Forever a Teenager (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme: YA books (and movies, etc.) that hooked us as writers.

I have to confess that no particular YA book or movie turned me into a YA writer.

As a kid, I read everything in sight ... when not building forts in the woods or playing baseball or basketball.  I preferred Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men over Little Women.  I preferred the Hardy Boys over Nancy Drew, although I did like Nancy’s friend George.  (But I wanted to bitch-slap Nancy’s pathetic friend Bess long before bitch-slapping was a thing.  Thus, the Hardy Boys.  Plus, they were BOYS.  Hellooooo.)

As an adult, I quit reading fiction for many years while practicing law.  When I ultimately found books again, specifically on a beach on the St. Croix River one hot August day, I mostly read my sister Sheila’s romance novels.  They were handy, and I picked the ones with fast cars and/or intense action.  Then I started writing novels but kept trying to find a genre that really clicked for me.

I took an online voice class.  Everyone in the class agreed that I should write YA, because my personality is basically that of a teenager.  So I tried it out ... and loved it.  It’s as simple as that.  I became a YA writer.  Poof.
Sam and Jake: Sixteen Candles
But once you start writing YA, you can’t just rely on the fact that your brain still operates on age-17 thinking.  It’s been a while since I was actually 17.  (Five years?  Six?)  I had to read books and watch movies about teens, and there are only so many times I could watch Sixteen Candles (Jake!) and Gidget (Moondoggie!) and call it research.
Gidget and Moondoggie
I found The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot.  Meg has no idea, but she writes JUST LIKE ME.  No wonder I gobbled up almost everything she wrote!  Then Ally Carter entered the picture.  She doesn’t write exactly like me, but she gives it her best shot.  Her Gallagher Girls series, beginning with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, held me captive for years.  Action, action, action.

The Princess Diaries
I’m still as in love with sports as I was at 17, so my characters are, too.  Tera Lynn Childs came along with Oh. My. Gods., which gives new meaning to a girl being an Olympic athlete.  Honestly, it’s AMAZING how all these authors write specifically with me in mind.  Ann Brashares chipped in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and specifically soccer star Bridget.  Thank you, Ann!

Oh, and I love royalty, too.  My go-to YA books for that are by my real-life friend Nicole Burnham, writing as Niki Burnham, starting with Royally Jacked.  Like Meg Cabot’s, that voice is similar to mine, too.  When I’m writing the first draft of a book, I stay away from writers whose voices are anything like mine, but the rest of the time?  Love them to pieces!  It’s a bit like reading a book I wrote but without doing the work.

I mostly write pretty light, because I frankly don’t like darkness.  Some of the stand-alone YA books I’m working on involve tougher issues, though, so I occasionally read “tougher” books in order to put myself in that head space.  Two faves:  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  Really, really good books.

And on and on.  None of these books turned me into a YA writer, but do they inspire me as a YA writer?  Like, totally.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at


  1. A fine selection, Mary! Also, I'm right there with you in your crush on Moondoggie. I've been recapping The Time Tunnel at Time Travel Nexus and am loving James Darren's performance as a scientist lost in time--in tight pants!

    1. Thanks, Janet! And thanks for the hot tip on a new-to-me James Darren movie! Loooove him!

    2. !! A tight-pants-wearing time traveler!!

  2. Does it get much better than that? :-)


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