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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Frequently Asked Questions

Where did the idea for Tell Me a Secret come from?
Before I started Tell Me a Secret, I was mostly writing dreadful picture books. I’d had a short story published in a Chicken Soup book and a few stories and articles in Spider and Cricket magazines, and I’d begun a middle grade novel. However, all of that took a sharp turn when a personal tragedy struck our family. None of those projects had any meaning for me anymore, and I almost quit writing. A few months later, the idea for Tell Me a Secret struck. It took a few months to get my bearings—it was way beyond the scope of anything I’d written before, and it involved delving into those personal experiences. My good writing friends cheered me on, and the book—and the writing of it—turned out to be very hopeful.

Rand loves to draw labyrinths. Why did you choose that metaphor for her story? The labyrinths came intuitively for the story of an artistic girl making sense of her past and present, with just enough light for her next step. But I have always been fascinated by labyrinth literature. Some of my favorite authors are Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, whose writings have a kind of labyrinth twistiness to them. I love symbols and metaphors (in fact, I had to cut a bunch because there were too many!). I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get them out of my head for the next book, but then a whole new metaphor system arose for that one…hint: armor and power. Very fun to write!

What were you like when you were Miranda’s age? Were you similar to her in any ways?
When I was Miranda’s age, I always felt this polarization between my creative side and the logical side, a little bit like Miranda caught between her wild sister and her rigid mother—wanting to be like the one, and fearing being like the other. As a writer, I’ve found that dichotomy to be quite useful—my creative side writes the first draft, and the intellectual side fixes it up into something readable—but it took me a little while to figure out how to get them to work together. Plus I admit, I’m as fascinated by Xanda as Miranda is! Maybe someday I might write another book about her.

Did you have any input on the cover?
My editor asked how I envisioned the characters and the cover, so I sent a few pics (Courtney Love circa 1991, scenes from The Virgin Suicides) and mentioned some of the visuals—labyrinths, the safety-pin dress, locked doors, a white bird as a symbol of escape. But in the end, my biggest contribution was coming up with the right title! We’d gone through 200+ ideas, and somehow I missed the conversation between Miranda and her sister in the first chapter. “Do you want to know a secret?” says Miranda. “Tell me,” says Xanda, “and I’ll tell you one.” I remembered this at 2 a.m. a couple of nights before we had to have the final title for the catalog. I sat up in bed and shook my husband. “Tell me a secret, honey. TELL ME A SECRET!”

Luckily my editor loved it, too, and the design department turned around a draft of the gorgeous cover. My niece, age 15, was visiting at the time and had glued herself to the couch the day before to read the almost-final manuscript in one sitting. When I got the .jpg, I gasped and everyone ran in—including the niece, who declared it “perfect.”

How did you make the Tell Me a Secret trailer?
The trailer (just recently a finalist in School Library Journal’s first ever Trailie Awards!) was a homegrown project. My husband Shiraz and I teamed up with very cool indie filmmaker Paul Michael Gordon. We were especially excited to feature the gorgeous and haunting “Ironspy” song from our friends at Splashdown. (In fact, two of the Splashdown members created the music that is featured on the Tell Me a Secret audiobook and website. I even did the voiceover!

Check out the high def version here:

What are you working on now?
I'm just finishing the final details of Don't Breathe a Word (Fall 2011 from HarperTeen). It's about a girl who runs away from home for secret reasons, and meets up with a band of street kids in Seattle…including the boy called Creed. Oh, it’s so romantic. And dark. And about what it means to love. (And here's a secret: several characters and locations from Tell Me a Secret make cameo appearances, and you find out more about a certain character's secrets...)

What do you do when you have writer's block?
I wish I’d know this while writing TMAS—it would have made things so much easier. While I was writing Don't Breathe a Word, I discovered the most amazing trick: a kitchen timer. I would set it for 15 minutes with a goal of 300 words—candy at the end…bonus!—and usually I would hit 400 or more. It was great for outrunning the internal critic, which can be really devastating when you’re trying to write a book (or do anything, really). The last voice you should listen to is the one that says you don’t have value.

Any advice for writers struggling to find an agent/publisher?
This is such a slow process. Don’t let yourself be discouraged. It’s part talent, part timing, part sweat, and part luck—and don’t forget, an agent and publisher are looking for your work, too. Make it the best it can possibly be by learning the craft, writing whenever possible, reading excellent writing, and getting feedback from peers you trust. Keep going!

How do you pronounce your name?
Just in case you've always wanted to know, there's a brand new recording of me saying my name (and a whole bunch of other random stuff) at TeachingBooks.net. (Hmmm, wonder why Andre in Tell Me a Secret drives an Impala?). In case you're wondering, it's an East Indian name, from whence my husband's wonderful family hails.

Do you have a question? Let me know and I'll try to answer it!

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