Author Taylor Morris keeps her ninth and twelfth grade yearbooks beside her desk for inspiration and for reference. How cool is that? Even cooler is the lady herself. I got the chance to work with her earlier this year when I redesigned her website. When I asked her for an interview, she kindly agreed. Read on to learn how and when Taylor found her niche - writing for tweens and teens - and why she's never looked back.
Both of your novels to date, Class Favorite and Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex-Class President, deal with the politics of middle school. What advice can you give to your readers who are dealing with social drama?
Try to rise above it. Don't get involved in petty squabbles. Some people naturally thrive toward drama, and I used to be attracted to those kinds of people. Now, I try to steer clear. Life gets complicated enough without inviting unnecessary stuff along.
I agree. Why do you think the middle school experience is so difficult when you're going through it and so memorable when you're looking back on it years later?
Everything is so heightened during junior high. You're not a kid anymore but you're not a grown up. Your bod is changing, you're figuring out who you are, you're dating, your grades start to matter, status matters more - it all happens for the first time in junior high. I remember the days leading up to my first day of junior high and I was absolutely terrified. It seemed so grown up. I mean, there's no more recess!
I was quiet around most people but emotional and dramatic at home. To quote my mother when I was in fourth grade, I was a "brat." I certainly hope I've changed since then! Truthfully, I was friends with the kids who were friends with the popular kids. Like, my best friend Rendi was friends with Ashley Price, one of the coolest girls, but Ashley and I weren't friends. I got invited to parties by default - or sometimes I didn't get invited at all. Then I'd get, "Where were you Friday night? Everyone was there!" And I'd be like, "Uh, I wasn't invited."
Are you more like Sara or Lucia?
I realized in terms of my writing that I'm like my characters, at least a little. When I wrote Class Favorite I was like Sara - timid and unsure. Maybe she'll make class favorite and maybe she won't; maybe I'll get published and maybe I won't. When I wrote Lucia, she's already there in terms of her presidency; the only question was, what's she going to do with it? I felt like I had my feet a little more firmly planted when I started Total Knockout, and my confidence was a bit higher - that's definitely reflected in the type of character I wrote. But still - now I've been published, so what am I going to do about it?
Have you ever tried boxing or run for class president?
I never ran for anything in junior high and high school - I was way too shy and too much of a nowhere girl. These days I do occasionally take boxing classes at the gym. It's an amazing workout and definitely makes me feel tough! And is it weird that I love it when the instructor yells at me?
Though you had enjoyed writing for a while, it wasn't until college that you started to really work on it and pursue it. Tell us about your experience at Emerson.
I thought I was an okay writer but I didn't have a clue what to write. I didn't feel like I had any stories to tell. During one of my first short story workshops I wrote something set in junior high that got raves from my classmates. But everyone else had written super-serious stories with what I felt were very adult themes. So the next week I wrote this story about a high-powered woman in L.A. who could no longer take the pressure, so she jumped to her death off a downtown building. It was embarrassingly bad. I had no idea what I was talking about, and I had zero fun writing it. After the class ripped my story to shreds - nicely - someone in class asked, "Why don't you write like you did last week? We all liked that." The class agreed, and I swore never to go back.
So far, you've published short stories, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. Are there any other forms of writing you'd like to try?
Actually - no. Some people ask me if I'd like to write for adults, which I guess they think is a natural progression - like every tween and YA author aspires to write in that genre. I love the genre I write for. I've finally learned what I'm good at and plan to stick with it. My goal now is to get a teen novel published in hardcover. That's something I haven't done yet, and what I'm currently aiming for. And after that? My goal will always been to keep getting published.
Along the same lines, have you ever thought about publishing a short story collection?
My short stories are few and far between. Well, the good ones anyway. I've written a lot of them, but the only good ones are in Girls' Life magazine! Those just spilled out perfectly. I keep waiting for that crazy inspiration of the perfect story coming out just right, but it hasn't happened in a while. Plus, lately I've been too distracted with novels, and I seem incapable of doing the two at once.
You've lived in a number of big cities: Los Angeles, Boston, New York. Which was your favorite, and why? Do you prefer small towns or big cities?
I've definitely become a big city girl. And not just big cities, but east coast big cities. When I moved to Boston I'd already lived in San Diego, which is a beautiful city, but I felt like I found my groove in Boston. I love walking the streets and feeling like I'm a part of things even when I hate the world and don't feel like talking. I love seasons, easy public transportation, and lots and lots of choices. I didn't like having to drive everywhere in LA, and the weather bored me to tears. I've absolutely ruined myself by living in New York, though. I don't know where I could possibly move from here that would be a step up. Berlin, Paris or London, I suppose. To me this is by far the best, most exciting city in the country.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
This is an absolutely impossible question! I can say that Gone With The Wind is my favorite book of all time. The others are books that I really, really love. If you ask me next month, the list may shift, but tonight, this is what I'm feeling tonight:
1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Rebel
woman caught in a love triangle (even though half the
time she doesn't really know it) set against war and
its aftermath. What more do you want?
2. Atonement by Ian McEwan. It was like taking a literary tween novel and letting the character grow up with her mistakes.
3. Election by Tom Perrotta. He actually came to one of my Emerson classes and read from his very first book, a collection of short stories, before he was a big deal. I have a signed book from him that says, "Good luck with the writing."
4. The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen. For me, this was the first YA book where I felt like I got it. I understood how literary YA could be.
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I went to her home in Concord, MA, at least three times in the time I lived in Boston. I was slightly obsessed and loved learning about her journey to publishing.
6. Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger. The brilliant non-fiction book based on which the movie and the show are based on, one of the best stories about small-town Texas life
7. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan. One word: swoon!
8. Harry Potter series by - duh - J.K. Rowling. I love every word, every scene in this series.
9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Teen angst - and the movie with James Dean? I got another swoon! for ya.
10. Giant by Edna Ferber. Another great, classic story of Texas life, through the generations. Also happened to be made into a movie starring James Dean (and Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson).
Did you notice that almost every book has a YA theme??
Gotta love that theme!