Read these Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
Q. What made you write about synesthesia in A Mango-Shaped Space?
A. I came across a book called The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Dr. Richard Cytowic. I was fascinated by it and thought it would be fun to give the condition to a fictional character. Without getting too deep, I think in the book Mia’s synesthesia is sort of a metaphor for every teen who wants to be unique and yet not stand too far away from the crowd.
Q. What kind of research did you do for Mango? Do you know anyone with synesthesia?
A. I read as many books and magazine articles on the topic as I could find, and then I attended some meetings of the American Synesthesia Association. I didn’t know any synesthetes when I started writing the book, but when I began my research I was lucky enough to meet many wonderful people who shared their experiences very openly and generously, sometimes even reading sections of the book as I was working on it. Now I meet people fairly often who have it–I think it’s more common than previously thought. I bet if more people asked their friends what color the letter “A” is, they might be surprised to hear their friend’s answer!
Q. Did you base any of your books on your own life?
A. Not the plots, but I think it’s impossible not to let some things slip in, even without realizing it. What happened with Mango the cat was based loosely on my own experience, along with some minor things like the “piece of the moon,” their rope friendship bracelets, and the “partners-in-crime” stuff. I always wished I had kept a chart of all my McDonald’s hamburgers like Zack did! Alas, I think you reach a point in your life when McDonald’s hamburgers just don’t go down as well. :o(
For Leap Day, I had so many characters that I borrowed the names of a lot of friends and family members, just mixing up first and last names. And who among us hasn’t turned themselves orange in a self-tanning debacle? In Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Jeremy’s love of candy is something he and I share, along with his parents’ passion for flea markets. In Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, a few of the things Tessa does are based on events from my childhood and teen years. I can’t tell you which ones though, in case my parents read this!
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A. Read. Read everything you can, but especially read the type of material you like to write. Take creative writing classes and share your work with your peers whenever possible–in school, summers, online, etc. It’s great practice. It really helped me to keep notebooks with ideas that I would add to whenever I thought of one, or learned something interesting, or overheard something. That way when I wanted to write a story, I didn’t have to face an empty page. Ideas aren’t as hard to come by as you might think. I once heard the great Paula Danziger say that ideas come from only three places–Experience, Observation, and Imagination. And we all do those things every day. A writer is someone who writes. Just by writing, you’re already there.
Q. How can I get a book published?
A. Research the market you want to write for so you’ll know the submission process, and be ready for stiff competition. There are many books in the library and bookstores that list what publishers and literary agents are looking for (like Literary Market Place and Writers Market). So if you want to write a story about cats, you’d look and see which publishers actually publish books on cats. Or mysteries, or science fiction, or children’s books, etc. But first and foremost, have fun with your writing, and enjoy it for its own sake without worrying too much about who’s going to see it for a while. You need to have a very thick skin when you send out your material because publishers get A LOT of manuscripts, and can only publish a few. If you get rejection letters, try to learn from them if they give specifics. Otherwise, just recognize that each editor has their own opinions, so keep trying. I heard of a girl who wallpapered her bathroom with her rejection letters and now is very successful. I just keep mine in a folder. :o)
Q. Would you mind reading a story I wrote and commenting on it?
A. Since I’m not an agent or publisher, I’m afraid my opinion wouldn’t be of much help. I would suggest asking friends or teachers whose opinions you trust. You can get a group of fellow writer-friends together and critique each others’ work, too.
Q. What were your favorite books growing up?
A. As a kid I read all the time. I took a job in my public library when I was fourteen just to be around books. I loved the Narnia books, all the books by Edward Eager, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Beverly Cleary, E.L. Konigsberg and one of my favorites was a novel I read in seventh grade called Allegra Maud Goldman by Edith Konecky. Even as a teenager, I would read my childhood favorites over and over again.
Q. What movies do you like?
A. My top five haven’t changed in years. They are:
1. Princess Bride
2. Galaxy Quest
4. Field of Dreams
5. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off
6. The Breakfast Club
(okay, so that’s six!)
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A. Hang out with my family, read anything and everything, watch too much TV. I have a friend who doesn’t have any televisions in her house and I am in awe of her. I once tried not watching any reruns, figuring life is too short for reruns. But darn it, those Friends and Seinfeld episodes are impossible to turn off. Right now I’m really into The Office. I’ve also been learning about astronomy lately, which I got really interested in while writing Every Soul a Star. I can find the North Star now! And you know, if you can find the North Star, you’ll never get lost. :o)
Q. What other books for young people do you recommend?
A. We’re all drawn to different books for different reasons, and with so many wonderful books to choose from, you’ll never run out. Some of my recent favorites (besides those listed in my Author Pals section) are:
Sonya Sones’ One Of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies
Lauren Tarshis’ Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out Of A Tree
Jeanne DuPrau’s The City Of Ember
Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed (everything by him is awesome!)
Richard Peck’s The River Between Us
Cornelia Funke’s Dragonrider is my fave.
Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May
I’ve got to say, how much do I love Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series? Beyond all reason. Try listening to it on audiobook because the narrator, Nathaniel Parker, does such an amazing job. I’ve just started Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, not sure why I waited so long!
For the younger reader, I thought Clementine by Sara Pennypacker was hysterical. Also Shugby Jenny Han is a pitch-perfect story of that summer before middle school when everything changes. (I have a pic of us somewhere, gotta find that!)
My latest obsession is with the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. Brilliant science fiction!
Q. Is there going to be a sequel to A Mango-Shaped Space or Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life?
A. I’m mulling that over right now. Maybe Mia goes on a search for the meaning of life, and Jeremy suddenly starts seeing letters in color? Ok, safe to assume those wouldn’t be the plotlines. If I do start writing one though, I’ll announce it on my blog, so keep on the lookout.
Q. Where can I find more info on synesthesia?
A. I’ve listed some links on my resources page that I’ve found the most helpful. You can also put the term in google and you’ll get a lot of hits.
Q. What color is my name?
A. I wish I could tell you! A teen synesthete named Jessi told me my name is purplish red, kind of like a maroon color with a thin stripe of electric yellow at the top of the letters. How cool is that?
Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
A. It varies. Mango took a few years because I did so much research and a lot of revisions. Leap Day only took a few months—it just flew out of my pen (computer). Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life was somewhere in between. The Twice Upon a Time books also came easily, while Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall was really difficult since it was in verse.
Q. Will there be more Twice Upon a Time books?
A. I hope so, although none are planned right now.
Q. Where were you born?
A. I was born in Livingston, NJ. I live about forty minutes away from there now, in a more rural part of the state. We have a bear living in our backyard!
Q. Why did you decide to write Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall in verse?
A. It seemed like that was the best way to tell the story. Each poem/chapter can stand on its own as an important event in Tessa’s life, but they also fit together to make up pieces of one big puzzle. It was fun to do, but very hard. Someone once told me writing a picture book can be harder than writing a novel. I think that’s true about poetry, too.