BY CLARE C
Did you like English when you were in high school?
No, actually I always hated English class. I like reading and writing books more than I like doing literary criticism. I did go to college, and I actually picked the school largely based on the fact that I would not have to take any English classes. Go Brown University!
What made you decide to become a writer?
I always liked writing ever since I was a little kid. I was a late bloomer in terms of learning to read and write, so before I could write myself I would dictate stories to any grown-up who was willing. Then as an adult I just couldn’t seem to stop myself from becoming a writer.
Why do you write YA books?
Maybe it’s because I am mentally fourteen! I love to read YA. And I love the idea of expanding the small percentage of YA books that feature LGBTQ characters, because I think that kind of diversity is really important. Oftentimes the world is trying to disempower LGBTQ teens, and I want to hand them back their power, even if it’s only in the pages of a book.
Where do your ideas come from?
The speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison used to answer that question by saying his ideas came from Poughkeepsie. What’s really convenient is that I live right near Poughkeepsie! No, but really, I think the reason writers have a hard time giving a straight answer to that question is that no one knows where the ideas come from and we don’t know if someday they might stop coming. I think actually everyone in the world is having story ideas all the time and if you just make yourself sit down and write for ten minutes, an idea will come out. I’m not saying a good idea necessarily.
Do you write a detailed outline or just see where the story takes you?
I used to just see where the story took me, but now I do an outline first. I think both ways are good and people have to figure out what’s right for them.
I found it interesting that Clarissa in Frenemy of the People determined her sexuality with such ease. Did she struggle with it more than the reader sees or was it really just that easy for her?
It was really that easy for Clarissa. She spent years ignoring it or not thinking about it, and then once she let herself think about it, she accepted that she was bi right away. Of course, she’s not a real person, but I wanted to give Clarissa an easy discovery process because some people are that lucky. It’s not always this angsty, dramatic thing.
What was the hardest thing about writing your last book?
My last book is actually a YA book that will be published by Bold Strokes Books in October, called Maxine Wore Black, and every single thing about it was hard! It was written under adverse circumstances from beginning to end, and it’s proof that you don’t have to be inspired or a fountain of positivity in order to write. In some ways writing is just a job like any other, and maybe that is the hardest thing.
What is your favorite young adult book and why is it significant to you?
Tough question, I have a lot of favorites! I do love YA books that are in diary format (like the Adrian Mole books, the Carbon Diaries, The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahern and Behind the Mountain by Edwidge Danticat) and my favorite of all those is 365 Days by Bold Strokes Books’ own KE Payne. (I know you will appreciate that because you are a KE Payne fan too.) There’s just something really thrilling about reading someone’s diary!
What advice would you give to young adults who aspire to be writers?
I would tell them their voices are important and they have stories to share with the world. And that the only way to learn to write is by writing, so just do it as much as possible. And try not to feel beaten down when their writing encounters rejection, because that’s just the way it goes.