Archive for June, 2014

Returned Home from Yale Writers Workshop!

June 25th, 2014 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Appearances, Writing and Reading

I spent the last few days leading a Children’s and Young Adult writing workshop at the Yale Writers Workshop, and now that I’m home and have my bearings, I can clearly say it was fantastic. As always with those kinds of things, I left inspired and excited, and learned as much about my own writing as I hope my students did about theirs. Workshopping is such an important element of the writing process, and I didn’t realize how much I had missed it, not to mention how wonderful it felt being back in the classroom. (Teaching writing is about my favorite.)

Here are a couple of shots I took while I was away, though admittedly I was so into what I was doing I didn’t take many. Thanks very much to the conference coordinators, to each of my students, and to the other writers and faculty I got to meet. It was a terrific week!


Chatting 17 FIRST KISSES with Rachael Allen

June 18th, 2014 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Talking with Other Authors

It’s no secret that I love interviewing other writers, but in the last couple of years I’ve found that I love LIVE CHATTING with them even more.

I also really, really love a book that is sweet and familiar (like a good John Hughes movie), but that also goes a step further to tackle some serious, real-life stuff in between all the yummy goodness (like a good John Hughes movie).

Enter, Rachael Allen, an earnest, intelligent, adorable book lover and writer, who also happens to be a faithful member of the Not-So-YA book club at Little Shop of Stories.  When I read an advance copy, Rachael’s debut YA novel, 17 First Kisses, it impressed and thrilled me with its combination of satisfying, M&Ms-at-4PM sweetness, and Gimme-Some-Heavy-Protein-for-Breakfast reality.

Rachael was sweet enough (and substantive enough!) to talk with me a bit about the inner workings of her book (which released this week), and here’s what she had to say:


TEM:  The first thing I want to tackle is to ask the question you’ll ALWAYS be asked –but is still one I’m curious about– and that is where the idea for 17 First Kisses came from. What other things fed into the creation of the characters and the story?

RA:  It’s kind of random, but I found a box of old notes and other stuff from middle/high school (including some magazine cutouts of Justin Timberlake because those are important to save FOREVER).

TEM:  That’s hilarious.

RA:  I really wanted to do a story that focused in on different ages in a character’s life, and then I thought of the title, and the story just fell out from there.

TEM:  The title! It’s so great! And I really, really love how you made the 17 kisses all distinct. Some are funny, some are really romantic, some not so much.

TEM:  Did you map out each one ahead of time, or did some of them come as you wrote?

RA: Thank you! For a lot of the kisses, I mapped them out ahead of time because in some way or another they tie into the present. It was kind of tricky weaving it all together. I think a couple came together as I was writing though.

TEM: A road map can be very useful, and I love the idea of a road map of kisses! Was there one or another –without giving too much away– that was harder to write?

RA:  Hmm…I think the romantic ones were hardest to write. There are a couple I’m thinking of in particular. Funny kisses and bad kisses come easily to me. *does not want to think about what that means*

TEM: Haha. Makes me think about a lot of my own first kisses. Very First Ever was horrible. Second First totally blew my socks off. And then there’s First with my Husband, First that Broke my Heart, etc. It’s actually an interesting thing to think about.

RA: I would like to hear from anyone who can say that their Very First Ever was not horrible. Those people must exist. Somewhere…

TEM: I know, right? We should take a poll.

TEM: Because even though maybe everything is categorically horrible, the individual circumstances could be really, really  funny. Mine involved a beach trip, sleeping bags, and braces. You?

RA:  Braces! Oh noes! I had those too. So terrifying for the kissing. 

TEM:  Well, fortunately it wasn’t, like, braces + Doritos or anything like that. :)

RA:  Mine was in the woods. I think we were hiking or playing explorers or something equally romantic.

TEM:  Very Katniess and Peeta of you, I guess. :)

TEM:  Okay, so, yes there is a lot of kissing in here, and some of it will really make your pulse rush, but there is a LOT more in there. Namely, Friendship and some serious family issues too. What I admire is that the family stuff is definitely important and serious, but it doesn’t eclipse all the other things in Claire’s life. As in, it isn’t the ONLY thing. Was this tricky? Did it have to go through revision in any way?

RA: Thanks! The family stuff probably went through the least revising. It just kind of permeated parts of the book. I didn’t actually intend for there to be the Big Sad Thing in the book when I started writing. It kind of just happened. I did have to revise Claire’s mom’s character arc some though because I have this habit of wanting things to keep getting better, and I have to remind myself that’s not how life really goes. There are ups and downs.

RA:  The friendship stuff had to go through lots of revising.

TEM:  Let’s stick w/ family for a minute . . . I thought that tackling depression in a serious way was very brave. And you’re right–it doesn’t just automatically get better. What was interesting was watching Claire’s relationship with her mother change over time, too. Almost like a microcosm of what many girls and their mothers go through, without even having their own Big Sad Thing.

TEM:  How did you manage to keep that from being schticky?

RA: I’m really close with my mom, and we had to deal with some tough stuff about the same time things start getting tough for Claire’s family. I think some of it draws from that. My mom is crazy strong though. And with Claire’s mom, I was thinking, what happens when someone can’t handle everything life is throwing at them and they have to give up for a little while?

TEM:  What helped SFK stand out to me was that very honesty about Claire’s mom’s depression. I think that happens to WAY more people than we think, and that families all over are dealing with it in one way or another. But we don’t always talk about it. It’s like this thing we try to pretend isn’t a thing.

RA:  Oh, I totally agree. And I think Claire’s family tries to pretend it isn’t a thing, and that’s a big source of frustration for her.
TEM:  Absolutely. What’s going on with them echoes what’s going on in the rest of the world. Like those awful two church ladies in the grocery store.

RA:  Maybe not everyone is like that, but you definitely see a lot more “Tsk tsking” instead of support. Well, or at least you see it a lot.

RA:  Oh, yes. You see it with all kinds of things, not just depression, and I feel like so much good could be done if more people went for the support route.

TEM:  Now, friendship. There was so much that I loved about Claire and her relationship with Megan, but ESPECIALLY with Amberly and Britany as the “second tier” friends.

TEM:  Megan, as popular-and-beautiful-queen-bee, could’ve been so much a different girl. How did you keep her so REAL?

TEM:  Meaning, you’ve seen that kind of girl stereotyped in SO many books and films and TV shows, but you totally avoided making her any of those things.

RA:  I wanted her to be likable (but also over the top and dramatic and stuff). And first draft Megan wasn’t. She came off much more ‘mean girl’ than I intended. This is where all the revising came in – I joke that Megan gets nicer with every draft. So, in order to make her someone I liked, and someone I actually wanted Claire to remain friends with, I had to think really hard about the other parts of her. The baking and the family pressure and the fierce protective tendencies.

TEM:  I think it’s the details that really help us flesh out our characters.

RA:  And even the villain has problems, right!? Not that Megan is the villain at all. Just that it’s really easy to see people outside yourself and think they have it all together, when there’s ALWAYS more going on inside.

RA:  Oh, yes. And Megan is definitely one of those girls that people look at, and think “Her life is perfect. Why can’t things be that easy for me?”

RA:  Also, thanks for the Amberly love. I love her a lot, and everything good about her is due to amazing revision suggestions from my agent and editor. They pushed me to do something much cooler with that friendship than I ever thought of on my own.

TEM:  Yeah she was one of my favorite parts. A whole, real girl with a specific connection to Claire. It’s so easy to forget those secondary characters, but they are real people too.
RA:  Yes! Especially in early drafts!

TEM:  Ha, so true! Speaking of realistic characters, let’s get to Luke next. SO DREAMY. Any influences?

RA:  He needed a lot of revising too :)

RA:  I wanted someone who didn’t have an easy family life. Because that’s the kind of guy Claire would connect with instantly. And then I just threw them in awkward situations together and let him be all sweet and romantic.

TEM:  Yeah I liked that it wasn’t that he was just cute, or played soccer. There was a whole deeper level between them. Again, SO REAL!

TEM:  I also  thought it was so interesting how you did the whole YA Love Triangle thing, but from a different perspective: two girls fighting over the same guy. Again, you took something “standard” and turned it on its head.

RA:  I think a lot of books make love triangles look so dreamy. Picking between two hot guys! What could be better?! But really, love triangles suck for two of the three people involved. (And I’m not convinced they’re all that fun for the third person, either.) So, I wanted to show that.

TEM:  I totally agree with you. I think love triangles suck for EVERYONE, and you showed that in SFK. It’s part of what I was trying to do in AFTER THE KISS, too.

RA: Oh, yeah, and that one is even trickier because the girls don’t know they’re in competition.

TEM: Let me ask you one more question –one you will get asked a lot, but I think is important: The books we read and the films we see, the shows we watch, all inform and teach us as writers. So, I’m curious about what some of your favorite books/authors/shows/movies are . . . what resonates with you and helps you learn about good writing/storytelling?

RA:  Oh! Fun question! I read gobs of YA, and it’s hard to narrow it down, but I love books that make me feel like I want to be best friends with the main character, like ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, and books that make me full on ugly cry, like IF I LIE or ELEANOR AND PARK. And books with all the pretty prose, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s or Laini Taylor’s or Sarah Ockler’s. I think the biggest thing is if a book sticks with me because it reveals some kind of truth about the world. For example, there is a line in your book PURE that I always think about. Something about “intolerance going both ways” when Tabitha s arguing with her dad.

TEM:  Yeah I love books that really make me feel too–even if it makes me feel something unpleasant. And wow that’s a nice compliment about PURE!

RA:  I’m from a small Southern town, and go to grad school at a relatively liberal university, and I feel like there is so much judgment going both ways, and that line put it into words in a way I had never thought of before. There is a sticky tab in my copy of PURE even now :)

TEM:  Yeah we forget that hippies can be really judgmental, too. I think about that a lot. And it makes me want to say how much I loved reading something from the South that wasn’t necessarily SOUTHERN. Another thing I loved  about SFK.

That’s where Rachael and I switched over to talk about Criminal, which is posted on her blog.  But I hope you’ve already seen from this part of the chat that Rachael  is smart and fun, and exactly the kind of writer you would want to be friends with. You will want to be friends with 17 First Kisses, too! So go on and check it out!!


A Criminally Good Playlist

June 11th, 2014 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Criminal

Recently I held a contest wherein you could win a signed copy of Criminal and the playlist I made for the book. As I mailed out copies of the book and the CD, I thought it might be a bit unfair to be stingy about this playlist, especially since it contains Britney Spears, Loretta Lynn, Michael Jackson, and Neko Case.

So here it is, in its entirety, should you choose to create it for yourself: