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Interview: Tanya Lee Stone

May 13th, 2006 (01:27 pm)
accomplished

Current Mood: accomplished
Current Song: At the Ballet from A Chorus Line

After a successful career as a children's book editor, Tanya Lee Stone became a writer herself. She started writing picture books and non-fiction works for kids. Recently, she released her first novel for teens, A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL, and chatted with me about it.

What inspired you to write A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL?

I was in transition mode—from nonfiction to fiction—and wanted to learn more about short story form. I went to a lecture given by George Nicholson at Vermont College. During the course of his talk, he mentioned a call for submissions for a themed short story collection; and the theme was Bad Boys. As soon as he said that, my title popped into my head and I wrote a big scrawling "a bad boy can be good for a girl" across the page of my notebook. The title inspired me to think more concretely about a topic I had been stewing on for quite a while—the many things women learn throughout their lives from the relationships they have, whether those relationships are bad or good.

Did you set out intending to write a story told in poetry, or did this start out as a prose novel?

It began as a short story, prompted by that lecture. It started to evolve into a novel after a few writer friends heard me read at a retreat and told me they really felt I had the beginning of a novel. I found that exciting, as I hadn’t written one before, but I knew I had tons to say on the theme I was exploring. I immediately added Nicolette, and soon after, Aviva came to me. The book was always in the form of free verse. That is probably because I started with the voice of Josie, and wrote in the way I imagined her to speak. Later, when I added Nicolette and Aviva, the verse form was a really satisfying way to keep their voices distinct. I found it interesting when I looked at the finished book that each girl’s section also looks somewhat distinct. Josie generally speaks in shorter lines than Aviva, who speaks in longer, flowing sentences.

Due to its subject matter, A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL is undoubtedly aimed for older teens. What age level do you think it is appropriate for, and why?

The publisher has marked it for ages 14 and up and I agree with that age designation as a guideline. But I think it’s important to note that different kids deal with issues at different stages, so it really will depend on the individual reader as to when the book speaks to them. I think that if it’s a reflection of the reality a reader is facing, it is likely to be appropriate for them.

The three girls are very different, not only with regards to personality, but to appearance as well. Are they all based on pieces of you or people that you know? Which girl do you relate to the most?

I think there are pieces of me in all three girls, in the same way that there are pieces of most women in the different girls. They each have some universal truths to them. That said, there are a few specific things about me that I now see in Josie and Aviva. Like Josie, I frequently tested the boundaries but was never really able to be swayed from what my gut told me to do. And like Aviva, I was a criss-crosser. I went to two different high schools (regular and performing arts) at the same time, and somehow managed to be friends with people in a variety of cliques.

The boy's basic physical appearance is described, but only his initials are known. Why do you never reveal the Bad Boy's full name?

I know his name in my head, but I thought it best for the purposes of this book not to reveal it. I also didn't think he deserved to be dignified with a name! Especially since Bad Boy is really all about the girls. I wanted the focus to be fully on them for this novel.

What do you recommend a Good Girl in high school do if she finds herself in a relationship with a Bad Boy?

I think we all know when someone is treating us badly. If you feel that way, or even have the slightest inkling that something isn't right, don't ignore the signs. Believe that you are worthy of being treated with respect and being liked simply for the person you are, and not for what you do or don't do for someone. If that feels too hard to do for yourself, think of that trustworthy friend or grownup who believes in you and let them help you see the worthwhile and beautiful person you are.

I wonder how many of your readers will use their school or library copies of FOREVER to spread similar messages to their peers. Has anyone told you that they have or plan on doing something similar?

No, nobody has, but I hope they will expand the idea and use A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL to spread messages to their peers! ;-)

Do you plan on writing more non-fiction books for children? What about your work in picture books?

Yes, I'm currently working on three non-fiction projects, all out at various times in the next couple of years. I have a picture book out next year called Elizabeth Leads the Way (Henry Holt), about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which has a major theme of empowerment for girls. (In fact, most of my work has a thread of strong women running through it.) The illustrator for Elizabeth Leads the Way, Rebecca Gibbon, also did Players in Pigtails and I'm excited about the quirky, fun feeling she brings to historical topics.

What are your top ten books of all time?

Wow, that’s tough! Only ten? How about my initial recollection of the titles that had a big impact on my reading and writing life? As a little kid—Harold and the Purple Crayon was my favorite. That book told me I had the power to create how I wanted my life to be, and all I needed was a purple crayon! Mind boggling stuff. In grade and high school, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, John Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. As I got older, I fell in love with James Joyce's Dubliners, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Basil and Josephine Stories, Lillian Hellman's An Unfinished Woman, Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge, and - oh no, only one more? - Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I'm sorry, but I've just got to add a bonus title - Jane Austen's Emma!

See my previous entry for a full-length book review.

Many thanks to Tanya for doing this interview. Please visit her LiveJournal and website.