1) Since your new book My Life: The Musical is obviously all about musicals, Iâd like to ask you what your favorite musical is, and why.
I love Sweeney Todd, because the score and the story are so great and also because it was the first Broadway musical I saw that simply blew me away. I was in high school and saw the original Broadway cast, with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, and after the show was over I literally could not get out of my seat. I was just floored by it.
If you had told me then that just a few years later Iâd be working with Stephen Sondheim on his new show I would never, ever have believed you!
2) You were cast in the short-lived Broadway show of Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim. How did that come along? And what brought you into the theatre world? Is theatre still a part of your life?
I auditioned for Merrily the same way six zillion other kids did; by showing up at an open call in New York. They were looking for young actors, and I was 18 and just starting my sophomore year at NYU as an acting major. After a bunch of callbacks I was finally cast in the ensemble. Then the show was postponed for a season, so I was 19 by the time it opened.
Like Emily and Philip, the two main characters in My Life: The Musical, I was a big theatre fan when I was in high school, and I was in all the school plays and musicals. I went to college with the ambition of being a professional actor; at the time I didnât have any other notion of what to do with my life.
Oddly, to get the opportunity to work on Broadway so soon gave me the chance to do the whole acting thing, get tired of it and quickly move on to being a playwright and lyricist/librettist! Which is what led to me writing novels, eventually. So theatre is still definitely part of my life, but as a writer, not as a performer. The closest I come to acting these days is when I do readings from my books. I do ham it up quite a bit on those occasions!
3) What are you working on right now, and do you have any other books coming out soon? Can you tell us about them?
I have another book coming out in May. Itâs called How I Found the Perfect Dress, and itâs a sequel to Why I Let My Hair Grow Out. The main character, Morgan, is a girl from Connecticut who discovers (in the first book) that sheâs also Morganne, a part-goddess figure from Irish lore.
In the sequel, she has to figure out how to take an annoying and dangerous enchantment off of Colin, the guy she loves, without pissing off an evil faery queen and while doing a very special favor for a leprechaun! This book has junior proms, garden gnomes, mini-golf and a guest appearance by a world-famous rock and roll icon. I love this kind of wild romantic-comedy fantasy story, and How I Found the Perfect Dress was a lot of fun to write.
Right now Iâm finishing the first draft of a new book called A Beautiful Nothing, which is a modern retelling of the plot of Shakespeareâs "Much Ado About Nothing" set in the Bronxâs Little Italy. I come from an Italian-American family, so the people, the great Italian slang, and especially the food are all wonderfully familiar to me. And "Much Ado" has always been one of my favorite plays.
4) How did you get the idea for My Life: The Musical? Was it difficult to come up with the bits and pieces of the fictional show Aurora and put those in throughout the book?
After my first novel, Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, was done, my editor at Delacorte and I were talking about what I might do next. Because I have all this personal history in the theater, particularly in the professional Broadway theatre in New York, she felt it would be a great idea for me to do a story set in that world. It didnât take long to come up with the notion of two teens from the suburbs who are obsessed with Broadway. It was close to my own experience in many ways, though Emily and Philip are fans, not actors.
Making up "Aurora" was actually a lot of fun for me. I have written some musicals myself and have had a lot of involvement with new musicals in general, so I feel like Iâve seen every wacky idea for a show get paraded out at one point or another. It was quite amusing to me to offer little glimpses throughout My Life: The Musical of what kind of crazy stuff was going on onstage during this show-within-the-book.
5) What brought you to the YA genre? Was it an audience youâd always wanted to write for, or just something that felt right when you started writing your novels?
Itâs funny, the YA genre kind of snuck up on me, and after I started doing it I looked back at all these other projects Iâd written, plays and screenplays and musicals, and most of them had teen characters in them! It was a perfect fit waiting to happen.
In brief, I already had a long and busy career doing all these other kinds of writing but had never written a novel. It was my good friend E. Lockhart (author of The Boyfriend List, Dramarama and the soon-to be released Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks) who pointed out the obvious connection between what I was writing and YA literature.
She must have been right, because Iâve been writing YA novels ever since!
6) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I canât tell you how many people I meet who say, "oh, youâre a writer, thatâs so cool, I always wanted to do that" or "I started a novel once" or "I write something every day but itâs just for me, itâs not publishable" or whatever. But to me these are not aspiring writers, in the professional sense â theyâre people who love to write, or are drawn to writing in some personal way. And thatâs great; writing is a human activity, like talking or thinking. You donât have to be a published author to love writing.
Making writing a profession is different than loving to write. In order to be a published author, you have to actually finish what you start (that usually means several major drafts), you have to write things that are publishable, and you have to be a good, organized businessperson and learn the proper way to submit your book to an agent and then a publisher.
And, if you do get an offer from a publisher, you also have to understand that the publishing process is collaborative and you WILL be getting revision notes from your editor!
For would-be pro writers, then, I would simply say to have realistic expectations about how much work is involved in building a career as an author, and know that the pleasure of writing is always the best part of the process, whether you end up getting published or not.
As for what to write, or how â be yourself! Write something that only you can write.