NEED HELP NOW? 1800-448-3000
RSS

ReachOut Blog


Interview: Meg Haston, Author of ‘How to Rock Braces and Glasses’

by RO_Meredith Books, Interviews

This week, we caught up with author Meg Haston to discuss her latest book, How to Rock Braces and Glasses, making it through middle school and the key to giving good advice as host of gURL.com video series "How to Deal."

We'll also be giving away a free copy of the book to the first three people to leave a comment on the ReachOut website about a trial or triumph from middle school. You must be in the US to receive a book and please use a real email address when you register to comment (we will not distribute or use for marketing purposes). Good luck RO fans!

What inspired you to write "How to Rock Braces and Glasses!"?

Meg Haston: Everyone’s middle and high school experiences are different, but the one universal truth is this: we will all, at some point, feel insecure. When our queen bee protagonist Kacey Simon has to get braces and glasses and no longer looks perfect on the outside, we start to see the insecurities she feels on the inside. I loved the idea of writing about a girl who seems to live a perfect, charmed existence—and showing that even that girl has times when she feels like a major geek.

How much, if any, of the story was drawn from personal experience?

Meg Haston:The story isn’t autobiographical—I was never the most popular in school and I hope I never treated anyone the way Kacey treats people at the start of the book—but I can absolutely relate with the insecurities she feels when she gets braces and glasses. I had both, but I definitely didn’t rock them!

In the book, you explore how "queen bee" Kacey copes after falling in the ranks of her middle school hierarchy. What message do you hope tween and teen readers will take away from Kacey's story?

Meg Haston: I hope that readers will see that how we treat others truly matters—when Kacey falls from grace, she’s forced to take a look at the ways in which she’s been really hurtful to the people around her. And I hope that readers will take away the message that being able to rock anything—braces, glasses, whatever—comes from having inner confidence and believing in yourself.

Can you tell us a little about your upcoming gURL.com web series "How to Deal"? What made you decide to take the leap from writing about an advice columnist to dispensing genuinely helpful insights to teens? What type of topics will you be tackling and how do you develop your responses?

Meg Haston: I’m SO pumped about my upcoming “How to Deal” video series with gURL.com. My background is as a mental health therapist, so shooting these advice videos for gURL feels like an awesome way to dispense some really helpful advice to teens in a cool way.

I’ll be tackling issues that most of us have faced at some point—from how to deal with pushy parents to how to deal with unavailable crushes. When I sit down to develop my responses, I think about what I would say to a girl coming to me as a therapy client with any of these issues. My responses will include a mixture of what I’ve learned and experienced as a therapist, and what I’ve experienced as a teenager dealing with some of these same concerns.

"How to Rock Braces and Glasses!" is also being adapted as a TV show on Nickelodeon. Are you involved? Did you have any specific requests for howthe story and/or characters were translated to the screen?

Meg Haston: Yes! The Nickelodeon show How to Rock will air on Saturday, February 4th at 8:30 PM. I’ve seen the pilot episode and it seriously rocks! My role is as the author of the books, so I’m not involved with the television side of things. But it’s beyond exciting to see these characters that I spent so much time with as I wrote the book come to life on the screen.

As you know, ReachOut is all about helping young people get through a tough time. What helped you get through a tough time as a teen?

Meg Haston: I think the number one thing that has helped me through tough times, both as a teen and as an adult, are the strong relationships I have with family and friends. We’re social creatures—we’re not meant to go through difficult times on our own. When we’re struggling, it’s okay to reach out. It can be tough to ask for help, but having a safe, validating support system is so important.

About Meg Haston:

Meg Haston survived braces and glasses in middle school; whether she rocked them is debatable. She did go on to rock other things, including but not limited to: slap bracelets, a B.S. in Communication Studies from Northwestern University, and an M.Ed. in Professional Counseling from the University of Georgia. HOW TO ROCK BRACES AND GLASSES is her first novel,and she's currently at work on a sequel, coming in Fall 2012. She lives in Jacksonville, FL.

ReachOut Reads Interview: David Stahler, Author of ‘Spinning Out’

by RO_Meredith Books, Interviews

Today's Reach Out Reads exclusive interview is with author David Stahler, talking about struggling with the onset of mental illness. Don't forget to read David's bio at the end!

Your new novel, Spinning Out, depicts a teen’s gradual decline in mental health despite having involved parents and a promising future. What do you hope your readers will take away from this young man’s story?

David Stahler: I’m reluctant to say there’s a particular message I want readers to take away from this novel. It’s really about chronicling a breakdown from the perspective of someone who isn’t experiencing it himself but is closely connected to one who is. In other words, it’s more about telling a story than trying to impart a “lesson.” Life is complicated, and these kinds of situations can be very tricky. There isn’t always one right or wrong approach. That said, what I think what most characterizes Frenchy’s situation is the importance of not giving up on someone who is struggling under the weight of mental illness or to just hope that someone else will do something about it. This is especially true for young people, who may feel powerless in the face of something so new and unsettling, or who may believe that it’s not their place to act. In terms of Stewart, his parents may be “involved,” but there are different levels of involvement. They’re obsessed with getting him into a good school but don’t want to deal with anything that deviates from their perception of their “perfect” son. I’ve seen it plenty in my own life both personally and professionally (as a teacher), and I think we sometime overestimate how often these situations occur. Denial—it ain’t just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes.

Frenchy, the protagonist of Spinning Out, offers support for his struggling friend while facing a number of setbacks in his own life, including poverty and the death of his father. How is he able to endure so much for his friend without having a mental breakdown of his own?

David: Again, as a high school teacher, I encounter young people who are dealing with incredibly horrible things. Some of the stuff just blows my mind. How can they endure and be as functional as they are? Just as we overestimate how on the ball adults sometimes are, I think we also tend to underestimate how resilient young people can be in the face of life’s pain. But we shouldn’t—it’s one of the hallmarks of our species. We’re survivors. The other thing I would add is that there’s an important distinction between Frenchy’s situation and Stewart’s. Stewart is suffering from a mental illness that has a physiological basis. One of the things that frustrates me about our culture is that we tend to forget that many—if not most—cases of mental illness have a biological component. As a result, we end up stigmatizing people who are struggling from this “invisible” disease, which complicates treatment and causes many to suffer more than they should ever have to.

Spinning Out is a story about friendship just as much as it is about mental illness, as Stewart and Frenchy lean on each other for support through many difficult trials. What inspired you to tell the story from this angle?

David: I originally designed this novel as a sort of retelling of the Quixote tale. I was fascinated with the idea of writing a novel based on a musical that was itself based on another novel. The musical, of course, also has a split dimension to it, morphing between the story of a fictional version of Cervantes and his real-life creation. Of course, the Quixote tale is all about perception and reality—or rather detachment from reality—which fit quite nicely with this idea. It was all very meta and cool, like a house of mirrors. The point being, I didn’t set out to write a “buddy” novel or an issues novel. But one of the great things about writing novels as opposed to other forms is that they often take on lives of their own. As this story took off, my interest in my original purpose (which was probably too clever by half) gave way to the characters I’d created and their very real struggles. This isn’t to say the Quixote tale still isn’t at the heart of this. One of the things that I always found touching about Cervante’s novel is the way in which Sancho Panza cares for Don Quixote. He knows, at least on some level, that his friend is delusional, but he still sticks by him and looks after him. Where Don Quixote (or Man of La Mancha) doesn’t work for me is the way in which it tends to romanticize mental illness, even suggesting that on some level the problem is with society. Even Sancho at times plays along with his master’s fantasies. It’s an interesting notion from an artistic or philosophical perspective, but in practical, real-life terms, it’s dangerous and becomes its own form of denial. At the end of the day, Stewart, like Quixote, is ill and needs help. And that’s why his friendship with Frenchy is so important. Mental illness or not, life is too hard to make it on your own. Sometimes it only takes one person to get you through—someone who understands you, who accepts you, who will stick by you no matter what, and maybe even get you to do the things you don’t have the strength to do on your own. Frenchy’s got to be Sancho to Stewart’s Don, but he also has to be more. He can’t just humor him or even accept him—he has to step up and help him. In this way, I wanted Spinning Out to be both an homage and a kind of critique of the traditional Quixote story.

As a young adult writer and a high school teacher, you must spend a good amount of time looking back on your teen years. How much of your early experiences do you bring into your novels?

David: I don’t actually spend that much time looking back on my teenage years. Not on purpose, anyway. When you spend all day working with teenagers, their consciousness is enough. Teens live intense lives. Their feelings, thoughts, and passions are raw and right out there for everyone to see. It’s a rollercoaster time when everything is new and you stumble around and screw up a lot. We’re all pathetic in our own way, but teens are especially pathetic for this reason. I know I certainly was when I was a teen. And it’s okay! You have to have a lot of compassion to teach high school and even write YA fiction. You have to be willing to remember you were just as messed up at that age and cut your students and characters just as much slack as you now (hopefully) cut yourself. The kids are alright!

ReachOut is all about helping teens get through tough times. What helped you get through a tough time when you were a teen?

David: I’m almost embarrassed to say that I led a pretty boring life as a teen. I was fortunate to come from a home with two parents who loved and supported me unconditionally. I was the oldest so, as is often the case with the oldest child, they were pretty strict. As a result, I walked the straight and narrow through most of high school. It was actually in my first year of college that I went through a bit of a depression, being away from home, trying to figure out where I was going. I was eighteen, and it sort of overwhelmed me and caught me off guard. What got me through was the knowledge of my family’s love and a basic stubbornness to persevere. I would like to add, though, that as an adult, I went through a difficult patch and sought counseling. It is a wonderful and empowering experience to be able to talk through your feelings with an objective, professional counselor. You don’t have to be undergoing a life-changing crisis or in the throes of mental illness to seek help. I think it’s especially vital for teens to seek out an objective adult who can help provide perspective and offer ways to deal with life’s many challenges. We have a couple very capable counselors in my school who helped me with this story, and I’m continuously amazed at the work they do with our students. They are making a difference!

About David: David Stahler Jr. received his bachelor's degree in English from Middlebury College in 1994 and later earned a graduate degree from the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Dartmouth College. His other provocative works for young adults include Truesight, The Seer, and Otherspace. He teaches in Vermont, where he lives with his wife and two children.

ReachOut Reads Interview: Courtney Summers, Author of ‘Some Girls Are’

by RO_Meredith Books, Interviews

As part of our ReachOut Reads campaign for May (did you know it's mental health awareness month?), Courtney Summer, whose book, Some Girls Are, is on our ReachOut Reads reading list, answered some of our questions about her work. We will be giving away three copies of Some Girls Are to the first three people to leave a comment with your own tips for overcoming bullying. Don't miss our ReachOut Reads live chats with many of your favorite authors in May and ask them your own questions! You can also find out more about Courtney at the end of the post.

In Some Girls Are, the protagonist Regina is pushed out of her inner-circle of friends and makes a bold and impressive move by becoming friends with Michael, a school outcast who she also used to bully. What do you think it takes for someone like Regina to make such a difficult change and take ownership for her actions?

Courtney Summers: I think becoming friends with Michael was more an act of desperation for Regina, which isn't so much bold and impressive as it is, well, desperate. But I think Regina eventually opening herself up to the possibility of friendship with Michael, to wanting to be friends with him, and her sincere desire to make up for the way she treated him was courageous. I think it takes a certain level of self-awareness and bravery for someone like Regina to take ownership of her actions. It's extremely difficult to admit when we've treated people badly.

The story of Some Girls Are is centered on the mean-girl phenomenon that is common to most high school and middle school settings. What attracted you to this topic, and what have you learned about girl-bullying in the process of writing this novel?

Courtney: As someone who bullied and was bullied, I spent a lot of time trying to understand what I and so many other girls have, unfortunately, gone through. If anything, writing Some Girls Are really reminded me that girl-bullying is something we need to continue to confront and be vocal about. Regina feels unable to seek outside help for what she's going through, which I think is a very common response to this kind of situation. I think it's so important that girls in similar situations know they can seek intervention before things get really out of hand, as they do in my book.

You chose an unconventional path to education and career success. In previous interviews, you describe your decision to leave high school as the key to your happiness and sanity. How has your perspective on high school changed over time, and what advice would you give to your younger self today?

Courtney: I am not sure my perspective on high school has changed all that much since I left it, to be honest! I'm still so glad I chose to pursue my education independently and I wouldn't change that for the world. If I could, I'd remind my younger self not to forget to breathe every now and then.

In previous interviews, you have commented on the permanence of the wounds that we experience in high school from the bullying of peers. What parts of your own experience helped you connect with the characters of “Some Girls Are?”

Courtney: I'd almost say Some Girls Are helped me connect with my experiences rather than the opposite, as odd as that might sound! I had to channel my personal history with girl-bullying to make sure the book was emotionally honest, but more than that, I had to use the characters to look outside of my experiences and make sure that each of them was presented three dimensionally, no matter what they had done; I wanted to make sure they were understood even if they weren't always likeable. I think (and hope!) that a character like Kara is an example of this. She ruins Regina, but this is a response to being ruined by Regina. It doesn't make what she does to Regina okay at all--it's definitely not okay--but I hope their complicated relationship makes her more than just a stock villain.

What is the most inspiring or moving piece of feedback you’ve received from a reader of “Some Girls Are?”

Courtney: I was told that a reader was able to open up to a loved one about how they were being bullied at school. They had suffered in silence for a long time, but Some Girls Are gave them the courage to speak up. That was very gratifying to hear.

 

Courtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. She has two parents and one older sister. She went to school for a while and then she didn’t. Before she was an author, she dabbled in photography, theatre–as both an actor and Vice President of her local theatre guild–and worked for her family’s lapidary business. Consequently, she used to know a lot about gems and minerals but has since forgotten it all. Mostly. Bio via courtneysummers.ca

Interview: Deb Caletti, Author of ‘Stay’

by RO_Meredith Books, Interviews

Deb Calletti joins us this week for an exclusive interview about her new book Stay, how she relates to her own characters, and how writing out her bad experiences helps both her readers and herself. You can read an exclusive excerpt from the book here (.pdf). Once again, we are giving away 10 free copies of the book to the first 10 people to leave a comment about their most intense romantic relationship. Candidates must be in the US to receive a copy and please use a real email address (

In your latest book, Stay, the main character Clara has an intense relationship with someone, realizing later that they are not a good couple. Sounds pretty exciting! But, really, why do you think it can be hard to tell the difference between healthy interest and dangerous obsession in a relationship?

Deb Caletti: There are a lot of reasons it can be hard to tell.  Our own needs – for excitement or approval or connection (or a million other things) - can make it tricky to view the situation clearly.   We might see red flags, but not want to see.  “Love” can feel so good that we do whatever we can to explain away the danger signs.  Sometimes, too, we don’t know what the danger signs are.  We don’t necessarily understand what to watch out for.  Getting involved quickly, intensity, possessiveness, jealousy - these are things that might not seem like a big deal unless you are aware that they are indicators of serious trouble ahead.  Mostly, though?   I think our own need and desire for the relationship gets in the way of hearing that self protective voice we all have.  The one that’s saying, “Hey, wait.  There’s something wrong here.”   Gotta listen to that voice!   

What are some of the favorite things you like about the characters, like Clara, that you write about in your books? Do you ever identify with them?

Deb: I probably like and dislike things about all of my characters, which hopefully makes them feel more like real people.  I like how Clara loves books and how she tries hard to be honest (even about being dishonest).  I like her father’s big personality and sense of humor, and I like their relationship together.  Definitely, I identify with my characters.  I more than identify with them; I am them, in some way, small or large.  Each and every character comes from me and is a part of me, whether I’ve shared their exact experiences or not.  As a writer, I believe it’s that very identification which makes readers relate to your characters.  If I like them and care about them and feel for them, I think it helps my readers do the same.    

As a young adult fiction writer, you must think about your childhood a lot. What is one of your favorite memories from when you were a teen?

Deb: It’s funny, but I’m not sure that I do think about my childhood a lot.  More, I think about the feelings and situations we all share no matter what our age – being scared, and falling in love, and dealing with change, and getting it wrong or getting it right.  The human being stuff.  As far as being a teen, though – one of my favorite memories is of a really ordinary moment.  I was walking home from my high school, and it was that great time in the spring when there are only a few more weeks left before school gets out.  I had stopped by to watch my boyfriend’s baseball practice, and now I was just walking home, and the air smelled so great, and summer was near, and there was that great sound of a ball being hit by a metal bat off in the distance.  I just felt happy, and hopeful for the future.  I was by myself, a block or so from home, and it was all very usual and very every day, but life right then seemed so simple and good.  I thought, “I hope I always remember this.”  And I have.   Even now, those are my favorite times.  Nothing big and dramatic, just the small moments when things are peaceful and right. 

In another book, "the Queen of Everything," you write about a teen caught in the middle of her parent's possible break-up. In what ways does the character manage these difficulties at home? Do you have any advice for young people who are going through the same thing in real life?

Deb: Jordan, in “The Queen of Everything,” is not only dealing with her parents’ divorce, but with her father’s intense involvement with another woman, an involvement that leads to tragedy.   How does she manage all this?  Not very well, at least not at first.  She gets into trouble herself, in part because she feels so lost, and in part because she’s hoping her father will wake up and act like the parent she needs.  But finally, the way she really manages, is by seeking out solid people, people who give her support and rest and a sense of home.  My advice for young people going through this or anything else that’s hard is to find those solid people and that support, too.  Tell someone what’s going on.  Tell lots of people.  Be brave and do it.  Get support from family or friends or teachers or a professional, because you are not alone, even if it feels that way.  You’re not.  And remember – no matter what it is, how bad it seems, it will pass.  Believe me on this.   

You can find many stories about lots of tough times on ReachOut.com, and people are often sharing their experiences to help others through it. Do you ever feel that by writing about difficult issues you are helping some of your readers through their own tough times?

Deb: I get letters from readers who tell me that my writing has helped them, and it means a lot to me.  The funny thing is, writing out my bad experiences helps me, too!  As I said, we’re not alone, and it can be so reassuring (and powerful) to know that.  Whatever we are going through, no matter how dark - other people have gone through it, too, and they’ve come out the other side.  Writing, reading, and sharing our struggles can remind us of that, and can remind us, too, of how strong we all can be.  Books, reading the experiences of others – I can’t tell you how important that’s been to me personally in times of crisis.  In other people’s stories, I’ve found a sense of being understood, and I’ve found compassion, and sometimes I’ve even found solutions.  I’ve found comfort at 3am.  If a reader can find that in my own books, if my own bad experiences can help someone know they are not alone – I am one, happy writer.  smiley

Picture of Deb Caletti <http://debcaletti.com/>Deb Caletti bio

Deb Caletti is the award-winning author of The Queen of Everything; Honey, Baby, Sweetheart; and The Nature of Jade; among others. In addition to being a National Book Award finalist, Deb’s work has gained other distinguished recognition, including the PNBA Best Book Award, the Washington State Book Award, and School Library Journal’s Best Book award, as well as finalist citations for the California Young Reader Medal and the PEN USA Literary Award. She lives with her family in Seattle. You can visit her at debcaletti.com and become a fan on Facebook.

 

 

Interview: Siobhan Vivian, Author Of ‘Not That Kind Of Girl’

by RO_Meredith Books

Cover of
In the 2nd installment of our author interview series, we caught up with YA writer Siobhan Vivian about her new book Not That Kind of Girl. Natalie, the main character, is a 17 year old “Type A” student, has just been elected student council president and doesn’t need boys. Her perfectly controlled life gets more complicated when she falls for a “bad boy” and is confronted with making decisions about her own romance and sex life. Once again, we are giving away three free copies of the book to the first three people to leave a comment on this post! What “Mean Girls” did for girl bullying, Not That Kind of Girl does for girls’ empowerment—check out what Siobhan had to say about peer pressure, the feeling of losing control, and how she relates to the characters she writes about.

Your most recent books, Same Difference, A Little Friendly Advice and Not That Kind of Girl, tackle resistance to peer pressure and non-conformity as major themes to your stories. What early experiences shaped your decision to write about these topics?

Siobhan Vivian: Peer pressure was definitely my biggest struggle as a teen. On a daily basis, I would be put in situations where I had to decide what kind of person I wanted to be, and then try to summon up the courage to actually follow through. That was probably the hardest part…knowing better, but not feeling strong enough to act. It was a constant battle, and one I think lots of teens can relate to.

In Not That Kind of Girl, Natalie tries to create success in all areas of her life and becomes frustrated by her lack of control.  What role do you think the desire for control plays in the lives of today’s youth?

Siobhan: I think the desire for control is at the heart of nearly all conflict. Today’s youth have more autonomy than ever before. They have more creative outlets, more places to express themselves and their opinions, and more of an audience listening and reacting to them. All that is so awesome and positive. But I do think that can also make those uncontrollable situations and people harder for teens to deal with.

Towards the end of Not That Kind of Girl Natalie begins to embrace the unpredictability of life and let go of her perfectionist mentality.  How is she able to make such a transformation?

Siobhan: Natalie is forced to come to terms with her lack of control because she’s made such a huge mess of things, and there’s no way she can fix everything that she’s broken. So really, she has no other choice but to accept her circumstances and the behaviors of the people around her and work from there.

Reviewers have commented on the authenticity of your characters in Not That Kind of Girl?  How do you approach character development?  Are any characters in your novel based on people you know or have known in the past?

Siobhan: Character is always the hardest part of writing for me. At the start of each chapter, I pick one or two honest emotions to hang all the action on. And then I try to put myself (or a version of myself) into the scene and think hard about how that experience would affect someone. It’s honestly the hardest, most exhausting part of writing. I can remember writing the scene where Natalie is sitting next to Mike Domski and he’s saying all these terrible things to her. I was crying while I typed. But that was also a signal to me that I was hitting the right tones, and that the meat of the scene would ring true.

Which character in Not That Kind of Girl do you believe you are most like?

Siobhan: I am totally Spencer. I’m wild, reckless, impatient, and I don’t really think things though before I spring into action. It’s funny, but I think those are simultaneously my best and worst qualities as a person. : )

About Siobhan Vivian

Portrait of Siobhan Vivian(Via siobhanvivian.com) Born in New York City on January 12, 1979 . . . which might sound like a long time ago, but really isn’t. She grew up in Rutherford, NJ, where she got into trouble for such things as constantly talking out of turn, bringing a stray dog into school in a stolen shopping cart, passing notes to her friends, telling jokes, sneaking out, and not doing her homework. She attended The University of the Arts, where she graduated with a degree in Writing for Film and Television. She received her MFA in Creative Writing: Children’s Literature from The New School University. She has worked as an editor of several New York Times best-selling novels at Alloy Entertainment, a scriptwriter for The Disney Channel, and she currently teaches Writing Youth Literature at the University of Pittsburgh. She likes: going shopping on the day after Christmas, manicures, chocolate egg creams, public transportation, and writing letters to her friends on her vintage typewriter.

« Older Posts