FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions + My Answers = Helpfully divided into sections!

General Questions
Questions About Writing
Questions regarding Extraordinary Means
Questions regarding The Beginning of Everything
Questions about School and Library Visits
Questions about Bookstore And Conference/Festival Visits
Questions about YouTube
Industry Questions

General Questions — If you are doing a school report on me, this section is YOUR JAM

Q. Where were you born?

A. Miami, Florida. However, I have never lived in Miami, Florida. My parents were staying in a hotel. Clearly I didn’t like the hotel very much. Either that or I liked the hotel rather a lot and wanted to order room service. Yes, that is probably it.

Q. When were you born?

A. May 5, 1986.

 Q. Where do you live?

A. Currently, I live in Los Angeles, California. I’ve also lived in New York City, Brooklyn, London, Philadelphia, and Orange County, California.

 Q. Where did you go to school?

A. Northwood High School in Irvine, California (I know…suspiciously similar to Eastwood High. I get that a lot). Then, Barnard College of Columbia University. Then, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Q. What did you study?

A. As an undergrad, I majored in English with a concentration in creative writing, and pre-med, which was not a course of study so much as a course of torture. As a graduate student, I studied bioethics, which means that instead of learning how to perform surgery, I studied the history, philosophy and law of medicine. I have an MBE, or master of bioethics.

Q. I’m confused. You’re a doctor?

A. No, I’m a bioethicist. You know how Sherlock Holmes studied medicine but never intended to practice medicine? I mostly did that. Oh, and I also studied Sherlock Holmes. And medical narratives. And, like, 18th century insane asylums and stuff.

Q.  Do you have any siblings? Pets? Husbands? Children?

A. No no no. I have a fiance who refuses to take cute instagrams of me, so what even is the point? Kidding. He’s great. He’s a film producer/ executive, and probably this is not in your book report.

Q. Are you a full-time writer?

A. Yes. I write books and, occasionally, scripts. I also–rarely– make videos for Youtube, which is not a job so much as an excellent form of procrastination.

Questions about writing (which might also help with that book report you’re working on):

Q.  Where do you get your ideas?

A. My brain loves to come up with weird hypothetical questions, like, ‘what if you waited your whole life to experience some terrible tragedy only to have it be the best thing that ever happened to you?’ or ‘what if some mostly-extinct disease became an epidemic again?’ For any of the questions that I think are interesting enough, I start to imagine the people those things might happen to, and what their lives might be like, and suddenly I have an idea for a novel.

Q. What is your writing process?

A. I am incredibly bad at keeping a routine, although I do try to keep to the general routine of getting dressed, leaving the house, and writing somewhere until my laptop battery runs out. I also start at the beginning and write until I get to the end, as opposed to skipping around. There’s a lot of crying involved. And a lot of Spotify playlists on repeat.

Q. How do you deal with writers block?

A. If I wind up at a place in my story that feels off, and like there’s nowhere to go, that usually means I made a wrong turn. So I go backwards until I find the last possible point where I can confidently say “all of this is good,” and then I go forward differently from there.

Q. How long does it take you to write a book?

A. It takes me a long time to think about the book. Years. And usually I have a few false starts where I’m writing something that resembles the book but has the wrong main character, or the right main character but the wrong plot. Once I start writing the actual, real book, it can take anywhere from four months to a year.

Q. Are you currently working on a book?

Yes. My publisher would throw me in the stocks if I wasn’t. I am also working on other exciting things which are more script shaped than book shaped and, well, you shall see.

Q. How did you get a literary agent?

A. I emailed literary agents.

Q. How did you get a publisher?

A. My agent emailed publishers. Or maybe she called them? Anyway, it was all BY THE BOOK, no special treatment or family friends or oh hey, my next door neighbor happens to be an editor and saw me writing through her window and now we’re like a ridiculous sitcom duo.

Q. Do you have any advice for young writers who want to get published?

A. My advice for young writers is to write a practice novel or two. Learn how to pace a book, learn what your personal themes are, what it is you write about, and how you write about it, and what your weaknesses are. Then write another book, which will be easier. Evaluate your novels based not on whether they’re good enough to be published, but on whether you’ll still be proud of them in two or three or four years. The rate at which you improve as a writer when you’re young is astonishing. Then set out to land your dream agent, not just any agent. Someone you’d be lucky to work with after you have a couple books to your name. Someone who will guide your career, not just show your book to a couple of assistant editors. Read everything you can about the industry, in a way that makes you more educated about it, as opposed to jealous or discouraged. And remember that social media is a distraction, not a party.


Questions regarding Extraordinary Means

Q. What is this book about?

A. It’s a love story set at a tuberculosis sanatorium for teens.

Q. So I take it this book isn’t a sequel to The Beginning of Everything?

A. No, it’s a stand alone novel.

Q. Is it about a real disease?

A. No. Well, yes. It’s about a fictional strain of a real disease. It’s completely fantasy, it just doesn’t read like a fantasy novel because it’s me writing, so obviously it’s this sobby teen metaphor-driven coming of age thing, but trust me, it isn’t at all a realistic scenario, and if you would like to read an academic type explanation of what things in the book are real vs. invented, there’s a handy authors note in the back of every copy which should help you out (with your school paper).

Q. What genre is this novel?

A. I’d call it contemporary realistic dystopian. As in, it’s a modern-day story that takes place in a world very much like our own (instagram, Game of Thrones, Starbucks) except for the existence of a made-up infectious disease. Which means that there are laws and policies and general fears that don’t exist in our world, but probably would if this disease really existed.

Q. How did you come up with the names of your characters? Do they have special meaning, or did you just pick them out because they sounded nice?

A. Lane’s name is indicative of his tendency to stick on a prescribed path. Sadie’s name, both first and last, sound like tenses. Present and past. Sadie Bennett. Also literally the word die is in her name, oh yeah, I am super subtle. Nick’s full name, Nikhil, sounds like “heal” or get better. Latham House is named after a famous tuberculosis researcher, Dr. Arthur Latham.


Questions regarding The Beginning of Everything  (aka Severed Heads, Broken Hearts if you’re in the UK)

Q. Is there any chance of a TBoE movie ever happening?

A. Um. So. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say about this, but yes there is a movie in development.

Q. Why are there two titles? It is the same book but it has two titles and whatttt?

A. The US title is The Beginning of Everything. The UK title is Severed Heads, Broken Hearts.

Q. Why?

A. Why is Carl’s Jr called Carl’s Jr in California, but Hardee’s in every other freaking state in the US? It just is.

Q. Okayyyy. So, where can I buy it?

From your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or anywhere books are sold. There are paperbacks and hardcovers and ebooks and audiobooks. Go forth, and please, don’t pirate. Libraries, not websites, are where the free books live.

Q. Why did you feel the need to tell this story, and do you know someone who went through a similar accident?

A. I knew that I needed to write a story about growing up in the suburbs and how it feels to realize that you’re not going to become the person you’d always imagined. I struggled with how to do this until a few years ago, when something terrible happened to a friend of mine while we were on spring break. Our friendship never quite recovered from his personal tragedy, and I eventually realized that so many stories lead up to the disaster and never begin in the aftermath.

Q. As a female author, what made you want to write from a male perspective, and is it difficult?

People are always surprised, when they meet me, that I wrote a book from a boy’s perspective, but the truth is, I wrote a book that was so emotionally autobiographical that I had to force myself to fictionalize it somehow. I was never a star athlete, but I know what it’s like to question the ideas everyone else seems to have about your future. I was never the victim of a hit and run accident, but I know what it’s like when your friends disappoint you. And I never had a mysterious girl break my heart, but I’ve been that girl, and it made me realize just how wrong I was when I wrote about it from the perspective of the lovelorn boy. So I suppose writing from the male perspective isn’t any more difficult than writing from the female perspective. We’re all just stories in the end, and stories don’t have genders.

Q. Are you more like Ezra or Cassidy?

A. Ezra’s inner monologue is very much my own. I like to joke that we have the same soul but different stories. I’m always disappointed when people see Cassidy in me, as she’s a girl whom it’s never wise to be: a cautionary tale masquerading as a person.

Q. I’m from Irvine, and is Eastwood actually Irvine?

A. Yes, Eastwood is a fictionalized version of a town called Irvine, California, where I lived for six years as a teenager, and where, if you were to go looking, you might find a castle park, some geocaches, a Lee’s Sandwiches, and quite a lot of dreary suburbia.

 Q. You reference Vampire Weekend a lot in the book and your main character is called Ezra so basically what is up with that and are you a big fan of the band or something?

I’m getting this question with increasing frequency these days. So here is what you need to know. I went to college with Vampire Weekend. They played in the living rooms of frat row, and they weren’t famous, they were just a really awesome campus band. Most writers are notorious name-borrowers, and I am no exception. For a couple of months in the spring of my junior year, I dated a boy whose cousin was in this campus band. The boy I was dating got upset over a short story I’d written in creative writing class, about a medical student convinced his cadaver was his high school English teacher. The main character was called Ezra. “You can’t use that name,” he said, “because you know my cousin is named Ezra.” I rolled my eyes and asked what other names were “off limits.” He gave me a long list, and I told him that was the stupidest rule I’d ever heard, and the next novel I wrote would have a narrator named Ezra. It’s a strange coincidence, I think, that the three people involved in this dumb college argument became a novelist, a rock star, and a political reporter, but there you have it.

Q. How did you come up with the names of your characters? Do they have special meaning, or did you just pick them out because they sounded nice?

A. I answered the Ezra question above, but regarding the rest of it- Faulkner because William Faulkner wrote about a fictitious place based on where he grew up, and because it’s a last name that doesn’t at all match the idea of a golden boy jock, and I liked the idea of a disconnect between who you thought a boy with a literary last name would be, and who Ezra was for a long time. Cassidy’s last name, Thorpe, means Hamlet. Do with that what you will. Phoebe is the kid sister of the group, a Catcher In The Rye reference. The town is Eastwood, like East Egg from Gatsby. Those are really the important ones.

Q. I just finished your book and I thought it was really amazing but I was just wondering if you think there is a way to get out of the panopticon besides death?

A. Life. Living also gets you out of the panopticon, albeit more slowly. It’s the difference between taking the local route, and taking the express.

Q. Why did you change some franchise names but leave others? For example, you left the HP franchise as it was, but changed the names of some video game series?

A. Good catch- Quite a lot of things in TBoE are made up. The town. The floating movie theater. Most of the slang they use. When Ezra mentions Harry Potter, he’s talking about something that was a big part of his childhood, and I wanted it to resonate with readers’ own experiences. When he mentions a game he’s playing on his phone, it doesn’t really matter what the game is.

Q. Did you ever consider putting in an Ezra and therapist conversation in the book?

A. There are quite a lot of things that Ezra chooses to narrate around, rather than through. Things that he finds embarrassing, or painful. He downplays his physical limitations and avoids discussing them. He also avoids specifics in sex scenes. A therapist conversation, like a lot of the hospital scenes, are not in the book because they’re not part of the narrative as Ezra chose to tell it.

Q. There’s just one thing that I don’t quite understand well enough. Cassidy’s brother’s story, the fact that he didn’t want to go to med school. I don’t quite understand what the purpose of that story was .I mean I get that it explains how they’re both on different sides of the same tragic coin but I’m seventeen too and my parents are keen on me going to med school and I am probably going to go so I can’t help wondering.

A. Yes, there is a significance to Owen’s story. He did what everyone expected him to, what everyone else wanted, and wound up not only miserable but also terrified to be himself. So that is the meaning in the story, but since you are also asking personally, I’ll tell you that I studied medicine, and I think in the next few years, if you continue to go down that path, you’ll realize that it’s one of sacrifice, that it’s harder than it needs to be, that you will try to fix broken people within a broken system, and that for some people it is not worth it. For some people, it breaks them.

Q. I don’t live in the US, Canada, or the UK. Where else is your book available?

A. Foreign language editions of the book are available in many countries including Spain, Brazil, France, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Serbia, and possibly a few other places I might have missed. It’s also available in the Philippines in an English language edition.

Questions about School and Library Visits

Q. Will you visit my school or library?

A. I’d love to. Your teacher or other in-chargeish person needs to arrange it, so please let them know that you would like me to visit and have them get in touch.

Q. I am a librarian/teacher/etc. How can I schedule a visit?

A. Please drop me a note through my contact form.

Q. Do you charge a speaker fee?

A. Yes, my rates as of 2015 are $1,000 for a full day including multiple presentations, classroom visits and book signing, $800 for a half-day, such as two morning presentations or a presentation plus signing, or a smaller honorarium that we can arrange personally, provided there is limited or no funding and the students have purchased copies of my book. If you would like for me to visit outside of the Los Angeles or northern Orange County area, you will also need to pay for travel, food, and accommodations. You are welcome to partner with another school or library in your area and split the cost of travel.

Q. Will you also do Skype visits?

A. Yes. If you are a book club or library group that has read my book, I can offer a limited amount of free 15 minute Skype sessions. If you would like to arrange a Skype classroom visit, the cost is $150. For either option, please use my contact form.

Q. Is there a reading guide for The Beginning of Everything?

A. Yes. My publisher made a book club guide, which you can find here.

Questions about Bookstore And Conference/Festival Visits

Q. Will you do bookstore visits?

A. Yes. I am happy to do a solo visit, a visit in conversation, or a panel. I am also happy to moderate a panel or interview another writer at their event local to Los Angeles/North Orange County. My social media reach is around 30,000 and previous events have had good turnout. Please contact my publisher to arrange.

Q. Will you speak at conferences?

A. Yes. I am happy to keynote, host workshops, or otherwise speak at your event. Please contact my publisher, or me directly, to arrange. Travel and accommodations will need to be provided. My keynote fee is $1200 for a small conference <5,000 attendees, $1500 for a large conference.

Q. Will you come to a book/online video/geek culture festival?

A. Yes. I am happy to join the lineup of guests at any book, online video, or geek culture festival. I am willing to speak on a panel, moderate a panel, do a main stage event, a signing, or a meetup.  Travel and accommodations will need to be provided. Please contact me directly to arrange.

Q. What conferences have you been a guest or panelist at previously?

A. BEA, SDCC, NYCC, Playlist Live, Aeternitas, Gallifrey One, ABA, DBF, Lunacon, Central Coast Writers, and others.


Questions about YouTube

 Q. How did you get started on youtube?

A. I’d been watching youtube videos since way back when people thought LonelyGirl15 was real, but I was quite terrified to make any. Finally, I just got tired of everyone else having all the fun and decided to join in. Also, I’d just moved from London to Philadelphia, and I hadn’t really made any friends yet.

Q. What equipment do you use to make your videos?

A. A Canon 60D with an EF-S 15-85mm lens or Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens. I edit in Premiere.

Q. Why do you make beauty/fashion videos?

A. I’d noticed a lack of beauty, fashion and lifestyle videos geared toward nerd girls, or girls who were just as likely to spend their allowance on a new book as a new nail polish. I wanted to create the sort of internet space I wished I had when I was younger and unsure whether or not it was okay to like lip gloss as much as I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

Industry Questions

Q. Has the Beginning of Everything been optioned?

A. Yes.

Q. Has Extraordinary Means been optioned?

A. No. Rights are with Paradigm, info is on my contact page.

Q. Do you blurb?

A. Very, very rarely. For traditionally published YA authors, have your agent or editor contact my agent. Please don’t contact me directly, or have your rep contact me directly, I swear I won’t reply, it will get buried, and I’ll feel like a terrible human.

Q. Do you have other un-optioned properties?

A. Yes. An hour-long genre TV pilot entitled Glamoured. The rights reside with Paradigm, where I am repped separately as a television and film writer.