Q: Why did you decide to become a writer?
Becoming a full-time writer wasn’t my original plan. The plan was to be a high school science teacher. I knew I was meant to be a science teacher when I was 12. When I was 16, I remember thinking about writing a teen novel. But I had already decided to be a teacher. I didn’t get the memo that you could be more than one thing. I absolutely loved teaching. I loved my kids. Writing books while teaching was just too exhausting. So when the opportunity to switch careers presented itself in 2007, I took a chance. And I’m really happy that I did. My purpose has always been to reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. As an author, I can reach many more teens than I did as a teacher.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read all the time. The more you read, the better your writing will become. There’s so much you learn about the craft of writing by reading without even realizing it. If you’ve never really been into reading, you’ll need to make it an essential part of your day. Find books that you love and your love of reading will grow.
Q: Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Ideas come from everywhere. Random things I see, snippets of conversation I overhear on the street, and my own experiences are just a few of my sources. Actual experiences have influenced lots of scenes, like when Noelle gets the worst haircut ever in Keep Holding On. Sometimes I even dream ideas.
Q: In Keep Holding On, Noelle is bullied by her classmates. What advice do you have for teens that who are being bullied?
I know how hard it is to speak up about what’s happening. But it’s important for everyone to speak up against bullying. If enough teens take a stand by letting bullies know that what they’re doing is not okay, we can create a culture of love and acceptance in our schools. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation is all about teens being the ones to change our culture over time. Everyone deserves to feel safe at school. To make a difference right now, I hope teens being bullied will tell the people in their lives who can help put a stop to the torment. And I hope teens who see bullying will speak up.
Q: Noelle is bothered by the fact that when the other students see her being bullied, no one does anything. What would you say to teens who have seen others being bullied, but who are afraid to speak up out of fear that the bullying will be turned on them?
We can’t put an end to bullying unless teens being bullied and teens witnessing bullying take a stand, so teens should report bullying to a trusted grownup like a parent, guidance counselor, or social worker. Speaking up isn’t easy. Even the thought of telling someone what’s happening is terrifying. I hope that teens can find the courage to help protect kids who are being bullied. There is strength in numbers. Things like letting someone eat with you at lunch can make a huge difference.
Q: How do you hope Keep Holding On can help teens that who are being bullied?
My main goal is to reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. I want my readers to know that we are all connected. There are others out there enduring the same pain, surviving the same experiences. Just trying to keep holding on. I’d love for this book to inspire every reader to start creating their ideal life.
Q: Noelle feels a lot of insecurity because she is poorer than her more well-off classmates. What advice do you have for girls who are dealing with insecurity?
Rock what makes you unique. Don’t let the haters dictate the quality of your life. Why should they be the ones in control? You are in control. You have the power to shape your life into the one you want. When you act confident (even if you don’t feel confident), you’ll give off this whole other vibe. Be the person you want to be, not the person you think others want to see.
Q: In So Much Closer, Brooke follows her heart and moves to New York, leaving everything she knows behind in her quest for love. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?
Actually? The same thing Brooke did. That’s what inspired the story! Oh wait, I did something crazier. I had a huge crush in college on a guy in my chem class. He was kind of noticing me but kind of not and I couldn’t tell if he liked me, so I wrote him a message in chem code in sidewalk chalk outside our building. I signed it “Love, Me,” assuming he’d know who it was from. He did not. The bad news is he had a girlfriend. But the good news is that the whole experience inspired a scene in Take Me There.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to your readers, what would it be?
Dream big. That’s my main motto. Dreaming big takes strength and determination. It’s not just about visualizing your ideal life. It’s about taking steps every day to move closer to turning your dreams into reality. For example, if you want to have your novel published, it’s important to put work into achieving that goal every day. That means every day you should be writing or working on character development or revising a chapter outline—all important components of writing a strong manuscript. Passion strengthens dreams. If you have a burning passion to achieve a certain goal, you will feel excited about working towards achieving it every day.
Q: What is the one lesson you hope your readers take away from your books?
Follow your heart and you will find happiness.