Q. Are your characters based on people you know?
A. Since I don’t invent characters—I meet them in my head—there’s no “basing.” They arrive fully formed in my cranium, waving, hollering, whispering, acting up, doing what they must to get attention. Some I get to know very quickly; others are more reticent. Occasionally, though, characters remind me of people I know.
Q. What were you like in high school?
A. This. I was like this. Exactly. Except for the hair, which was radically short and often blond. My high school was the first in New York City to install metal detectors, and there were something like 3,000 students and triple sessions, so instead of worrying about fitting in with the cool kids I was just trying to not get stabbed. That’s what I was like, and that’s what I’m like today: Someone trying to not get stabbed.
Q. Would you recommend writing as a career?
A. Tough question. One I can’t answer since writing fiction isn’t a choice for me. Journalism is a subject I studied in school and went on to pursue as a career (of sorts), whereas fiction is a bodily function. (Not like breathing, which you do automatically—more like peeing...there is that element of urgency.) I’ve always done it; only recently I’ve been lucky enough to sell it. For every novel I’ve had published there are as many (in various stages) I did not. Each time I enter into a relationship with a nattering protagonist, I wonder if I’ll ultimately have to retire him or her to the Asylum of Unrequited Characters. Still, I take the risk. I have no alternative. Writing fiction is a necessity; reaching people with it is a privilege.
Q. Do you have any writing pointers you’d like to share?
A. I do. They are as follows:
* Read a lot.
* Write a lot.
* Edit a lot.
* Entertain yourself.
* Don’t treat characters like property, treat them as collaborators.
* Respect the trinity: plot, character, language. Two out of three ain’t bad, but three out of three is much better. Be greedy like that. Demand it all of yourself.
* Never discuss your work loudly in a crowded restaurant or other public place.
* Eavesdrop shamelessly—it helps with dialogue. Just don’t seek ideas this way (see previous bullet point).
* Get a muse. I recommend a cat.
* My father once advised me to write upside down and sideways. I tried but it gave me a headache. I realize now he was advising metaphorically.
* Don’t just say it. Say it right.
* Be clear. Play around with language all you like but first and foremost get the message across. If you fail, they will put it down.
* Do not let them put it down. By whatever means necessary.
Q. You are a grown woman. Why write YA?
A. YA stands for young adult and implies that I write for teenagers. Not so. I don’t write for teenagers, I write about teenagers—by and large those are the people who move into my head. Probably because although I am technically, chronologically, quite old indeed my emotional age is circa seventeen. Arrested development as a job skill!
Q. What is the most challenging thing about writing YA?
A. The same challenge I’d find writing for network television: not being able to curse. I curse fluently; it’s basic to the natural cadence of my speech. Not all my characters curse but some do, and we’ve been know to have expletive-laced conversations off-page about not being able to curse on-page.
Q. Your previous novels were about the music industry and the magazine world, while your latest, SWOON, is a paranormal tale. Why the departure?
A. I used to work in rock and roll—reviewing records, interviewing artists—so it makes sense that a band would coup d’etat my cranium and make me write the 6X books. Likewise, ORANGE IS THE NEW PINK was fed by my experience in magazine publishing. But SWOON isn’t a departure; it’s a return. I was weaned on weird—my father’s idea of bedtime stories was Edgar Allan Poe. My favorite author is Flannery O’Connor. The first famous person I ever interviewed was Clive Barker. The flip side of reality has always been a haven for me.