TB: Your books are about up-to-the-minute topics. How do you keep tapped into today’s teen world?
PB: I’m the mom of two pretty incredible sons and they keep me well immersed in trends. But my youngest will turn 20 soon and I’m afraid my wellspring of ideas will dry up now that I have no teenagers “on tap”—so to speak!
I also read a lot of YA and sometimes, a character in one story and a conflict from another start firing synapses and I’ve got a new idea to play with.
TB: Some authors create a playlist for their books. What is on your playlist?
PB: I’m working on my 2015 release, Nothing Left to Burn. It’s about a teen whose dad blames him for the crash that killed his brother. Losing his brother and now, in a different sense, his father, is driving this kid to make some rash decisions. The song “Say Something, I’m Giving Up On You” is one I play on repeat when I write scenes between these two characters. There’s one line, “You’re the one that I love and I’m saying goodbye” that sums up this story so well, it hurts.
When I was writing Send, a story about a former bully scarred by the suicide he caused, I kind of got hooked on hard rock. A band called Skillet has a song called “Monster” that helped me really get inside my main character’s head. He talks to a hallucination of himself at age 13, the age when he committed his crime. He both loves and hates this version of himself so yeah. Monster. :) Of course, Shinedown’s “Bully” is on my playlist. And while I was writing Some Boys, I came to hate, with every cell of my body, the song “Blurred Lines.”
TB: You’re quite prolific despite having a day job. Do you have a writing schedule, goals, etc.?
PB: Oh, yes. I force myself to write every day, no matter how tired or sick I may feel. I don’t have a schedule unless I’m on a deadline. For example, Some Boys was contracted in July with a delivery date of October so I knew I had to write a lot of words per day to honor that commitment.
As for goals, I am a big believer in setting stretch goals. I wanted to get published and I did. Next, I wanted to write a controversial book and I did. I’m working on an idea to convert Send into a school play, so I’m learning how to write in that format now. It is the hardest thing I’ve done so far!
TB: Although your first novel, Penalty Killer, hasn’t been published, I’m intrigued that an English teacher took it upon herself to red-pen it! Do you have plans to work on it for publication?
PB: Penalty Killer was my one attempt at writing mystery. Sadly, of my young readers (most of my son’s seventh grade class at the time) figured out “whodunit” by the third chapter so I figured I’d better give that up.
TB: How do you like being with an independent publisher? Do you feel more involved with the process than people published with the Big Five usually are?
PB: The team at Sourcebooks is incredible. I had some misgivings with the Send cover—I wasn’t a big fan of the split title treatment—but they told me that the purpose of a cover is make people STOP. If a book cover can get someone to stop, it’ll probably get them to buy. This point was made clear to me during a recent book signing at a New Jersey BAM store. The store set up a table for me right at the entrance. People coming through the door STOPPED (see? It worked!) picked up the book and said, “Oh, it’s called Send.” Four people who never heard of me or the book bought it because the cover grabbed them.
I’ve since learned to trust the Sourcebooks team and adore working with my editor, Aubrey.
TB: Teens are notoriously a difficult audience for authors doing school visits. What works with them, in your experience?
PB: I’ve done a few school visits and it’s funny—teens are one of two extremes: the group that would rather have root canal than sit through your presentation or the group that’s so thrilled you’re here, they’re going to talk your ear off about ALL. THE. THINGS.
For the talkers, I tap one as my assistant and ask her or him to write things on the white board, pass out swag, advance my slides, etc. For the non-talkers, I try to direct questions straight at one or two of them, put them on the spot to get them to engage. When they do, I thank them for their insight and keep referring back to that person’s comment throughout the rest of my talk, to reinforce that gratitude. I’ve found that once one of the non-talker kids participates, it’s like unspoken permission was just granted to the rest of the group and now I’ve got the majority of the class involved.
I will let you in on a secret and please, be careful with this. . . . During one presentation, I slipped up and let a swear word fly. The class loved it. It wasn’t a terrible word. I think I said “shit” but boy, did that wake up those kids! The teacher told me after class that my error made the students understand I’m a real person, not some hired actor.