like wheeling and dealing should...even though I wasn't doing any of the wheeling. More like riding along while my agent did the work.

I'll confess that my reaction was boring. I didn't scream or cry or start shaking. I was incredibly happy and I kept filling my husband in on every detail each time the phone rang. But I guess I'm not excitable. And yet, I don’t have a poker face. Go figure.

My favorite part was when she called back with the final numbers. It was hilarious. If a camera had taped that moment it would have caught me looking pretty dumbfounded. It felt just like when you go into a fancy store where you know you can't afford anything. But just for kicks and giggles you ask, in this real serious tone "How much is this?" As if you could actually afford it. And they say, "Fourteen."

In that moment, you're attempting to keep your face stoic. But for one brief millisecond your real emotions seep out and the look says, "Thousand? Is this thing really fourteen thousand?!"

Of course, you don't say that out loud because obviously the person doesn't mean it's fourteen dollars since everything in the store costs more than what you pay for your mortgage.

So when my agent uttered the number that's how I felt because she didn't say the full out number. She said it like they do in fancy circles. That's why I love my agent. She's such a cool cucumber.

Mary P: How did you become a writer?

I've always been one. As a kid I made up stories all the time. I also read voraciously, which only fed my urge to write my own.

Then as a teen, me and my best friend Nicki would write stories and exchange them. Instead of paying attention in class I'd read the story she wrote and then I'd add on to it. She'd do the same and we'd just keep exchanging stories like that.

It was sort of like a write-your-own-adventure. It was fun because she might take the story a place I never intended. It was equally as exciting to read what she wrote as it was to add on.

As much as I love writing, I detoured to PR in college. So I ended up doing a lot of corporate writing for a long time. Fairly boring, but no matter what I wrote about I still felt there was some art to it. No doubt there are a few thousand purple (read: flowery) press releases walking the earth thanks to me.

In '01 I jumped back into writing by doing music reviews and eventually I began contributing to magazines. Once I started doing that I was hooked. It made me wonder why I never bothered to seriously pursue Journalism.

But my PR background isn't just a nice thing to have, now that I have books to promote, it's a Godsend. So that cliche, "everything happens for a reason," is true this time round.

Mary P: Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

Paula: Pop culture!!

I'm the queen of mindless (often useless) information. I was so geekily excited about the VH1 show, World Series of Pop Culture. It was cool seeing that there are others out there like me - hopelessly addicted to information as inane as the name of the housekeeper that took Alice the maid's place for a brief period on The Brady Bunch. I mean, seriously, who keeps this type of minutiae in their head?

Oh right, I do.

Music, TV, Film, whatever. I consume it all. And I consider a great deal of it research for my YA. Well, at least that's my story…and I'm sticking to it.

Mary P: Thank you so much for sharing with us, Paula. We wish you much success with your new book! Congratulations!

~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Paula, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Open Discussion: What's Missing?

This week on the Cafe, we thought we'd try a change of pace and open the floor to a general discussion on YA lit. So here's your chance to weigh in and sound off. The topic, from one of our readers:

What genre or subject matter seems to be neglected in today's contemporary teen lit?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

In a starred review, School Library Journal calls Sara Zarr's debut novel, Story of a Girl, "realistic fiction at its best," and VOYA says the first person narrative is "unusually senstive and perceptive." We are thrilled to have first time novelist, Sara Zarr, here at the Cafe to talk about her well-received book and also share a little about herself.

Mary P: Tell us about Story of a Girl! What was your inspiration for this story?

Sara Z: The character Deanna Lambert was my inspiration. She'd turned up as a side character in another book I wrote, and I realized she was the most interesting thing going on in that book and I sat down to write about her and the voice was just there. The specifics of her story changed through various revisions, but her voice and her outlook on life were the guiding forces. I wanted to know what had happened to her that made her so tough, and what was beneath that exterior? The surface details of the story are that her father caught her with an older boy when she was 13, and how that changed all her relationships. For me, it's mostly about family, and emotional survival under extreme duress.

Mary P: I loved the relationships in the story and how they evolved. Like VOYA said, it was unusually sensitive, which made it all so real. How has the publication of your first book been different than you expected?

Sara Z: Well, I was a bit surprised that the publication didn't suddenly make me feel validated, secure, fearless, and complete. I still struggle with all the same old demons, plus some new ones. That said, my first book experience has been about as awesome as it could possibly be. My publisher (Little, Brown) has been amazingly supportive and enthusiastic, reviews are good, reader response (from both teens and adults) is positive, and I feel like it's gotten the right kind of attention. I know many authors have a different experience on various fronts or have excellent books that fall through the cracks when they shouldn't. I feel very fortunate.

Mary P: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Sara Z: Getting started on the daily work always feels like an epic battle for some reason. There are so many other things vying for my attention---things that seem to offer a lot more on the instant gratification front. Writing is the ultimate delayed gratification. You can work for months on something before seeing any results that you're happy with.

Mary P: Yes, I think authors win the award on the delayed gratification front. But there are all those little moments too, where the writing just feels so right and that keeps you moving forward. There were lots of those great "moments" in Story of a Girl. Do you have a favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Sara Z: I really love the scenes between Deanna and her older brother, Darren. I don't think I could pick something specific---it feels like a betrayal of whatever I don't pick! There's something about their relationship, though, that I find really sweet and tender even though they are both so tough in their own ways.

Mary P: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Sara Z: With this book, I never shied away from the emotionally difficult parts. They were actually pretty cathartic for me; the hard part is always hitting exactly the right pitch---not overstating, not understating, not being too literal but still being clear, etc. I never saw Deanna as a victim and wanted to make sure she didn't come across that way. At the same time, she definitely took unfair knocks and the people who should have helped her deal with them (i.e. her parents) abdicated that responsibility. So overall, the biggest challenge was writing honestly about a situation in which no one had really been right and weaving all the fallout into a compelling story.

Mary P: Which you did beautifully. Have you ever wanted to quit writing?

Sara Z: I don't know if "wanted" is the right word, but there were definitely times I wondered if I should. It took about ten years from when I started writing seriously to when I made my first sale, and every single year during that time I'd think, "This is my year." And then it wouldn't be, and I'd wonder how many more years it would take. I didn't take career jobs because I knew I wanted to write, so around age 32 or 33 I really started thinking maybe I should go back to school and get a real career and move on from this dream. Also around that time I lost my first agent, got laid off of my job, and basically had no hope or prospects. It was a tough time. It was actually Deanna and her story that kept me going. I just had a feeling about this book, that this would be the one.

Mary P: If you could be anything else besides a writer, what would it be?

Sara Z: I would love to make a movie some day. ("What I really want to do is direct!") During my career crisis, I thought about being a nutritionist before realizing that you actually had to take chemistry and science and stuff and basically be pre-med. I also really enjoy the house-wifey aspects of my life now that I'm home more.

Mary P: What were you like as a teen?

Sara Z: Sort of the social version of "jack of all trades, master of none." That is, I had friends in a lot of different social circles but never felt entirely a part of any of them. My closest cohorts were the drama geeks. I was fairly studious and well-behaved...a dork, is what I'm trying to say.

Mary P: But a very talented one ; ) Thank you so much, Sara, for sharing with us. Congratulations on such a fine debut. We wish you, Deanna, and Story of a Girl much success!


~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Sara, fire away! !