Interview: Barbara Dee
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Secrets and Lies by Jonatha Brooke
Barbara Dee's novels for middle school readers will delight kids and parents alike. Her characters have had to deal with family troubles, dishonest friends, big school projects, and, yes, even iguanas. With thanks to Liesa Abrams for introducing us, I welcome you now to my exclusive interview with Barbara Dee.
Your newest book, This Is Me From Now On, details the friendship between two middle school girls, Evie and Francesca. Which girl is more like the pre-teen Barbara?
I was definitely an Evie - a good girl who was feeling suffocated by my best friends. So around seventh grade I started hanging out with a much wilder girl - not exactly a Francesca-type, but someone who jolted me out of my comfort zone and kept me laughing. We got ourselves into some mischief, but looking back, I feel really lucky that I met her!
In your first book, Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life, Cassie, a middle child, has to deal with the changes in her family and her house after her father moves out. What inspired Cassie's journal entries?
For Cassie's fantasy-inspired journal entries, I read people like Tamora Pierce and Nancy Springer. (Not that Cassie writes like them, but they're her idols.) For her joke entries, I thought about how when I was a kid, I was convinced that my English teacher wasn't actually reading my essays. So one time I stuck the words "scrambled eggs" right in the middle of a long paragraph, just as a test. And apparently I was all wrong about this guy, because when he handed back my paper it had "SCRAMBLED EGGS? WHAT???" written in the margin. In angry red ink.
Yikes! Your second novel, Solving Zoe, finds the title character solving some cool codes with an unlikely new friend. Are you a codebreaker?
Not at all! Seriously, I'm hopeless at solving codes. For SOLVING ZOE I had to do research that took me in some strange directions - with codes and also with lizards. Eww! But I ended up smitten with that cute iguana.
Iguanas are cute. Did you ever attend a private school like Zoe's?
When I was a kid I went to big, traditional public schools in Brooklyn. In a way Zoe's school is what kids dream about. No grades or red pens or report cards--what kid wouldn't want that? But I'm not sure I'd like to go there myself. Too much pressure to be special, I think.
All three of your books to date have been set in middle school and published by Aladdin MiX, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. How did you make the connection with MiX? Do you have forthcoming titles coming out from MiX?
My first two books were originally published as McElderry/Simon & Schuster hardcovers, which was a privilege. I was thrilled when my first book, JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY INSANELY REAL LIFE, was chosen to be one of the six Aladdin MIX launch titles, and then to find out that MIX would also be publishing the paperback edition of SOLVING ZOE (which just came out this month). So I was delighted that my third book, THIS IS ME FROM NOW ON, would originate with MIX and that I'd be working from the start with my editor, Liesa Abrams. This imprint couldn't be a better fit for me, because it focuses on tween readers. And I love Liesa! She totally connects with my writing -- not just THIS IS ME, but also my next book, TRAUMA QUEEN, which will be out Spring 2011.
Liesa rocks! At the S&S website, you were asked to sum up your life in 8 words. You said: "Write. Read. Revise. Play with cat. Delete. Write." Does the cat ever help you write or delete? Do your kids help with outlines or revisions?
Actually, the cat PREVENTS me from writing or deleting, because she forces me to play with her! My kids, on the other hand, help when I need some kid-slang. And they're very critical, so if they laugh at something, I know it's working.
What inspires you to write middle school stories?
Two things. First, my strong memories of how I felt in middle school. Second, a sense I have that a lot of middle schoolers who have outgrown the children's section of their libraries may not be ready for some of the darker, edgier stuff in YA. I think it's so great that now publishers like Aladdin MIX are finally focusing on these readers.
I agree. What are your ten all-time favorite books?
Ack! What a tough question! I can't possibly commit to ten all-time favorites, but here are some books I love:
Pride and Prejudice (I'm a sucker for imperfect characters like Elizabeth Bennet)
The Catcher in the Rye (So sad and funny, and Salinger invented the YA voice)
The Sound and the Fury (For not being afraid to be weird)
When You Reach Me (Ditto. So glad it won the Newbery!)
Going Bovine (Ditto. So glad it won the Printz!)
Harriet the Spy (Another great imperfect heroine)
Little Women (Read it a million times)
Maus (Changed the way I think about history)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Like poetry)
Olive Kitteridge (Another imperfect heroine. Hmm. Do you detect a pattern?)
Visit Barbara Dee's website.
Here is today's Summer Blog Blast Tour (SBBT) schedule:
Kate Milford at Chasing Ray
Mac Barnett at Fuse #8/School Library Journal
Hazardous Players at Finding Wonderland
Malinda Lo at Shelf Elf
Barbara Dee at Bildungsroman
Check out the full schedule for the 2010 SBBT.