Which character was easiest for you to write for? Which was the most difficult?
Kristin was definitely the easiest! She was so enthusiastic and exuberant and fun that her personality practically wrote itself. Drew was the hardest because I had to walk a jagged edge between her anger, her bitterness and the cool parts of her personality that had been submerged and were just starting to resurface. Too much bitterness and readers might’ve found her unappealing; too little, and the story might’ve lacked conflict and authenticity. Hence: rewrite and rewrite after rewrite! I knew I’d nailed her character, though, when a local therapist, who specialized in working with teens, offered to write a blurb for the book. She said I handled all the psychological bits of Drew perfectly. Judging from my fan letters, my readers agree!
Do you have a favorite character, or do you not like to play favorites?
This is a hard question to answer. I become so involved in creating my characters, living with them for months as I write, that they become real people to me, almost like my children! And, of course, it’s hard to play favorites when you’re talking about your own kids. But, if I have to choose a fav from this book, it would be Patsy. I have a huge, mad, delicious crush on him! He’s soooo gorgeous. And intelligent. And funny. And… Sigh.
I’m also enamored with Kristin. She’s SO fun. I liked her so much that I ended up giving her the starring role in the next YA novel I wrote: Tease for Two. Unfortunately, that novel has never been accepted for publication.
Were any parts of the story difficult for you to write?
Yup. The scene where Drew finally unleashes her anger at, and her love for, her father was especially tough. It turned out hugely melodramatic the first few times around. So I spent a lot of time paring, distilling the words, the emotions, the pages to create a raw yet believably dramatic climax.
What was the creative process you used to create the characters?
I use the same process for every protagonist in every book I write. First, I ask myself seven crucial questions:
- What is this story about?
- Who is this story about?
- What does she want?
- Why does she want it?
- Why does she want it so badly?
- Who or what is stopping her?
- How does this affect her?
In other words, I need to know the main character’s motivations: the values, needs and desires that drive her to action. To get to that psychological, emotional and intellectual core, I dig deeply into her personality and environment by answering – in her own voice – about 50 questions I’ve created to flesh her out. Usually, I end up with answers that fill ten, twenty, thirty pages or more, typed, single-spaced!
To create the supporting characters, I answer similar questions, although I don’t dig quite as deep into their psyches unless the plot or conflict warrants it.
What are some of the questions you ask?
Things like: What makes this character laugh? Who are her best friends (or ex-friends) – and why? What makes her angry – and how does she express that anger? What is her most embarrassing moment? Her most heartbreaking? Most frightening? How did she deal with those situations? What does she like to read? Eat? Who are her parents and siblings, and what kind of relationship does she have with them? What is her clothing style, and what does this say about her? ETC.
How is writing a book aimed at teenagers/young adults different from writing one for children/preteens? What did you have to keep in mind?
Me, my brother, Scott, and my brother, John (far right)
Poipu Beach Hotel, Summer 1970
All good books – whether written for children or adults – have the same essential elements:
- A strong, fresh idea – or an old idea with a twist
- Appealing, three-dimensional characters
- Authentic dialogue
- A coherent, cohesive plot
- A grabber opening
- A kick-ass pace
- A satisfying ending
Here are a few things you need to keep in mind, though, when writing teen books versus books for children:
- Most teen readers are girls.
- There is far less humor in YA books than in middle grade or picture books. Young adults take themselves and their situations extremely seriously!
- Young adults are striving to understand themselves and others in their day-to-day world – and how they fit into that world – so book characters must do the same. Younger kids aren’t quite so introspective.
- Young adults are reaching toward independence; they are learning more about who they are as individuals as opposed to simply being extensions of their parents. So Mom and Dad (and other people of authority) must be kept in the background of these stories – unless they are part of the conflict.
- There are no real topic taboos like there are in books for younger readers. Rape, incest, murder, suicide, etc., are all topics/themes dealt with in YA novels. (Although they are not handled as graphically as they would be in an adult novel.)
- The writing style, plot and motivations can be more complex, the themes more abstract, the language more your own than in books for younger children.
- Although most teens prefer satisfying endings, that doesn’t necessarily mean happily-ever-afters. There can be more open-ended endings.
- The villains may be less clear-cut. Young adults have better moral judgment and more developed critical thinking skills, so they’re better at figuring out for themselves what is right or wrong when given the facts.
Was this your first published romance-genre story?
Nope! Corey’s Fire has been called a ‘romance’ by some reviewers. (There’s a romance in it, although that’s not the driving force behind the protagonist.) But my first true YA romance novel was Alley Cat, published in 1987 by Silhouette, Harlequin’s teen imprint. Actually, I don’t consider Alley Cat or Don’t Look Back ‘romances’. To me, Don't Look Back is more a story about Drew dealing with her resentment and anger and hurt at being abandoned by her father, as opposed to experiencing her first love. (Although the former has repercussions felt in the latter.)
What was the first romantic story you ever wrote? (Yes, short little drabbles written when you were much, much younger count!)
In junior high, I wrote a lot of poetry that oozed teen romance angst. Sappy, wretched stuff. Lots of woe-is-me, unrequited love. But I didn’t write an actual story with a romantic-theme until I was 24. (No, it was never published.)
Why did you decide to end the story on somewhat of a loose end?
I didn’t know I did! But if it’s true, I probably did it unconsciously, knowing that my teen readers would be intelligent enough to fit the puzzle pieces together . . .
Was Don’t Look Back your original title?
No! I titled the original manuscript To Walk a Jagged Edge
because of how Drew describes her feelings of anxiety, her fear of heights and her feelings about entering a romantic relationship. I changed the title to Fear of Falling – which is my favorite title for this book – when I sold the novel to the editor that I had the, uh, disagreement with. After I canceled that contract, I changed the title back to To Walk a Jagged Edge, but my editor at Avon/Flare thought it was too long. I suggested changing it to Jagged Edge, but we discovered there was already another novel with that title. My next suggestion was Don’t Look Down, referring to Drew’s fear of heights. Again, my editor nixed my idea. “It sounds like you’re telling people not to be condescending,” she said. The publisher’s marketing department chose Don’t Look Back, which I’ve always disliked – mainly because it’s the opposite of the point I was trying to make in the story: that Drew couldn’t move on with her life until she dealt with the problems of the past.
Don’t Look Back is currently out of print. However, if you would like to purchase an autographed copy in hardcover or paperback, please email Lee by clicking on the Contact Me icon.
Are you a teen whose parents are separating or divorced? Then check out these sites:
Dealing with Divorce: A Guide for Teens
Dealing with Divorce
Center for Young Women’s Health
Dealing with Divorce and Separation: A Guide for Teens
Kiahuna Plantation Resort
Poipu Shores Vacation Rental (My brother's condo!)
Kauai Visitors Bureau
The Garden Isle Newspaper
The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook
If you would like to order a personally-autographed copy of this title, please write to Lee by clicking on the Contact Me icon.