Sunday, January 25, 2009

AUTHOR INTERVIEW! Collins & Rideout

Yay! Author interview:
I was fortunate enough to interview Yvonne Collins & Sandy Rideout about their writing process, their books, and what they plan next for us.
To refresh your memory, I reviewed GIRL V BOY here, as well as THE BLACK SHEEP here. (loved them!)

I’m curious about what it’s like to write together. I’m sure you have a system now after having written so many together. After you generate your ideas, what do you do next?

With our first book, Yvonne wanted to sit side by side and write every word together (probably because she knew Sandy would try to take over and hog the whole thing!). But that plan didn’t survive long. Our schedules are just too different. Sandy works in corporate communications, a day job, whereas Yvonne works as a camera assistant, which often means spending 18 hours a day on a film set. So we had to develop a way of working on projects independently that gives us equal input.

We get together in person during the brainstorming stage and hammer out a high level outline together. Then Yvonne takes a crack at the first draft of each chapter and passes it on to Sandy for the next draft. Sandy sends the full manuscript back to Yvonne for revision and Sandy gives it a final polish.

We seldom get together when we we’re actually writing, and rely on e-mail and occasional desperate voicemail messages to resolve unforeseen glitches.

Do you ever disagree about what a character should do next? And how do you decide who’s right?

We do have to agree on an outline in advance. During that discussion, there’s generally a lot of “OR, she could do this…” The idea is to distract the other person from her (bad) idea with an intriguing alternative. Eventually we reach a solution that’s better than the original idea.

To keep the work interesting, we do leave room in the outline for surprises. That way, when we’re reading, there are moments when we think, “Hey, I wasn’t expecting that,” or “Cleverly done, partner.” (Not to mention, “She’d better not leave me to figure out a way out of this trap.”)

Was it difficult to get your first book published? How long did it take? Any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Actually, our road to publication was deceptively smooth with TOTALLY ME: THE TEENAGE GIRL’S SURVIVIAL GUIDE—probably because it was non-fiction. We sent out a query that got some interest from agents. Then we moved on to write a proposal and sample chapter. All told, it took about four months to find an agent and then a publisher.
The hard part came later, when we learned we only had three months to write the book, and we didn’t really know what we were doing! It was such a blur that sometimes we flip though it and wonder, “Did we really write that?”

We ran into more roadblocks when we started writing fiction. For example, our first agent didn’t like SPEECHLESS, so we found a publisher on our own. Then we went through the agent hunt all over with our first teen novel, INTRODUCING VIVIEN LEIGH REID: DAUGHTER OF THE DIVA. In each case, we wrote the entire book without knowing whether we’d find a publisher.

The best advice we can give any aspiring writer is just to persist. We’ve been discouraged many times. It does help to have a coauthor to commiserate!

I loved THE BLACK SHEEP. I thought the idea of a reality show was very trendy, yet the story was still very fresh & original. How did you come up with that idea?

It started with an episode of Wife Swap. We realized a show like that would give a teenage girl a chance to trade in her family and try someone else’s on for size. Plus, we know from Yvonne’s experience that “show business” is a never-ending source of comic relief!

I also loved GIRL v BOY. I read that you two grew up in suburban Toronto, but the school depicted in the novel seems more inner-city, in fact it’s Chicago, right? How did you get such an accurate feel for that environment?

We attended the same small, suburban high school and it was nothing like Colonel Dunfield. So we had to rely on research and imagination.

We usually try to visit the city where our story is set before we start writing. For our Vivien Leigh Reid series, we spent time in Los Angeles. For THE BLACK SHEEP, we drove up the coast to Monterey and hung out at the aquarium.

But we couldn’t make it to Chicago before writing Girl v. Boy so we interviewed friends who’d been there.

Yvonne finally went to Chicago last fall and was relieved to find we’d done okay.

The characters in Girl v Boy are quirky and fun. I love Lu and her friends. But, Mariah cracked me up. Did you base her on anyone you know? I mean, really, if I saw a girl dancing at school, I would laugh hysterically.

Yvonne has met a lot of really interesting (read: crazy) people on film sets. A few of them, like Mariah, would perform anytime, anywhere, for anyone. These were adults, so we just imagined what they might have been like in high school.

Pitting the girls against the boys seems like a marvelous way to ratchet up the competition in a school (I may have to employ this technique at my school). Did something inspire that idea?

We started out with the idea of dueling columnists and then had to work backwards to figure out what kind of conflict would make that work. It actually took a fair bit of shooting down each other’s ideas (through the distraction technique described above) to come up with the battle of the sexes.

What do you have planned next? More YA fiction, more adult fiction?

We’ve just started work on a new teen series for Hyperion, details still under wraps. We’re also tossing around ideas for a screenplay, just to keep things interesting.

A screenplay. Sounds exciting!
Thank you so much! My readers & I really appreciate your time.
To check out all the books by the team of Collins & Rideout, check out their website here.

And for some fun, watch the awesome book trailers below

Here's GIRL v BOY

And the funny one for THE BLACK SHEEP

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ron Koertge. STRAYS

Ted lost his parents in a car crash and is sent to live in foster care. He grew up working in his parent’s pet shop selling kitty litter and dog food. He got bullied a lot at school, so he’s really only had animals as friends. He has to start over in a new home with weird foster parents and two foster brothers and begin at a new school. It’s strange for him at first. His friendship with animals helps him make the transition and mourn his parents. What starts out as the worst year of his life ends up being just what he needs to mature and learn to be with people, not just animals. With the help of his new friend Wanda, who’s quite the character, he no longer feels like a stray.
Koertge is a brilliant writer. I love his dialogue. In someone else’s hands, the relationship between Ted and the animals would’ve been cheesy, but here the dialogue is so witty and wise that it feels right.

MARGAUX WITH AN X and STONER AND SPAZ are just a few of his other books.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Wow, this may be the longest I've gone between posts. I read halfway through a few books that I couldn't finish. Weird, I know. But, they just didn't do it for me & I have such a stack of books on my nightstand that I figured - why try to push through books I don't like! That's what I tell my students too. If you don't like it, stop & get another book. There are way too many good ones to be stuck in a sucky one. Okay so the books I was reading may not have totally sucked - but still...if it isn't great, what's the point. And you all will never know the names of those books. I only post about books I recommend.
So, on to this latest book. I've been hearing about this book for a long time. I finally got my chance to read it. What I like most about it is the authenticity. It rings totally true. I mean, at least to the way I felt in high school. It brings back actual memories for me. So, I'm sure middle school & high school kids will connect.
Alice has a guy best friend named Jewel (short for Julian). They've been friends forever. They're both artists and feel sort of alone in their own little world, away from the popular kids in school. Alice feels invisible. But they have each other and enjoy each other's sense of humor and everything. But lately, Alice has been dreaming about a boy named Simon, a football player. She could never admit this to Jewel, because they make fun of football players. Then Simon starts to notice Alice, which she enjoys, but could never tell Jewell. She ends up being stuck between her best friend and the guy she really wants to get to know. Will she throw away her years of friendship for a hot guy?
Like I said, this is a lovely novel that really rings true. The writing, the dialogue and the feelings of isolation are authentic. I really enjoyed spending time with Alice and Jewel.
I look forward to more from Liz Gallagher.
Here's her website for more on the author. (Love the cover, too)

Oh, and here's a freakin' AWESOME book trailer.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


I love short story collections! This one is a collection of love stories. But before you start envisioning gooey love letters, puppies and rainbows, let me explain further. It's called LOVE IS HELL. These are all supernatural stories with ghosts, vampires, fairies, and some futuristic sci-fi thrown in for good measure. Each story has its own unique supernatural/sci-fi/fantasy vibe, yet they all have one thing in common - love. If you think about it, that's an interesting combination. Fantasy & love. And I loved every word of it. I loved all of them for different reasons.
I would give too much away to talk about each and every story (and they each deserve equal amounts of attention - lots). So instead, I'll just mention the authors, and that should give you more than enough reasons to want to read the book.
*Scott Westerfeld (the UGLIES saga & the MIDNIGHTERS trilogy)
*Justine Larbalestier (MAGIC OR MADNESS trilogy) *Gabrielle Zevin (ELSEWHERE & MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC)
*Melissa Marr (WICKED LOVELY)
*Laurie Faria Stolarz (BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARES).
All those authors together in one book was enough for me to pick it up without even reading the description.

Now I want to read the other "Hell" short story collection from this publisher. Looks creepy & intriguing: