Did you always want to be a writer? Yes. And an actress, and a surgeon, and a country singer, and a talk-show host, and the list goes on. But, yes; I always wanted to be a writer. As soon as I was old enough to read I was dictating stories to my dad and he was typing them up on his 1930’s Remington typewriter. “Princess Puini and the Mud Dilemma” was my first story. I still have a copy of it somewhere.
Who was your favorite author when you were young, and who is your favorite now? Choosing a single author is impossible. When I was younger: Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engel, Norma Klein. A few of my current favorites: Anne Lamott (Rosie, Crooked Little Heart, Bird by Bird); Anita Shreve (Fortune's Rocks, The Pilot's Wife, The Weight of Water); Chris Bohjalian (The Law of Similars, Midwives, Transister Radio); Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone, I Know This Much is True).
How do you get your ideas? Hard to explain. I’m freakishly in touch with my inner 13-year old girl, so most of my ideas come from her. Some come from the lives of my friends, or from articles and books I've read. Some come from dreams. Often I begin with a seed—just the shadow of an idea, or a first sentence—and from there a plot begins to form in my head.Before you begin a piece of writing, do you plan it out? If so, how? To paraphrase the words of Elizabeth Berg (another favorite author), there are two kinds of writers: those who begin with a plot and those who end up with one. I am the kind of writer who ends up with a plot. Often when I begin to write I don't know exactly where I'm going; I start with something that intrigues me—a phrase or a character—and see where it leads me.
Once you have finished a first draft, how do you go about editing? I edit constantly, with every sentence, every page, every chapter, so by the time I reach the end of a manuscript I don't usually have to do a big edit. I go with my gut: Would this character really say this? Could this sentence be clearer? Should I choose a different word?
How do you decide what changes/edits should be made? I trust my instincts, knowing that at some point my editor will have opinions to share.
What role does your editor play? She is the final say in what stays and what goes in my manuscript. I value her recommendations and take her feedback seriously. If I disagree with something, I'll tell her, but I try to remain open to constructive criticism.
What is the writing process like for you? How do you write? I’m a full-time mother of three with no childcare, so how I write is not always a matter of choice. The short answer is: I write whenever and however I can squeeze it in (mostly when my kids are sleeping). That being said, I also have to be inspired. I’m not one of those writers who can sit down at the computer and start cranking away just for the sake of getting words on paper. I have to be excited about my project. Some days I can write for hours; other days all I can eek out is a sentence, especially since my kids always take precedence over my work. If it isn’t a writing day, I forgive myself. But if it is—if inspiration hits—everyone in my family rallies to help out.
Is writing difficult for you? What is the most challenging part? Yes and no. When I know where I’m going with the story and I can write uninterrupted for a long stretch, I love the process. When I have to spend two hours crafting and re-crafting the same two sentences to get them right, I can go quietly insane. The hardest part about writing is finding the time. My kids would much rather I fold paper airplanes than write. I’m getting pretty good at paper airplanes.
How do you choose your titles? Titles, like book covers, are crucial to a book’s success. I spend a lot of time thinking about my titles, and I like for them to have a bit of mystery attached—a double entendre or a touch of irony. For the first three books: Perfect, Lush, and Bounce, I felt strongly about choosing a single word for each title, partly to encapsulate the struggles of the protagonists, but also because I knew that the three girls would be brought together in a fourth book, and I wanted that continuity —that symmetry.
How much of yourself is present in your characters? I’m sure there’s a part of me in every character I create—consciously or not. I see some of my own insecurities in Isabelle, and some of her toughness. If you were to ask my friends, they would probably tell you I’m more of a Sam, at least from the outside. Like Evyn, I can fool the outside world into thinking I’m more confident, or problem-free, than I really am. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
Are you bulimic? Is your dad dead? Is your dad an alcoholic? Is your mom a yoga-maniac? No, no, no, and no. My books, and the characters I create, are purely fictional. When writing Perfect, did it help that I grappled with body image issues when I was younger? Absolutely. When writing Lush, was it useful to talk to my parents about the role alcohol played in their families? Yup. But those are just jumping-off points—stepping stones to the stories my characters weave on their own.
Will you write a sequel to any of your books? Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of sequels, but I had this idea early on, before I even finished writing Perfect, that I would write three books, with three separate 13 year-old protagonists, and that I would bring them all together in a fourth book. That’s what I’m attempting to do with Night Swimming, the story that brings Isabelle, Sam, and Evyn together at camp, the summer they’re sixteen. I love the idea of watching them play off each other.
Are your books going to be made into movies? I hope so! There have been a few nibbles and a few false starts, but nothing substantial yet. I’m keeping the faith.
What are you working on now? What projects lie ahead? I’m currently working on revisions for My Life in Black and White. When I’m finished, I’ll start a new book. I have a few ideas percolating, but they’re under wraps for now. If you have suggestions for a future book, tell me!