Were you in a sorority in college?
Yes, I was. And I loved it! My sorority was nothing like Sigma Theta Kappa, the main sorority in RUSH. I created Sigma to be a system that had sort of lost its way—this is a group of girls who’ve forgotten what a sorority should really be. My sorority, by contrast, was filled with girls who were great friends to me and each other. There’s one really cool sorority in RUSH, and it’s no mistake that their name rhymes with the name of my sorority!
So how much of RUSH is based on your own experience with college, sororities and rush week?
Almost none of it. Rush week is dramatic in general, which is what gave me the idea to make it the setting for a book. You’ve got a few days where everybody’s trying to decide who they want to call “sister” for the next four years (and, in many cases, the rest of their lives!). And you can’t gloss over the fact that rejection is part of the process. But my experiences with rush were a lot more positive than what many of my characters face. The book wouldn’t have been very interesting if everybody had an easy time of it! As for the mechanics of how rush works (the voting, the parties, etc.), there are some aspects that I think are pretty universal for most Greek organizations. There’s one detail in RUSH that’s inspired by how we did things when I was in college, but all of the other details are made up. You won’t be learning any house secrets from me!
What inspired you to write RUSH?
I grew up in a college town, and every year I would see the girls gathering on the lawns of the sorority houses, all dressed up for rush week. It’s a setting that’s perfect for conflict and figuring out who you are or who you want to be. Plus, there’s a tendency to see it as this one-sided thing, where the sisters are judging the rushees, holding all of this power. I wanted to show a little bit of the drama on the other side of the door. Rush has the potential to expose all sorts of cracks and insecurities within the Greek girls, too!
Did you have a rival in high school?
Sure! I had a few. RIVAL is actually inspired by memories of what it was like to be in a competitive music program. (My experiences were nowhere near dramatic enough to make an interesting book, however. RIVAL is pure fiction!)
Looking back, though, I wish I’d spent more time and energy being a good friend, rather than worrying about who got what part in the big musical.
On the other hand, I do think the competitive atmosphere had its benefits. I learned very quickly that success comes from hard work and that nothing is guaranteed. A few of my classmates have gone on to successful careers in the arts, which really isn’t possible unless you’re willing to put yourself out there and compete.
I’ve got a rival. What should I do?
RIVAL is my way of exploring that question, and while I think I ended up with a great story, I’m not sure I landed on a good answer. Life rarely wraps itself up so neatly.
I think the key is to remember that rivalries aren’t necessarily bad. They can push you to succeed, as long as you don’t let it get personal. Let your rivalry bring out the best in you as an artist, an athlete, a student, etc. instead of bringing out the worst in you as a person.
What’s your favorite music?
If we’re talking choral music, then my tastes run the gamut from Bach and Brahms to Vaughn Williams and Stravinsky. If you want to know what’s on my ipod, you’ll find lots of female singers with distinctive voices—Tori Amos, Dar Williams and The Pierces to name a few. One of my favorite bands, October Project, broke up years ago, but you can still get their albums online.
How did you get started writing books?
I wrote a lot of fiction when I was in grade school but not so much in high school and college. When I got into the “real world,” I worked as a newspaper reporter and didn’t really like it that much. One day I had this revelation that if I didn’t create something original—something that came from me and not some editor’s assignment on a car crash or city council meeting—then I would probably have a nervous breakdown. So I sat down and started writing a story about a teen-aged ballet dancer. The book totally sucked, but writing it fed my soul in a way that covering traffic accidents never could.
If your first book sucked, how’d you end up getting published?
Lots and lots and lots of hard work. To make it as an author you have to be willing to write every day, whether you feel like it or not. You have to be wiling to revise your work over and over, to toss things out, to listen to criticism, and to be told “no” until you wonder if anyone will ever say “yes.” Striving for publication can be lonely, obsessive and soul crushing, but also incredibly rewarding.
I’ve got lots more advice for aspiring writers in the Fun Stuff section of this site, and in my blog.
Why do you write for teens? You’re a grown up.
Yeah, but a lot of the time I feel like I’m still 17. At least, the voice inside my head pretty much always sounds like a teenager. And personally, when I look for books to read I’m more drawn to stories about teens than I am to books about adults. When you’re in high school you’re dealing with a lot of things for the first time. You’re going to screw up, you’re going to have massive highs and really low lows. That’s part of the deal, and I’m fascinated by how young people navigate all of that. With grown ups on the other hand, I sort of feel like you reach a certain age where not getting along with your parents or being unable to maintain healthy relationships just isn’t that interesting. At least I’m not interested in reading (or writing) about it.
Will you look at my manuscript, introduce me to your agent, recommend me to your publisher, etc?
Nope, sorry. Legally, I really can’t look at anybody else’s work. On the off chance that you and I had similar ideas, for example, it could open me up to all sorts of trouble. If you’ve got questions about finding an agent, getting published, etc., there are tons of resources on the Internet. New resources are cropping up all the time, so Google away!
How can I find out more about the singers, operas, musical terms, etc. in RIVAL?
Head over to Fun Stuff, where I explain it all, complete with video references.
Do you do school visits?
Absolutely!! Just contact me, and I’ll tell you more about it.