Q: Did you always aspire to write young adult fiction, or is this something you fell into or migrated to? Do you write in any other genres?
A: I began my career as a journalist, writing for and about young people, for Seventeen Magazine. I got to report the most amazing stories, issues like teen migrant farm workers, child soldiers in Sierra Leone, the kinds of stories people don’t normally imagine teens reading.
But not only were teens capable of handling stories with a lot of nuance, they responded to the stories with so much enthusiasm and passion. When I wrote my first YA novel after detouring through the world of adult journalism and writing one adult nonfiction book, it felt very much like coming home.
I’ve always been drawn to young people’s stories. I’ve always written in a “young” voice. And I’ve always loved writing for this audience. I won’t say never. But the characters who invade my brain are usually between the ages of 17-21, and until that changes, it’s YA or bust.
Q: In a way, you have a large responsibility: Young people who read a great book, who are captivated in their early years by the magic of fiction, are more likely to become regular readers and think creatively. How conscious are you of this effect, of the power of good writing, when you are working?
A: All I think about when I’m working is the quality of the work, whether something is working on the page, whether the characters feel authentic, whether their journeys are emotionally true and resonant. The hope is, if I accomplish those things, the work will resonate with readers and they will make it their own.
I can’t think about whether my book will hook someone or turn him or her into an avid reader. I just have to write the best story I know how and let the story do the rest.
Q: Describe your daily writing routine. Are you an early riser, or do you find time late at night?
A: Send the kids to school. Work. Grocery shop. Run errands, etc. Pick kids up. I get my best work done in the early part of the day. Once the children are home from school, I’m pretty useless, not to mention distracted. By 9 p.m., my brain is jelly.
Q: What book made a big impact on you when you were young? And what made you want to become a writer?
A: No single book made me want to become a writer (I didn’t realize I wanted to be a novelist until I wrote my first novel at age 34). But all kinds of books made huge impacts on me as a kid.
I can remember my massive worry for Ramona when her father loses his job in Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona and Her Father.”
I remember being so freaked out by Camazotz in Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” that I cried when my parents drove through a particularly uniform housing development.
I remember my heart breaking and swelling when I first read Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and, after poo-pooing Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” as another boring book being assigned in high school English, swooning and reading it twice in a row because, holy smokes, what a love story!
I remember being as obsessed with Salinger’s “Franny & Zooey” as Franny becomes with her “The Way of the Pilgrim” book.
Kurt Vonnegut repeatedly blew my mind as a younger teen, as did James Baldwin when I got a bit older.
I think everything I read, the good and the bad, continues to impact me as a writer and every really good book I read makes me want to become a better writer.
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