How do you come up with ideas for your books?
When I was a child, I had a magical formula for telling myself a story as I fell asleep. If I got to just the right point of a story just as I drifted off to sleep, I would dream the rest of the story. Story is how I’ve always processed the world, escaped the world, and now, it’s how I join the conversations going on around me in the world. I have ideas for books every day. It’s harder to whittle my choices down to a story I want to spend a minimum of two years of my life immersed in than it is to come up with a story idea. My first audience is always myself, but after that, I consider things like the strength of the main character’s voice, in what ways she needs to change, and if the supporting cast will be interesting enough to fill out the novel. Ultimately, though, the final choice comes down to a gut feeling: This is the one. When I hear that whisper in my mind, it’s time to start typing.
How long does it take you to write a book?
6 weeks. 14 years. Everything in between. Depends on the book! Some books come fully formed, some I only get bits and pieces of over a series of years. I write what I can, put away unfinished projects for later, and keep moving forward.
Why do you write young adult?
The teen years are fascinating to me. I was obsessed with them before I was a teen, disappointed in them when I was teen, and amused by them as I entered adulthood. I write about those years, especially the ages of 15-18, because that’s the time we decide who we are. How much of ourselves do we accept from our family? How much is shaped by our culture, society, economic class, school, or friends? How much can we determine what to accept and what to reject? Is there even really a choice?
Teen problems are often inherited. I find a sixteen year old girl with an alcoholic parent more interesting than a middle-aged woman married to an alcoholic. Adults make choices and have to learn to deal with consequences. Teens, on the other hand, are often born into troublesome lives and how they decide to handle their troubles determines what kind of human being they will become. That process is what fascinates me. Who will I be when I grow up? I’m still trying to figure that out for myself.
How do you come up with your characters?
The characters often just show up in my head, talking up a blue streak about some nonsense. Abby from Fancy White Trash first said, “Listen, there are only five rules for falling in love,” and that line intrigued me enough to follow her around for a whole book. Another character from a book that’s still prepublished said, “Racism? That’s so last century,” and I thought, wow, does she have a lot to learn about the world. For California, a character from the novel my agent is currently shopping, I just heard a song melody, repeating over and over again in my head. I get some bit of intrigue from a voice, and then I follow her around for a few pages. If the voice is strong enough, I follow it wherever it goes.
Where can I get a copy of Fancy White Trash?
Sadly, Fancy White Trash is out of print, although you can still find physical copies of it floating around on Amazon. Happily, though, it will live eternally as an e-book and can be downloaded for Kindle, Nook, or iPad.
What’re your influences as a writer?
I read a lot. A lot. A lot. For my entire life. These days, it’s a lot more student work thanks to my professoring gig at Broward College, but I’m basically always reading. To narrow it down to a few titles or authors is impossible.
In terms of my writing style, two writers do stand out, though. Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Jenny Carroll/Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series both had this effect on me: You can do that? In a book? McMillan and Carroll both play with sentence structure in a way that is fun and irreverent, but more importantly, captures their characters’ voices in an unforgettable way. After reading both these authors, I remember thinking: That. That is what I want to do.