It was difficult to find a variety of teen books during my childhood in the 60s and 70s. There simply weren't many. I devoured the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, lived vicariously through Trixie Belden's adventures, and once (for about ten minutes) dreamed of being a nurse like Cherry Ames. After figuring out I couldn't handle the sight of blood, I gave up that dream. Another author I discovered was Judy Blume, and it was then I knew I'd address what had been mostly ignored – issues teens face daily: the peer pressure, the temptations, and mostly the problems people acknowledge when they're in the news, but otherwise they ignore them.
Why concentrate a wonderful love story on teen drinking as I did in Softly Say Goodbye?
The biggest reason is there are very few books available that focus on this story from the perspective of a teen standing up for what she believes is right. Peer pressure for teens is tremendous. Here they are, with all those raging hormones, going through probably the most difficult school years as they learn to be responsible for their assignments without being reminded every day, and no one seems to address the problems teens face as they struggle to finish high school and navigate the pitfalls of just being a teen.
How did I translate those issues into a captivating story everyone who has read it says brings them to tears?
Not easily. I played with the way the story evolves for almost four years from the time the idea came to me. There wasn't one but five first drafts of this tale. In each one, the characters pretty much remained the same, and the climax, the defining moment for Erin, my protagonist, remained clear. The point of view, however, changed with each evolution. It started out as third person, past tense but that quickly hit the recycle bin as being far too dull. Third person, present tense knocked at my mind, for about a week, when nothing sounded right. Unwilling to touch what most people called preachy, I then tried first person, past tense, but was bored to tears. This story had to jump off the page, grab the reader's attention, and hold it. That left one other point of view – first person, present tense.
My biggest worry was telling the story. I set out researching information to help me with my basic plot. Then I had to go through the whole thing word-by-word to keep everything alive. Many times, I stopped at the pivotal moment, agonized over it, sobbed when I realized there was no changing what would happen, and moved on. Then the ending stumbled. Nothing worked. It all seemed preachy, dull, and definitely not worthy of the story I'd written. I think the ending took the longest to perfect, but then in an instant, there it was – screaming why didn't you ever think of this before?
How did this story go from a fantastic idea to published book?
I confess I couldn't have completed the journey this story started without the fantastic people at Solstice Publishing. I tried the big name publishers, but I always received the same response – nothing. No letter informing me the story wasn't right for them. No quick email saying this wasn't what they were looking for. Absolutely nothing. Then I took a chance, and sent this to a small publisher I'd earmarked to try. They saw the same vision I did.
What's next on my agenda?
Hmmm? Tough question. Those in my critique group will tell you I have anywhere from five to ten projects being juggled at the same time. I do. They know me very well after many years together. Which one will be the next novel? It's hard to tell. Now that I’m in the final steps prior to the publication of Lost & Scared, I’ve had a bit of trouble figuring out where to go. Relationships with teens, their insecurities, their secrets, their hopes and dreams, will always be in the forefront for me. These lessons from my own teen years stick with me to this day.
My goal with each new story is to keep in mind what Judy Blume did during my childhood – take a subject not normally tackled and bring it out in a way readers will love. I admire this woman for each and every book she wrote, with themes that made the conservative parents of my teen years cringe. My thoughts on that subject are "Good. Cringe. Read the book. Get involved in your teen's life. Find out what matters to them." And if people talk about my book, if teens see it's okay to stand up against peer pressure, more to the good.