Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Bethany Neal

When I was 17 I was reallllly into headbands, Green Day CDs, and Doc Martens. Oh and I regularly took style cues from Tracy Flick. Ah memories!

But here’s what sticks from that time: the power of a crush, the tight bond of friendships, and the deep, frustrating awkwardness of having zero self-confidence. In short? It is so hard to really ‘get’ teenagers.

Enter someone who does: sweet Bethany Neal, YA author of My Last Kiss and Halloween enthusiast (so we’re practically gothic, spooky soul mates, ya’ll).

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Yeah, she’s cooler than an ice cream cone. So before things get all melt-y let’s dive in.

1. What do you write and what are you reading? I write YA with a little dark side and a lot of kissing. I love writing anything that dangles a lingering question in front of the reader like a juicy carrot. It’s always so much fun to keeping secrets from readers! I read what I write (which is great advice for all writers). So lots of mysteries, darker contemporary stories, predestined love stories. For me, a good book is all about character voice. Right now I’m reading Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone.

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2. Talk to me about the influence of music. Music is huge for my writing process. I actually got the idea for My Last Kiss from a Metric song called “Help, I’m Alive”. I watch a lot of music videos to get inspired, too. They’re like little mini movies that pique my storytelling feelers because a song is only a couple minutes long. After I watch a video that exercises good storytelling, I always get this itching in the back of my brain that there’s more to the story. And, if I’m lucky, I start to fill in the blanks and begin fleshing out a new novel. I’m constantly trying to find meaning behind the story a song tells to me.

3. What books shaped your childhood? Anything R.L. Stine. I am addicted to dark and spooky! Also, the Baby-Sitter’s Club books. My friends and I were obsessed! Claudia was my favorite. (Editor’s note: I call BS; everyone knows Stacey was the best)

4. Who are your mentors? Hmm, this is a tough question. I had a couple very successful authors very generously (and randomly) be kind enough to read my work before I even landed my agent. They helped me immensely with character voice and story construction. I will be forever in debt to them, but I don’t necessarily keep in close touch with them the way I would a true mentor.

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5. Wildest dream/goal you have for yourself? I have always, from day one, wanted to be interviewed in Entertainment Weekly or to have them review one of my novels. That magazine is, no joke, one of the top reasons I started writing. They write how my brain thinks. (As for) dream: Walk a red carpet.

6. Tell me about writing sex scenes. I’m a fan of sensory details over physical. Sex scenes and fights scenes are actually quite similar in that respect. It’s a lot more entertaining to be inside the character’s head as opposed to reading an instruction of what’s happening. I’m also a huge fan of the fade-to-black fake out. What I mean by that is the author ends a chapter just as things get steamy. This happens a lot in movies just as the couple hits the bed. The fabulous luxury books have is being able to go back in the next chapter via the character’s memory of the moment. This is almost better than an in-the-moment sex scene because we not only get the rose-colored glasses view (always more sultry) but we also feel redeemed because we thought we weren’t going to get the steamy details then wham! The author fakes you out and makes you swoon. So good.

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7. Who do you love and how does that sneak into your writing? Characters from TV shows, movies, and books that I adore. I picture them in my head as I write. It’s almost like having a friend beside you telling what to say in the next line of dialogue (I promise the voices in my head are only real on the page!) A lot of writers try very hard to make everything they write 100% their own. I’m not like that at all. When I write it’s a pop cultural homage to all the writers, directors, and actors who have made me who I am today. I love them, and why not write what you love?

8. You write for young adults. How do you slip into the voice and heart of a teenager? I wish it was harder for me to do because that would mean I’d somehow grown and evolved. Alas, I am ever and eternally approximately 17 years old…mentally. It probably doesn’t hurt that the majority of my favorite shows are on MTV and I read almost exclusively YA. I think this goes back to the reading what you write thing. In order to stay in touch with your audience you need to be part of it. I will say, again, though that music is a huge help. I make playlists for every book I write and each character has his/her own theme song. All I have to do is sit in front of my computer, play that song, and I’m transported. I live for that feeling!

9. Tell me about failure and rejection. Do I have to? As a writer, rejection is unavoidable. There isn’t a single book in the world that everyone enjoys. Training yourself to accept that is key to persevering in publishing. I try my best to view obstacles and perceived failures as wreckage that falls in front of me, not to block me, but to build a staircase for me to climb higher.

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10. What inspires story ideas for you, and what inspired the story for My Last Kiss? Spoiler alert (re: question #2), My Last Kiss was inspired by a song. At its core though, my source of inspiration comes from writing what I want to understand. They say write what you know, but I believe you should write what you want to know. I’m constantly trying to figure out why humans are such complex little monsters.

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11. Tell me a story about a story: When I was in fourth grade, my best friend  told me a story about a boy who was locked away inside the walls of his home because his parents were punishing him for being too loud. Oh, and his parents also cut out his tongue, ya know, because he was so loud. I was terrified until a few months later her older brother rented a movie called The People Under the Stairs that had an eerily similar plot. To this day, I’m not sure if I was more mad that she essentially plagiarized Stephen King’s story or that she’d made me watch a horror movie when I was nine.

Extra credit: Bethany usually writes or edits while laying on the floor and if she weren’t a badass writer she’d be an actress (longtime dream still holding strong!).

Tons of thanks to Miss B for caring and sharing a whole slew of good tips and solid stories. Peruse her playful website, The Writertorium, and follow her nail art and cat captures on Instagram. Giver her a follow on Twitter here. Oh, and buy her book which is so good at getting your head and heart back to high school.

***As part of this series, writers are asked to submit photos capturing who they are as well as a glimpse of his/her writer life. Images above include author’s headshot, book cover, photo with her writing partner (yep, her cat), and the moment her book was released at Barnes & Noble (Ann Arbor, MI location). 

***Know someone that would be a great fit for 11 Questions? Nominate them or yourself by reaching out to me at KellyQBooks (@) gmail (dot) com.

Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Anna Lane

Crack your knuckles and do some light stretching because the dynamic, articulate, fun, and spirited woman you’re about to meet will have you laughing so hard that you’ll mildly choke on that glass of wine paired with Oreos (no judgment; it’s nice to eat allllll the treats once kids go to bed).

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the vivacious Anna Lane. She’s a hybrid of former actress/ stellar comedian/ humor writer who serves as the Los Angeles Editor of StrollerTraffic and the voice behind Misadventures in Motherhood. And yes, her California-sunkissed blonde hair and radiant smile is the stuff of dreams but that is besides the point.

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Now that your appetizer is over let’s shimmy right along to the main course.

1. What do you write and what are you reading?
I like to say that I write anything – as long as I’m being paid for it!  Mostly I write a blog, Misadventures in Motherhood, and I’m the LA Editor for StrollerTraffic.  I freelance for a living, so I’ve done everything from punching up scripts to ghostwriting a TED talk. I’m currently reading A Little Life.  It’s beautiful, yet also disturbing, especially if one is a parent.

2. You’re a former actress and stand-up comedian. When did you recognize that you had a way with humor?
I’ve always been described as “quirky” so stand-up comedy really came about when I was frustrated with acting (or, more correctly NOT acting) and I needed a creative outlet. I was terrible at first, as are most people, and it takes quite a few years to learn how to write a great joke, but I found stand-up to be so much more fulfilling than acting. Once I learned to write jokes and realized how good I was at doing so, humor writing was a natural progression. I’m sure there are people who find my sarcasm about parenting off putting, but you can’t please everyone, and I’m fine with that.

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3. You throw the door open on deeply personal topics. How do you decide the right level of candor when you write?  
Interestingly enough, I’m actually a very private person. The thing that I love about blogging is that I choose how much to share and how much not to share. I try to be very careful and respectful of my kids and my spouse and to not reveal things that are incredibly embarrassing. That being said, I think it’s important to discuss the realities of birth and marriage and sex after kids. Women should be fully informed that their lady parts will NEVER be the same after giving birth, and that even if they can fit into their pre-baby clothes they aren’t going to look good on a body that’s carried, birthed and fed a child or three.

4. Who are your mentors?
  
When I was doing stand-up I worked with Wendy Liebman who is the most incredible woman. She’s a talented writer, a warm and caring person, and an amazing wife and step-mom. She’s truly the type of woman that has me asking, “How does she do it?” I’m also really inspired by the ladies at StrollerTraffic, because they are all Moms who are writers, and it’s pretty awesome to have a job where your colleagues understand if you have a sick kid. My blogger crush is Ilana Wiles from Mommy Shorts – I’m constantly amazed at the amount of content she manages to generate and how she keeps her blog fresh and funny. Plus I would kill for her traffic and sponsors!!!

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5. What does rejection look like?  
Haha – the entirety of my adolescence and acting career!  My therapist, however, has probably paid her mortgage thanks to all of the sessions we’ve logged due to my rejections. Look, it’s difficult to not take rejection personally especially when you do a creative job that comes so much from your heart and soul. It sucks. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older and more confident in my abilities as a writer that I’m not quite as bothered by people telling me “no thanks” anymore.

6. Talk to me about writing sex scenes.


I think as a society we have a very unrealistic idea of what sex is “supposed” to look like. The reality is that after ten years of marriage and two kids you’re just trying to stay awake long enough to do the deed.

7. Who do you love and how does that sneak into your writing?
I love my kids so much, and I’m grateful to them for sending me down the path of being a writer. If I hadn’t needed a creative outlet after my son’s birth, I would never have started blogging, and my blog is the way I got all of my other jobs! Sometimes I think about shutting down my blog, and I just can’t do it, because it’s sort of The Little Engine that Could, slowly trudging up the big mountain and making it to the top when no one thought it would happen.

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8. Your Instagram account (@TheAnnaLane) is peppered with a hilarious stream of motherhood memes. Tell me more about it.  


I have to give credit for the memes to an old stand-up colleague, actually. I was putting funny jokes on Facebook and Twitter and he emailed me and said that I should turn them into memes, and suggested I use my profile photo as the background. I had NO IDEA how to make a meme, and he actually walked me through how to do it. I’m so thankful that he did that, because it’s really helped with my branding, which I was struggling with on Instagram’s visual platform. I think people don’t often read the captions, so the memes are a way for me to tell my parenting jokes in the photo.

9. What has been your greatest lesson with being a freelance writer?
That my work is worth GOOD money. I’m still learning this lesson, especially when it comes to my blog and sponsored content. Writing is a talent and a skill.  Writers are necessary, and it’s important to understand your value. That being said, when you first start out you may have to take a couple crap jobs to get established and build your resume, but you need to understand when that’s no longer appropriate. Ask for what you’re worth, you might be pleasantly surprised at people’s reactions.

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10. Wildest dream you have for yourself?  
To turn my blog into a TV script, sell it, and write on the show. I should have time to write that script in about 18 years when my kids leave for college…

11. Tell me a story about a story:  


I’m not even sure what you’re asking here, but I’m almost positive that the writers from Sex and the City based the baby gherkin storyline on me. I dated a guy in college when I was living in New York and he had the tiniest dick ever, and I was in the bathroom at a club, crying in a stall and complaining about it to my friends and how there was no way I could continue to date him. Two years later that whole scene showed up in SATC practically verbatim. The guy was a total douche who still lived with his parents at age 33 and not worth my time or my bedroom skillz, but hindsight is always 20/20. I comfort myself by reminding myself that he’s enjoying a lifetime of women dumping him because his penis is too small, so there’s that.

BONUS POINTS:

Favorite snack? Chocolate covered pretzels are my undoing.

On a kidless day, what are you doing? Yoga, mani/pedi, reading Domino, and probably day drinking with a girlfriend.

Gracious thanks to Anna for sharing bits of herself and a Sex and the City reference I will not soon forget. Follow her hilarious memes on Instagram, check out StrollerTraffic, and read along on her ‘little engine that could’ blog.

***As part of this series, writers are asked to submit photos capturing who they are as well as a glimpse of his/her writer life.

***Know someone that would be a great fit for 11 Questions? Nominate them or yourself by reaching out to me at KellyQBooks (@) gmail (dot) com.

Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Jen A. Miller

Running is the biggest pain in the ass and the most incredible endorphin rush. Kind of like writing.

I often thought running and writing sweetly held hands because both require daily, consistent devotion to translate into long distance/page count goals. Today’s feature, Jen A. Miller, is so effortlessly cool that I want to dash outside for a set of sprints with the sun on my face. Girl is a published author, freelancer, Jersey Shore aficionado (with none of that MTV snark), and marathoner. And she’s hella nice and articulate. So there’s that.

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1. What do you write and what are you reading?
I write non-fiction – day to day, that’s work I do as a freelance journalist. I am just about to publish my memoir, Running: A Love Story, which is a lot more intimate.
A lot of my work is about running, but I’ll take on just about anything that interests me. I write a lot about technology and security because it’s fun, and I learn a lot. I’m currently reading The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick (who wrote The Silver Linings Playbook while he lived in Collingswood, which is where I’m at – I used to see him running around the same park that’s in my book). Next I’ll be reading Eloisa James’ My American Duchess. I don’t hide that I read romance. It’s like any other genre fiction in that, when it’s done well, it’s good. Plus I don’t want to read anything too taxing right now. My brain is already overloaded.

2. To me, The New York Times is the holy grail of periodicals. What was it like to see your byline in those pages?
I broke into The New York Times in 2005 in my first year of freelancing. I wrote about, of all things, a t-shirt. I lived in a second floor apartment then, and ran downstairs to grab the newspaper from the front lawn. I was teary. Then I forgot to cash the check (which is one reason I love direct deposit and sign up for it whenever I can).
I didn’t come at journalism through what I’d guess is the traditional route: I didn’t go to J-school. At the time, my college had one journalism class, and no one who worked on the paper took it. I was editor in chief of my college newspaper for a year and a half, and I thought one day it might be nice to write headlines for The New York Times Book Review. I never thought I’d be a journalist, let alone write for the Times. That first byline meant a lot to me, but building a consistent relationship with the paper, especially over the last five years as I have done with the Well section, means a lot more. That first clip was also a lesson in to always take the shot. I didn’t think I had any business pitching the Times. They didn’t buy my first pitch, but the editor responded favorably and told me to send him more. I did. It’s been my approach to freelancing for 11 years.
It was so early in my freelance career that it doesn’t feel so much like a turning point. Them running an excerpt of Running: A Love Story was a much bigger deal.

3. When did you realize you were a writer (and a powerful one at that)?
Oh what a tough question because I feel I have so far to go. I have said many times that while I think I’m good at running the business of being a freelance writer, that I’m not the best writer out there. I didn’t realize how my writing was touching people until I started writing a running column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which I did for a little over three years. I did a lot of reporting there, but every once and a while, I’d write a piece about myself. I got a lot of emails from those, especially this one. Then I wrote a piece for the Times about using running as therapy, and the response was a deluge. At the time I wrote that, I was finalizing a two-page proposal that I would take to agents for what became Running: A Love Story, so the response was a big boost before those meetings.

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4. Running is an enormous part of who you are. Tell me how it has built you up or conversely, broken you down.
Running is a constant cycle of pushing the limits and then recovering. As I’m writing you today, I’m taking an unexpected rest day from training for my sixth marathon because my hip is sore and I know one more day of rest means it will probably be fine for the last nine weeks of training versus trying to gut through it and then maybe be too hurt to start the race on May 1. I’ve learned a lot from that.
Publishing a book is an incredibly exciting but incredibly stressful time. I have a lot of work I’m trying to jam into every day, and sometimes I just stop, lie down, read, and wait to start again the next day. Just like my running is after a rest day, my writing is fresher too.But sometimes you just have to shove through it. If I never did the tough running workouts, I’d never reach my race goals. If I didn’t write the tough things, I’d never advance in my skills and my career either.

5. Let’s hear some of your goals, the wilder, the better.
Can I have Elizabeth Gilbert’s career? My favorite book of hers is The Last American Man. I recently read The Signature of All Things on vacation. I want to be able to go in that many different directions and genres, and make it work. I’d also like to run a sub-four hour marathon. That’d be a pretty significant lowering of my current personal record in that distance. But hey. I try. After the next marathon, I may tackle a trail marathon or ultra marathon. Dream big, right?

6. Tell me about writing sex scenes.
I think they’re awkward to write, but no more awkward than trying to write down what goes through my brain when I run a marathon – that was the most technically challenging part of this book. There’s some sex in Running: A Love Story because you can’t tell the story of relationships without it, but it’s mentioned just like any other thing – which sex is, when you get down to it when you strip it of all the cultural associations that are shoved on it. I’m a 35 year old, unmarried woman. If people think I haven’t had sex, then I don’t want to know what they think about the lives of single women (editor’s note: Jen recently garnered that many view single to mean ‘not in a relationship’ and she is in one).

7. Who do you love and how does that sneak into your writing?
I’ve been writing about my family a lot, and I think that’s an offshoot of how much I wrote about my mother in Running: A Love Story. One of my friends who read an advance copy of the book said she deserves the best supporting actress award for this book (he wrote it right after the Oscars).
I dedicated the book to my paternal grandmother who was a big influence on me too. Before Thanksgiving, I wrote a piece for The Washington Post about hosting Thanksgiving for the first time and how my divorced parents were going to be there and how we were the definition of the new, modern, American family. They’re very important to who I am – my extended family too. I think I’ll be writing more about them down the line (if they let me – ha)

8. You nabbed your first personal finance writing assignment the same week that Lehman Brothers folded. What is your best personal finance tip for writers?
Put away a percentage of every single check into savings, another percentage into a pot marked for taxes, and another percentage into your retirement accounts. When you’re an entrepreneur (which freelancers are!), you have no backup, and if you’re like me and live alone and run a household on your own, you really don’t have anything else to fall back onto except what you create yourself.

9. Tell me about failure and rejection
It’s just another part of the game. It hurts sometimes, but usually a lot less than it did before. I’m used to it. For the ones that hurt: it’s okay to sulk for a while, lick your wounds. But the only way you get over it is to try again. Except for very rarely, it’s not personal. If my idea doesn’t help a publication reach their mission or tell the stories they want to tell, then they should reject my ideas. And I still soldier on.

10. Your contributions to magazines, websites, and periodicals are vast and esteemed. How do you decide where a story should go- do you start by writing the article or making the pitch?
Unless a publication approaches me, I start with the idea, and then I figure out who that idea is best for. A lot of factors come into play: How quick are they to respond and how long does it take to get the idea into print (which is crucial when you’re dealing with timely subjects). What do they pay? How much is it a pain in the ass to get paid by them? I recently fired a client because they were paying 70 days past invoice and only after I followed up multiple times. The editors there are great, but I can’t put up with that on the back end and still run my business effectively.
A lot of writers go strictly by how much the publication pays per word, but I try to go by how much it’ll work out to an hour (and that includes any time needed to chase payment). That’s why a $.50/word client might be a better fit for a pitch than a $2/word one. For regular clients, sometimes I only need to send a one-line pitch, or forward an email, and they’ll consider it. For some, they want a longer pitch (and I don’t blame them!). One of my clients likes to get the idea in an email to see if they’re interested, and ask me to flush out the idea over the phone. I like that too.The only exception to that is essays. Most places want essays done. I’ll usually write it with an outlet in mind, and if that outlet passes, go to my B, C, D, E choices because at that point, I want it to run somewhere.

11. Tell me a story about a story:
When I was a kid, I tried to write the sequel to Bridge to Terabithia. I wrote it out in a spiral bound copybook. I wish I still had it. Though that’s not my favorite Katherine Paterson book! That would be Jacob Have I Loved.

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Bonus points: The coolest place Jen has ever run was Rome, dodging between tourists and cars and motorbikes on extremely narrow roads and sidewalks with a paper map in hand. She fondly recalls the streets looking like they’d been spun in a salad spinner.

We thank Jen for this feature and wish her good luck on her sixth marathon. Keep running that path, keeping writing the journey.

Dem Links:
Crush on Jen and her brilliant work over at her website here.
Purchase her brand spanking new memoir, Running: A Love Story, here.
Get Jen’s personal finance tips and other money advice here.

That’s it. That’s all. Now get outside and get moving.

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***As part of this series, writers are asked to submit photos capturing who they are as well as a glimpse of his/her writer life.