You’ve said that it was your son Sean’s illness that inspired you to begin writing. Could you outline your path to publication, from that initial point?
My path was pure blessing, luck, right place-right time. I wrote ad/pr copy on the side and one day met a woman at a photo shoot and we struck up a conversation. When she discovered I was a writer, she invited me to try my hand at a children's book because her father owned a publishing company---School Book Fairs (now Darby Press). They bought 23 books from me before I moved on to Bantam/Random House.
In researching for your books, have you come across something or someone who’s captivated you that you could share with us?
Letters from my readers usually captivate me with their stories of overcoming great odds and struggles to make the best out of what life hands them.
You’re known for your “crying and dying” books. How do you feel about that label?
I love the label. It was invented by librarians (I think) and it differentiates me from other YA writers.
Do you ever get emails asking for happier endings? Moreover, are you ever tempted to write more happily-ever-afters? (I know some of your books have more hopeful resolutions than others, but I can’t recall if I’d call any of them fairy tale-ish.)
No...readers tell me they like the endings because they reflect "real life." Some readers are disappointed when the boy/girl don't get together in an ending, however.
Your books have hit close to home for me as well as for friends of mine. Do you think the nature of your work causes people to be more personal in their fan letters? (I imagine you must get a lot of those!) Also, has any letter or email from a fan ever singularly touched you (more so than any others)?
Fan mail still arrives, but the Web is where today's teen resides. That's why I have four Web contact points. I don't depend on snail mail anymore. Many letters have touched me. I have a "keeper" file of my best letters and sometimes read from it when I do public speaking.
One of my favorite books of yours, Don’t Die, My Love, was turned into a Lifetime movie (under the name “Shattered Hearts”). What was the book-to-film experience like?
That book was sold and in movie form before I was informed it had been filmed. Certainly I was paid, but I had no input about content. I was a little disappointed in the (not mine) ending (so were fans!), but I was glad it made it onto the screen at all because so many books get "optioned", but never produced. I'd still like one to go to the big screen, though.
You’ve been in the business for a long time and you’ve got a lot of books under your belt. What has the experience been like, in the longevity of your career? How have things changed from the time you were first published to now?
Once again, longevity has been a major blessing. SIX MONTHS TO LIVE was first published in 1985, but it's still selling. Publishing today is harder than ever because the industry is in flux. Sales across the industry have fallen and no one quite knows how to fix it. Also the YA shelves are glutted with material and writers are fighting for shelf space. The YA rage now is fantasy, vampires, the supernatural. When I started with Bantam/Random House, the shelves were loaded with romance and horror. Styles change, but I will always write what I feel comfortable writing---teens handling life-altering events with a positive message about the wonder of living.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Write for the sheer pleasure of writing. Keep journals. Get an education. Submit. Focus on story, voice, style, structure, not on "being published."
What are you working on now? How long does it typically take you to finish a book?
I'm working on HEART 2 HEART, a story about a heart transplant and human connections. My newest, BREATHLESS, will come out in May 2009. It takes 4-6 months for me to write a book---if I don't procrastinate too much.
Now, for the most important question of the hour: Does writing YA rock or what?
YA writing rocks!!! My agent and many readers have asked me to write for the adult market, but adults bore me. I love writing for teens and pre-teens.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.
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