Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bookshelf: Welcome to Micol Ostow!

Micol Ostow is half Puerto Rican, half Jewish, half student, half writer, half chocolate, half peanut butter. When she is under deadline, she is often half asleep. She believes that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts except in the case of Chubby Hubby ice cream. She lives in New York City where she reads, runs, and drinks way too much coffee. -

INN: You have written many books for teens, spanning diverse topics: from high school politics in Popular Vote to the Simon Pulse romantic comedies like Crush du Jour and 30 Guys in 30 Days and even ethnic heritage in Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa. What inspires you to write about such different scenarios?

MO: Hmm...when you put it that way--maybe I just have a short attention span! Ha! Seriously, though, I have always had a broad range of interests and I love to read all kinds of books-- from chick lit, to thrillers, to literary fiction, and I think my writing reflects that. I'm very, very lucky that I have editors who encourage me to stretch and explore all of my areas of interest. And each project teaches me something new about myself. "Emily" was heavily based on my own experiences getting to know my Puerto Rican family, and I think it was a story that I always had inside of me. My graphic novel project due out this summer, "So Punk Rock," talks about life in a Jewish day school.

And of course, with "Bradford," I'm able to access my love of pop culture and the whole extended online community. The hardest part is balancing all of my deadlines and occasionally having to switch back and forth between projects very quickly--that can result in a bit of split personality and can be crazy-making. The truth is that not all of my readers will respond to all of my books. But if I keep publishing (knock wood) across a broad range of genres and topics, hopefully, there will be a Micol Ostow book out there for everyone.
INN: Have you always wanted to write books? If so, how is your present career different or similar to what you imagined?

MO: I have always, always, always wanted to write books. My summer camp bunkmates and I used to create the back cover copy to the Sweet Valley novels we were going to write when we grew up (okay, dork alert. You've got me. But hey--I knew where my talents lay). That being said, I never DREAMED that one day people would actually pay me to write the type of books that I love to read, and therefore, I took a very sensible job as a YA book editor when I graduated college. I loved that job (true story: I was an editor at Simon Pulse, which is just one of the many reasons why I adore publishing with them now--they're like family to me), and had no plans of leaving to write. But people knew that I was interested in writing and some opportunities came up, and literally, one thing led to another...

Eventually, I realized that I wouldn't be able to give 100% to my editing and 100% to my writing, so for now, at least, the writing has won out. But we'll see what the future holds. I guess you could say that my present is different than what I imagined in that I honestly never dreamed I would be able to do exactly what I've always wanted to do. I'm a lucky lucky girl.
INN: Your new series The Bradford Novels releases its first title, GoldenGirl, this January. What would you like to tell readers about this series?

MO: GoldenGirl and Bradford follow in the well-trod tradition of private school "mean girl lit," but I like to think that several things really set it apart. Firstly, I *hope* that the voice is one that readers will find distinct, funny, tongue-in-cheek, unique, etc.,etc., etc. But what is especially awesome about Bradford--and what really drew me to the project from the start--is the entire online "experience" that it offers to readers. I don't believe there's been anything like this in YA publishing yet. Sure, we've had dedicated websites for books and series, and Facebook accounts and that sort of thing.

But offers you a huge network, and a chance to really experience the stories and the characters from new perspectives once you've actually finished with the books. You can read about the series, yeah, but you can also email the characters, visit their profile pages, follow them on twitter, and read new blogs in real time (one character, for instance, is a fashion designer, and you can bet she'll have a lot of opinions come Oscar night). You might find a tertiary character in the books whose online blog reveals an entire subplot involving a clique you were only peripherally aware of. And you can check out the websites of many of the locations we've created in the books.

So basically everything you'll find online is meant to enhance and build on your experience of reading the books, as opposed to merely supplementing it. Teens--and writers!--are more plugged in than ever, and I think it will be very exciting to see how we react to a book series that responds to the ways in which we express ourselves and communicate today.
INN: What is it like writing a series, as opposed to individual novels?

MO: The self-employed businesswoman in me will tell you that it's comforting to know you've got three titles slated for the upcoming year. But the truth is that the process of writing a book is much more ephemeral than most people realize. For instance, the first draft of the graphic novel project I mentioned, "So Punk Rock," was turned in to my editor literally a year ago, and won't be out until July. There's a lot of downtime in between projects for a writer. So what I love about a series is the chance to spend more time with my characters, as opposed to merely sending the manuscript off to my editor and saying goodbye for, if not forever, at least a good chunk of time.

I feel more grounded and in turn feel like I have a chance to get to know my characters and watch them grow and evolve. And of course, with Bradford, there's *always* something going on--if we're not working on the book, then my editors and I are creating online content, thinking about web design, plotting out story arcs...I'm always knee-deep in Bradford and I like the feeling of working on something solid and all-consuming that way. It helps me to combat that split personality that I mentioned above that comes from having my hands in lots of different projects at any given time.
INN: As a huge Grace Kelly fan, I'm guessing that Spencer Grace Kelly's name is not an accident (if so, a wonderful coincidence!) Why did you choose to connect the glamorous icon with the main character in GoldenGirl?

MO: Not an accident at all! She is meant to be a distant relative of Grace Kelly's (who was originally from Philadelphia, and therefore a local icon). Grace Kelly is the epitome of style and, as you say, glamour, that we associate not only with the series, but also with Spencer, who is by all accounts the "Grace Kelly" (that is, the golden girl) of Bradford Prep.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

MO: The best advice--and what seemed to work for me--is to read everything you can get your hands on, and to keep writing. Writing isn't about being published (though that's always fun too)--it's about sitting your butt in your chair and *writing.* It's harder than it sounds, but it's worth it!... THANKS!

INN: Thank you so much!


nadine said...

Great advice. Writing can get pretty tough, but I love that feeling of accomplishment once I'm done.

Thanks for the interview

Amy said...

awesome interview. i hope i my library gets this book...