The idea for Stop Pretending came while I was taking a poetry class, taught by the amazing Myra Cohn Livingston. I'd only been writing funny poems, but then one day Myra asked us to write a poem using dactyl and trochee rhythms, which are really somber rhythms. When I sat down to do the assignment, something very unexpected happened-out popped a poem about how sad and scary it was to have to visit my older sister in the mental hospital on my thirteenth birthday. I was embarrassed to share the poem with my teacher, because it was so personal. But when Myra read it, she suggested I write more poems about my sister, and that's how Stop Pretending, my first novel-in-verse, was born.
How did you get the idea to write What My Mother Doesn't Know?
Towards the end of Stop Pretending, there are some poems about my first love, a boy named John. I had such a good time writing about those first feelings of passion, that I knew I wanted to write some more about them. I wanted to explore all the firsts that happen to teenaged girls: first bra, first period, first crush, first kiss. That's when the poems for What My Mother Doesn't Know began bubbling to the surface.
What is the best part about being an author ?
There are so many great things about being an author. I love getting letters from kids who say that they've never liked to read before, but since reading my book they've changed their minds. And I love the writing process itself-the high I get when I'm feeling inspired and the words are flowing. I love reading my poems out loud when I speak at schools, libraries and conferences and being able to make the audience laugh or cry or even gasp. And I love having the chance to meet and become good friends with amazing young adult writers from all across the country. I love it all!
Why do you write novels-in-verse instead of regular novels?
Actually, when I wrote Stop Pretending, my first novel-in-verse, I didn't even realize I was writing a novel. I just thought it was a themed collection of poetry. It wasn't until my editor, Alix Reid, wrote me a wonderful editorial letter full of poem-provoking questions, that the collection began to morph into a novel. With my second and third novels-in-verse, it never even crossed my mind to try writing them in another form. I guess I'm a poet first, and a storyteller second. Poetry is such a good way to get to the center and truth of things. It's the only way I can say what I really need to say. I love searching for the words, not just any words, but the exact right words, to describe a certain feeling or a moment in time. Besides, the idea of writing a novel in regular prose scares me! Maybe someday, though...
Was it hard to get published ?
No. It was shockingly simple! Right after I finished writing Stop Pretending, I went to the annual conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which is an absolutely wonderful organization to join, if you want to write for kids or teens. On the last day of the conference, I met a fabulous agent named Steven Malk. He read my manuscript, flipped for it, and in less than a week he had a bidding war going between two different publishing houses! I have a lot of writer friends, so I know that it doesn't usually happen that easily. I was just phenomenally lucky.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
Actually, my writing day starts at night, when I get into bed. I load up my brain with a question that needs solving. Then I go to sleep and let my unconscious mind begin working on it. In the morning, I take a two mile walk, carrying a pad of paper and a pencil with me. I walk and I think and I walk and I think, and while I'm doing all this walking and thinking I try to look at everything around me through my character's eyes. After awhile it becomes like a meditation, and then, if I'm lucky, an idea for a poem begins to flow and I jot down some notes. Then I head home and type the notes into my computer. I know that once I fling that pitiful rough draft onto the page, no matter how atrocious it is, I'll be able to turn it into something good. I write until it's time to pick up my kids from school. Then I spend the afternoon and evening with them. That's one of the great perks of being a writer: I get to make my own hours! After they go to bed, I usually reread what I wrote earlier in the day. I find that having had a few hours away from it helps me to see the weak spots more clearly. Then, it's time to reload my brain and let my unconscious mind get back to work, while I drift into dreamland.
What is your most recent novel-in-verse about?
My most recent book, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl named Ruby who is forced to move from the East Coast to the West Coast when her mother dies, to live with her father, the Oscar-winning movie star, Whip Logan. Ruby has never met Whip because he divorced her mother before she was even born, and to say that she resents him highly, would be a vast understatement. One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies is about the age-old problem, new to every generation, of how life keeps making us start over.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a sequel toWhat My Mother Doesn't Know. My email address is on that book, so as soon as it came out, I began hearing from kids everyday that were begging me for a sequel, demanding to know "what happens next?" Finally, after two years of this, I realized that I wanted to find out what happened next, too. And the only way to find out was to write it! I'm especially enjoying working on this book because I've chosen to write it from the boy's point of view, and it's a real challenge to speak in the voice of a boy.