Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bad Girls Club

Today, I'm interviewing Judy Gregerson, author of the new book, "Bad Girls Club." Judy tells us about writing YA and talks about how her own experiences led to her writing about the difficult teen years:

Tell us about yourself.
I am a NY'er by birth but I landed in Seattle about 27 years ago and made it my home. I have two college-aged daughters and a very funny husband as well as a cat, a gerbil, and a dog. My background is in copy editing and copy writing, advertising, publishing, and sales/marketing. I published my first book SAVE ME! when I was 27 and then I didn't write for a long time. About ten years ago I came back to it and this time it "stuck"! I like to travel although my family tells me I'm a terrible traveler (what do they know?) and I love to go to Lake Chelan in the summer. I'm finishing up a degree in human development/social and health services in my spare time and hope to work with teens in the near future.

Tell us about your new book, "Bad Girls Club."
Bad Girls Club is the story of a teen who tries to save her mentally ill mother, her abused little sister, and her ineffective father, but ends up deserting her own life to hold the family together. It's really a roller coaster inside the mind of a girl whose life is spiraling out of control and who eventually discovers that although she's always been told that she's a bad girl, that she has value and worth.

You say on your website, "My books are all about abuse and trauma, but they're also about finding hope when there is none." Why did you choose abuse and trauma as a platform?
I was a severely traumatized child. I had two alcoholic parents and our family literally disintegrated over a period of a few years. My mother landed in a psychiatric hospital-- never to return. My brother had a very bad accident and had a serious brain injury and that was the thing that finally snapped my family apart. Having grown up in that chaos, I learned to be invisible but I also learned that I had no value. It took me many years to learn that I did. So, when I write, I always write about a teen who has fallen through the cracks because of abuse or trauma and how they get out of that and find their value and self-worth.

How hard is it to write YA, especially when it is on a difficult subject?
I don't think I'd want to write book after book about difficult subjects. It wears on you after a while because you have to get into the main character's head and live her emotions, or at least I do, in order to get them on paper. When I wrote this book, I went into trance states and became the character and it was very hard to come out of them. Sometimes it took hours, although I got better and better at shaking off the emotions. I wouldn't want to do that for years on end. There's only so much trauma I can live or relive in a lifetime.

Is it difficult to find an agent/publisher for sensitive topics for teens?
You know, I think that varies from writer to writer. I found it difficult. I had some interest in the book early on and a few editors worked on revisions with me --which isn't so unusual. Some houses that I subbed to already had books planned that were very similar to mine, and that was disappointing. Some agents told me they didn't handle books on this subject. Other's didn't get it. So, it wasn't easy.

Tell us about your writing process (do you outline, use notecards, charts?)
Usually I start with a title or a character. Or even an emotion. From there, I begin to build a story in a very organic way. I do make notes as I go, to keep track of the sequence of chapters, but I don't outline unless it's very scant and only for the purpose of remembering where I am as I go. I do character sketches early on and spend some time writing down everything I know about the character. But at some point, it all goes into my head and I work from there. The problem with outlines for me is that characters take me off in directions I hadn't planned, so I try not to plan too hard, other than a basic plot outline.

What is the most effective method of research for you?
I read books and I scour the web. I've become a dandy little researcher and I love to watch and research trends. Lately, I've been watching the trends in child abuse around the world and reading reports from major organizations. I don't know where I got this love of statistics, but I sure do love them. Generally, I find a thread that I like and follow it. I augment my research with books. For Bad Girls Club, I read many books, some written by mentally ill people, some by psychiatrists, some by therapists. I also talked to mental health professionals.

I've often seen the advice from editors that when writing YA, you must write to them, not talk down to them. How do accomplish this?
I do that by mentally becoming a teenager as I write. I remember those years very well, probably better than I'd like, and I especially remember the emotions, the fears, and the insecurities. I can remember sitting around and wondering who I was, where I belonged, who I belonged to, and where I was going. I also have two daughters who were both teenagers when I was writing this book, so I watched and listened to them.

If you had one piece of advice for a new author wanting to break into YA, what would it be?
Do not follow the market. Write what you want and what has meaning to you. If it doesn't have meaning to you, it won't have meaning to anyone else. Also, do it your way. If you only write once a week, do that. You don't have to do it by anyone else's methods.

What's next for you and where can people find your book?
I'm trying to sell a humorous YA about a teen who ends up in a trailer park after her father loses his job and sells their house. This is very disruptive to her popularity and she becomes rather excessive in dealing with being the brunt of jokes and ends up at the county mental health clinic with a therapist she's convinced is out to get her. I'm also working on another book about a teen living with her extended family after her mother drops her off at the grocery store and never returns.

People can find my book in the usual places. Amazon is always good. You can order it at any book store if they don't have it in stock.

They can also check out my website at http://www.judygregerson.com/. I have a monthly book giveaway for people who sign up for my newsletter on my website. I pick one name a month and announce it on the first. And my blog on abuse has a link there, if you're interested.

Right now, I'm getting ready for book events. I've been doing radio and you can listen to one of my radio interviews on my website. I'm working on school visits and letting many mental health organizations know that I'm available to speak to their groups. In fact, I'll speak to anyone who will listen to me. There are printable flyers on my website for anyone who is interested in my programs. There's also a bio, a sample chapter, a link to Amazon if someone wants to buy the book, and lots more.


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