A career change Before I had kids, I was a high school English teacher and so I was well acquainted with young adult books mainly because of teaching them but also studying them in college, and just …
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A career change
Before I had kids, I was a high school English teacher and so I was well acquainted with young adult books mainly because of teaching them but also studying them in college, and just being a fan in general. But then I had kids and we had also moved a lot and so I knew that I wasn’t going back to teaching. But I missed the interaction that I had with my students.
I had never written anything before in my life and had actually avoided all the creative writing classes in college out of fear. But one day I kind of on a whim looked at my husband and said `I think I want to try writing books and I think I can write stories that will resonate with teenagers and people in general because that time in our lives resonates with all of us.’ I think when we think of young adult books we really narrow it down and say these are books for teenagers but they’re really not, they’re just books about teenagers that a wide range of people read, me included.
I sat down and wrote my first book and it was terrible. But it was a great learning experience because I made so many mistakes with it and just really worked on it for almost two years. I kind of looked at it as my test subject on novel writing in terms of how to write, what not to do and how to maneuver the business.
But it totally bombed and never got picked up, it was rejected so many times and eventually I had to put it away and start a brand new project. And that second project ended up being my first book I published, “Playing Nice” in 2014.
Writing about race
I found that teen readers appreciate as much honest as you can give them in a story and that is what resonates with them. They’re looking for something that represents their experience, especially in contemporary fiction which is what I write. And so that naturally leads into heavier topics because teens deal with heavy topics every day and they are immersed and bombarded with so many heavy issues at a really young age from social media and from carrying tablets and phones and having such easy access to information.
So I think it’s the responsibility of writers who write who represent that audience to represent those issues and all of my books deal with some sort of heavier topic, whether it be mental illness or religious beliefs or race or whatever it is that I am inspired to write about at the time.
I also think many people would agree that race has become very potent in our society as of the past four years for a lot of white people. It’s been very potent for people of color for their entire existence, but I think many white people are waking up and coming to a new understanding and a new place of ownership in their relationship and walking through this human experience. And so it felt very natural to cover that topic with “Only the Pretty Lies” when I was writing it.
Her favorite YA novel
For me, my all-time favorite that I always point people to because I have seen it be magic in a classroom is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I really think that it was one of those stories that came out in the late 1990s that really launched young adult fiction to what it is today. To me that is really my ultimate novel where I am not comparing myself to it because that’s not fair but always reminding myself of what I felt when I read that novel and what I felt it represented to the teenage existence.
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