Tuesday, September 20, 2016

INTERVIEW WITH TRUTH OR DARE AUTHOR BARBARA DEE

I love the concept of TRUTH OR DARE—and the title! Your book is so spot-on for this age group. How did you tap into that middle grade mindset? 

I often wonder the same thing! Seriously, it's just my default mindset when I'm writing. Either I'm an angsty twelve year old or Adult Me. The latter when I'm conducting business, the former when I'm creating fiction!

Beyond the exploration of the awful spiraling effects of lying, you really dig into the ins and outs of young girlhood friendships (I especially love the description of the ways in which Lia’s friends can so quickly seem to move on without her while she’s on vacation.) How much of your own childhood friendships seep into your work? Or, conversely, do you find yourself inspired to write about things that happen to your own children?

I never directly, consciously poach anything from my kids or from my own past. But as we know, stuff seeps in. Sometimes you don't realize it until you read back what's on the page.

When did you start writing? Do you remember your first attempt at story-telling? What inspired you then? What inspires you now? 

I've always written. When I was five, I wrote my first "book"--"Mitchell Colleps"--about a mischievous boy with a robot who ate Spanish rice. My mom sewed the binding in pink wool, and I still have it. There's a photo of it  on my website, www.BarbaraDeeBooks.com, and sometimes I bring it with me to school visits, to show kids that dreams can come true.  "Mitchell Colleps" was inspired by an imaginary friend of mine. I can't say I still have imaginary friends--but often, when I've finished writing a book, the characters have become so real to me it's hard to let them go.   

Your website bio indicates that your favorite word is “definitely.” Love that! (Anyone who writes can sometimes struggle to maintain a positive outlook.) How do you maintain it? (PS: I say definitely cats—my first-ever friend was a yellow one. And I also say definitely dogs—my current pet is a very spoiled Peke.) 

I think that if you love writing, it's *definitely* a privilege to be able to say that it's your career.  Some days it's hard--okay, impossible-- not to feel  demoralized. Authors are no strangers to rejection and indifference. HOWEVER, we get to play with our naughty cats (like my Luna and Coal) and our sweet dogs (like my lovely hound, Ripley) while we tell ourselves stories. In our fuzzy slippers!! How can we not be ecstatic about that?

I love the sweet, upbeat tone of TRUTH OR DARE. Do you have to work to find it? Did it come naturally? Do you have any tips for finding a character’s voice? 

I have to say the voice comes naturally to me. I think it you have to work too hard to find it, and to maintain it, it's probably going to seem forced and unnatural on the page. Here's what I tell writers who are developing their voice:  If you're writing for kids, try to hang out with kids, and eavesdrop on speech patterns. Then, when you've written something in a kid's voice, read it out loud. Listen for things like contractions: if you aren't using them, your voice is probably too formal and adult. 


I also love the discussion of “better or worse” in the book (Lia’s optometrist dad is always asking “better or worse,” while Aunt Shelby thinks dividing experiences this way is a waste of time. Where’d that idea come from?  

I have terrible eyes, so they're always getting checked. I guess that phrase just hit me one day. One of the themes I keep coming back to in my books is realizing that people aren't either/or, black/white. We're all just grey, really--rounded, imperfect, inconsistent. So having a job that makes you see the world in either/or ways all day long  is kind of horrifying to me.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the idea that losing friends lets you gain superpowers (invisibility and super vision). Lia’s actually dealt with a lot of loss: her mother has died as well. Do you think children deal with loss differently than adults? How so? 

Great question. I can tell you that I experienced great personal loss as a kid--and when it happened, I remember telling myself, "If I can get through this, I can get through anything." Do other kids feel this way when tragedy occurs? I hope so, because it really did help me. And I'm guessing that many adults don't feel  this way in the face of a terrible loss, because they're not looking to the future as optimistically as kids are.  Am I saying that kids are stronger and more resilient than adults? Sounds as if I am.

Which is tougher—writing or teaching? More rewarding? 

Hoo boy, tough one. There's nothing more exhilarating than teaching when you've got a great bunch of kids, and you're all reading and discussing  a book you truly love. But sometimes you don't get to choose the text. (At my former school, we had to teach tenth graders Alexander Pope's long poem, "The Rape of the Lock." Can you imagine?) At least when you're having a hard day as a writer, it's private. Teaching is a public performance requiring an endless supply of positive energy. So on balance...yep, teaching is harder. Definitely (Ooh, there's that word again!).

What’s your writing style? Plotter? Pantser? As writers, we’re always learning new tricks—what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about your own work in the last year? 

Glad you asked this. I used to be a pantser, convinced that if I outlined, I'd lose the sense of adventure that made writing fun. Then three years ago, my oldest kid became very ill. For a year, I didn't write a word, spending my days with him at the hospital. (He's okay now, knock wood.) At the end of that year, I wanted to get back to work, but after so much time away from my desk,  I didn't want to waste more time writing something that might not get published. So I forced myself to develop a detailed  synopsis , which my agent  and editor liked, and which became TRUTH OR DARE. I've written my next two books , STAR-CROSSED and STUFF I KNOW ABOUT YOU, synopsis first, and now I'm a total convert to this way of working.  For me, the hardest part of writing is developing the plot, so if I get that out of the way first, the writing is a (relative!) breeze.

Can you tell us more about future releases? Works in progress? What’s next? 

I'm especially excited about STAR-CROSSED (Aladdin/S&S--March 2017), which is about an eighth grade girl who realizes she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet in the eighth grade production of Romeo & Juliet.  I guess my inner English teacher was behind this project, because I do use a lot of Shakespeare's play. I have to say that writing  STAR-CROSSED  was the most fun I've ever had writing a book--truthfully, it was a daily joy, and I'm happy to say that my book is not--I repeat , not-- a tragedy. I've also just not finished the first draft of STUFF I KNOW ABOUT YOU (Aladdin/S&S September 2017), which is about a free-spirited girl who discovers, over the course of a three-day school field trip to DC, that her roommate has an eating disorder. As a former anorexic myself, I've been horrified to read that eating disorders are showing up in tweens much more frequently these days, so I wanted to write a book that's actually enjoyable and funny--about a serious subject I'm passionate about.

Keep up with Barbara Dee: barbardeebooks.com!

No comments:

Post a Comment