I know your series Charlie Joe Jackson was inspired by your three sons, and at the time, their lack of interest in reading. I am curious where your inspiration came to write The Real Us?
That’s a good question! I remember the first thing that popped into my head (no pun intended) was the image of the most beautiful girl in school trying to deal with a giant pimple in the middle of her nose. I was assuming it would be a comical novel at first, as most of my books had been humorous up to that point (at least that was the goal), but the more I thought about it and developed the idea, I realized this could be my first story that goes a little deeper into the issues and emotions that middle-schoolers face.
The Real Us deals with middle school students trying to sort out who they are, beyond the labels others give them, and what they truly care about. It’s definitely a challenge for many kids who are influenced by any number of factors that can shape how they view themselves. Do you have any advice for young people trying to navigate the waters of middle school as they also work to better understand their real self?
Well, I always urged my own kids to try to reach beyond labels, and beyond their own interests and intimate social groups, to see what else, and who else, was out there. Buried deep within the silliness of my very first book, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING, is a bit of a message about the dangers of being too clique-y, so I guess it’s something that I’ve been interested in for a long time.
What helps you most in regards to writing teen dialogue like in The Real Us?
I’m honestly not sure. I think having three kids may have helped via osmosis. Also I try to make sure never to write down to kids. Although the vocabulary and rhythm of language has to be realistic and age-appropriate, there’s no reason that teen dialogue can’t be as interesting, witty and thought-provoking as adult dialogue. Perhaps even more so.
Damian’s condition, hyperhidrosis was one I hadn’t heard of before, but I was thrilled to see this human experience represented in your story. What inspired you to include it?
Ha! Good question. I do have a few friends (adults) who deal with this issue, so I think that might be where it comes from.
By my count, you’ve published 12 books for young people in the last seven years (13 by the end of this year if I am counting correctly). That’s incredible! What kind of routines do you have to help you along in the writing process from your initial idea to the final publication?
I live in Connecticut and work in New York City, so I write on the train going back and forth. I also write on the weekends at the bookstore or library. The one place I never write is home! I consider home sacred ground for TV, naps and playing with the dogs. I also need noise and chaos to write. As Charlie Joe Jackson said, “I can’t concentrate unless I have a lot of distractions.”
For the first time this year, my students are going to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What advice would you give to young writers interested in writing their own stories? What would you encourage them to do when they get stuck?
I’m a slave to synopsis. I can’t start the actual writing of a book unless I map out the story in three acts, ahead of time. I learned that the hard way back in the old days, when I’d dive into an idea, get stuck in the middle and abandon the whole thing in frustration. So now I create the story first. It can, and will, change a great deal during the actual writing, but as long as the major beats are there, like guideposts ahead, I feel like I can eventually get to where I’m going. Anyone can have an idea — but not everyone can finish a story!
Finally, my students and I are always on the lookout for great books. Beyond your awesome books, what are some books written for young people you would recommend to middle school students?
For comedy fans, I recommend the Tapper Twins stories by Geoff Rodkey and Creature From My Closet By Obert Skye. Everyone knows the I Survived stories by Lauren Tarshis, but before those she wrote two Emma-Jean Lazarus stories that are terrific. And if you can find it somewhere, check out The Bully From Barkham Street by Mary Stolz. It was my favorite book as a kid!
7 August Ms. Yingling Reads, http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com review
8 August Maria’s Melange http://www.mariaselke.com/ —Why I Wrote The Real Us
9 August Log Cabin Library http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/ Review, publisher’s description
10 August– Diary of a Happy Librarian https://diaryofahappylibrarian.blogspot.com/- Review
11 August Always in the Middle https://gpattridge.com/ Make ‘Em Laugh
14 August– Randomly Reading https://randomlyreading.blogspot.com/ Review
15 August One Great Book http://onegreatbook.com/ Review
16 August–Unleashing Readers http://www.unleashingreaders.com Giveaway
17 August Mr. D. Reads https://misterdreads.wordpress.com. Interview
18 August Tommy Greenwald http://tommygreenwald.com/blog/ Giveaway