Where did you get the idea for the book itself? Was any of this book actual experiences? Is there any correlation to the novel and your own life?
I wanted to write How Good It Can Be for ten years before I actually put pen to paper. A couple things in the book actually happened—a boyfriend in high school did attack me, and I was in a major car accident, though luckily WE ALL SURVIVED. The rest of the book is pure fiction.
Did you go to Berkeley?
No, I went to the University of Pittsburgh for both undergrad and grad, but I lived in California during grad school, which I completed online. Cal (Berkeley) is a stand in for Pitt; they’re both huge state schools and each have a building on campus that’s an architectural centerpiece: the Cathedral and the Campanile. Going back to grad school really revived my undergraduate memories, and I wrote the sequel book, The Love Quad, my second year of grad school.
What was the basis for the Emma character?
Emma is meant to be a blank slate. She’s an everyday girl, a little extraordinary, but someone that any reader can relate to and imagine walking in Emma’s shoes. I definitely did not write Emma after myself.
Why did you choose to make Emma so naïve?
The book is satirical. Emma is naive so we learn from her experiences.
Why did you choose to place such emphasis on the socio-economical status of the characters and their friends? What made you make high school so extravagant, ie: kids driving Porsches, et al?
To show that domestic violence permeates all levels of the social strata. And to show that there’s more to life than shallow materialism, like the freedom to follow your dreams.
Have you always enjoyed writing?
I LOVE WRITING. I try to write every other day.
Do you plan on continuing in the genre of young adult writing?
YES. Right now I’m writing the story of Emma’s cousin, Skylar, who is a librarian detective living and solving crime in San Francisco. Read more online at Librarian Detective.
Did you write this book based on a personal experience? Why did you choose this subject for the book? What is the meaning behind your writing this book? Do you have a specific attachment to this topic? Where did the inspiration for this novel come from?
Yes. My high school boyfriend assaulted me, and even though I’ve forgiven him and wish him well, the lingering effects messed up an engagement in my late 20s. All for the best, but I needed to work through complicated feelings, and writing is a creative outlet that allowed me to do that. Luckily, my experience was relatively minor, which I feel let me tell the story with less of an emotional toll. But if sharing my story encourages even one young woman to walk away from an abusive relationship, it will have been worth it.
Why did you choose to write towards a teen audience? What drew you to writing for young adults/adolescents?
I’m really young at heart. I may write in a mature voice sometimes, but can also write teen speak. I’m very bubbly and laugh a lot, which I learned to use as a defense mechanism. I tested at gifted levels in school, but not everyone can handle a female who is the full package, so I dumbed myself down sometimes to fit in. I wanted to show a character like Emma being less and accepting less on purpose, because it could have been a lonely and solitary existence if she lived to her full potential. However, she ultimately realizes that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks and how good it can be to be true to yourself.
Why did you choose to focus on Emma as opposed to Blake?
There are already so many stories about men. I’m more interested in hearing about female perspectives.
Did you plan to kill Blake when you began writing this book?
Definitely. To me, Blake symbolizes all the bad things that’ve ever happened with a guy and killing off his character felt really good. Writing How Good It Can Be gave me a fresh start.
Why did you choose to write Blake as abusive? Explain the dynamics of Blake.
Blake was abusive but he was oblivious to it. We see this more and more: the abusers are people we know, who walk among us. It’s more common than you think; it’s just that people are embarrassed and afraid to talk about it. Maybe if we talk about it more, people will be less likely to be assholes.
For you, what is the main topic or point to this novel? What made you choose to write about this topic?
Following your heart and true desires no matter what anyone else thinks of you. How Good It Can Be to be true to yourself. Loving yourself first, so you can love others more purely. Also, holding out for the right kind of love. “I’ve been holding out for love ever since I heart.”—from the song How Good It Can Be by The 88.
What makes this book different than any other teen novel?
It’s not character-driven, for one. It’s more story-driven, experience-driven. Emma’s not a heroine, she’s an anti-heroine, a lesson. Emma’s making the mistakes so you don’t have to. In The Love Quad, she realizes that bad things happen to everyone and you can’t let them affect the course of your life.
What kind of research did you have to do to write for this age group?
I’ve always read a lot of teen novels and watch teen television. Pulling out my old issues of the teen magazine Sassy helped me get into voice. AND my friend Amy Wolf had saved all the notes I wrote her in high school, and reading those REALLY helped me get back into character.
Were any of the characters inspired by real life?
Why choose to end on a negative perception versus a happily ever after?
I feel the book ends on a positive note. It IS a happily ever after for Emma.
Why a red slug bug?
VW Bugs are so cute, and ladybugs are lucky. No car accidents for Emma while she’s driving this car!
What was the point of including the parties; was there special significance?
Going to parties is such a nerve-wracking experience as a teen. Everything is amplified and the stakes are high: What will you wear, will the guy you like be there, will you talk to him, did your parents let you go to the party, or did you sneak out, etc. Parties contain so much high drama, and were such pivotal experiences in my high school career, that they couldn’t be ignored.
Why incorporate Jayne bullying at first and then becoming almost decent when Emma talked to her?
I always found that the reason I didn’t get along with some of the girls in my environment was because we were too much alike. We were the same type. But once we got to know each other, it was friendly, and there was some growth through understanding. Other women are always our allies.
THANKS FOR READING xo
Thank you to the four sections of Freshman English Composition at the University of Texas who read How Good It Can Be for Spring 2016 and provided the questions for this discussion.
Have something to ask me? Leave a comment below with your discussion question. Thanks!—Michelle