How It's Done deals with many transitions: going from a teenager to an adult, from feeling unloved to becoming the object of someone's affection, moving from your parents' house to someone else's home. The main character, Grace, approaches all of these transitions and decisions with equal parts hesitation and excitement. Read my full book review here.
What was the most difficult part of the story to write? The most difficult subject to address?
Certainly you have touched on one of the most difficult -- capturing the hesitation and the excitement of being 18 and in love and the thrill of making decisions that could have a life-long impact. Staying firmly in Grace's point of view, approaching situations with her naivete without letting an adult sensibility seep in -- that was the challenge for me.
It's hard to write young adult books because you have to forget everything you've learned since you were 18. I wonder if adults sometimes forget that things that set off warning bells and flashing lights for us do so *only* because of experiences we had when we were younger. Teenagers are encountering those situations for the very first time. They don't yet have the experience that will set off the bells. That's what I had to work hard to remember as I was writing the entire book.
The book toes the line tastefully when discussing adult situations, religion, and responsibility. How careful were you when writing the book?
I was more concerned about being true to the characters than I was about any issues that came up in the course of the story, e.g., abortion or religion. I wasn't interested in making any moral statements; I just wanted to follow Grace, whose parents happen to be fundamentalists, as she faces this relationship challenge. She knows she wants to get out of the box her father has her in, and she's willing to take a drastic step to do that. But then what? She gets in way over her head.
What's the target audience for this book?
I think high school readers would get the most out of it. You have to have a certain amount of maturity to even appreciate the issues that Grace wrestles with in the book.
The plotline can be boiled down to "teen girl falls for an older man," but it is, of course, more than that. What inspired this story?
When we were teenagers, my friends and I all dated men. There was so much that was attractive about them--they had jobs, life experiences, places of their own. Suddenly you're being treated as a peer in the adult world, instead of as a child. It's easy to go from there to thinking that you have arrived and your development is over. But there are no shortcuts to finding yourself. You still have to do the work of figuring out who you are and what you stand for. And it's *in the work* that you actually do figure out who you are and what you stand for. Self-discovery and self-knowledge come in the process. It's not something you can outsource or do from a distance. You have to get your hands dirty -- and Grace eventually does.
How It's Done was your first teen novel. Are you working on another?
I have lots of ideas, one of which is a sequel of sorts that would pick up Grace's friend Liv's story. Some readers have been disappointed by her actions and I'd like to give her a shot at redemption.
Do you tend to write from start to finish, or here and there as scenes come to mind?
Every novel is a little different, but I usually write from beginning to end. For this novel, I used a long piece of butcher paper and Post-It notes for major events that happen in each chapter. The Post-Its were color-coded, one color for each character, so I could see at a glance when a certain character had disappeared for too long. While I did multiple drafts, the story arc itself remained pretty much the same. I needed the multiple drafts to fully develop the characters. It's like what I was just saying about self-knowledge, come to think of it! Only in the process of writing about them (over and over!) could I fully know the characters.
Tell us about the Mary Margaret novels you've written for elementary school kids.
The idea for the first book (MARY MARGARET AND THE PERFECT PET PLAN) actually came from my own family situation: Both my kids desperately wanted a pet, but my husband is allergic to dander, which kind of limited our choices. Anyway, I wrote the story first as a picture book, but my editor suggested I make it longer and it ended up as a novel, and now a series that Scholastic has picked up for its book clubs and fairs.
The third novel in that series (MARY MARGARET MEETS HER MATCH) comes out in February 2007, and I'm thinking about writing a fourth. Mary Margaret is a joy to write; she frequently makes me laugh out loud! I think kids really relate to her because she is brutally honest about her feelings, even when they aren't pretty. She has her own site with activities and a blog.
Thanks to you and Penguin Books, a portion of the proceeds from the picture book Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms is donated to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund.
That was Penguin's idea and contribution, and I was so pleased. I had finished the manuscript in late August and was actually polishing it on the morning of September 11. My husband called and asked me if I was watching TV. I remember being offended -- why would I be watching daytime TV? I had work to do! -- until he explained. I was overwhelmed by the events of that day and I shelved the book. Like others around the country, I had no interest in or energy for anything besides trying to absorb the magnitude of the tragedy and make sense of what had happened. Ultimately I realized that the story is a reassuring one, and we all needed more reassurance and comfort right then. So I pulled it off the shelf and sent it out.
So . . . how _is_ it done?
"How It's Done" refers to many things in the book. The central "it" refers to finding yourself, and I think for most of us, that's done one tentative step at a time -- sometimes in the wrong direction. There is no one way to do it, and therein lies the beauty and the danger. You're human. You will make mistakes, but those mistakes shape each of us into unique people.
I believe finding yourself is a lifelong process, and it can be a lonely road. If you're lucky, you have people that will hold your hand along the way, not to steer you or hold you back or pull you along, but to steady you and keep you company.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
I can't possibly name my favorites, but I can list books that have stuck with me. Power of the Dog (Thomas Savage), Beloved (Toni Morrison), Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver), East of Eden and The Wayward Bus and The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck), Lady Chatterly's Lover (D.H. Lawrence), J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which I feel is the cleanest and strongest book in the series), A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), Turn of the Screw (Henry James), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston), Light in August (William Faulkner), Middlemarch (George Elliot), An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser), Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen -- she's so good at poking fun at society!), Truth and Beauty (Ann Patchett), and Savage Beauty (Nancy Milford). The last two are non-fiction titles.
If I talk about a book, it's more likely to stay with me, and many of the titles on this list are books we've discussed in the book club I've belonged to for the last 12 years. It's a top-notch group of readers!