At what age did you discover a love for writing?
I was six or seven, sitting at our kitchen table in Brooklyn, writing -- in a black and white school notebook -- a story I'd made up about a brave German shepherd named King.
My mother, who was doing the dishes, turned from
the sink and asked why I was crying. I told her, "King just died."
She laughed and said, "But you killed him."
I remember being frustrated - and feeling very misunderstood -- because she didn't understand (and I didn't have the words to explain) that I hadn't murdered my main character, I'd just written the story. And it was the story, how it went, how it evolved, that made it necessary for the poor but loyal dog to die.
I also wrote my first poem about this time - for Arbor Day. Ready? Here it is:
Trees are very beautiful.
They bring glory to the earth.
On a hot summer's day
We appreciate their worth.
They shade us with their branches
And help us to relax.
I wonder why George Washington
Chopped one down with his axe?
What authors inspired your writing?
In my grandfather's cellar, there was a dusty, rusty, spider web covered metal cabinet. I got up the nerve to open it one day. It was filled with black covered Hebrew books.
The one exception was a single, thick, red volume, which held three novels by Louisa May Alcott: Little Women, Little Men, and Eight Cousins! It was as if a light shown on that beautiful, bright book, shelved amongst all those strange and somber black tomes.
I read Little Women and completely identified with Jo, the tomboy who became a writer.
Up until then, I never even thought about writers. Books just existed -at school, in the library, in rich people's homes in the movies. (We were strictly a Reader's Digest family and had no books around the house, just the popular, little magazine.) Little Women was the first book I ever read by a writer and about a writer.
Is there anything in particular that inspired you to write a series about teen witches?
Yes, my co-author, Randi Reisfeld. She's a witch. Who else could hold down a full time job and write best selling books for young readers in her spare time?
I came up with what we call The Alterworld - Coventry Island and all its lovable denizen, Karsh, Ileana, the evil Lord Thantos, and other notable witches and warlocks. Randi and I met working on the "Clueless" series. We alternated books - for instance, I wrote 'Cher and Cher Alike', then
Randi wrote 'Too Hottie to Handle'; I did 'Friend or Faux' and Randi did 'Cher Goes
We loved each other's work and found that we were totally in synch. And, one day, we thought, wow, it would be fun to create our own series. Like magic, T'Witches was born.
What was your favorite book when you were a teen and why?
The truth is I had no favorites. I loved to read - anything, everything. I used books to hide in, to escape from my life - which I used to think was like Cinderella's without the prince. I even used books to make myself seem brainy and sophisticated.
I had a crush on a college boy one summer and everywhere he went, the poor guy would trip over me posing with a book in my hands. I can't remember what I read when I was a teen, I just remember how amazing and affirming it was to discover a character thinking thoughts I believed were serious, strange and strictly mine. I used to like only fiction- novels, short stories. Now I love non-fiction as well, especially biographies and history.
What do you do that most appeals to teens?
It's very easy for me to remember feelings and situations from my own tortured teens. And although teen language, fashion, and politics change, feelings, family and friend issues don't seem to.
I find it easy to tap into the part of me that was raw, hopeful, and frightened when I was adolescent; and the defenses I used - mostly sarcasm, which I mistook for humor.
I become my characters when I write. The nice and not so nice ones. Even when the
people, places, and plots in my books are imagined, the feelings are real. And
I think my writing has an informality and a certain compelling quality that keeps readers reading. At least, I hope so!
What advice would you give a teen that would one day like to be a successful writer?
It would be easy to go Nike and say, "Just do it!" But that's too glib. Honestly, I didn't "just do it." I spent much more time dreaming of being rich and famous than writing.
At a particular point, however, you have to get real. For me it was when someone, a friend who was an editor and had read some
of my stuff (mostly advertising copy) asked me to submit an outline for a novel based on the publishing industry.
I was working at a publishing house at the time. I thought, Oh, what the heck. And wrote an outline that I never thought I'd have to turn into an actual book. But he bought the proposal and I did write the novel and, presto, I was an author.
So here's what I've learned. Seriously.
1) Read! Read everything. Fall in love with books, or stories, poems, non-fiction, whatever, until you find yourself thinking, "I wish I'd written that." Then read some more until you're thinking, "I bet I could do that." Then go Nike.
2) Hang around books
and people who love, write, read or need books. For me, it was majoring in English Lit in college and then getting an underpaid job in publishing. But for you it could be taking a writing course, talking to an English teacher
about writing, putting together a book club, writing to an author you admire ... It's called "networking," I guess. Don't be one of those sour people who say, "Oh, yeah, well she/he had friends in the business." Make friends in the business! Get to know writers and writing and publishing
3) Forget the "successful" part and just write - for yourself, for fun,to express agony, anger, interesting thoughts and observations. See something and describe it in words: hot, cold, tall, small, bristly, green, round,wrinkled, etc. It's a great exercise. And so is journaling. Keeping a daily journal is an excellent exercise in discipline and description. Oh, yes, and
4)pray -that is, keep in touch with whatever you think is miraculous, giving and good in you and the universe and ask for guidance. Then listen - and maybe even record - the answers.