Archive for May, 2012

Leila Sales Gets the Present Dead-On Perfect in PAST PERFECT

May 16th, 2012 by Terra | 3 Comments | Filed in Talking with Other Authors

Schools are starting to wind down for the semester, June’s only a couple of weeks away, so it’s time to start thinking about summer plans AND summer reads. Lucky for all of you, Leila Sales’ hilarious novel, Past Perfect, came out in paperback at the beginning of May. Leila was kind enough to agree to answer some questions I had about the book, and I got her to wax on everything from friendship, to picking yourself up, to ice cream. (And you can learn even more about her and her books at

Here’s the summary: All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated…even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new.

Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it….

TEM:  Both Past Perfect, and your first novel, Mostly Good Girls, are so dead-on funny. So I have to get this question out of the way first: how do you manage to be so hilarious?

LSS: Thank you! Hilarious is what I aim for. To answer your question, I’ll share with you one of my mother’s favorite jokes.

First, she says, “Ask me what makes me so funny.”

Then I have to say, “What makes you so funny?”

Then she pauses for an uncomfortably long time before finally answering, “Timing.”

This joke is kind of funny, but it’s not funny enough to retell it 5,000 times, which is what my mother does.

Anyway, yeah. Timing.

TEM:  Past Perfect’s plot is definitely romance-heavy (more on that in a sec), but there’s so much stuff that’s also about friendship. I really loved the relationship between Chelsea and her best friend Fiona, especially in the latter third of the book. Mostly Good Girls is also so much about girl friendships. Can you just . . . talk about that a bit?

LSS: Friendship is incredibly valuable to me, so I believe it’s a complex and important topic to explore in literature. I have been lucky enough to share my life with a number of friends whom I love very much. I didn’t date in high school, so when I think about identity-defining relationships for teens, I think of friendships first.

One thing I try to keep in mind when writing is that every character needs to be a fully-formed individual, who could, if given the opportunity, narrate his or her own novel. It’s only in Past Perfect that Fiona is a supporting character. Somewhere out there, in the word of untold stories, is a novel about Fiona’s summer, and how her mother lost her job, and how she’s scared of falling for Ned, and what’s happening with her theater project, and how she fears that she’s losing her best friend, Chelsea. There are two sides to every friendship, and just because I didn’t write that story in its entirety doesn’t mean it’s not there.

TEM:  Chelsea is fixated on her ex-boyfriend Ezra in an almost painful (but familiar-sounding) way. Through the course of the book however, she learns a lot about both him and their relationship, in a way that feels really fresh to me. What do you think readers might take away from this dynamic between them?

LSS: Two things. One, that if you’re dating someone who treats you like crap, then he is not right for you. Even if he is a good person. Even if he is cute and smart and interesting and someone who you’ve had a crush on for ages. If he’s not good for you, then it doesn’t matter how objectively “good” you think he may be: let him go.

Thing number two is this: Sometimes it takes a long time to get over someone, and that is okay. Chelsea keeps claiming to be over Ezra when she’s not. She feels like an idiot for still caring about him when they broke up so long ago, when he seems to be completely over it, when the milliner girls don’t even know they were ever together. But that doesn’t make her an idiot—it just makes her human.

The penultimate line of the novel is, “Sometimes still I am bowled over by these memories.” Because that happens; you can’t help that. And the last line it, “But then I pick myself up, and I keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, relentlessly into the present.” The goal is not to avoid ever getting knocked down. It’s to figure out how to pick yourself up again.

TEM:  You are a self-proclaimed expert on many things summer camp. How did your camp experiences inform the writing of Past Perfect?

I was twice a camp counselor (after many, many years as a camper), and counselors have all sorts of interpersonal relationships going on that the kids aren’t fully aware of. They date, and break up, and become best friends forever, and steal one another’s girlfriends, and get into trouble, and on and on. Chelsea has all of that at Colonial Essex Village, but the tourists don’t pick up on any of it. They just see some people in historical costumes.

I stole specific experiences from summer camp, too. Chelsea and her friends play Top Fives, which was a very popular game at my camp. Doing raids on Civil War Reenactmentland is inspired by Color Wars (or, as we called it at my camp, College Days), and by “raids” on Boys’ Side. Not that I ever raided Boys’ Side, mind you. I was way too scared of getting caught!

TEM:  A connected question . . . All of the action in this book takes place on either a Colonial Reenactment camp, or a Civil War Reenactment camp. So, how much research did you have to do to create such great settings?

I spent one summer in college working part-time on the Freedom Trail in Boston, so many of Chelsea’s experiences come from that. Like being way too hot in a gown and not being allowed to carry a modern water bottle. Or trying to get little kids interested in history by telling them about how many people died in various gruesome fashions.

During the year I was writing this book, I went to whatever reenactments I could find, and I went on a research road trip with my writing partner, Rebecca Serle, down to Colonial Williamsburg. I got to meet with a real Junior Interpreter, which was very helpful. For example, she gave me the bit about how her supervisor would carry around nail polish remover for the girls who conveniently “forgot.”

I’ll tell you that I did some research on actual 1770s and 1860s America. But I did most of my research on how we now portray the 1770s and 1860s.

TEM:  You currently work in publishing, and have for some time. How does having this job help you as an author?  Any drawbacks?

I love spending time with stories, whether it’s as an editor, writer, or reader. Being an editor has helped me develop my understanding of how stories and sentences should work. And it has reinforced to me just how important it is that my story be special and my voice be unique, because I see firsthand every day how hard it is to get published.

The main downside of my dual careers is that sometimes after spending eight hours in front of a Word doc in my office, I don’t feel like going home to spend another four hours in front of a Word doc in my living room. If my day job were as a bricklayer, I bet I’d be more enthusiastic about sitting in down at a computer in the evenings.

TEM:  Let’s talk about Dan, Chelsea’s other love interest in Past Perfect. He is simultaneously grounded and real, and also exceptionally dreamy. What went into creating such a well-balanced character?

A lot of revision! As I said, I didn’t date in high school, and I went to an all-girls school, so in my whole life I have been close to very few teen boys. In MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS, we don’t get to intimately know any boys, so PAST PERFECT was a learning experience for me. I rewrote the three big Chelsea and Dan flirtation scenes (when he kidnaps her; when she returns his sweatshirt by the river; and when they’re on her trampoline) a number of times before I could read their dialogue without cringing. I’m glad you think I succeeded ultimately.

TEM:  Lastly, Chelsea and Fiona have high ice cream aspirations at the beginning of their summer together, which is more than admirable. I know you’re picky in matters gastronomic, but what are your favorite ice cream flavors? (Or alternatives to ice cream?)

There are no alternatives to ice cream.

I mean, chocolate. Anything chocolate.



May 2nd, 2012 by Terra | 2 Comments | Filed in Being Friends with Boys

My fourth novel, BEING FRIENDS WITH BOYS, is finally released to the world. So first, to celebrate, here’s the amazing video done by my friend Lily Jurskis:

Second, a lot of people have been asking me –because of the title of the book– whether or not boys and girls can be “just friends.” Here’s what one of my favorite movies ever, “When Harry Met Sally,” has to say about that topic:

Pretty grim, eh?
Well, I happen to be friends with a lot of fantastic boys/men, and so I asked a couple of them what THEY thought. Here’s what they had to say:

What a sad thought that anyone would eliminate half of all human beings as potential friends! Finding those special people in the world who you really get and who really get you, those people who love who you are and help you become more… it’s such a rare and precious thing. Why would anyone make the search for friends twice as hard by eliminating half of all possibilities? I have close friends who are men and close friends who are women. Each one is vital to me in her or his own way. Ask me to give up even one of them, and you’re in for a fight. Give up half of them based on their gender? Not a chance! –Tom Bell, friends with me since 1996


Hmm. Why not?

Friendships develop organically, and guys & girls are just very different… err… organs? That’s an awkward analogy, but girl & guy friends serve different functions in life. (My life, at least.) They’re all still really important. 

Most of my friends are guys.  I connect with guys over shared interests and hobbies in a way that I don’t with girls. Professionally as well. I hang out with guys to collaborate or to just kick around. These friendships are  largely simple, casual, and spontaneous. My friendships with girls are quite different, and I hadn’t really given it much thought before now. They are  mostly long-distance, long-term connections to people that I believe know me very well. Phone lines can lay dormant for a long time but conversations can pick up where they left off with very little pretense or formality. I think girls are able to view friendship with a long-view that guys aren’t privy to.
So, yes, absolutely guys and girls can be friends!
Josh Siegel, friends with me since 2001  

So, what do *I* think?
I think that yes, absolutely, guys and girls can be friends. I think they can be friends for a really long time, and on levels just as deep and complex as with folks of the same gender.
That doesn’t mean that the romance thing doesn’t ever come into the equation. (And, yes, the gay/straight element –and the one-of-you-has-a-significant-other thing– can both make things more simple, and also not.) As I hope I show in Being Friends With Boys, sometimes these things can get complicated.
For me it’s complicated mainly because what we look for in a friend is so similar to what we look for in a romantic interest (gets your jokes, spends lots of time with you, is a good listener, makes you laugh, remembers special things about you, likes your style, teaches you things, etc.), so I think sometimes when you’re friends with someone, it can get confusing. For example, it’s possible to really, really dig someone –just as a friend– and then maybe for a little while think that means you want to be MORE than friends with them. Usually, in my experience –if you are, in fact, good friends– your relationship can absorb this. But it doesn’t mean that things might not get awkward for a little while.
One day, for kicks, you might also mutually try to test it out –see if you make a good couple instead of “just friends.” This could work out great –i.e., you  make an awesome couple– or it could turn out not so great. (I.e., you don’t.) There is always the risk of losing the friendship in this case. But in the best of circumstances, if you are really, truly, honestly good friends, I think your relationship can absorb this part too. It might not be flawless, but eventually your friendship will win in the end.
Mainly, I think any close relationship that has much duration is going to have its ups and downs. There will be times when you are so dead-on happy and grooving with each other, that you can’t imagine ever living without him or her in your life every second of the day. Other times . . . well . . . it isn’t necessarily that way. And maybe romance is a part of this, maybe not. The point, to me, is that the relationships worth keeping are the ones that have room for both the highs and the lows, the flawless and the awkward. Girls, boys, straights, gays, old, young, blind, deaf . . . whomever. It’s better to be friends than not.