Frequently Asked Questions + My Answers = Helpfully divided into sections!
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 and Writing For Television and Film
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 a little too much and wanted to order room service. Yes, that’s 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, Philadelphia, London, England, 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. 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. Technically, I have a medical degree: it’s just a masters, not a doctorate.
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 18th century insane asylums and stuff.
Q. Do you have any siblings? Pets? Husbands? Children?
A. No, no, yes, no. I have a husband who refuses to take cute instagrams of me, so what even is the point? Kidding. He’s great. He’s a film and TV producer, and probably this is not in your book report.
Q. Are you a full-time writer?
A. Yes. I write books and, occasionally, scripts.
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?’ or ‘what someone realized they had supernatural powers, but got to grow up relatively normal instead of having to save the world at sixteen?’ 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. Moan about how hard writing is all over social media, write ten pages and throw out nine, rinse, repeat. I either write at home (*cough* in bed) or at a coffee shop, which is DEPRESSING in Los Angeles, because almost every cafe is full of smug bros all banging away at their semi-autobiographical screenplays and inviting everyone they meet to come check out their improv shows. So whenever I can’t take it anymore, I do this thing where I buy a very cheap flight to, like, Paris and move into an AirBnB for a week and write in a fancy 18th century library. I do this a lot. It’s usually Paris, but it’s also been London, Athens, and Carcassonne. There’s something really magical about escaping to a different city and navigating the way my brain processes speaking a foreign language, and how that impacts my storytelling. Also, I can’t exactly procrastinate by watching Netflix or checking my email (wrong time zone), or reorganizing my makeup drawer when I’m in a fancy library in Paris. So what usually happens is I’ll write 80 pages in a week, and then I’ll come home and try to keep the momentum going.
As for how I write instead of just where, I start at the beginning and write until I get to the end, as opposed to skipping around within the story. I outline, loosely, and follow the outline as best I can. I also start each day by reading over and editing what I wrote the day before.
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 a while ago. 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. The problem is usually much further back than I think, and is usually a moment when there needed to be conflict, but I just glossed right past it with nothing going wrong, which of course made bigger things go wrong.
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. What are you working on now?
Watching less Netflix and eating less pizza. But, if you meant in terms of writing, I’m working on my next YA novel.
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 friends of the family or online contests or hashtags or whatever it is kids are doing these days.
Q. Do you have any advice for young writers who want to get published?
A. 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 and better. It’s a hard truth, but you won’t be able to write that easier, better book without having written the first one.
Also, 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. And you only get one shot to be a debut writer, so wanting to have a book published by the time you’re X years old is the kind of goal that will do your career a huge disservice. 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. Celebrate other writers’ success and lift up other writers at all levels, not just those who are at the same point or further along in their careers as you are. And remember that social media is a distraction, not a party.
Q. What is this book about?
A. It’s a love story set at a modern day tuberculosis sanatorium for teens in the last days before the cure.
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’d like to read an academic explanation of what things in the book are real vs. made up, there’s a handy author’s note in 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 one thing: the existence of an incurable and 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. I’ve also heard this described as alternate timeline fiction, or “set ten minutes in the future.”
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. His last name means ‘of roses’ which I chose to show that he’s flushed or feverish. Sadie’s name, both first and last, is basically the most obvious metaphor of all the obvious metaphors. I mean, the word ‘die’ is in her first name, and her last name is past tense. (I am many things, but subtle isn’t one of them). Nick’s full name, Nikhil, sounds like “heal” or get better. Latham House is named after a famous tuberculosis researcher, Dr. Arthur Latham.
Q. Why does Extraordinary Means have two narrators?
A. My favorite thing about the book is something that readers might not even notice: the two narrators don’t tell exactly the same story. Lane tells a coming of age story, which begins the moment he arrives at Latham House and ends when he leaves. His narrative is removed and introspective. And Sadie tells a love story. Her narrative begins the day she first sees Lane, more than a year after she’s arrived at Latham House, and it ends after the question of whether or not they want to be together has been answered. So her narrative is more in the moment, and closer to the story. I think writing it that way helped me to understand which parts of the story belonged to which characters.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from Extraordinary Means?
A. Lane and Sadie are characters who grapple with what exactly counts as living one’s life. For each of them, their TB symbolizes a deeper issue. Lane arrives at Latham House so exhausted from his rigorous coursework that he has become literally consumed by it. Sadie has internalized all of her fears and, instead of taking action, has become afraid of living. But theirs isn’t a story of what it means to be sick so much as a story about how it feels to be an outsider. It’s a story about second chances, and how easily we could miss them. So what I hope readers will find in Extraordinary Means is a story of what it means to have hope that you’ll figure out your place in the world, and that you’ll be strong enough to get there.
Q. Is there any chance of a TBoE movie ever happening?
A. Yes, I hope so. We’re very close! The movie is in development with BCDF Pictures. We have a screenplay, which THEY LET ME WRITE, OMG, and an amazing director, and two ridiculously perfect actors cast as Ezra and Cassidy, which we can’t announce yet, and I post updates about the movie ALL THE TIME on my Instagram. You can literally see the director and me eating tacos, and what I’ve been told are some very suspicious stories of me hanging out with certain actors, which OKAY. I just happen to have lots of friends who are actors and are much younger than me, and who could hypothetically be in this movie. But there’s a rational explanation! We’re in a BOOK CLUB together. This is a real thing. Also, just in case you think you can figure this out by process of elimination, I have PURPOSEFULLY followed actors on instagram who are not in the movie just to throw you off! Not that there’s definitely going to be a movie. But we are all crossing our fingers really hard right now.
Q. Hold on, you’re actually involved with the movie?! I thought authors, um, didn’t do that?
A. Yeah, I’m actually involved with the movie, and yep, that’s not normal. Pretty much what happened is this: I also write for TV and film (these projects almost always fall apart before they film, ugh), and the guys at BCDF read some of my scripts and then hired me to adapt my own book. So I’m also the screenwriter of the Beginning of Everything movie. The screenwriter is the lowest-ranked person when it comes to decision-making, FYI. I’m actually floored they’re letting me participate so much, and I’m trying to share as much as I can on social media because this process is just as mystifying to readers as it is to writers, usually, so I’m hoping it’s a helpful and entertaining look behind the scenes.
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.
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 this book?
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 (Columbia University) 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 people involved in this dumb college argument wound up in the public spotlight, 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 game.
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.
Q. Will you visit my school or library?
A. Sure! 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 2019 are $1,500 for a full day including multiple presentations, classroom visits and book signing, $950 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 each year. If you would like to arrange a longer chat or Skype classroom visit, the cost is $250. 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. 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 $2000 for a small conference <5,000 attendees, $2500 for a large conference. I will also consider a smaller honorarium that we can arrange personally, provided there is little funding for your event and that copies of my books will be available for purchase.
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, LA Times Festival of Books, Yallwest, Decatur Book Festival, Lumos, Aeternitas, Gallifrey One, Lunacon, Central Coast Writers, and others.
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. Why 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.
Q. Why don’t you make videos anymore? You used to make a lot of them and then you kinda stopped and never explained.
A. In 2012-2013, when I made the bulk of my youtube content, it was after I sold a TV show to an online multi-channel network that wanted to get into the scripted space, but mostly managed Youtube talent. They asked me to make lots of beauty and fashion videos while my show was in development. The idea was to grow my subscriber base by collaborating with their talent as though I was on-camera talent, instead of a showrunner. I agreed.
The show, which was called Watson, was a premium digital series pitched as a feminist, college-set retelling of Sherlock Holmes, and I was told it was a Sure Thing. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.) After writing the entire first season with only a $1,000 option payment, our budget got pulled, and we never got to shoot a single episode. None of my writers were paid for their work, myself included. Even worse, the network now owned my Youtube channels, so they got paid from ad sales for every video I made. Which meant that not only had I written six half-hour episodes that no one would ever see (for free), every time I put content online, the people who owed me thousands of dollars were MAKING MONEY. So I stopped making content because the whole situation sucked, and it wasn’t fair, and even worse, I couldn’t really talk about it online because they owned the show.
Q. Ugh. That sucks. So are you still writing scripts?
A. Yes. Thankfully, after selling and writing Watson, I was offered representation as a TV and film writer at CAA. Since then, I’ve gone on to sell a screenplay and to pitch a number of original TV shows. So technically I’m a working screenwriter as well as a novelist.
Q. Have the film rights to the Beginning of Everything been optioned?
Q. Have the film rights to Extraordinary Means been optioned?
Q. Have the film rights to Invisible Ghosts been optioned?
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 any available properties?
A. Yes. Film and TV rights to my next YA novel, as well as a few original TV scripts. The rights reside with CAA, where I am repped separately as a screenwriter. You’ll probably want to visit my contact page.