As much as I love Terra’s young adult books, I did a happy dance when I learned that her next book would be for middle-grade readers. So I was thrilled to talk to Terra about writing for a younger audience, friendship, road trips, and, of course, Drive Me Crazy.
JA: After writing so many wonderful YA books, what made you decide to try middle-grade?
TEM: I’ve wanted to write middle grade for a long time, in part because books were especially vital to me during that phase of my life. I also thought switching things up a bit would help me continue to grow as a writer. Prior to now, all the stories I had in my head were aimed toward teenagers, but finally the right project came up at the right time!
JA: How is the process of crafting a middle-grade voice different from a YA voice? Did your research differ in any way?
TEM: For me the biggest difference is there’s definitely far less self-analysis in middle grade. When Lana is scared, she’s just scared—she doesn’t have a big monologue with herself about why. If Cassie’s angry, she’s angry, and she doesn’t try to rationalize or justify it. Also, there’s far less romantic turmoil, and that was admittedly refreshing.
Since this is for slightly younger readers though, I also needed to make the stops and activities lively and kid-friendly. This wasn’t something I was used to thinking about, but once I got used to it, was a lot of fun. I researched actual places in California that might be interesting (Hearst Castle, for example), but had fun making up things like a musical-themed restaurant, too!
JA: What inspired this particular story? Which character came to you first?
There was a lot that inspired Drive Me Crazy, but three relationships in particular get the most credit. Very first is the connection I have with my editor, best friend, and writing collaborator, Anica Rissi. Every novel I’ve done, including this one, stems from some conversation (probably multiple conversations) we’ve had. Drive Me Crazy specifically emerged from a talk about middle grade books, and what my writing one might look like. Anica told me a horribly embarrassing story from her own history about a girl who’s diary had been found and read aloud on the bus, and that seemed too good a tale not to be used somehow. Luckily she was sweet and generous enough to let me run with something that came from her actual life, and we went on from there.
There were other relationships we thought I could work with too, including the close one I have with my cousin Meg. There’s a special bond you have, being cousins, and I wanted to explore that, at least a little. Similarly, I had history to till with my oldest and dearest friend, whom I met when we were in second grade. In middle school we went our separate ways for awhile (quite awhile—until our senior year, really), because she wanted to be a certain way and I wanted to be another. Though Cassie and Lana are quite different than we were, the tension between girls going through changes at that age was interesting to me. Luckily I knew from experience that it can be worked out, and was interested in traversing a similar arc in a book.
The characters all began as initial descriptions or ideas, and then evolved slowly, but I think the one who emerged as her own person first was Grandma Tess. She’s so feisty and unpredictable—a lot of fun to write!
JA: Lana and Cassie are very different characters. Do you identify with one more than the other?
TEM: It’s funny—throughout the writing of Drive Me Crazy I would go back and forth between whom I related to most. When I was in middle school myself, I think I was more of a Lana: earnest, very concerned about my friends, close to her family. But I also loved clothes and was obsessed with fashion, so in some ways I was dying to be stylish, sophisticated and culturally savvy like Cassie, too. I struggled with both those identities at the same time then, and in some ways still do!
JA: What’s the best road trip you’ve ever taken?
Hands down the best road trip I’ve taken was from San Francisco to Tallahassee, FL, with my good friend Tom. I was moving back to my hometown after a fantastic year of living in San Francisco, and needed someone to help me drive back all my stuff. Tom met me in California, and we drove down the state, through Arizona, into Petrified Forest land (we saw an amazing sunset there), and all the way across Texas, into Louisiana. We stayed in New Orleans one night, and were tempted to stay put! When we crossed the border into Florida, I wanted to see the Gulf right away, and Tom suggested a detour to Pensacola beach. Seeing the coast, plus the beloved familiar green of the Florida panhandle was such a wonderful welcome after all the desert we’d crossed, and made for a great homecoming.
JA: Do you think you’ll do any more middle-grade? Any hints about what your next project might be?
TEM: As I said, I’ve been interested in middle grade for awhile, and I’m very excited to be working right now on the companion book to Drive Me Crazy. This is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker will come out in summer 2016. It’s the tale of Fiona Coppleton, Cassie’s former best friend. They have a very nasty break at the beginning of Drive Me Crazy, and though we hear a lot about Fiona from Cassie’s perspective, This is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker narrates everything from Fiona’s side.
I’ve got another middle grade idea up my sleeve too, but that one’s nowhere near book form yet. I have to say I am really enjoying writing for both of these differing age groups, though!
JA: What recent middle-grade is on your shelf? Any favorites to recommend to our readership?
My current To Read pile is stacked high with a lot of young adult right now, but one middle grade that has snuck in there is Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (releasing in September). I’m also reading Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger, a tween-based novel coming out in August. Her middle grade When You Reach Me, is definitely a favorite of mine, and if you haven’t read it you should—perfect combo of realism with a twist of magic. One Came Home by Amy Timberlake also has one of the strongest narrative voices I’ve ever read (in any age bracket), and Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave is one I think pretty much everyone should read. Of course I still stand by my classic faves too, like the Ramona books, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Peter Pan, or any adventure in Oz!
Thanks for your time, Terra, and best of luck with Drive Me Crazy.
And now it’s your turn, dear reader. Tell us about your favorite road trip in the comments below and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Drive Me Crazy!