Monday, April 16, 2007
Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing her views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.
Today’s YA interview is with Simone Elkeles, author of three popular young adult teen novels. Her book How to Ruin a Summer Vacation made the nominee list for YALSA's Teen Top Teen 2007.
E.I. :Hello, Ms. Elkeles, Thank you for dropping by. Please tell your fans about your latest book Leaving Paradise and how did you come up with the title?
Simone Elkeles: Leaving Paradise is about a boy (Caleb Becker) who is being released from a juvenile detention center after being incarcerated for the past year for a hit-and-run drunk driving accident. He's coming home as a senior in high school and has to face his parents, the kids at school, and the girl who he went to jail for hitting. Maggie Armstrong is the girl who was hit by the car, and in alternating chapters we see how both Caleb and Maggie are both victims because of the accident.
I can't take credit for the title. I titled the book Caleb Becker is Back and my publisher changed it to Leaving Paradise. Which one do YOU like better?
E. I. What can we expect from your characters?
Simone Elkeles: Although my previous book (How to Ruin a Summer Vacation) was more of a comedy, this one has more angst and emotion in it. Maggie and Caleb, I hope, resemble real teens. I try to make all my characters as real as possible.
E. I. Some authors after spending so much time creating their character they become an extension to their life. Is that how you feel about Caleb Baker and Maggie Armstrong, do you now think of them as part of your family?
Simone Elkeles: If I say yes does that make me weird? (my friends would agree) When I'm writing, I think of my characters as real people in a movie setting. They have real feelings and emotions that I have to believe as I'm writing. I created them, so they are a part of me. Sometimes I agree with what they do, and sometimes I want to scream at them for going in a different direction then I wanted them to. I know it sounds weird, but if you write you know what I mean.
E. I. How much of Calebs life is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with her or with any of your characters?
Simone Elkeles: I don't go off of an outline. Some authors know every little detail (and write it down beforehand) about their character's lives and know what's going to happen in every scene before it happens. I'm like Stephen King (without the millions), I just sit down and start typing. I have no idea what's going to happen next, it just comes to me as I'm typing it out. Actually, when I sold Leaving Paradise - I sold it off of writing only three chapters and a synopsis of the book which is like a book report - it had a different ending (I won't give it away here, though) and as I was writing it, Caleb's story just didn't fit with the ending. So the ending my editor was expecting wasn't the ending that ended up in the book.
E. I. Do you have any fascinating experiences while writing your book, or while researching for your novel?
Simone Elkeles: Since Caleb was in a juvenile jail for the past year, I visited a juvenile detention center in Illinois. I spent the day in the facility among kids that were 12-17 years old. I even got locked in a cell, which is actually different than the one I portrayed in my book. In reality, nobody in the jail I was in had roommates. But I needed Caleb to interact with his roommates in jail so I made it up. That's what's great about writing fiction...you can change stuff to fit your story!
E. I. How long does it take you to write a book? And how do you go about your research for your new novel?
Simone Elkeles: Ooh, that dreaded word RESEARCH. I hate research. (although I think most authors like it, it reminds me too much of school) For my first book, How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, I'd been to Israel so many times I didn't have to do research. For Leaving Paradise, I had to go to juvenile jail which was actually really fascinating.
If I'm under deadline, I can finish a book in three or four months and I look like a complete zombie afterward because I've missed so much sleep. If I'm not on a deadline I can write a book in six months.
E. I. Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?
Simone Elkeles: I started writing adult novels, but found that when I switched to writing teen books it just "clicked". I loved my teen years and have a really fun-loving, young personality. Writing teen characters comes really naturally to me.
E. I. What can fans look forward from you in the coming months? Do you have something new coming up? If so, please share it with us.
Simone Elkeles: have a new book coming out in June, 2007 called How to Ruin my Teenage Life. It's the sequel to How to Ruin a Summer Vacation and has the hilarious character Amy Nelson getting herself into a bunch of crazy situations like the previous book. It's a romantic comedy.
E. I. What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Simone Elkeles: It's really not the ones who are most talented who become successful. It's the ones who don't give up. Keep writing and you'll get better at it with each try. Be original and creative! And never listen to anyone who tells you that you can't do it!
E. I. Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
Simone Elkeles: I'm definitely a character writer. I care about my characters and try to make them go through tons of obstacles before they can "see the light" and become better people or change to where their insecurities are gone or they understand themselves better. I hope I also put plot in there, too, along the way. Let's see...the hardest part of writing for me is getting my butt in the chair every day and writing. It's SO easy to procrastinate!
E. I. Ms. Elkeles, thank you so much for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know you, and your work a little better. Would you like to close the interview by telling your readers any writing tips for the young aspiring writers?
Simone Elkeles: Writing tips: If you write ONE page a day (double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman), you'll have an entire book done in one year. One page is nothing, so what are you waiting for?
E.I. Thanks again for dropping by and Good luck with your next novel.
Simone Elkeles: Thanks for letting me do this interview, it was great fun!
To learn more about Simone Elkeles, please visit her at:
Posted by E. I. Johnson at 11:48 PM