Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview with Libby Schmais, author of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein

Marlene: Tell us about your book

Libby: The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein is a novel about existential dread, cupcakes and l’amour. It’s the story of a teenager named Lotus Lowenstein who lives in Park Slope and is kind of obsessed with Sartre (who she calls JP), France and falling in love. Her diary book chronicles her day-to-day life in Brooklyn, falling in love, going to Montreal, not to mention a falling out with her best friend Joni over Sean, the boy they both have feelings for.

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Libby: I was inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan, which is a diary book written by a young woman in the Imperial Court of Japan in the year 1002 It’s called The Pillow Book because the author, Sei Shonagan, was given some notebooks by the Empress to make into a pillow. She used the notebooks to write her thoughts down. When I first read The Pillow Book, I was struck by how modern and even witty it was. I’ve always loved diary books, so I wanted to find a way to use the diary concept and The Pillow Book in a novel. I came up with the idea of a girl living in Park Slope, Brooklyn who was studying The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon in English class, and has the assignment of writing her own pillow book. This also allowed me to include a number of quotes from the original Pillow Book.

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

Libby: Yes, I remember writing the first sentence and immediately liking the character of Lotus. The beginning is pretty straightforward, in the classic first person narrative “Call Me Ishmael” tradition. Lotus starts with: As you may have guessed, my name is Lotus Lowenstein and this is my diary.

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

Libby: The research for this book was, as Lotus would say, très enjoyable. I read a great biography about the relationship between Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, perused some books of French slang and existentialism and took a road trip to Montreal to eat Poutine (a Canadian concoction of French Fries, cheese curds and gravy). I also wandered around Park Slope, eating cupcakes and drinking cappuccino.

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

Libby: I am particularly fond of the opening of the book where Lotus describes her hopes and dreams, which involve moving to Paris and wandering around in a Trenchcoat with her imaginary French boyfriend, Jean-something.

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

Libby: One of the parts I had particular trouble with was the fight between the two best friends, Lotus and Joni, and accurately portraying the deep emotions of a friend breakup. Towards the end of the writing of the book, I actually had a falling out (later resolved) with one of my own close friends, which actually helped give me insight into how painful it was for Joni and Lotus.

Marlene: What's on your nightstand right now?

Libby: A glass of water, my Juice Beauty moisturizer, a book on Henry the VIII by Alison Weir (research for my next YA novel), Life in Tudor England (see the theme here), On Writers Block by Victoria Nelson (a great book) and Gidget (highly recommended & who knew she was Jewish).

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

Libby: Yes, there have been times that I’ve definitely wanted to quit writing. It’s easy to get discouraged when the writing isn’t going well, or when you start comparing yourself to other writers (always a bad idea). Before I started writing this book, I hadn’t written for a while. But I find than when I stop writing, I actually feel worse, not better, so I need to keep reminding myself of that during difficult writing periods.

Marlene: What’s the French Word du Jour?

Libby: Today’s French Word du Jour is Chouette, which means great. If you collect all the French words du jour on the Blog Tourapalooza, you can enter a contest to win fabulous prizes (A $25 Sephora gift card and a personally autographed Pillow Book!). Once you’ve visited all the blog tour stops and collected all the words, email the list of words to with the subject line “French Word du Jour Contest.” The deadline for entries is December 20th and a winner will be selected at random on December 22, 2009. The complete My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have-a-Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza schedule can be found at Our next tour stop is Carrie’s YA Bookshelf on December 3, 2009. See you on the road, mes amis!

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment. Libby will pop back in for one week to respond. You’re up!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interview with Alyson Noel, author of Shadowland

She always believed he was her destiny—but what if fate has other plans?

Enter the realm of The Immortals—and experience the extraordinary #1 New York Times bestselling series that has taken the world by storm.

Ever and Damen have traveled through countless past lives—and fought off the world’s darkest enemies—so they could be together forever. But just as their long-awaited destiny is finally within reach, a powerful curse falls upon Damen…one that could destroy everything. Now a single touch of their hands or a soft brush of their lips could mean sudden death—plunging Damen into a bleak afterlife in the Shadowland, an eternal abyss for lost souls. Desperate to break the curse and save Damen, Ever immerses herself in magick—and gets help from an unexpected source…Jude Knight.

Although she and Jude have only just met, he feels startlingly familiar. Despite her fierce loyalty to Damen, Ever is drawn to Jude, a green-eyed golden boy with magical talents and a mysterious past. She’s always believed Damen to be her soul mate and one true love—and she still believes it to be true. But as Damen pulls away to save them from the darkness inhabiting his soul, Ever’s connection with Jude grows stronger—and tests her love for Damen like never before…

Marlene: Tell us about your book

Alyson: SHADOWLAND is the third book in THE IMMORTALS series and it picks up right where BLUE MOON left off, with Damen and Ever unable to touch due to a poison that turns their touch lethal, prompting Ever to turn to magick, hoping to find a cure. Along the way encountering the mysterious Jude Knight who will test her love for Damen like never before . . .

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Alyson: The inspiration for the series was grief. A few years ago I lost three people I loved in five months, and shortly after that I nearly lost my husband to leukemia (he’s in full remission now!). Experiencing that sort of loss got me thinking a lot about life and death, mortality and immortality, the bonds that tie us even after a loved one is gone, and how our youth loving culture sort of seeks physical immortality by trying to remain youthful looking for as long as we can—and yet, what would happen if we really could achieve it? What would it mean for us, our loved ones, society in general? And since I’ve been interested in all things paranormal since I was a kid, Ever and Damen’s story seemed like the perfect vehicle to explore all of those themes.

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

Alyson: Yep—and it’s the same routine with each book. Before I start the actual writing, when I’m still in what I call the “organizing stage,” where I’m outlining, researching, and getting my notes together, that first sentence always just pops into my head, and so far, oddly enough, it’s never once changed!

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

Alyson: The research I’ve done for this series has been eye opening, mind-blowing, fascinating, and fun! I took a three-day, psychic development course with world famous medium James Van Praagh that exceeded all my wildest expectations, and I went under hypnosis for a past life regression with best selling author, Dr. Brian Weiss where I saw things I never could’ve imagined! I also read a ton of books on psychics, mediums, ghosts, reincarnation, near death experiences, past lives, chakras, crystals, you name it! And I took a few field trips as well, like one to The Getty museum where I checked out an exhibit I reference in SHADOWLAND, as well as a really fun trip to the “Shake Shack” in Crystal Cove where I pretty much had no choice but to consume a variety of milk shakes to ensure I got the flavors in EVERMORE right. Oh how I suffer for my art!

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

Alyson: Well, without giving anything away, I have two favorite scenes in SHADOWLAND. One that takes place in The Getty Museum in LA where some secrets of Damen’s are revealed, and one that takes place in an art gallery and Amsterdam that actually made me tear up!

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

Alyson: My deadlines are such that I have no time for avoiding or prolonged struggling—I just plow my way through no matter what!

Marlene: What's on your nightstand right now?

Alyson: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits—research!

Marlene: I have that book too!

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

Alyson: Travel, Travel, Travel, reading, art, food, wine, movies, music, TV, shopping, and did I mention Travel?

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

Alyson: Nope, not once. I’ve had so many jobs I either disliked or hated, and this is not one of them. In fact, it’s not even a job—writing books is still a dream come true for me!

For more information about Alyson and her books visit her website at

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment. Alyson will pop back in for one week to respond. You’re up!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Teen Read Week with Marlene Perez

October 18-24 is Teen Read Week! Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.Here are a few "beyond reality" musings from YA Author Marlene Perez:

What is the strangest thing you have ever seen? I once lived in a house that I thought was haunted. Flickering lights, banging noises, and strange voices. I have a suspicion that it may have been one of my brothers playing a prank, but at the time, I was scared silly. Nevertheless, it left me with the idea that anything is possible.

Which Beyond Reality character would you want to have dinner with? All of them! But if I had to pick just a few, I'd say Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye, Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time.

In ten words or less, what is the most "Beyond Reality" thing in your newest book? Nightshade, CA (where the DEAD IS books take place) is a pretty unreal place, so the abnormal is the normal. So everything. And I can never say ANYTHING in ten words or less.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Laura Wiess Celebrates Teen Read Week

October 18-24 is Teen Read Week! Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.

Here are a few "beyond reality" musings from YA Author Laura Wiess:

What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?

Stranger than large, hairy men strolling the beach wearing nothing but Speedos, black socks and sandals? Sorry. That was an old summer flashback. But even my lone brush with the supernatural still kind of pales in comparison.

Have you ever encountered a ghost?

Well…I don't think of it as a ghost, exactly. More like a leftover imprint in time. But yes, I have.

About fifteen years ago, I was living in an old farmhouse in New Jersey, home alone writing in the studio off the living room, and I wanted fresh coffee. So I got up and totally preoccupied, walked through the living room and as I entered the kitchen (still lost in thought), I glanced down the hall leading to the back door.

There, standing inside and next to the door was a tall, thin old man wearing a plaid hunting shirt and a pair of old, worn-looking gray work pants.

I looked away and just kept walking, thinking distractedly, Oh, there's an old man by the door, and then skidded to a stop and was like What?? So I backed up three steps and looked again, and of course there was nothing there.

I waited a moment to see if I felt anything, but no. No chill, no threat, no ghostly whispers. I made sure the door was still locked – it was – and then I just started laughing because it was so cool. He was a stranger, maybe a hobo who'd stopped for food once a long time ago, maybe a former occupant. I have no idea, but I'd never seen him before, and never did again.


No, I can't even manage to catch sight of a shooting star, despite the night sky being full of them here.


Not yet, but I'm pretty open to whatever comes along. (Even if nothing ever does.)

You wish you could:

Twitch my nose like Bewitched with the same grand spectrum of results. Oh, what a time I would have!

Which Beyond Reality character would you want to have dinner with?

I have two, both from A.M. Jenkins' novel Night Road. Cole, the main character, because he endlessly fascinates me, and Sandor because I think he'd be great to hang out with. I'd love to hear more of the stories of their lives.

Where would you go? What would you eat?

We'd need to be able to relax, talk freely and just hang around with nobody giving us dirty looks for hogging the table, so maybe an empty park with picnic tables in the shade. I'd bring deli food and coffee, but they would either have to feed before we met up or bring a Building omni along for a snack because my blood is definitely not on the menu.

In ten words or less, what is the most "Beyond Reality" thing in your newest book?

A secret past is invisible, unless it's deliberately revealed.

Laura Wiess is the author of Such a Pretty Girl, Leftovers, and the recently-released How It Ends. For more information, visit

Thanks, Laura!

Your turn--have YOU ever seen a ghost?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

David Macinnis Gill Celebrates Teen Read Week

October 18-24 is Teen Read Week! Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.

Here are a few "beyond reality" musings from YA Author David Macinnis Gill:

What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?

A snake with two heads--and it was alive!

Have you ever encountered a ghost?

No, sadly, I never have, although I've tried a few times.


I thought I had, but it turned out to be a weather balloon.


Do relatives count?

You wish you could:

Stop time and bend space.

Which Beyond Reality character would you want to have dinner with?

Dracula. He doesn't drink wine, so I could have his.

Where would you go? What would you eat?

We would go to a salad bar. I wouldn't want a rare steak to whet his appetite.

In ten words or less, what is the most "Beyond Reality" thing in your newest book?

The cranky demon who repossesses both cars and souls.

David Macinnis Gill is the author of the debut novel, Soul Enchilada, from Greenwillow/Harper Collins. His short stories have appeared in several magazines, including The Crescent Review and Writer’s Forum. His critical biography of young adult author Graham Salisbury, Graham Salisbury: Island Boy, was published by Scarecrow Press. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English/creative writing and a doctorate in education, both from the University of Tennessee. You can learn more about David and his writing at

Thanks, David!

Your turn--what amazing thing do you wish YOU could do?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Melissa Wyatt Celebrates Teen Read Week

October 18-24 is Teen Read Week!
Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.

Here are a few "beyond reality" musings from YA Author Melissa Wyatt:

Melissa, what is the strangest thing you have ever seen?

I'm looking at it right now. My dog is on her back with her legs crossed. All four of them.

Have you ever encountered a ghost? UFO? Other?

No, but my great-great-grandmother was a witch. Seriously. She was a Pennsylvania Dutch pow-wow witch, and she used to drive my grandmother crazy, always casting spells (good ones!) on the children. I have her spell book, so watch out!

You wish you could:

Really make that spell book work.

Which "beyond reality" character would you like to have dinner with?


Where would you go? What would you eat?

I imagine we would go to a tavern and have good wine, crusty bread and olives.

What is the most "beyond reality" thing in your newest book?

Me! Okay, I sort of wasn't going to admit this, but a very minor character in Funny How Things Change is based on me. And I'm not particularly proud of her behavior, either.

Melissa Wyatt is the author of two very realistic novels for young adults, Raising the Griffin and Funny How Things Change. Visit her at her website:

Your turn! What is the strangest thing you've ever seen?


We are very happy to welcome YA author Laura Resau to the Cafe today!

With a background in cultural anthropology and ESL-teaching, Laura has lived and traveled extensively in Latin America. Her first book in a new travel-adventure series, The Indigo Notebook, has just been released.

Her previous novel, Red Glass, won numerous awards, including the IRA YA Fiction Award and the Americas Award, and was selected as an Oprah's Kids' Book List Pick. Acclaimed for its sensitive treatment of immigration issues, a starred review from Publishers' Weekly calls Red Glass a "vibrant, large-hearted story."

Laura's award-winning debut novel, What the Moon Saw was praised as "a powerful, magical story ... a rare glimpse into an indigenous culture" in a starred review from Booklist. Laura now lives with her husband, toddler, and dog in Colorado. She is donating a portion of her royalties to indigenous rights organizations in Latin America. Please visit her at .

"The characters fairly brim with life in this thoughtful, poignant novel filled with cultural details." – Kirkus Reviews on The Indigo Notebook

Please join us in welcoming Laura to the Cafe . . .

Mary: Tell us about your newest book, The Indigo Notebook.

Laura: This is the first novel in a new series about a teenage girl named Zeeta who lives in a different country every year with her flighty, ESL-teaching mother. In this first book, Zeeta and her mom are in the Ecuadorian Andes. It appears that Zeeta's wish for a "normal," settled-down life might come true. It's in Ecuador where she meets Wendell, an American boy who needs her help on his search for his birth parents. As Zeeta and Wendell have adventures together, they explore what it means to have their greatest wishes come true.

While writing this book, I thought a lot about the idea that what we think will make us happiest might not be what truly makes our spirits fly. In some ways, this story was my attempt to work through this "happiness trap."

What was your inspiration for this story?

Laura: I've always loved living abroad and traveling, and there's a part of me that wishes I could live a wandering life, like Zeeta and Layla. That's how I got the idea for the series premise. I felt inspired to set the first book in Ecuador after spending time in indigenous Quichua communities in the Otavalo region. At the time, I was researching a different book-- a memoir co-written with my Ecuadorian friend Maria. On my first trip there, I fell in love with the landscape and heard fascinating stories and met new friends… and not surprisingly, the beginnings of a novel started brewing.

On my second trip, I focused on research specifically for this novel, which led me to a healing ritual with a shaman. During that ritual, I realized I was ready to adopt a baby (after five years of trying to have one). When I returned home, I spent the next several months filling out the adoption paperwork, going to adoption workshops, and writing a draft of The Indigo Notebook. Inevitably, my reflections on my son's possible future feelings about his adoption became woven into the novel.

(Update: My son came home to us from Guatemala almost two years ago, and he's an exuberant, loving, beautiful little toddler.)

Mary: Congratulations! Your writing really did take you on an incredible life-changing journey!

Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Laura: Normally I work on one book at a time during the first several drafts, although this book was different. During an early draft of The Indigo Notebook, I was inspired to write Star in the Forest-- a middle-grade novel about a girl whose dad was recently deported to Mexico (a story interwoven with magical folklore). I felt a sense of urgency to write this novel, and didn't think I could wait until after The Indigo Notebook.

I was motivated by a fan of What the Moon Saw (my first book), who identified strongly with the main character, Clara, but with one important difference: Clara had documents, which enabled her to come and go across the border to visit her grandparents' Oaxacan village. This girl, however, came to the U.S. as a young child without documents, so she was unable to go visit her father (since the return trip would be too dangerous).

A complete story idea came to me. I was afraid that if I didn't write it down immediately, I'd never do it. So (without telling my agent or editor, hee hee hee) I put The Indigo Notebook aside for a few weeks and wrote Star in the Forest like a madwoman. It felt like playing hooky, since I had a contract and a looming deadline for The Indigo Notebook. The guilt made me spin the story out that much faster, so that I could get back to working on what I was supposed to be doing. The resulting book, Star in the Forest, will be released in March 2010. I'm so grateful I gave into that impulse to play hooky-- I'm really proud of the final product (and I ended up finishing The Indigo Notebook on time anyway. Happy ending!)

Mary: Wow, that is amazing, and I am sure your agent and editor are happy you played "hooky" too.
Do you do other types of writing besides YA or MG?

Laura: I love writing short travel memoir pieces (for adults). People who read these pieces get a special glimpse of the inspiration for my novels, since my fiction is largely based on experiences I've had. These pieces are mostly set in southern Mexico, with some mysticism and humor thrown in. I have a piece appearing in The Best of Lonely Planet Travel Writing, to be released in November. (On the links section of my website, I link to anthologies that have published these short works.)

Can you tell us what you are working on now?

Laura: I'm revising The Ruby Notebook, which is the sequel to The Indigo Notebook. It's set in Aix-en-Provence, France, where I lived for a year during my junior year abroad in college. I'm also jotting down notes about the third novel in the series, The Jade Notebook, set in a small coastal village in Oaxaca. And I'm getting ready to revise The Queen of Water, the collaborative memoir with Maria Virginia Farinango, to be released in spring of 2011. Okay, I'd better get to work now…

Thanks for a great interview! It's been a pleasure!

Mary: The pleasure is all ours, Laura! Best of luck with your new book!

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, please feel free to post away in the comments!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cynthia Leitich Smith celebrates Teen Read Week

October 18-24 is Teen Read Week!
Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.

Here are a few "beyond reality" musings from YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith:

What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?

The yard gnome that Libba Bray gave me. I swear it comes to life at night.

Have you ever encountered a ghost?

Yes, my house is haunted.


Nope, though I'm told my father saw some in the Air Force.


Do '80s Brat Packers count?

You wish you could:

Take a month-long driving tour of the new South.

Which Beyond Reality character would you want to have dinner with?

Zachary from Eternal.

Where would you go? What would you eat?

The restaurant bar at the Edison Hotel on South Congress. Beer-battered fish sticks.

In ten words or less, what is the most "Beyond Reality" thing in your newest book?

A Dracula with a taste for homemade rhubarb pie.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the YA author of Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Tantalize, and Eternal--a Beyond Reality Book. The casts of Tantalize and Eternal will crossover in a forthcoming novel, Blessed. Her latest short stories appear in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, and Sideshow: Ten Original Dark Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical. Cynthia makes her home in Austin, Texas with her sometimes co-author husband and four bossy cats.

Thanks, Cyn!

Your turn--have YOU ever seen a ghost?

Monday, October 19, 2009

E. Lockhart celebrates Teen Read Week

October 18-24 is Teen Read Week!

Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.

Here are a few "beyond reality" musings from YA Author E. Lockhart:

Emily, what is the strangest thing you have ever seen?

I live in New York City. Yesterday, I saw a group of teenagers dressed in black corsetry waving red flags and carrying swords, giggling on the subway. Ask me again tomorrow.

Have you ever encountered a ghost? UFO? Other?

I probably have -- but I missed it. My nose was in a book.

You wish you could:

Fly. I have dreams about it all the time.

Which "Beyond Reality" character would you want to have dinner with?

Mr. Tumnus.

Where would you go? What would you eat?

We'd go to Pure Food and Wine, an all raw-food, very upscale restaurant near Grammercy Park. I think he'd like it.

What is the most "Beyond Reality" thing in your newest book?

In The Treasure Map of Boys, Nora bakes (possibly) magic cookies. If you give one to a boy, he will (possibly) do your bidding. You kind of have to wish while he is chewing. Or maybe you have to tell him what you want. Or maybe you need to eat a cookie, too. It's not entirely clear how these magic cookies work. However, they very often work. That is the point.

E. Lockhart is the author, most recently, of The Treasure Map of Boys, book three in the Ruby Oliver series. Her other books include Dramarama and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Thanks, Emily!
hm . . . what character would YOU have dinner with?

Sunday, October 18, 2009


October 18-24 is Teen Read Week!

Sponsored by YALSA, this year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.

Here at the Cafe we are helping to celebrate Teen Read Week by having a different YA author each day sharing some "Beyond Reality" experiences! Find out the strangest things they have ever seen! If they have ever seen a ghost! What "beyond reality" character they want to take out for dinner! We will want to hear YOUR answers to these far out questions too

Look for the first author tomorrow!
(hint: the author's initials are E.L.)


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

Jo Knowles' newest YA novel sensitively and tenderly explores the repercussions of teen pregnancy among four friends.

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said "Absorbing from first page to last, this sensitively written novel explores how a teenager's crisis rocks her life as well as the lives of others. "

We're delighted to welcome Jo Knowles to the YA Authors Cafe!

Melissa W: Tell us about your book, Jumping Off Swings.

I always do a lousy job at describing my books, so here’s my publisher’s description:

“Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For awhile anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their "one-time thing" is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind.”

I know that’s totally cheating and I am sorry. But really that’s much better than I would’ve done. :-)

Melissa W: Summaries are tough! I always say if I could tell the story in a hundred words, I wouldn't have taken up two hundred pages!Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

The words aren’t the same but the scene is quite close. In early drafts, Ellie’s chapters were all written in free verse. I decided to change that form when it became too restricting for what I wanted to say and needed to accomplish with her chapters.

Melissa W: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

I think it’s different for every book. But with the last two manuscripts (PEARL, which is coming out with Henry Holt in 2011, and my current work-in-progress), it was getting that first draft DONE and then realizing one of the reasons it was so hard to finish was that I’d chosen the wrong tense to write it in. For both novels, I scrapped the entire manuscript and started from scratch. This actually happened with LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL too. I’m hoping it’s not my “process” because WOW, that is a very inefficient way to write! However, I will say that it helps me to rethink the story, to get closer to it somehow, to hear it in a new voice. And that has been extremely helpful.

Melissa W: What are you working on now?

My next novel is called PEARL and it’s set to come out in Spring ’11 with Henry Holt. It’s about a girl who lives with her mom and grandfather and what happens when her grandfather dies and family secrets are unleashed. There’s also a lot about friendship, mother-daughter relationships, love and row-boat rides in a smelly river.

Melissa W: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

I don’t think it was a questions of wanting to quit, but rather a question of whether I should quit. Just before I sold my first book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, I was reaching the point of lots of close calls but no offers. I’d been with my agent for a while and kept thinking any day now he was going to drop me and I wouldn’t blame him. I think at some point, you just start to think, Well, I know I came close but I guess I just don’t have what it takes. But let me tell all you writers out there that this is the WORST thing to think because if you are having close calls, it means you are SO CLOSE to getting THE call. The only sure way to fail is to give up. So just stick it out. Keep writing. Keep getting better. Keep getting your best work out there. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the stars to align exactly right. Seriously. There is a lot of luck involved in this crazy business. But there is also a lot of heart and bravery and believing in yourself and the characters you love. Don’t give up on them and don’t give up on yourself.

Very true and wise. Thanks so much for stopping by the Cafe, Jo!

For more information on Jo and her books, please visit her website.

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, please feel free to post away in the comments!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Cara Haycak started her writing career at Columbia University’s graduate writing program and received an MFA in 1995.

Her first YA novel, Red Palms was awarded a Work-in-Progress grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2000, and was published in 2004 by Random House Children’s Books/Wendy Lamb Books.

Dutton Children’s Books will publish her second novel for young adults, Living on Impulse, on August 20, 2009. She lives in Los Angeles, with her husband and young son.

Booklist calls Living on Impulse ". . . stirring, smart, and affirming read."

And Publisher’s Weekly says, "Haycak creates a realistic portrait of a teenage girl whose life is spiraling out of control . . . With painstaking yet gratifying care, Haycak eventually starts Mia along the path of self-realization and forgiveness."

Please join me in welcoming Cara Haycak to the YA Authors Cafe!
Mary: Tell us about your newest book, Living on Impulse.

Cara: It’s about a 15-year-old girl named Mia, a high-school sophomore growing up in a college town in upstate New York, who has a bit of trouble controlling her impulses. When she gets caught shoplifting, her mother gives her an ultimatum—get a job and pay off your debts or else you’ll be out your own.

Mia takes an unusual route. She winds up accepting a job in the university’s entomology department…breeding flies.

On a deeper level, this a story about metamorphosis…Mia’s. She’s completely transformed as we read about her, and in a way that one might not expect. It’s not beauty or perfection that inspires her, but its opposite—an ugly white worm, a horribly dysfunctional family—it’s the harsher realities which show her how fragile yet tremendous the world can be.

And the idea of a cocooning is central to the story, too. Mia is forced to enter a cocoon of her own as everything familiar is torn away in the first half of the book: Her friends desert her, her family breaks down, even her sense of self is shaken to the core. And so, in order to emerge as an adult she must build a new life in the dark and by herself, using truth and passion—and most importantly, her instinct for risky impulses—as her guiding forces.

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

Cara: This book started as a short story that was published in Cicada Magazine, many years ago. That story opens with a scene of Mia shoplifting, and so does the book. The only difference between them is a change of tense…in the book, the opening paragraphs are written in the present tense.

"In early April, Mia hits the department store downtown on the Commons…"

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

Cara: You bet. I wanted this girl to be a troubled and troublesome character. I wanted her acting out in ways that weren’t so pretty. She’s not always nice, she’s not always thoughtful, and she definitely makes some big mistakes.

But I didn’t want her to be an unlikeable character. I found out this is hard to do. I didn’t want teens to write her off, or think she wasn’t worth their time.

Sometimes I could walk this fine line by editing a bit to temper her behavior. Sometimes I could pump up the volume on the thing that triggers her to act out, so the reader can understand why she’s reacting badly. Sometimes I just let her be angry, and do what she’s got to do.

Ultimately, I’m hoping that teens will relate to her because of her dark side.
Mary: Tell us something about you that no one knows.

Cara: Since the heart of the story takes place in the entomology lab of the local university, where Mia works breeding flies, it seems important to mention that I did this same job between my junior and senior years of college at Cornells.

Like Mia, I was unsure of what I wanted to do when I graduated. I thought about studying law, which meant I had to take the LSATs, but I’m a terrible test taker. So I decided to stay at school for the summer, do the Stanley Kaplan course and test before the fall semester buried me in other studies.

I worked hard and the night before the exam, I decided to prepare a healthy and delicious dinner. I bought fresh scallops, grilled them, and immediately got food poisoning. I spent the whole night on the floor of the bathroom.

I missed the test, of course. And I never became a lawyer. But I did get to write about the fly lab, so I know that all the things we go through (the negative as well as the positive) are useful experiences. Especially, if what we really want to do is make art. It’s a choice that ultimately seems right for the character, Mia, too.

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

Cara: First draft. It kills me. I may know exactly what I want to write, and I’ll have the outline sitting there next to me, but getting it on paper feels like I’m literally pulling the gray matter of my brain out between my ears.

Mary: I can totally relate to that! I think I’ve lost a bit of gray matter that way myself! How did you become a writer?

Cara: I chose an obvious way, and went to graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing (Columbia University, 1995).

But I think storytelling intrigued me starting with watching Bugs Bunny cartoons when I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s. I loved all the Looney Tunes, but Bugs, in particular, blew me away. He was funny and irreverent, but he also had this amazing ability to control events as they were happening. You know, if the hunter has his shotgun aimed down your rabbit hole…well, then you just pull on it, and stretch it, then send it out a new rabbit hole and aim it back at his butt.

I really liked how Bugs was able to create the world he inhabited…and that he could make it work the way he wanted it to. That seemed to be a superpower.

And when writing is going well, I get to experience some of that. I think that’s the thrill for me.

Mary: I loved Bugs Bunny for all those reasons! He never lost his cool. What were you like as a teen?

Cara: See answer above, referencing Bugs Bunny. Rebel Rebel.

Mary: What's on your nightstand right now?

Cara: A lovely YA novel called If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. I never want it to end. A girl lying in coma narrates it, but it’s not dreary or a downer. It’s the most life-affirming book, about our relationships to the people we love and how they make life worth living, and how sometimes those relationships can tear you apart. It’s going to be made into a film directed by Catherine Hardwick (Twilight). Gosh, I should be her agent, I’m talking it up so much. But this book has me by the throat.

I just finished reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I adored it. She is an inspiration for me…She can write about things in a way that is so detailed and knowledgeable, and yet it’s so accessible because she writes characters that you fall in love with. And boy, she really lets you get to know the place she’s writing about, as well.

I’m just starting Haruki Murakami’s, Kafka at the Shore. His books are so out there. I love that feeling I get reading his work…that anything could happen.

Mary: What do you do to "unblock" writer's block?

Cara: Ignore it. Does that sound trite? I mean to say that if I’ve got a project going, instead of letting inertia take hold, I force myself to sit down and write. It helps to have an outline, because then you have an assignment: "Today is the day I write the scene in which the girl argues with her mother about money," etc.

Sometimes it goes very slow. But I always work where other people are working. A café, a library. That way I don’t feel so isolated.

In between projects, I can get very very….not blocked, but dry. Like, there’s nothing left but a dribble of brackish water way way down in the well. So I read, and that becomes the first step toward writing, because at least I’m doing something with words that have been put together with much tender care. Or I may get an idea for how to handle something that’s been percolating in my mind about a new story.

But just as often I start to feel a bit competitive or challenged. Like the gauntlet has been thrown down… "Top this sentence, why don’t you?" Or, it might be a gentler prod… "Do you think you could write a book this good? Wanna try?"

Thanks so much for including me on YA Authors Café!

Mary: Thank you so much, Cara! I loved hearing about your book, process, and the rebellious cartoons of your life! Congratulations on the imminent release of Living on Impulse!

For more information about Cara and her books visit her website at

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment. Cara will pop back in for one week to respond. You’re up!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Been dumped?

A new book is born!

THE COMEBACK by Marlene Perez

Congratulations, Marlene! And to celebrate, we are asking all of you out there to be brave and fess up--have you ever been dumped? Answer the questions at the bottom of the post. Yes, misery does love company.

And to sweeten the misery, three random posters will receive a free signed copy of The Comeback! (Isn't the cover gorgeous?) Here is a little snip of what it's about:

Sophie Donnelly is one half of the most popular and powerful couple in school, until new girl Angie Vogel shows up and compromises everything. Angie steals Sophie's starring role in the school play, and, worse, her super-popular boyfriend. Sophie has been quickly dispatched to social Siberia, but not for long--she'll do anything it takes to make a triumphant comeback.

The Book Muncher says: "There's something undeniably endearing about her character despite her all-consuming and sometimes desperate desire to be the top of the social food chain. It's probably because all of us have felt some degree of Sophie's jealousy before."

You got that right!

So here are your questions:

1. Have you ever been dumped?
2. What did you do?
3. How long did it take you to get over it?
4. Looking back now, was it for the best?

Brave Bonus question:

5. Have you ever been the dumper? Did you feel bad?

Let's hear it!

The posters who have won the random drawing for a signed copy of THE COMEBACK are jpetroroy, MotherReader, and Alissa.
Please e-mail Marlene at with your snail mail address to receive your prize.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger

BRENT HARTINGER is the author of many books for teenagers, including Geography Club, The Last Chance Texaco, Grand & Humble, and Project Sweet Life. Brent's book honors include being named a Book Sense 76 Pick (four times) and the winner of the Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Judy Blume Grant for Best Young Adult Novel.

Also a playwright and a screenwriter, Brent has several scripts under option and in the process of studio or network development, including a film version of his novel, Geography Club.

Brent teaches writing on the faculty at Vermont College in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. He lives in Seattle with Michael Jensen, his partner since 1992.

Brent writes regularly on gay entertainment for, and founded and now edits a fantasy-themed website, Visit Brent's author website at

Reviews for Project Sweet Life:

"A hilarious story filled with mishaps, close calls, and outrageous adventures....the novel will be especially appealing to middle school boys."
-- School Library Journal

"The boys’ friendship, lightly and expertly depicted, drives the book, while their smartly plotted moneymaking schemes are creative, highjinks-filled, and hilariously almost effective."
-- Horn Book Review

"Marked by sly wit and a certain old-fashioned jauntiness, this tale of three chums on a quest for indolence strikes many a wish-fulfillment fancy...Hartinger blends urban legend with the actual history of Tacoma’s routing of its Chinese community (author’s note included) to craft an irresistible setting (who wouldn’t want to explore lost tunnels under a city in search of treasure?), humorous episodes tinged with mild danger, and a light-hearted mystery"

Marlene P:What was your inspiration for this story?

Brent: Project Sweet Life is about three 15 year-old boys who are told by their dads to get jobs -- "because work builds character!" But they've always been told that age 16, not age 15, is the year that you're required to get that first "summer job," so they were all counting on having one last summer of job-less freedom to share together. They don't feel they're dads' demand is fair.

So, seeking to preserve one last golden "job-less" summer, they invent "fake" jobs to satisfy their dads, and then embark on a series of "get-rich-quick" schemes in order to make the money they should be making from working. But getting rich quick is more difficult than they think!

The inspiration? Well, it was very, very much the way my friends and I felt when we were teenagers: we took "summer freedom" very seriously. As we got older, we worked, of course, but the way we saw it, we'd worked hard all year long, and we'd work hard for the rest of our lives, so there was nothing wrong with taking some time off in the summer and enjoying ourselves. We were only going to be young once! Work hard and play hard.

Ironically, just as in the book, I'm convinced that playing hard, at least the way we did, builds far more "character" than if we'd worked at KFC all summer.

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

Brent: What an interesting question!

I had to check this. This first words are:

"Dave," my dad said at dinner, "it's time you got yourself a summer job."

And yup, they were the words right from the beginning. I have a tendency to jump right into things, and you can see that the book's central problem is right there at the start.

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

Brent: Interestingly, the very first inspiration for the book, even before I knew the story, was a true story I'd heard as I child: how my hometown of Tacoma, Washington, rounded up all its Chinese residents back in the 19th century, burned down Chinatown, and forced all the residents out of town and on a train down to Oregon. It was an historical event that ended up being called the "Tacoma Method" for a city's dealing with its immigrant population, and even today, over a hundred years later, Tacoma has a very small Chinese American population (not surprisingly).

I've been haunted by the story all my life. Can you imagine? Having your home burned down and being told to just leave? "Go away -- you and your whole community are not wanted here"?

As I got older and became a writer, I knew I wanted to write about it. But I didn't trust myself to write a historical novel or a literary novel -- I'm not a particular fan of either genre as a reader, and I'm a big believer that you should write the kind of book you love.

Anyway, Project Sweet Life is my attempt to write about this chilling historical event. I admit it's a "light," very round-about attempt! But there ends up being a treasure, and a big mystery that the kid attempt to solve, and it involves the expulsion of the Chinese, and the tunnels the Chinese supposedly dug under the city.

I'd like to think there's also a lesson about racism and historical accuracy in there somewhere.

And yes, I did a lot of research! I talked to town historians and read lots of local books. The best part was trying to find evidence of those actual tunnels -- which I sort of did. Do they really exist? I honestly think they do, but I can say no more -- I've been sworn to secrecy!

Marlene P: Which books influenced you most when you were growing up?

Brent: It's funny, because this book was very much inspired by the kinds of books I loved and read over and over again when I was a kid. Which were books like The Mad Scientists' Club, The Great Brain, The Chronicles of Narnia. Basically, stories about kids who go on pretty crazy, often "episodic" adventures, usually involving mysteries, but -- as I sort of mentioned above -- also end up discovering some important things about themselves and the world.

A lot of reviewers have commented on the "old-fashioned" nature of the story (in a good way!), which makes me happy, because that's exactly what I had intended: just a good, old-fashioned, somewhat outrageous, somewhat wacky comedy of errors -- but with contemporary characters and a more contemporary feel.

~~~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 Brent, please post them now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And the winners are:

Grand Prize winner:

Four (4) First Prize winners :

Please e-mail me (Marlene) at for details on how to collect your prize.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson Contest

We're having a contest!Please check out the video below and tell us one thing about Scarlett. You can also enter a second time by naming at least two other novels that Maureen Johnson has written. At the end of the week, posters will be chosen at random to receive the prizes!

One (1) Grand Prize winner will receive:
$50 Gift Card to PBteen®
Suite Scarlett paperback book

Four (4) First Prize winners will receive:
Suite Scarlett paperback book

Suite Scarlett Synopsis

When Scarlett Martin turns fifteen she is put in charge of the Empire Suite, one of the rooms in her family’s hotel. Enter Mrs. Amberson, an aging C-list starlet who decides to employ Scarlett. Soon, she is taking dictation, running around New York City, and getting caught up in Mrs. Amberson’s crazy adventures. In the midst of it all, Scarlett falls in love–or so she thinks–and it takes Mrs. Amberson to help her see the light. Now available in paperback!

Don't forget to leave your comments on the YA Authors Cafe blog in order to be eligible to win! And find out more about PBteen at and more about Maureen's books at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn

Talia fell under a spell . . . . Jack broke the curse.

I was told to beware the accursed spindle, but it was so enchanting, so hypnotic. . . .

I was looking for a little adventure the day I ditched my tour group. But finding a comatose town, with a hot-looking chick asleep in it, was so not what I had in mind.

I awakened in the same place but in another time—to a stranger's soft kiss.

I couldn't help kissing her. Sometimes you just have to kiss someone. I didn't know this would happen.

Now I am in dire trouble because my father, the king, says I have brought ruin upon our country. I have no choice but to run away with this commoner!

Now I'm stuck with a bratty princess and a trunk full of her jewels. . . . The good news: My parents will freak!

Think you have dating issues? Try locking lips with a snoozing stunner who turns out to be 316 years old. Can a kiss transcend all—even time?

Alex Flinn brings a new twist to an old tale. Her novel Beastly is being made into a major motion picture starring Vanessa Hudgens. We're thrilled she stopped by the Cafe for a chat!

Melissa W: How gorgeous is that cover? Tell us about your book, A Kiss in Time.

Alex: Sleeping Beauty in South Beach. It's about Talia, who is almost 16 circa 1700, and who is not supposed to touch spindles . . . but she does and falls asleep, along with her entire kingdom. It's also about Jack, who is on an uber-boring European tour. He gets tired of visiting the Museum of Napoleon's Nose Hair and watching the tour guide walk backwards, so he ditches the tour and looks for the beach. Instead, he finds a sleeping kingdom and a really hot princess. His friend dares him to kiss her. She wakes . . . and that's when it gets hairy. Everyone's mad at Talia for touching the spindle and messing things up. They're also furious at Jack for kissing the princess. You're not supposed to do that. So they throw him in the dungeon. Talia, meanwhile, wants out, so she offers to spring him if he'll take him with her . . . to Miami.

Melissa W: What was your inspiration for this story?

Alex: It never seemed right to me that Sleeping Beauty is awakened by a prince she doesn't know, a hundred or so years later, and lives "happily ever after." How would you be happy, in a new century whose customs you don't know, and married to a stranger? The thought reminded me of Rip Van Winkle, or the musical, Brigadoon, and I was off, bringing Sleeping Beauty to my world.

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

Alex: The story came to me in a gush as I was trying to revise another book (I never did). I wrote the first 50 pages very quickly and was happy not to have to go back to that other novel that wasn't working. Virtually everything about those 50 pages is the same.

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

Alex: The ending was tough. The hero of the story must face a challenge, but
because of the modern setting, Jack couldn't face an actual dragon or other historical battle. And yet, because of the quasi-historical setting, a kidnapping at gunpoint didn't seem appropriate either. In the end, I thought of an appropriate magical climax that also reflected the humor of the novel.

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

Alex: Today, I finished reading Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. It's a historical novel set in a leper colony in the late 19th and early 20th century. Although it's not YA, it appealed to me as a young-adult reader because the main character is 6 when she contracts Hanson's disease and is ripped from her family and banished to the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, and much of the novel takes place in her childhood and young-adult years. Because Rachel, the heroine, is taken to a group facility, it reminds me a lot of the British boarding school type of novels I've always liked, such as Jane Eyre, or Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle books.

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

Alex: Probably a librarian. I've often thought I'd enjoy being a librarian or a school media specialist. I've come into contact with many good ones, and I think I'd enjoy working with teens and coming up with innovative programming ideas. I've often wished I'd come up with that prior to going to law school.

Melissa W: What are you working on now?

Alex: A story that is a melange of different fairy tales -- The Frog Prince, The Shoemaker and the Elves, The Six Swans, The Golden Bird, The Salad, The Magic Fish, and The Brave Little Tailor. It's about a shoe repair employee in a South Beach hotel, who is asked by a princess to complete a quest . . . for her brother, who has been turned into a frog and set loose in the Florida Keys.

I can't wait to see how you get all of that into one book! But for now, congratulations on A Kiss in Time and the Beastly movie!

~~~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, please post them now.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

CAROL LYNCH WILLIAMS, a four-time winner of the Utah Original Writing Competition and winner of Nebraska’s Golden Sower Award, grew up in Florida but now lives in Utah with her husband and seven children. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and helped develop the conference on Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers at Brigham Young University.

The Chosen One, her newest book is about thirteen-year-old Kyra who has grown up in an isolated polygamous community without questioning her father’s three wives and her twenty brothers and sisters. Or at least without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her 60-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family.

Kirkus says The Chosen One is, “Intensely gripping and grippingly intense . . ."

and Booklist says it is “a heart pounder.”

Please join us in welcoming Carol Lynch Williams to the Café . . .

Mary: Tell us about your newest book The Chosen One

Carol: The Chosen One is about a 13-yr-old girl named Kyra Leigh Carlson. Kyra lives in a polygamist community that is stuck in the middle of nowhere. She has a loving father, three mothers and 20 brothers and sisters. Kyra has discovered the outside world by reading—something that is not allowed in her community. And she has also met someone that she cares about. But where Kyra lives the prophet chooses who you will marry, and the young women are saved for the old men of the community. When Kyra finds out that she has been chosen to marry someone else, she has to make some dangerous decisions.

Mary: What was your inspiration for this story?

Carol: Several years ago I heard about a girl who had run away from home several times. She ran because she was supposed to marry someone in her extended family. The girl was part of a small polygamist group. At that moment I knew, someday, that I would write something to do with polygamy.

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

Carol: The first words of the book are, “If I was going to kill the prophet, I’d do it in Africa.” I do remember coming up with the line, though I don’t remember what I was doing—not writing, that’s for sure. As soon as the words came to me, I knew I had the start of the novel.

My friend, Richard Peck, once spoke to a group of writers here in Utah. He said, “You are no greater than your first line.” For me, my first line was a strong one—one I hope Richard Peck would approve of. J And that beginning hasn’t changed.

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

Carol: I did a lot of research. I read many articles about polygamy, watched several specials that were aired as I started writing, talked to people who practiced polygamy or came from a polygamist background, and spent a lot of time making sure the facts for my story were right for my story—if that makes sense. This is a piece of fiction. But a lot of what I talk about has happened. Abuse occurs in all religions—and in homes where there is no religion.

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

Carol: The hardest part of this book was knowing that much of what I wrote truly happened in some homes. I cannot abide the thought that any child might be in a dangerous situation. So I didn’t relish the dark scenes of the book. When I talk to people about writing I always say, “Someone is either dead or naked in all the books I write.” When I realized exactly what was going to happen in this book, I was not happy.

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

Carol: How do I stay so young and beautiful—and all without surgery or smoke and mirrors.

Mary: Ha! Love it. I never get asked that question either. What are you working on now?

Carol: At this moment—and for maybe two more days, I am actually in between pieces. I just turned in my next novel for St. Martin’s Press, a young adult book called Lost in Peace. I’ll be working on rewrites as soon as I hear back from my editor. I’m thinking, though, that I need to write something lighthearted next. I’ve been in some icky places with my last few novels. Something funny would be nice.

That said, I do have a story that isn’t so happy that I’m about a third of the way finished with. So, we’ll see.

Mary: How did you become a writer?

Carol: I have always wanted to write. As a young girl I wrote as soon as I was capable of putting stories together. I wrote plays that my family performed. And when I was in ninth grade we actually had a creative writing section (about 9 weeks long) in English. During that time my regular teacher was gone, but we had a substitute and she read my story out loud in class. I was thrilled. Later, when I turned 16 or so, I began working on a collection of short stories. A few of those wound up in my first novel, Kelly and Me.

A hint for all the readers who want to be writers: writers write. So if you’re writing? You’re a writer.

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

Carol: I struggled with the format of the book. In order to tell the story, I had to spend a lot of time with flashbacks, in Kyra’s past. You have to know Kyra’s life before to see why she does what she does at the end. And I couldn’t figure out how to do that. I went to bed every night for like two weeks wondering how to fix the novel. Slowly it came to me what to do, and like an experiment, I started rewriting. And it worked out.

The saddest part of the novel for me is the final scene between Kyra and her sister, Laura. That was painful to write.

Mary: What's on your nightstand right now?

Carol: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Eternal, Ann Dee Ellis’ Everything is Fine, Jeanette Ingold’s Mountain Solo, the scriptures, and my journal. Also a stack of cooking magazines, a couple of notes from my girls, and a lamp. Dust. A cross-stitch chart. A tiny music box (broken). Vitamin E lotion. And a novel for adults that I will never read.

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

My daughters. Reading. Dreaming about planting gardens and having a countertop in the kitchen that is solid surface granite. I love to watch movies—though I haven’t in a long time. I love watching American Idol—but right now our satellite is broken and I don’t know why. I love hanging out with my writer friends. I love to teach writing. But only children’s writing because that’s the only thing I can do. I love to sing and make people laugh.

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

Carol: A Country and Western singer. Or a solid gold dancer, but I would have to be SOLID gold. Or I would like this job: Reading books for a living. But only books I loved. I wouldn’t read books that I didn’t love. Now that would be a darn good job.

Mary: I agree. Sign me up for that job. Thanks for all the insights, Carol, and congratulations on the publication of your newest book.

Okay, blog readers, now it's your turn. Throw confetti and cheers Carol's way, or ask her a question.

~~~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 Carol, please post them now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Today, the Cafe welcomes Jeannine Garsee, celebrating the publication of her second YA novel, Say the Word, published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens Books. She is also the author of Before, After and Somebody Inbetween.

The world expects perfection from seventeen-year-old Shawna Gallagher, and for the most part, that’s what they get. She dates the right boys, gets good grades, and follows her father’s every rule. But when her estranged lesbian mother dies, it’s more than perfect Shawna can take. Suddenly, anger from being abandoned ten years ago is resurfacing along with Shawna’s embarrassment over her mother’s other family. As she confronts family secrets and questions from the past, Shawna realizes there’s a difference between doing the perfect thing and doing the right thing.
Shawna’s honest and relatable voice will draw readers in and hold them until the last page in this coming-of-age story. Jeannine Garsee has delivered a compulsively readable second novel, perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson.

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

Jeannine: The gay marriage issue received a lot of attention back in 2006, which started the wheels turning. I’d also done a paper in sociology class about the children of gay couples and what happens to these kids when the couples either break up, or one of the parents dies. I wanted to explore this subject, so I wrote the story.

Melissa W.: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Jeannine: Yes, the first paragraph is very similar to the first words I word—unlike my first novel where the opening lines were changed many, many times before the book was published.

Melissa W.: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Jeannine I actually did quite a lot—most of it was reading, visiting websites, and familiarizing myself with firsthand accounts by straight children of gay parents, plus the research I’d done for my earlier paper. I also drew on my own experiences for certain aspects of the story.

Melissa W.: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Jeannine: Finding the time to write, first of all. As for the writing process itself, I have a terrible time maintaining the timeline in the story. My first drafts are always all over the place.

Melissa W.: I hear you, sister. What are you working on now?

Jeannine: A YA paranormal that I am totally in love with!

Melissa W.: Oo! Love the sound of that. Tell us something about you that no one knows.

Jeannine: I can play Mary Had a Little Lamb by clicking my teeth with a fingernail.

Melissa W.: You are my new best friend! How did you become a writer?

Jeannine: I was born a storyteller. Then I learned how to write. It comes naturally to me. I’ve never taken a college level creative writing class. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but it took a lot of years to discipline myself enough to actually write a book and see it through to publication.

Melissa W.: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Jeannine: I love the scene where, at a family dinner, Shawna’s father calls her “stupid” and she tells him off for the first time. I swear I cheered when I wrote it.

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

Jeannine: A doggie chew, my alarm clock, and a pack of Nicorette gum.

Melissa W.: Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

Jeannine: I love reading, of course, and live theater.

Melissa W.: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Jeannine: I’ve considered it because I’m often overwhelmed trying to balance writing with my regular job and family responsibilities. Although I don’t have any immediate plan to stop writing for publication, if I did I would still continue to write for pleasure.

Melissa W.: If you could be anything else besides a writer, what would it be?

Jeannine: Realistically, I’d like to teach creative writing or work with animals. In my dreams I’d be a star on Broadway!

Thanks so much, Jeannine! And congratulations on the publication of your fantastic new book. You can visit Jeannine at her website.

~~~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 Jeannine, post them now! She'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Purge by Sarah Darer Littman

Janie Ryman hates throwing up. So why does she binge eat and then stick her fingers down her throat several times a day? That’s what the doctors and psychiatrists at Golden Slopes hope to help her discover.But first Janie must survive everyday conflicts between the Barfers and the Starvers, attempts by the head psychiatrist to fish painful memories out of her emotional waters, and shifting friendships and alliances among the kids in the ward. In order to get better, Janie must talk about things she's admitted to no one - not even herself.

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Sarah: My mother was scanning old photos from her albums and she sent me this one (below) from a family vacation when I was fourteen or fifteen.

Looking at it as a woman in my forties, I thought, "Wow, I had a nice figure back then." But it made me sad, because I still remembered how I felt at the time - how I was convinced that I was fat and ugly.

I've suffered from body image problems my entire life, and struggled with bulimia for many years as an adult. I wanted to write a book for the girl I was then, and for the girls - and guys - out there who feel the same way today.

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

Sarah: I wrote the first words in a writing workshop at Kindling Words, in response to a picture of Ellen Wittlinger's niece in a bridesmaid's dress, taken from the back. From that exercise emerged a character who was unhappy at a wedding, felt uncomfortable with herself and the
clothes she was wearing, and was generally angry at the world. None of those words are in the book, but they got me started, and certain elements of that exercise remain in the finished novel.

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

Sarah: Although I have suffered from bulimia myself, I did a lot of research about eating disorders. I also had an eating disorder professional read the manuscript for accuracy.

Scholastic was terrific about putting a resources section at the back of the book, and we listed the best of the books I read. One book I particularly recommend is The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg. Brumberg tracks the history of how as a society we've stopped emphasizing the importance of what girls DO and placed more focus on how they LOOK. As the mother of a daughter, this is something I try very hard to fight.

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

Sarah: I would have to say "The Cucumber Scene". You have to love an emotional breakthrough that revolves around a salad vegetable.

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

It was hard for me to write any of the scenes that involved the destructive behaviors, such as purging or cutting. Even though I'd been in recovery for five years at the time I was writing the novel, writing about those behaviors brought me back into some very dark and
painful places, and I had to really look after myself during the periods I was writing those scenes.

Marlene:What's on your nightstand right now?

Sarah: Alive and Well in Prague New York by Daphne Grab

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

Sarah: Chocolate! Don't the two always go together? I also love reading, traveling, watching movies, messing around in the garden & cooking. In my "grown up" life I write a political column, which generates lots of interesting hate mail.

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

I wouldn't say I wanted to quit, but I felt extremely discouraged while suffering from an extended period of "second book blues." As idea after idea was turned down for my second book, I wondered if my first book was a fluke and if I would ever be published again. It wasn't until I reconciled myself with the thought that maybe I was just one of those authors who had to write the whole book before she could sell it that I was able to free myself up enough to write the
book I needed to write. Ironically, my agent was then able to sell my third and fourth books on proposal, but in my mind I was convinced that I was an author who might have to write the whole book first.

I can't imagine every wanting to give up writing - it took me so long to finally give myself the permission to do this thing I've wanted to do my whole life, I'm not about to give it up now!

~~~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 Sarah, please post them now.