Interview: Susan Beth Pfeffer

December 22, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 2 Comments
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YA science fiction – especially speculative &/or dystopian stuff, seems to be a rising market at the moment. And today, we have an interview with a pretty cool YA author who’s been writing some sci fi lately. You may have heard of her – she’s the author of Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and coming soon, This World We Live In. So without further ado, presenting: Susan Beth Pfeffer!

Let’s start off with something fun. Your latest book, This World We Live In, is coming out soon. Summarize the book in twenty words – while tossing in as many alliterations as possible.
Lonely life. Laughter lingers. Longing looks. Loathing loses. Lust. Lying. Love lasts.

Very impressive – every single word! The Moon books seem to contain an element of speculative science fiction. Why this particular hypothetical future? How did these concepts come about?
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the moon controls the tides. And I wanted a worldwide disaster that wasn’t the fault of human beings (as so many things are) or something humans could change (since my main character was a teenage girl, and unlikely to save humanity). I also favored what I called a rolling disaster, one bad thing leading to another and another.

So I nudged the moon a bit closer to earth and tried to figure out just how bad that could make things. I have a basic sense of gravity, and I figured the moon’s gravitational pull could cause all kinds of miseries.

Which, thanks to me, it did.

Definitely original! Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In – all rather eloquently phrased titles. How did they come about?
My editor, or someone at the publishing house, named Life As We Knew It. My working title had been In The Sunroom.

Once I came up with the concept for The Dead and The Gone, I knew that would be its title. I zipped on over to Amazon to see if there were any other books with that title, and while there were a number of Dead And Gone(s), there weren’t any The Dead And The Gone, so I figured I was safe.

When I was trying to come up with the title for the third book, someone commented on my blog that the first two were five single syllable word titles. So I played around with various combinations until I came up with This World We Live In. Amazon didn’t show any serious conflicts, so that became my choice.

That’s smart, checking titles on Amazon first. Now, you’ve accumulated quite an impressive list of publications over the years. Is there one particular book you enjoyed writing more than the others?
I had a wonderful time writing all three moon books. I love the set up and the characters. When I wrote LAWKI it didn’t have chapters, and I think when I wrote d&g, I was reminded to put chapters in. Even with TW, the chapters were an organizing ex post facto addition.

I love writing books without chapters. There’s something liberating about not having to deal with that structure.

I wrote a book a long time ago called Courage, Dana, for younger readers. I remember really enjoying writing it. A tiny section of it is used on standardized reading tests, so I still make a little bit of money from it.

That’s really cool that it’s used for testing! If you could meet any character from any of your books, who would you chill with for a day? What would you guys do?
I introduce a new character named Charlie in This World We Live In. He’s your basic all purpose nice guy, and I think I’d enjoy spending time with him.

Since I mostly write for kids, I mostly write about kids. In real life, I tend to hang out with grownups. So I think Charlie would be the one I’d have the best time with.

I have no idea what we’d do though, since I only know him after the world has come to an end. That cuts down considerably on possible activities.

Haha, that probably would. If the apocalypse were coming tomorrow and you could only choose three books (in the entire world) to keep safe and bring into the “New World”, which ones would you pick?
Agee On Film by James Agee.
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
Church, State, and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer (my father)

Words of wisdom – what do you do when the muse has gone on vacation?
I go on vacation also.

I do a lot of pre-writing, so I always have some comfort level about what I’m going to be writing from one day to the next.

If I wake up in the morning with a big I Don’t Wanna, I simply give myself the day off.

It doesn’t happen often, but I respect it when it does.

Wise words. When writing, do you have any specific rituals?

I try to clean my home before I begin a book, have things all nice and tidy at least at the getgo.

And generally, I don’t read fiction when I’m writing.

Beyond that, I pretty much keep to my regular routines.

Outline first or writing on the fly?

Outline, outline, outline.

For the most part, I don’t outline on paper. But before I begin writing a book, I do an enormous amount of thinking about it. And when I’m writing, I focus on what’s going to happen.

I’m a very fast worker. I always have been. But the pre-writing lets me cut down on the rewriting, since I’ve worked out most of the problems before I start putting words on paper (or on screen).

There’s no right way or wrong way, and in the end it probably takes the same amount of time as it would if I sat down and improvised.

But my favorite part of writing is working the story out, and I always wait until I’m comfortable with the beginning, have a very strong sense of where the story is going to end, and am reasonably confident I know the middle, before beginning the actual writing.

More great advice! Really on a roll here. (And from peachiemkey of TWFT): What’s one hard truth you’ve had to learn about writing?
That just because I think something is wonderful doesn’t mean anyone else will.

I am my own biggest fan. I write the stories I would most enjoy reading. My primary goal in writing is to entertain myself.

Alas, not everyone else on earth has my exact taste.

Anything else to add?

Just that I’m very glad the world isn’t anything like the one I created in my moon books and that I don’t have to hang out with imaginary characters!
Thanks for joining us!

Interview ~ Jay Asher

February 25, 2010 at 1:10 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, teen fiction, Writing Advice, YA | 8 Comments

TWFT recently got a chance to interview Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. What a treat!

TWFT Summarize Thirteen Reasons Why in ten words or less.

Hannah committed suicide.  Clay listens to her recorded reasons why.

TWFT Who is your favorite character from Thirteen Reasons Why?

Tony.  When I wrote the scene where Clay “borrows” Tony’s Walkman, I didn’t have any plans for bringing Tony back later in the book.  But there was something about the guy which I immediately liked, and people who read that scene early on also liked him.  He turned out to be a very important character later in the book and I loved writing every scene he appears in.  I could probably write a whole book about him!

TWFT When did you first start writing?

I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I learned how to spell.  Regarding writing as a career, I wanted to write and illustrate my own comic strip for years.  If I could draw better, that would still be my fantasy job.  It wasn’t until my first year in college that I began writing children’s book in the hopes of one day getting published.  For about the next nine years, I only wrote funny books for younger children.  Thirteen Reasons Why was the first serious novel I attempted, and also the first book I wrote for teens.

TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is quite a sad (but totally amazing) novel. Are any of the events that take place based on real life situations that you have experienced?

The scene in the Peer Communications class with the paperbags happened in my high school Peer Communications class almost exactly as it appears in the book.  We never found out who wrote that note, but obviously the class reaction left a big impact on me.  And when Clay first meets Hannah at the party, when he tries to tie his shoelace but his fingers are too cold, that happened to me at a party when I was introduced to the first girl I ever went on a date with.

TWFT Tell us about your querying process and road to publication.

From the time I first began submitting manuscripts to publishers back in 1994 to when Thirteen Reasons Why sold, twelve years had passed.  So this can definitely be a game of perseverance, as well as being willing to try different styles until you find your natural voice.  When my agent sent out this manuscript, it got rejected many times before it sold.

TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is a very serious novel. Is there a message in the novel that you want readers to grasp?

As Hannah says, you never know what’s going on in anyone’s life but your own.  Someone who looks like they have it all together may actually be going through quite a lot.  And everyone handles life’s pressures differently.  While Hannah herself is not without fault, it still all comes down to the Golden Rule.  So that’s the main thing I was trying to say.  Always treat people with respect because you never know what else they’re dealing with.  As well, I want people who are hurting to realize how important it is for them to honestly reach out for help.

TWFT What was your inspiration for Thirteen Reasons Why?

I had a close relative attempt suicide when she was the same age as Hannah.  Through talking with her over the years, I began to understand how someone could get to that place where they completely lose hope of things getting better.  Around that same time, I took an audiotour and immediately thought that dual-narrative structure could be very powerful if paired with the right story.  It wasn’t until nine years later that the issue of suicide matched up with the structure.

TWFT Can you describe yourself as a teen in high school?

I was normally shy.  But when I got comfortable around certain groups of people, then I could be very outgoing.  I worked on the newspaper staff, but I was horrible and got out as soon as I could.  I played in a bunch of garage bands, playing guitar and singing, and I thought I was much better than I actually was.  I only really dated one girl in high school, and that relationship lasted two years.  I didn’t hate my teen years in any way, but I still wouldn’t want to redo them.  Those years were rather…blah.

TWFT If you could have dinner with one author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Stephen King.  Without a doubt.  And since he’s alive, there’s always a chance!

TWFT Do you have any tips for aspiring young writers?

Join a critique group where everyone gives each other honest suggestions for improvements as well as points out everyone’s strengths.  If you can find a group of writers like that, your writing will improve tremendously.

TWFT Are you currently working on another novel?

Yep.  Several!

TWFT Lastly, a TWFT tradition, what is your favorite flavor of jellybean?

Buttered popcorn.  It’s not that I can eat a ton of them…but they’re so fun to share!

Thanks for your time Jay! The last one made me crack up…



February 22, 2010 at 3:40 PM | Posted in News, Publishing, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 13 Comments

How does someone write a post like this? There are a million ways to try to convey the excitement. But I guess in the end the only way is the simple way, to just type out the words:

I am now represented by a literary agent. Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.


Now the above was my pathetic attempt to sound professional. I will now just tell you guys the story without any kind of pretense because you’ve known me too long to think I actually think like that.

I started my writing career with a story about a princess, locked away in a tower, waiting to be rescued. I was in second grade, and I added a few illustrations, folded the pieces of paper to open like a book, and proudly presented my novel to be read to everyone I could wrangle into listening. I never did get around to writing the “sequel” I had planned.

The Virginity Thief came after a few more attempts, some of which came with query attempts, as well.  I brought characters to life, killed some, weaved some good plots and some bad; all until I got Mari Abdo’s voice in my head and I just couldn’t get it out. I knew I needed a plot worthy of Mari, and VT was born when I was 18 years old.

I started querying VT mid-January. I got a lot of rejections and a few requests, but in the end it wasn’t a query that got me an agent. Special thanks goes to Karla Calalang for this. Natalie Fischer joined AbsoluteWrite just as my novel was in the end of revision stages and I was to start querying. She was interested in Karla’s work and also in the work of any friends whose names Karla thought to pass on. At the same time, I got Karla in on an interview with Natalie for TWFT (read the interview here). It was a great interview and I learned a lot about the woman who would eventually be my agent.

Natalie found herself at my blog. She read VT’s description and asked me for the first 50 pages. I was ecstatic, and even more ecstatic when she sent me an e-mail a week later asking for the full. A week more and she told me she loved my novel (what wonderful words!) but needed a second opinion from a fellow Sandra Dijkstra agent to fulfill the agency’s check and balance requirements. Those were the toughest 2 days in my writing history. If anyone knows me, they know I am the most impatient writer alive. But then she sent me editing suggestions and told me if all went well, she’d love to represent me. Within a week I sent in my edited version and, today, officially signed with the agency.

I want to thank all my amazing Twifty and Oldies friends. Without you guys I would never have made it this far. To those of you reading this post who have yet to join AW, do so. It really is a fabulous site where you’ll get to meet people that will be an immense help to your writing.

And also, put yourself out there. I would never have gotten interest from Natalie if I hadn’t approached her for an interview and made sure I had a manuscript “blurb” on my blog. Don’t be afraid to share your story idea at the query stage!

And with that I’ll end this post.

Just one more… SQUEE.


Do you have what it takes?

January 16, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Posted in Editing, Reading, teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Are you supposed to be writing?

Now, don’t expect a happy encouraging post here. The job of this little post isn’t to assure you you can “do it.” It is to make very clear that some people just can’t.

We’ve all come in some kind of contact with them. We either know them personally, have heard of them, or… shock… read their (sadly) published novels. They are the ones that make us say “Hey, listen, the people who are meant to do this don’t need you taking up our agents’, editors’, publishers’, readers’ time. We have a hard enough job as it is.”

These are the people that have no business writing.

They are the ones who have grand ideas of what writing a novel is. They proclaim to the world that in a year or so they’ll have enough life experience to write the next great American novel but, in fact, it is simply that they don’t have the natural inclination to start as soon as the story hits them.

They pretend that the moments of writing must be perfect… the laptop computer must be new or the notebooks unsullied with grocery lists or the new pens have the smoothest writing in dark bold ink.

They bring hot beverages and soft music, to smother themselves in the writing mood they pretend must be there.

They are the ones who think writing a book is an easy way to make money from home, just write and submit. Unfortunately for the readers, these non-writers sometimes succeed.

Their ideas of writing fiction are simply fictional.

These are fakes who want to get noticed, not writers who live and breathe their characters, and how these characters are affected throughout a novel. We talk to our characters as if they are real, play the music that fits their moods, torture ourselves for hours at the desk chair telling their stories. We are the real writers, be we published or not.

Take this quiz to see if you are really a writer or are writing a novel for reasons other than ones you should…

And I say it here: I’d rather be a real writer and never be published, than a fake one who forces the readers out there to read my garbage. But that’s just me… sadly.

Book Club ~ We All Fall Down

January 5, 2010 at 10:59 AM | Posted in Life, Reading, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 2 Comments

Now, I know some of you have been looking forward to a review of We All Fall Down for this month’s book club post. Perhaps a Twifty will post one in the review section of this site soon. But for this post I thought we should instead take a moment to remember the author.

Robert Cormier, born in Leominster, Mass., once described himself as “a skinny kid living in a ghetto-type neighborhood wanting the world to know that I existed.”  For writers like us, getting the world to know we exist is pretty darn important, but I don’t think anyone should take Cormier’s quote and think that is all writers desire. There is power in the story that is stuck in your head, stories like We All Fall Down, an edgy read that leaves nothing out in pursuit of telling the story Cormier imagined. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but let that out on the page. And very few of us do it as well as Cormier.

As to why he tunneled this energy into young adult fiction? He wanted to show us the “strength of young adults—their resilience, their ability to absorb the blows teenage life delivers.”

Mr. Cormier died on November 2, 2000, but he’ll be forever remembered by young adult writers everywhere.

On the lighter side, some things you might not know:

He wrote a book called “I Am The Cheese” and thus wins Race’s award for most fantabulous book title.

The Chocolate War, one of his most beloved books, has a sequel, called Beyond the Chocolate War.

When you try to Google his name and first start to type “Ro…” Google Chrome immediately assumes you want to search for rotten tomatoes.

Now, this is a book club post and when you end your moment of silence for Robert Cormier take a look at this book down here. I know for a fact is it a popular read and I hope you all have fun with it. Look for the next book club post near the beginning of March!

The Book Thief.

Photos from here and here.

Quotes and info taken from: site.


Author Interview ~ Steph Bowe

December 16, 2009 at 9:24 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 5 Comments

It was a beautiful day in Twifty land, as some of us (uh, Race) experienced a light snowfall, Christmas music, baking, gift wrapping… and an awesome interview with an awesome author. The writer in us could not ask for more for Christmas. That is, unless the “more” was a guest post from the same awesome author.

Wait. Both?

That is right. The incredible Steph Bowe has granted TWFT a fantastic interview today. And soon she’ll be penning a guest post on what Race believes should be a fabulous probe into the publishing industry as applies to teen writers!

Visit her at and enjoy the interview!

TWFT: Describe your novel in a single sentence?

SB: When Jewel saves Sacha’s life, they are both forced to confront pasts they’ve so carefully concealed – a lost brother, an empty space where a mother should be, a debilitating illness, fractured families and buried secrets.

TWFT: Do you usually try to follow an outline? Any process you normally go through?

SB: I don’t follow an outline, I just write the novel without a plan, start to finish. It works pretty well for me, though there are a lot of things that have to be cleaned up in editing (stuff like character-arcs and getting rid of pointless scenes, which are things I might have avoided had I outlined).

TWFT: Do you consider yourself a writer or a story teller?

SB: I don’t really consider myself either (I just love to write). I do tell stories, but I think that’s what a writer does, anyway.

TWFT: Do you write what you know?

SB: I do, and I don’t. I think it’s the same for a lot of writers. I write the emotions that I know well, but I don’t write my own experiences. Writing allows me to explore things I haven’t experienced first hand, but also be introspective at the same time.

TWFT: How do you discover your characters? Or do they discover you?

SB: A bit of both. Sometimes I start with a name, sometimes with a trait (garden gnome thief, science genius), sometimes the whole character appears fully-formed in my head, with a story they deman be written. It really does vary from character to character, though they always come easily.

TWFT: Did you have a soundtrack for your novel, or any particular type of music you listened to while writing?

SB: Yes! I have a soundtrack for all my major writing projects. My soundtrack for the last novel was made up of songs by The Killers, Kings Of Leon, Regina Spektor, the Kinks and Aussie band Augie March (look up One Crowded Hour on YouTube – brilliant song).

TWFT: What first inspired you to become a writer? Career-wise, did you always want to be an author?

SB: Ever since I was very small I have loved writing, and since I was about seven, I’ve aspired to sell a book so that I could buy my family a house. This has not yet happened, but it will! Someday!

TWFT: Favorite novel or writer? Why?

SB: Can’t pick one! My favorite writers are John Green, Sarah Dessen and Melina Marchetta, and my favorite book right now is a tie between Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.

TWFT: Now, I know you have a the guest post coming up (We’re so excited!), and you will be discussing the industry and teens. But, in general, if you had a few words on your experiences with querying for the first time? Any advice for our readers?

SB: My experience of querying was very quick, but still incredibly stressful. My advice to writers querying for the first time is that they should try and keep a good sense of humor through the entire process, and not automatically accept if one agent offers (it’s a big decision, there’s no rush, and if one agent offers and there are others still reading fulls, you might get another offer).

TWFT: What annoys you about the perception of teen writers?

SB: That we can’t actually write and only get published because of the novelty of our age. The reality is that age is irrelevant: it’s all about your book. Don’t let the meanies get you down.

And TWFT’s official interview question – What is your favorite flavor of jelly bean?

SB: Buttered popcorn!

Now, you have to admit to the awesome.

Thanks, Steph!


November Book Club Pick.

November 2, 2009 at 10:33 PM | Posted in Reading, teen fiction, Uncategorized, YA | 1 Comment

The TWFT book club is back!

First I’d like to apologize for not keeping up with the club recently. Secondly, I’d like to suggest we all read:

“We All Fall Down” by Robert Cormier!

“We All Fall Down” is a 1992 Edgar Award Best Young Adult Mystery Nominee (Linky).


As always, look for a post on the book in a month. Until then, grab a copy and enjoy!

Summary and Review can be found at here.


Storyline vs. Writing Ability

September 20, 2009 at 3:02 PM | Posted in Reading, teen fiction, Writing, YA | 2 Comments

Can the story ever outweigh the writing style?

We’re all trying to write amazing books that showcase our writing ability. But can ever be so amazing that the writing just doesn’t matter any more? Well, not that it doesn’t matter, but that it doesn’t make a difference – you love the book anyway, and will read and reread just for the story.

I seem to find that I favored these types of books when I was younger – back in the day, before I knew the evils of adverbs and how to correctly punctuate sentences. I recently reread a book series that I loved three or four years ago (I won’t name it here, but it was a series written in diary entries) and found myself struggling to get through it. The writing style annoyed me; the only reason I read the last installment of this series was because I had to know what happened to the main character and her love interest. So, whilst the loss of my childhood reading naivety did stop me thinking the books were as amazing as I had done the first time round, the storyline still made me buy and read that last book.

Another example of this is the Twilight Saga. I admit, I’m an addict; I’ve reread all the books, despite my own and many others’ views towards Meyer’s writing style. Despite criticism, she has so many fans that Twilight has become a phenomenon – and she’s famous and rich.

So when does the storyline outweigh the writing quality? Or, once you start writing yourself, can writing style never be ignored? Bonus question: are there any books where the story has been so good, you’ve ignored the writing style – or writing style so bad you just can’t make yourself read to the end?

Let me know!

~ Becky

Winner of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse!

September 18, 2009 at 7:55 PM | Posted in Reading, teen fiction, YA | 1 Comment

I always feel bad when people don’t win giveaways, especially since I never do, haha. But at least one person can say that they’ll have a signed copy of Bran Hambric: TFC. And by random drawing, that person is…


Emilia, if you could email me (animalgurl55(at)yahoo(dot)com) your address then I can get it to Kaleb’s publicist and she’ll mail you the book. Then you can have lots of fun times with it :D

P.S. For luls, I entered myself in the drawing to see if I would’ve won. If I did, I planned on choosing someone else. And yet I still lost, what’s up with that?


The Benefit of Being You

September 18, 2009 at 3:10 PM | Posted in teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 1 Comment

guildwars2-18I am a self professed dork. Perhaps this makes me less of a dork, or more of a dork, but either way, I am a dork. It’s one of those things I say with a grin and a laugh and revel in. It’s a part of me that I really love because it gives me the excuse to be quirky, or weird and forces me to push the limits of my imagination more than I think I might have otherwise. As a dork I’m confronted with amazing creativeness everyday in gaming experiences, fanfiction readings and general interaction with other dorks and non-dorks alike. Because of this, I constantly push myself to go above and beyond the creativity that I encounter, to be more original, more vivid, more astounding than what I’ve seen.

More than once I’ve reaped the benefit of this. Tonight, is one of those nights.

For the past three weeks I’ve been stuck on the plot for my next work in progress. I kept trying to start but it wouldn’t flow. A few days ago I realized that my biggest problem was two fold: 1) I was seriously lacking in world building and 2) one of my plot points had effectively taken away anyway for my main character to have motivation. She was invested in the storyline, but for the first act and a half she was just kind of floating along in a ‘oh, that happens? so what?’ kind of way. Even world building – which I was having a hard time with – wasn’t fixing this problem.

Then, I watched the Guild Wars 2 trailer. I saw a piece of concept art pictured in the trailer and bam! it was like being hit with a bus. I suddenly had a new dimension to what I wanted to write. I had motivation. I had not one world, but two that were forced to coexist and constantly battling against one another. My character was not only invested in the conflict, she was a part of it, a Prime Mover in everything that was happening. I knew why she was, how she was and what she was.

And though I’m still ironing out plot points and character flaws and I need to rewrite much of my story arc, I’m ecstatic. I know what my worlds want, what my character wants, and I’m starting to understand how it all needs to happen.

The moral of the story? Never underestimate yourself. I’ve written about listening to your characters – but a central part to being a writer is understanding what you can give to the worlds that you create. And how. Draw on your experiences, your personality, what you love and hate – these are things that you should listen to. And just like when you listen to your characters, when you listen to yourself, magic is bound to happen.

~Sumayyah (x-posted to the raven desk)

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