Interview with Tanya Lee Stone
Tanya Lee Stone has written a number of picture books (including the timely for this week P is for Passover) and just published her first book for teens, A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl.
Liz B: A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl tells the story of 3 different high school girls who date the same "Bad Boy." It's a frank look at love and lust and desire. There's a point where Josie -- the freshman -- says, "I'm not stuck up. I'm confident. There's a big difference." And that line has really stayed with me, because there are many girls who enter High School with confidence and then it disappears. Nicolette and Aviva are totally different from Josie, but are also typical in some ways: Nicolette is the girl who is in control, and Aviva is the girl who is in love. What was your inspiration for A Bad Boy? Were Josie, Nicollete and Aviva always the narrators?
Tanya: My inspiration was the title and all it started to invoke for me as soon as it popped into my head. Josie was a narrator from minute one, although she did not yet have a name. For a while it was only Josie and I didn't know that I would be adding the other girls. Once her story emerged, though, I knew I had other perspectives to explore--other girls who would have been affected by this boy. It was a very linear experience. I didn't jump around from one to another. I wrote Josie first, then Nicolette, then Aviva. I got to know them all really well. And now that real teens have acted out the parts in a play I scripted, I've gotten to see them come alive on the stage.
While writing the book, I kept thinking back to high school and college and the ups and downs of dealing with guys who weren't good for us. It didn't matter what kind of girl you were--pretty much everyone was susceptible to a bad boy at one time or another. And what it had most to do with was what we needed to learn about ourselves. Learning from mistakes is a big part of navigating relationships--finding out what pushes your buttons and why, what you're not willing to compromise about, what matters to you, and what doesn't. Josie, Nicolette, and Aviva all share one very important thing; they all become more self aware and therefore, more empowered.
By the way, at one point there was a fourth girl named Lauren, who I took out of the manuscript before ever submitting it. As her story came together for me, I realized her main conflict didn't have that much to do with our bad boy. Lauren needs her very own book, and she'll get one some day soon, but she didn't belong in Bad Boy, so I took her out. That was the one main change I made to the plot throughout the entire process.
Liz B.: You were an editor for children's books for over 10 years. How does that experience help you now that you're on the "other side" as a writer?
Tanya: It helped in a huge way--I had been working on craft all along! Seriously, I probably edited 500 books before I ever wrote one. I knew a lot about what to do and what not to do and had already spent countless hours doing both conceptual editing and line editing, which amounts to a whole lot of writing. I also had a good sense of what I was looking for in a writer and in a manuscript, and now I try my best to deliver what I would have wanted to receive.
I also learned a lot about how NOT to submit--having received countless submissions--of adult fiction, romance, thrillers, etc...--that never should have been sent to me as a nonfiction children's editor. By the time I was ready to submit, I had a jump on the learning curve.
Liz B: In your VOYA article about (Now and Forever: The Power of Sex in Young Adult Literature), you say that books are possibly the safest place for teens to learn about sex. I totally agree. When I was in High School, the only teen books with sex were Forever and Norma Klein; after that, it was off to the adult section of the library or book store. It's nice to have a multitude of choices now, but I do wonder at those who don't want to see sex in teen books. Don't they remember that teens will still read about it, except it's the Judith Krantz version of sex?
Tanya: Well, I can't speak to what they know or remember, but I know how I feel about it, and I'm so glad you asked this very important question! Whether or not parents and kids want to be reading about sex is a personal decision, but for those who do want to read about it there are plenty of good choices today. I've been frustrated with the media's portrayal of this issue. The conversation has been incredibly one-sided and the goal of the media seems to be only to alarm, and not to inform. It baffles me as to why the same old story--told in the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, the NYT, and Newsday--about "racy reads" and "dangerous" books is still news--and they're even talking about the same books over and over again. Instead of focusing only on the mass-market "sexy" books, why not also look at some of the other YA books out there that are offering readers a safe environment in which to explore confusing and volatile issues. For me, I have already gotten plenty of feedback from high school readers that A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl has helped them either process something that happened to them, or that they gave it to a friend to help prevent a bad situation.
Also, I think many of the people who don't want to see any sex in books are falling for the old "ignore it and it will go away" rationale. For the high school kids who want and need to talk about this issue, we should be helping to point them in the direction of books that reflect their reality with sensitivity and care. Books are not the enemy. And some books may be just the ally a teen needs.
Liz B: What are you working on now?
Tanya: Some creative nonfiction and another YA novel.
Liz B: At Pop Goes the Library, we like our pop culture. What is your pop culture area of expertise?
Tanya: I'm a bit of a Sex and the City junkie. If I'm watching TV at 11 pm, you can bet that's what's on, and if I happen to come across it at another time, I can't not watch it. It's pretty hard to stump me in a who-said-what game. Go ahead, try me! Oh, and here's something I'm forever being teased about. You know when a minor character pops up on a show and everyone is trying to figure out what show they'd seen him in before? I'm your go-to-girl for the answer!
Liz B: I so want Carrie's apartment. And now I know who to call when I get "where did I see that person" itis while watching a show.