What made you choose to write YA?
I write YA for a number of reasons. First, because I remain 17-years-old at heart. I still have a sense of awe about the world and enjoy daydreaming and acting silly. Secondly, 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. And lastly, from a strictly artistic vantage point, I find the teen years to be a gold mine of stories and characters. Everything is heady and dramatic at that age. You’re experiencing these new, raw emotions and feel trapped in a limbo between childhood and the adult world. I used to wonder if I was the only grown-up who still had dreams about being in high school, but my friends say they do too. I think that’s because it was such a profound time – everything you go through seems to etch permanent grooves. As a writer, I enjoy exploring those early experiences that mold our identities.
Where do you write best?
I’m usually in my “writer’s nook” – a little open area in the corner of the house that I use as an office. However, I tend to write all over the place. Sometimes I write in the car while waiting outside my daughter’s school. Sometimes I feel more focused in a coffeehouse, away from the distractions of home. Sometimes the best way to work through a troublesome scene is by grabbing pen and paper and sitting in the armchair by the window.
My ideas come from everywhere – dreams, articles, friends, family, classic tales, or real-life experiences. Often times I can take a mundane occurrence and ask myself, “What if x had happened instead of y?”
However, I must stress that real events are always a starting point. If they do make it into the book, they are changed to the point of being unrecognizable. For example, Sass & Serendipity was partially inspired by my sister Amanda. However, there is no character or scene in the novel lifted straight from my life. Instead, it’s the essence of sisterhood that translated – moods and themes regarding my own sister relationship that I could apply to my made-up siblings.
That said, there is an inside joke in Sass & Serendipity. A “code word” that my Austin-based author pals would recognize. I can’t tell you which word it is, but if you guess it right I’ll let you know.
How did you come up with your title?
Since Sass & Serendipity was partially inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (as well as my own sister), I wanted my title to be evocative of the original. In the beginning my title was Sass & Stupidity, but “stupid” is a loaded word – especially in children’s and YA lit. I tossed around other word replacement ideas with my editor and writer pals, and “Serendipity” was the clear winner. And I have to say, it fits the central premise and tone of the story much better.
Can you tell us a little bit about Sass & Serendipity?
Sure. Sass & Serendipity is the tale of two sisters, Gabby and Daphne, growing up in a small South Texas town. Gabby is sensible to the point of severity, whereas Daphne is a born romantic. Both girls are still reeling from their parents’ divorce and struggling with such issues as identity, friendship, and the definition of true love. When dire financial circumstances place them in a unique situation, the sisters must rely on, and come to a greater understanding of, each other.
Read my review of it here!
When did you first discover Jane Austen? I can’t remember exactly, but it was during high school. I believe I was resistant at first. I’m sorry to say that I went through a stage when I felt “older” books couldn’t teach me anything about my life. Sense and Sensibility was the first of Austen’s novels that I read, and I was astonished at how much I connected with the two sisters.
I discovered her in high school after someone at the high school paper mentioned that Clueless was based on Emma.
Who is your favorite Jane Austen character: Major/Minor/Hero
Ooh, that’s tough. I think Austen is brilliant at characterization. Every one of her books is populated with riveting individuals. Of course, I love Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, with a very slight preference toward dreamy Marianne. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are my favorite couple. I adore the Bennett family and find the parents hilarious. Mrs. Jennings is another fun, saucy side character. Also, I often felt that the narrator, with her gently ironic commentary, was sort of an unseen character – a wise, witty, and likeable one.
Do you have a favorite screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s works? I’m quite partial to the miniseries of Pride and Prejudice that stars Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Miniseries always work better as adaptations because they can more closely follow the book. This one was particularly well cast and acted. In fact, I see Colin in my mind whenever I reread the book.
I think Colin Firth will always be in my mind Mr. Darcy.
Do you have a sister story to share?
There was particular incident that clearly underscored the differences between me and my sister. It happened when Amanda was around three or four years old and I was about six. The ice cream truck was coming down our street and, to our great surprise, our mom actually gave in to our whining and handed us some money. We caught up with the truck and each bought a single scoop cone – chocolate for me and vanilla for her. As we walked back to our house, the neighborhood bully stopped his bicycle right in front of us, blocking our way. “Chocolate is for good girls. Vanilla’s for babies,” he said in a sing-songy voice. I was so terrified of him, I just stood there. The next thing I knew, a vanilla cone was flying through the air. It smacked against his forehead and stuck there like a unicorn horn for a few seconds before falling to the ground. The bully was so nonplussed he turned around and rode home. He didn’t bother us much after that.
What’s the spiciest food you’ve ever eaten?
Habanero salsa in Merida, Mexico. It was so hot, it made us cry and sweat – and yet we couldn’t stop eating it.
Do you have a book crush? This is going to sound self-serving (and kind of twisted), but I developed a crush on one of my characters as I wrote Sass & Serendipity – sweet, loyal Mule. It’s happened before. I suppose I could psychoanalyze myself and discover that these characters are amalgams of real-life crushes and past boyfriends. Or maybe my author self is so far into the heads of my protagonists that I fall for the guys, too. Who knows? I consider it a perk of the business. In real life you experience first love and a first kiss only once. As an author, you can go through it over and over and over….
Do you have a favorite library experience? I love libraries! I’ve worked in many libraries throughout my life. I think if I hadn’t become an author, I would have been a librarian. My favorite library experience? I have to go far back, to about age four, when I had a life-changing epiphany. I was standing in a public library in Anchorage, Alaska, looking down at the cover of a picture book and noticing the name of the author. I can’t remember who the author was, but I do remember seeing the byline and thinking “Hey! That’s someone’s job!” I had no idea how someone could get a job making up funny stories to share with the world, but I knew I wanted it!
Awesome! I love how you connected the library with your future!
Are there any authors you’d love to meet?I would love to meet Judy Blume, but I’d probably go all fangirl and embarrass myself. “Hi. You know what? You’re awesome. Yeah. I read all your books. They’re awesome, just like you. Yeah. Hi.”
I met her once - it was AWESOME. I'm always falling all over myself when meeting amazing authors that I admire.
Do you have a favorite literary quote?
"A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
It reminds me that my success is mostly dependent on me, and that sometimes the only difference between the published and the not-published is that the published folk never gave up. They kept on writing and submitting, pushing past rejection, gloomy market outlook, and despair.
Oh, I Love this quote!
Listing of your favorites:
Candy – Heath Bar or other English toffee
Cake/Cupcake flavor – Red velvet chocolate
Ice Cream – Either mint chocolate-chip or homemade peach
Pizza topping – Green olives
Genre of books – All of them!
Singer and/or Song – Anything by the Beatles
TV show – Freaks and Geeks
Movie – Too many to name
Color – Soft hues of green or blue or brown
Item of clothing – My yoga pants
Superhero – Wolverine
Villain – Shakespeare’s Richard III
Ways to be bribed – Dark chocolate treats or margaritas
Personal guru –Bugs Bunny