A funny interview with Simone Elkeles, whose first YA novel, “How to Ruin a Summer Vacation”, will be on the shelves in October 2007.
Hi Simone! Thanks for doing this interview! If you could describe yourself in three words…
Comedian Extrovert Animal Lover (three, Simone, I said three…
Tell us more about your first YA novel, “How to Ruin a Summer Vacation”.
(I’m stealing this off of the http://www.flux.com website because I think they did a great job summing up the book) Going to Israel with her estranged father is the last thing Amy wants to do this summer. A bratty American teenager with an attitude that matches her killer Jimmy Choo slides, she’s got a serious grudge against her dad, a.k.a “Sperm Donor,” for showing up so rarely in her life. Now he’s dragging her to a war zone to meet a family she’s never known, including her ill grandmother who’s the only source of comfort in this strange land. Sharing a room with her unfriendly cousin, igniting a brawl at the local disco, and having her Ferragamo sandal stolen by a mutt . . . one hilarious humiliation after another tests Amy’s fierce spirit. Finding her place in a foreign culture isn’t easy, but as Amy learns to shed her tough-girl persona, she discovers that making friends, falling in love, and connecting with her family and heritage isn’t impossible after all.
Most YA Books are about teen’s problems, in their city and school (clothes, friends, guys…). Why did you choose to tell another story?
I’m not really into “issue-ridden” or totally depressing “you’re going to die or your mom/best friend is going to die” books. Although I’m sure I’ll try one at some point, I wanted to write a funny, lighthearted book that teens can read just for entertainment and fun. The book, although set in Israel, is not a religious-oriented or political book, it’s just a fun read. Since I went to Israel many times as a teen (my dad was Israeli and I met my husband on a group trip to Israel when I was seventeen – we remet and married nine years later) and I had many funny experiences in Israel, I thought I’d write about “what I know”. Everywhere my heroine goes in Israel, I’ve been. I also like showing people a side of Israel they don’t show on television. The everyday life of everyday teens. It’s not autobiographical by any means, it’s pure fiction. But sometimes fiction does have a way of resembling reality, doesn’t it?
Are you a bit like Amy?
A bit? That’s an understatement. In so many ways I AM Amy. (Except I don’t have shorts with the words BITCH on the butt like Amy does and her family situation is the exact opposite of mine.)
There is a sequel to “How to Ruin a Summer Vacation”, titled “How to Ruin my Teenage Life”. Could you tell us more about it?
All I can tell you is that Amy, as usual, is going to get herself in a lot of sticky situations. She’s such a great character to write. I’m in the middle of writing it, so just be assured there’s going to be dogs (I have two myself and can’t NOT write about them), and it’s going to be funny.
And then comes Caleb Becker in Febrary 2007…
My publisher changed the name of my book, “Caleb Becker is Back”. It’s going to be released as Leaving Paradise (although I still refer to it as “Caleb”). I love this book, but it’s very different than How to Ruin a Summer Vacation. It’s more serious, it deals with a lot of emotions that Caleb and Maggie have to go through. This book is told in both Maggie’s point of view (the girl who was hit by the car) and also Caleb’s point of view (the boy who was convicted of hitting her while driving drunk) in alternating chapters. It’s more edgy than How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, but I hope my readers don’t mind. I can’t write only one type of book, I write all over the place. Some of my books are sweet, some are edgy.
Who are your favorite Chick Lit authors?
Meg Cabot, Michelle Cunnah, Diana Peterfreund, Wendelin Van Draanen, Marianne Mancusi
How do you work, in general?
At home when my kids are in school/camp
What do you do when comes the “writer’s block”?
It’s really difficult, at some times the words come pouring out I can’t type them fast enough and at other times it takes five minutes for one word to spurt out. I’ve learned it’s all about not stopping when the slow times creep up on me, I just write through it. I will even say out loud, “this is torture” but I write through it. It may take me an hour to write a quarter of a page, but I try not to let that discourage me.
It’s your first novel, right?
Yep! And I still feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. I think it’s harder to get published than struck by lightening sometimes.
How did you get it published?
I kept looking for an agent to represent my work, so I was on the agent hunt. I actually got rejected by my agent at first, but revised my book and asked if I could resend it. Believe me, I had piles of rejections. I also entered writing contests, and won the Chick Lit Stiletto contest. How to Ruin a Summer Vacation got rejected by some editors from publishing houses because they said Amy (my heroine) was too bratty and they wanted me to make her nicer. Thankfully Llewellyn (the publisher who finally bought How to Ruin..) loved Amy’s snarkiness and appreciated her character. I felt like “if I make her nice in the beginning, how is she going to change in the end?” My agent, Nadia Cornier from Firebrand Literary, told me not to change Amy. “We’ll find an editor who ‘get’s it’ and we’ll sell it.” I loved Nadia for believing in my book. And I love Llewellyn for buying it!
When you’re working with a publisher, do you always have to change things, add things etc.?
My editor, Andrew Karre, is very cool to work with. I LOVE romance novels, and when I’m not reading teen novels you can find me reading a romance. Andrew knows this. Andrew also knows I have a tendency to turn my novels into teen romances. So besides a few comments from him saying, “I don’t believe the character would do/say this”, I mostly get, “Nope! To romance-novel for me” comments. I guess I’m just a romantic person at heart. Is that such a bad thing?
Would you like to add something, Simone?
Veronika, I want to thank you for letting me do this interview. As a new author, it’s so nice when people help you “get your name out there”. People like you, who promote YA/teen books, are heroines in my eyes!
And now the nothing-to-do-with-books question : You’ve just found 100 $ in your pocket, how will you use that money?
Go out for sushi and donate the rest of it to our soldiers fighting for our freedom. I know that sounds cliché, but I’m always thinking about our soldiers.
“Tea or Coffee?”
Saturday evening. Going out or reading a book ?Going out, then read a book
Holidays. Beach or Mountains ?Mountains
Country or City ?Country
Watching a movie. Comedy or Drama (or something else ?) ? ROMANTIC comedy
Shy or Easy-going ?Totally easy-going
Serious or Funny ?Hilariously funny
Traveler or not ?Not, although I’d like to change that
Sporty or not ?Sporty! Tennis, football, hockey, baseball…you name it!
The leader in the group or not ?Totally the leader
TV show : (blushing) Real World/Road Rules challenge
Movie : Sixteen Candles or The Cutting Edge (Yes, I was a teen in the 80’s)
Book : adult book: Lady be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips teen book: Twilight (and by the way, what are you reading during your free time ?) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Music : Pat McCurdy (local guy from Milwaukee-totally politically incorrect but hysterical)
Food : Sushi
City : Chicago
Place to write: Living Room
Quote or motto : I’ve been told I say “Okay, here’s the deal” before every sentence, but my motto is; “Everything’s a hassle”
Thank you, Simone!