This interview originally ran in April of 2011. Trauma Queen was a 2011 Cybils nominee, a Bookalicious Best Tween Novel of 2011, and a Story Snoops Top Ten for Tweens pick.
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Today we are stepping inside the workspace of Barbara Dee, author of the middle grade novels Solving Zoe, This is Me From Now On, and Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life. Her latest novel, Trauma Queen, was published this month by Alladin M!X:
“Every tween girl knows what it’s like to have a mom who can be a little embarrasing at times. But for Marigold, it goes way beyond embarrassing. Marigold’s single mom is a performance artist, meaning she stages dramatic, wacky performances to express her personal beliefs. Things like wrapping herself in saran wrap for a piece on plastic surgery, or inviting people over in the middle of the night to videotape her sleeping. In fact, Marigold’s mom’s performances caused such a ruckus in their last town that the two of them, along with Marigold’s little sister, have just had
to move. Now Marigold’s starting a new school, missing her best friend like crazy, and trying to fit in all over again in the shadow of a mom who’s famous for all the wrong reasons. As if that’s not bad enough, Marigold’s mom takes on a new job–teaching drama at Marigold’s school! Now all the kids know instantly just how weird her mom is, and Marigold’s worried she’ll never be able to have a friendship that can survive her mother.”
Describe your workspace.
Controlled chaos. I have a small computer desk in my bedroom overflowing with books, folders, writing pads, more books, gum wrappers, post-its, scraps, and assorted pens. Every once in awhile I get it organized, but then I can’t find anything.
Describe a typical workday.
Get kids off to school, go on treadmill, shower, answer emails, write until kids come home, talk to kids, run errands, write a little more (maybe), make supper, answer more emails, make supper for husband, watch TV, crash. I’m not much of a sleeper, so I’m always hoping for a few solid REM cycles.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
On the wall I’m facing as I write there’s a poster titled “Westchester Writes for Kids—2006–07.” A local library had gathered many of the kid lit authors and illustrators who live around here, and had us pose for a group photo. My first book, Just Another Day in my Insanely Real Life, had just been published, and it amazed me to find myself posing with people like Dan Greenburg, Jean Van Leeuwen, Peter Sis, and Jerry Pinckney. Whenever I feel discouraged, I like to look at this poster because it reminds me just how lucky I am.
I also like to look at a photo of my kids when they were little. And I’m very attached to my Yankee Stadium mouse pad, because I’m very attached to the New York Yankees.
What do you listen to while you work?
The sound of my two cats purring.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
I chew a lot of sugarless spearmint gum, occasionally getting something fruity into the rotation. I also drink a lot of herbal tea—green tea with mint, peach passionfruit, mango chamomile. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I eat cookies. They have to be chocolate, or they don’t work.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
I try to ignore the phone. It’s so hard, because friends know I’m usually at home during the day, and sometimes they want to chat. But once I start chatting on the phone, I lose focus, so I try to be strict about my work hours.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I can only write on a computer, because I’m a big fan of the “delete” button! If I wrote longhand, all the erasures and insertions would make the manuscript unreadable.
I wish I was one of those authors who use an outline, but I’m not. I’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t work for me—I end up fleshing out the outline so much that it stops being an outline. What feels best is just letting the story take me where it wants to go. There’s something very liberating about that approach—when it works. When it doesn’t, it’s so incredibly inefficient.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
My wonderful editor, Liesa Abrams. She has a great sense of humor, so I’d be able to ask her if things work. Also, she has an amazing collection of Batman paraphernalia, which I wouldn’t mind adding to all the stuff on my desk.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
Don’t write what you KNOW. Write what you FEEL.