1. Why do you write for Young Adults?
For many reasons. First of all, I grew up reading great YA writers like Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Paul Zindel, and S.E. Hinton, and their writing had a significant impact on me. Plus, the teen years are so powerful. Everything is heady and dramatic. You're experiencing these new, raw emotions and everything you go through seems to etch permanent grooves. As a writer, I enjoy exploring those early experiences that mold our identities.
2. What was your inspiration for Alpha Dog? For How Not To Be Popular?
Alpha Dog was inspired in large part by my late great doggie, Cutter. He was a stray I took in when I was in college—and could barely look after myself. It was the beginning of big responsibilities for me. I was finishing up my degrees and deciding on a career path, and I couldn't continue the self-absorbed college lifestyle anymore. This dog depended on me for his survival, and caring for him made it easier for me to share myself, and my space, with others later on. I wanted to explore this learning curve in story form. The book is about a girl who is very passive and lets other people run her life for her. Later, she adopts a dog from the animal shelter only to discover that she cannot control him. As she learns to take charge of Seamus (her dog), she also learns to take charge of her own life.
How Not to be Popular was inspired by my oldest, dearest friend, Christy. In the fall of 2005 she called from California to say she was getting married, so of course that triggered a whole series of lengthy long-distance chats. Christy, like Maggie, moved around quite a bit when she was younger. (I had always envied her worldliness, but later, when we were grown, she confessed that it could be tough.) Well, I guess she was on my mind a lot, because one day I got a clear vision in my head of a teenage girl walking to school in a crazy outfit. The girl wasn't Christy, but she was in a similar predicament: she was sick and tired of getting uprooted all the time, so she was purposefully trying to drive people away. I found myself so intrigued I had to investigate this person and her world. What did she think would happen? What would happen? Who would she affect along the way?
3. If your books were turned into movies, who would you like to play your characters?
Hmm. That's a tough one. If Milo Ventimiglia were younger, he'd make a great Jack. So would a young James McAvoy. For Maggie, I'm not sure there's anyone out there who matches the visions in my head – at least not physically. She would have to be someone who has her natural spark and can pull off looking cool in wacky outfits. Fans who write to me tend to suggest Emma Roberts, whom I think would be great. Penny is out there, I'm sure. We all know a Penny. But no one's name comes to mind right now.
4. Do you have a dog now? Tell us a funny dog story.
I do have a new doggie named Betty. She is half Labrador and half terrier (of some sort), and she's about two years old.
There is one very odd thing about Betty. She loves other dogs – except for Pugs. I'm not sure why she dislikes that breed and no other, but she does. One day we took her to the dog park (normally her favorite place in the world) and a Pug club was meeting there. She went crazy! She kept jumping backwards and spinning around so that they couldn't sniff her. Normally she's very sweet, but on that day she kept baring her fangs and sna
rling. We couldn't understand it. I wonder if she had a bad experience in her past. My husband thinks it's because she doesn't recognize Pugs as dogs – which makes some sense. They are rather squat and wheezy, but in an endearing way! (I want to make that absolutely clear that Betty did not get this prejudice from me. I love Pugs. I think they are adorable in their homeliness – the Steve Buscemis of the canine world.) My son thinks maybe it's like high school; that Betty's the cute cheerleader and when all the nerdy Pugs come up to her going "I like you. You're pretty. Wanna go out?" she snarls "Eeew! I don't think so!"
So apparently I have a snotty, intolerant, and possibly bigoted dog. But I love her.
5. Have you ever done something as crazy as Maggie has in HNTBP?
Not like Maggie. In high school I didn't feel comfortable enough to let loose, but in college I seemed to relax and come into myself. That's when I tried dying my hair (bright red was as crazy as I got) and discovered vintage clothes. My pals and I also got pretty creative whenever we were bored. Once we covered the interior of a friend's car with scotch tape. Don't ask me why. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.
6. What should we expect from you next?
I'm not sure. I'm working on something – two things, actually. But I can't really say when they'll enter the world. I'm not very comfortable discussing works in progress. Part of it is because so much can change at any given moment: titles, characters, plot points, release dates. Part of it is superstition. The early part of writing is so personal, so special. It just feels wrong to share at that point. But as soon as I have some hard-and-fast specifics I'll let you know!
7. What was your road to publishing?
Highly irregular and full of many hairpin curves. When I took a break from teaching in order to have a baby, I decided to also use the time to write down a novel that had been rolling around in my head for years. It was just something I had to do. I had hopes for it, but no set expectations. When I finished the draft I showed it to a friend who was a published author. He was very encouraging and put me in touch with an editor at Bantam. They were not interested in an original work at the time, but they were developing several paperback series for teen readers and decided to take a chance on me. The editor gave me a condensed, half-page plot of a book they wanted for one of their series. I worked up an outline and two sample chapters. To my pleasant surprise, she liked it and hired me. That work led to other series work, all of which were written under a pseudonym. When I was ready to get my own story idea published, I went through the connections I had made as a work-for-hiire writer and … ta da! You know the rest.
8. Do you think you would ever write a sequel to your books? Or maybe write a new series?
I don't have any plans for a sequel – or at least not right now. I typically don't think up ideas for stories, they seem to come to me. So you never know. Maggie or Katie might pop back into my head with another adventure for me to tell. I hope so!
As for a series … I do have ideas, but they wouldn't involve the HNTBP or Alpha Dog universes. Right now I'm writing story by story. If one turns into something more, great! If not, that's fine, too. I'm just happy if the stories keep coming.
9. Besides writing, what else are you passionate about?
Mainly my kids. When I'm not author-woman, I'm a mild-mannered, slightly frazzled, usually ketchup-stained mother of two, and I really enjoy spending time with my son and daughter. We go to the library, swim, sing on our karaoke machine, play checkers, watch cartoons, etc. Of course, I'm also crazy about books. Ironically I had more time to read before I became a writer, but I still try to work it in every day. In addition, my husband and I are huge music fans, so we try to keep up with the latest good stuff and catch a show whenever we can.
- Anything else you want to add?
Just this: Thanks, Kelsey, for being a friend to reading, and for all that you do to promote good books! I really enjoyed this!
Thanks for stopping by Jennifer!