Author Interview: Samantha Van Leer

off_the_pageHave you ever wished you could live in a different place? A different world? How about inside your favorite book? This is precisely the concept behind Between the Lines, a fantasy novel co-written by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer. However, this is not just a lighthearted fairy tale; readers quickly learn that “happily ever after” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Off the Page – a companion novel to Between the Lines – will be available soon in bookstores everywhere. I was given the opportunity to ask Samantha Van Leer about her experiences and goals as a teen author.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I ever formally decided I wanted to be a writer. When I was little I used to tell my mom I wanted to be like her when I grew up, but since my childhood I have named many other jobs I aspired to have. However, I have been writing poetry and short stories for as long as I can remember. I think I was just born with writing in my blood and somehow found myself in the career of a writer. I still don’t even consider myself an author. I feel like a really lucky girl who has somehow managed to get a lot of awesome people to read her work.

What draws you to the fantasy/fairy-tale genre?
I’ve always loved the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tales because they aren’t the sanitized Disney versions – they are brutal and dark. The idea of a fairy tale filled with so much suffering and strife makes the concept of “happily ever after” that much more desirable and that much more incredible if it is attained. I try to reflect that in my books. I don’t want my characters to just be given their happily ever after; I really want them to earn it.

How do you balance writing with school and other activities of being a teen?
That is a very good question. It isn’t easy. This year I’ve managed to jump out of classes into cars to go to New York City for an interview, or a meeting at Random House, or a photo shoot, and then drive back to school that night to be up and ready for my 9 a.m. class the next day.
My sanity comes from amazing friends and a meticulously mapped-out schedule. I feel like I can get anything done if I plan out every second of my week. As long as I stick to the schedule, nothing can go wrong! My friends are incredibly supportive and loving. They’re great at getting me out into the happy college zone after a long week of work.

What do you consider to be the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest part of writing is actually sitting down and writing. I could name 500 other things I could do at any given moment instead of writing, but I have to ignore them and take the time to focus and simply write. My mom always says, “You can edit a bad page; you can’t edit a blank one.” It’s true. It’s better to work with a total mess than to have a wordless page at the end of the day.

How does having an acclaimed author as a mom give you a unique perspective into the life of a writer?
I think I’ve gotten to see how informal the writing process can be. It’s not as if authors sit in their business clothes, in their fancy offices, typing out their novels till their fingertips burn off.
The truth is that authors wear their pajamas. They write between watching episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” And when they’re stuck, they eat candy and stare into space. It’s not a beautiful job. It creates a beautiful thing, but by no means do you look great doing it.
I also learned that publishing means a lot more than just the writing of the book. There is so much that goes on to promote it – from interviews to Q&As like this one – so that readers actually know your book has hit the shelves.
Writing isn’t just about sitting down and typing. It involves the planning that makes a great story, and it involves the promotion that gets that story read.
Writing books together is a very collaborative process. How did you and your mother divide up responsibilities?
We honestly split the work 50/50. We sat beside each other for eight hours a day, writing. We would talk back and forth while my mom typed. She might say a sentence, and then I would jump in with the next one. Sometimes we said the same exact sentence at the same time, which was both awesome and totally creepy.

Who is your favorite author?
I think the queen of teen-girl YA is Sarah Dessen. She just gets all those dramatic teen-girl feelings and perfectly bottles them into a single book.

Which character’s point of view did you enjoy writing from the most?
I loved writing scenes that involved Seraphima. She is a hilarious spin on the classic Disney princess. She was born and bred royal, but she has no actual skills to keep herself alive on her own. As for the three main narrative voices, I liked writing Oliver the most. It was really fun to imagine what trouble he’d get into in the real world.

Were any of the characters ­inspired by actual people?
Some. The science teacher, Mrs. Brown, was inspired by one of my teachers in high school who also had an addiction to self-tanning. Many of the names of the characters in our story are also pulled from reality: Delilah is named after one of my donkeys; Oliver is named after one of my dogs. And Mr. Elyk, the math teacher, is named after my brother Kyle, who is also a math teacher.

What advice do you have for aspiring teen writers?
Finish your work, even if you get bored by it. One of the hardest things in writing is getting to the end of your story, poem, etc. Even if you have other ideas popping up in your head, you should try to finish the piece you’re already working on, or else you’ll end up with a hundred half-told stories.

This piece is also available on and has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine. Come meet Samantha Van Leer and Jodi Picoult in Mission Viejo this Saturday, May 23rd, when they speak about their latest book… Prince Oliver will be there too! More details here.

Event Recap: Jeff Kinney Author Visit

Jeff_greg-620x620The Mission Viejo Library hosts many awesome events and book signings. Last year, I went to a book signing with the author Jeff Kinney.

Jeff Kinney visited Mission Viejo to debut Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck. This is the eighth book in the wildly popular series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck is about a middle school kid named Greg Heffley, who has lately been running into some bad luck. His challenges in middle school are hard to solve, so an unsure Greg turns to a Magic 8 Ball for help. Will this solve all of his problems, or only make his troubles worse? Find out about the ups and downs of Greg’s life in Jeff Kinney’s newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book.

At the event, instead of running into “hard luck,” I came across good luck. I had the fantastic opportunity to ask Jeff Kinney a few questions. Read below to find out his answers and see if you have the same favorites as he does.

Q: What is your favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid book?

A: Right now “Hard Luck,” because it’s stuck in my head, but my all time favorite is the first book.

Q: What’s your favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie?

A: The first one.

Q: Which character are you the most like?

A: The bad side of me is most like Greg.

It was amazing to have the chance to meet and interview one of my favorite authors. At the event, they also had hilarious Diary of a Wimpy Kid games and fortunes. It was a blast!

To find out about other cool activities hosted by the Mission Viejo Library, go to their website at I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what new authors and events will be here this year! Please take a moment to post a comment, and list your favorite Jeff Kinney book, and movie, and which character you are the most like!

-Alaina K., 6th grade

Never Give Up: An Interview with Author Christina Baker Kline

kline“Never give up” is what Christina Baker Kline advises those of us who are aspiring writers. “[And] to be sure to also have a [backup] skill, doing something that you really like . . . Before I could make a living as a writer I also knew that I could be an editor or a teacher… [Writing a book] takes a long time and you aren’t earning that much money from your writing so you need something else to do that you really like. So for me that’s editing and teaching. For me those things are also a very nice complement to writing because it involves both.”

As a guest of Mission Viejo Library, Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, came to speak at the Council Chamber last month.  I had the privilege of meeting her in person and attending her interesting historic presentation on orphan trains.  Although Orphan Train cannot be classified as historical fiction because the story switches back and forth from the present to the past, Mrs. Kline says her novel is factually accurate except for one small detail:  A horticulturist informed the novelist that there is no such thing as a pink crocus!

orphan_trainFor those who may not be aware, orphan trains were part of American history from 1854 through 1929 and affected as many as 200,000 to 250,000 children.  Because these orphan train riders often thought they were “the only ones” and because they felt ashamed of their past, they just didn’t talk about this part of their lives.  Even Mrs. Kline’s husband didn’t know his own grandfather had been one of these orphan train riders!  But now as more and more families are doing genealogy studies, this history is coming out.  Soon, we will all come to know about this important part of our country’s history.

Much like her book subject, Mrs. Kline is a very interesting person.  Born in Cambridge, England, she moved to America in her youth, living in the South and on the East Coast.  She obtained her BA in English at Yale, her MA in Literature at Cambridge University, and her MFA at the University of Virginia!  Mrs. Kline has worked as a personal chef, caterer, an editor, a published author of nonfiction and fiction, and a university teacher.  Along the way, she met and married David Kline and together, they are raising their three boys. Amazingly, Mrs. Kline apologized for not having her hair styled for the presentation because she had been climbing up to the Hollywood sign that morning!

As you can see, Mrs. Kline is a very accomplished woman. I can’t wait to read her book Orphan Train!  (Please be advised that Christina Baker Kline cautions young readers about page 150 as it contains mature content.)

-Danielle L., 6th grade

Author Interview with Lauren Oliver

teen_bloggersLauren Oliver, author of the New York Times bestelling Delirium series, visited the Mission Viejo Library earlier this year to discuss the finale to her spellbinding dystopian trilogy, Requiem.

Two members of the Teen Blog Team, Mariah and Sonya, sat down with Lauren to chat about her writing, what it was like to wrap up the Delirium series, and what she’s working on next.

Listen to the interview!

File hosting courtesy of Intro music by Ukulele Jim

Author Interview: Chad Williams

chadwilliams Author and former Navy SEAL, Chad Williams, visited Mission Viejo in March, and two members of the Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice took the initiative to interview him about his Navy SEAL experiences and the faith journey he shares in his memoir, Seal of God.

Q: Why do you believe that being a Navy SEAL always stood out to you?

A: “Being a Navy SEAL stood out to me because I saw it as the most difficult military training in the world. In my mind, it really was top of the mountain and I see being a Navy SEAL as being a part of the most elite. And that was something I wanted to aim for. I didn’t want to be just mediocre- I wanted to do something really big.”

Q: How did you feel when you were working the gun when your team was ambushed capturing the terrorist in Iraq?

A: “My initial thought was, ‘Wow, this is for real. If I get hit by one of these bullets that are coming at me, it’s not like a training exercise where you are just going to feel a sting from a simulation round. But these bullets are real, and could take an arm off, and in a split second I could be standing before God all of sudden.’ I  do remember thinking about some of the other SEALs that were on the ground, getting shot at, hoping ‘I hope that none of these guys get hit, because I know where I’m going when I die, but for some of them it is kind of uncertain.'”

Q: What are your feelings now toward your team-members of Team 1 who ostracized you?

A: “I have nothing but love for those guys; nothing but forgiveness is what I feel towards them. If  I saw one of them, I’d go running up to them on the street, and just tell them, ‘Hey man, I love you guys and no hard feelings,’ and I would want to share the gospel with them.”

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